“Who do you say that I am?”
Jesus asks his followers that question in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Jesus asks that question of we who would follow him today.
White Christian Nationalist respond to that question by declaring that Jesus is the one who ordains that White Christian men should be in charge of America, and are willing to use violence to achieve that.
And that is an idea that demands refutation and resistance by all Christians of goodwill.
But let’s back up a pace or two…
We’ve spent the last three weeks in a sermon series I called “The Jesus Wars” because there is no true consensus among Christians over Jesus’ identity. In many ways that’s ok! The very idea of God as Trinity shows us that diversity is part of who God is. The canonization of four distinct gospels shows us that there is no one, singular story or understanding of Jesus.
But, as we saw over the course of the sermon series, there is room for a plethora of ideas about who Jesus is—but not all answers are acceptable. In the gospel story Peter (serving as our proxy as he often does) demonstrated this pretty clearly. Jesus was so disturbed by Peter’s idea of Jesus’ identity, he famously yells at Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”
One way to frame Jesus’ identity that has grown in usage and popularity over the last six years or so is Christian Nationalism. Also known as White Christian Nationalism. Based on some of the comments, questions, and (frankly) blank looks I received in response to the sermon series, I’m convinced some of us haven’t previously encountered White Christian Nationalism.
I would go so far as to say it seemed some weren’t really sure what the heck I was talking about. While that is not exactly a new phenomenon for me, it seems worth further exploration and explanation. One of the great attributes of this blog space is it allows us to do just that. So what follows are quotes from sources that informed my sermon series—along with links to those sources so you may read and learn further.
Drew Strait, Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins, writes in Sojourners,
Christian nationalism is a form of political idolatry that distorts our knowledge of God and neighbor through a xenophobic, racialized and militarized gospel that is at odds with the life and teachings of Jesus.
Also in Sojourners, Amanda Tyler, executive director of BJC (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty), lead organizer of the Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign, writes:
Christian nationalism often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. This racism is painfully obvious when a shooter targets non-white worshippers and openly espouses hate rhetoric, but what about when the myth is repeated that America was founded as a so-called “Christian nation”? That false statement implies that the founders wanted the government to advance Christianity, especially in a way that limits the rights of others. The idea of a “Christian nation” also suggests that this country is supposed to be a “promised land” for Christians, a myth that downplays the contributions of non-Christians, as well as Native Americans.
For a truly in-depth study of White Christian Nationalism, you’ll want to spend some time with this report sponsored by Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC) and Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). Here’s a taste from Jemar Tisby on how to counter White Christian Nationalism as a Christian:
“The Black church tradition, however, presents another version of patriotism. In contrast to white Christian nationalism, Black Christians have historically tended to embrace a kind of patriotism that leads to an expansion of democratic processes, the inclusion of marginalized people, and a call for the nation to live up to its foundational ideals.”
Back in Sojourners, Stephen Mattson writes, “Christian nationalists don’t just want prayer in schools, they want only Christian prayer in schools. They don’t just want freedom of religion, they want the state religion to exclusively be Christianity — and their specific brand of it.”
Before dismissing this as just a small problem among a small group of people, consider that we have a sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives openly calling herself a “Proud Christian Nationalist” and calling for Republicans to be Christian Nationalists.
One comment from part three of this series, “The Jesus Wars Get Loud”, that drew the most confused looks was when I quoted Michael Emerson:
“White practicing Christians are twice as likely as other whites to say “being white” is important to them and twice as likely as other whites to say they feel the need to defend their race. Through extensive statistical analyses, we found that two-thirds of practicing white Christians are following, in effect, a religion of whiteness.”
Emerson, professor of sociology just down the road at UIC (U of IL at Chicago) wrote that in Sojourners.
Seems pretty clear that Sojourners is leading the way on refuting and resisting White Christian Nationalism! But they are not alone.
Robert P. Jones and Eboo Patel provide another statistic I shared in part three:
“According to a 2021 PRRI survey, while only 30% of Americans agree that “God intended America to be a new promised land where European Christians could create a society that could be an example to the rest of the world,” that number rises to dangerous levels among groups comprising the conservative base in U.S. politics, including majorities of Republicans (53%) and white evangelical Protestants (52%).
Even scarier is the willingness—maybe even desire—to resort to violence to get their way:
“White Americans who embrace this white Christian nationalist version of history are more than four times as likely as those who disagree to believe that “true American patriots may have to resort to violence to save the country” (43% vs. 10%)
Here’s some good news from Jones and Patel though!
“Today, there are as many Muslims in the United States as Lutherans, and twice as many Buddhists as Episcopalians. Moreover, the median age of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists is some twenty years younger than the median age of white Christians.”
Further, “A recent PRRI survey demonstrate that most Americans embrace these differences. Fully seven in ten Americans say they are proud to live in a religiously diverse nation."
Join others from our Conference in learning more:
Our Northern IL Conference is addressing racism and the church. Maybe you’re read the announcements. Maybe you skipped over them. Here it is again: The Conference offers: Race, America, and the Church: A Speaker Series on the History, Causes and Effects of Racism and the Role of the Church in America“Journeying together to prayerfully learn, engage, and tackle our personal and corporate role in addressing racism.”
This 4-part series that extends into December and includes a 6-week book study in the fall, we will journey together to prayerfully learn, engage, and tackle our personal and corporate role in addressing racism.
The journey continues with:
UNDENIED: NO LONGER WILLING TO BE UNHEARD
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2022, 12:00 - 1:30 PM
Rev. Chebon Kernell, UMC Native American Comprehensive, shares insights and learning related to indigenous communities’ history, present work being done, and how we can be in solidarity as we prepare for the future. In-person and via Zoom
CALLED: DOING GOD'S WORK FOR THE BELOVED COMMUNITY
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2022, 12:00 - 1:30 PM
Dr. Hart addresses what the local church can do to combat the continuation of racism in the church and in society. In-person and via Zoom
Whew! That’s a lot! Now, what questions do you have? What actions are you taking? Leave your ideas in the comments below!