Understanding Christian Nationalism
An invitation to explore the movement shaping American politics
I got an email this week from a reader letting me know that his adult education group was using the recent Christian nationalism posts from The Cottage as a multi-week study leading up to the fall elections.
What a great idea! Until I read his note, however, I didn’t realize that I’d written a post each month since July on the subject. It certainly wasn’t a planned series. It just happened in conjunction with the news — and the intense interest in the subject of Christian nationalism.
He inspired me to turn the Christian nationalism essays into a three-part discussion curriculum that you can use.
Today’s post links all three of the essays in a single newsletter. I hope this will be helpful to you. Some may want to use these posts as my friend’s congregation is — for others that may be too controversial and you might want to read them in a small group. I do suggest that you engage them with others if possible.
I invite you to re-read them as a group — and with a group. I’ve enclosed some discussion questions for you to think about the ideas presented in each essay as well.
This three-part exploration of Christian nationalism involves terminology, theology, and history. It isn’t exhaustive (there’s much more that can be said), but it is provocative, thoughtful, and timely. And, since the essays are short, you needn’t read an entire book to engage important issues.
Of course, you may agree or disagree with various points and interpretations. That’s expected! Talking about a subject is often a good way toward greater understanding — and moderating fear we might have. Each of these posts comes from my own wrestling with these difficult days.
ESSAY #1: CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM EVERYWHERE?
In this essay, I explore the term “Christian nationalism” and suggest we might need to make finer distinctions in how we define political impulses in white evangelicalism.
For discussion: What do you think about the central claim of this essay? “Both of these things are true: America is not a Christian nation. And the United States was shaped by Protestantism.” Why is it important to understand this paradoxical proposition? What might it mean for politics to grasp this history?
* * * * *
ESSAY #2: BAD BLOOOD
In recent weeks, talk of Civil War has skyrocketed. This essay looks at the connection between political conflict and theology that lends itself toward violence. This was one of the most widely read, shared, and discussed posts of the year at The Cottage.
For discussion: Do you worry that the central claim of Christianity involves blood and violence? What do you make of this statement?: “Not every Christian who holds to the theory of blood-atonement is a Christian nationalist, but Christian nationalism depends on this theology and can’t survive without it.” How might Christian theology, churches, and preachers address this? Where do you see these ideas in the news? Have you ever considered how bad theology might inspire political violence?
* * * * *
ESSAY #3: BAD HISTORY
Although most political commentators haven’t paid attention, white evangelical politics has been supported by and is twinned with a particular view of providential history. This essay returns to the theme of “Christian nation-ism” vs. “Christian nationalism” and explores it through history.
For discussion: What do you make of the popularity of a book like The Light and the Glory? And what does it mean that two best-selling histories — The Light and the Glory and A People’s History of the United States — seem to have helped create the political divisions today. Why is history so often a contentious subject? Why do people fight over the past? Do you know someone who believes in this providential history?
Public Witness on Substack has been running some very good pieces about Christian nationalism. I particularly appreciated this recent post on Doug Mastriano. I recommend both their newsletter and their news and opinion website, Word and Way.
If you understand your own place and its intricacy and the possibility of affection and good care of it, then imaginatively you recognize that possibility for other places and other people. If you wish well to your own place and you recognize that your own place is part of the world, then this requires a well-wishing toward the whole world. In return you hope for the world's well-wishing to your place.
This is a different impulse from the impulse of nationalism. This is what I would call patriotism, the love of a home country that's usually much smaller than a nation. Nationalism always implies competition, always the wish that your nation might thrive even at the expense of other nations. Patriotism is the love of a home place or a home country that recognizes the obligation of charity toward other places and other people, and it recognizes that the prosperity of your place need not come at the expense of the prosperity of other places. There is a generosity, a charity, in what I recognize is the true patriotism, which is not necessarily implied by nationalism.
— Wendell Berry
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No special guests this week — instead, it is an open conversation to catch up after the summer hiatus from ZOOM gatherings. I’ll share a bit about the response to the Mary Magdalene posts, talk a bit about Christian nationalism, maybe the Queen! There’ll be lots of time for you all to ask questions. I want to hear what you are interested in — and what you’d like to see at the Cottage in upcoming weeks.
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