Opinion: Christian nationalism shows a lack of faith in the power of God

·4 min read
Dr. Robert Montgomery believes the best option for all nations is to work together for good of all
Dr. Robert Montgomery believes the best option for all nations is to work together for good of all

Christian Nationalism, which we can define as giving Christianity special governmental status, has been around for a long time. It goes back to Constantine and has continued to the present in many nations. America is the big exception. Religious nationalism is even older, going back to the early days of human organization of nations. Rulers wanted the approval and support of supernatural powers, and the religions were glad for government backing.

When the United States was established, our founders broke with the ancient alliance between religion and the state. This is the real American exceptionalism! Many nations have made alliances between the rulers and the majority or traditional religion in their countries. Some governments are virtually fused with a traditional religion. It is vitally important for Americans to be aware of the distinctive stance of our nation in both restricting religion from having government power and at the same time giving everyone the freedom to choose or not choose a religion. Some people in America want special government favor for Christianity by having the nation declared “Christian.” They are going backward in history.

The founders were very aware of the wars of religion and the persecution of religions by religions in Europe from which they came. The desire for power is a human trait from which religions are not immune. In fact, religion can become a means to power, particularly through the gathering of many followers who assert their common beliefs and values that unite them. This is possible because of the special power of beliefs. Religions also have organized themselves. Government leaders and politicians, since Constantine, have admired the pervasiveness of Christian organizations and wanted that organizational ability for themselves.

The “ism” in nationalism is a sign of its potential for a deep connection to the human psyche or the id, namely having human instinctual drives and sensibilities. Ethnic identity and protection of self and related people are basic drives. Love and loyalty are terms often used in religions and in national celebrations. This shows a close relationship of religion and nationalism. In the modern age when religions have lost power and influence, various nations have converted a national ideology into a quasi-religion. We saw this beginning especially before and in World War II with the rise of Fascism and Naziism. Before and after the rise of these ideologies, we saw the rise of Marxism and Communism with similar quasi-religious expressions.

When we saw the mass gatherings of Nazis pledging loyalty to Hitler and also the similar gatherings supporting Communist leaders, all accompanied by a litany of songs and shouts, we were reminded of mass religious gatherings we have seen and perhaps attended. They even had their “scriptures” and supporting “clergy.” These gatherings certainly showed the emotions seen in religious gatherings. For all these reasons, sociologists have called these gatherings and the continuing movements “quasi-religions” and their gatherings, “rites of intensification.” Intensification involves emotions becoming intensified.

The association of Christianity or any religion with the government of a nation is extremely dangerous for the religion and also the government. When governments miscalculate and do things that are harmful to people, the religion is damaged. I saw this in relation to the association of Christianity with outside domination in China and in many other countries. Christianity has a full task to represent the One it’s named for: Jesus Christ. Jesus walked away when the crowd he fed wanted to make him their king. Governments are defined by their monopoly of power in a nation. Religions, certainly Christianity, defines itself by the transformative power it offers to people and communities. Christian nationalism denies the transformative power of its Founder.

Those promoting Christian nationalism are not only showing their lack of faith in the power of God in their lives and the world, but are actually hurting the witness of Christianity to the power of God. They hurt others and the world by hiding God’s power in the many failures of Christians. A Christian shares concern for the nation with everyone of good will. The best preservative for a nation is justice in which everyone is treated equally and with dignity. That means equal access to the land, equal opportunities to education, and equal opportunities to vote. Justice also demands that governments be governed by the consent of the governed. This is the basic requirement of democracies. The task of Christians is not to control nations, but to advocate for justice in nations.

Rev. Dr. Robert L. Montgomery is a Presbyterian minister with a degree from Emory University in the Social Scientific Study of Religion. 

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Task of Christians is not to control nations but advocate for justice