In my last post, I considered the differences between “Christian nationalism” and “national Christianity” (the former being a form of nationalism modified by Christianity and the latter being a form of Christianity modified by nationalism.) While national Christianity would be a short road to false teaching and heresy, Christian nationalism is both necessary and natural. Christian nationalism is merely men who are both Christian and American rejecting the religious neutrality of the 20th century and acting according to both of those identities at the same time in the public square.
But there is one last complaint against this phenomenon that I did not have space to address last time. Many of those who decry Christian nationalism allege that it conflates American and Christian identities and creates some kind of Frankenstein hybrid of the two. Putting it another way, they suggest that embracing Christian nationalism would necessarily bring some measure of national Christianity along for the ride. So how valid is that particular criticism?
Well, “conflation” is certainly not the right word for what happens in Christian nationalism. If I, as an individual, am to be both Christian and American at the same time, then those two identities are necessarily united in the way I live–as they are in all American Christians. Christ lays claim to our entire lives, not just the “spiritual” parts.
But “united” is not the same thing as “conflated.” We may be citizens of both of these Two Kingdoms—the Church and Civil Government—but their responsibilities and authorities are different even as they proceed from the same God. For example, the Church has no need of violence to make disciples of all nations, but the State sometimes does in order to punish wrongdoers and protect right-doers. But at the same time, the State’s ability to discern between wrongdoers and right-doers should absolutely be influenced by the Christian faith of its citizens and their representatives. Likewise, on one hand, the State has no need to administer the Sacraments or preach God’s Word, while these are the Church’s raison d’etre. But on the other hand, when it considers how to deal with different forms of religious expression, the State does need to distinguish between things like gathering for a church service and flying planes into skyscrapers. So these responsibilities and their attached authorities do not need to be mixed or confused, but neither can they be hermetically sealed from one-another.
Our dual-citizenship in these Kingdoms therefore does create dilemmas for American Christians sometimes. But these dilemmas are resolved by considering our vocations—exactly what God has called us to do in our various circumstances. As my regular readers will know, I’ve written about such matters quite a few times. And while it’s not always easy to discern how each of our identities parse out in real life, the futile and contradictory attempts to keep our politics religiously neutral and our religion politically neutral has already failed utterly. I am both Christian and American, but I am only one person–not two. I do not have to or want to split myself between them in order to walk that fine line.
But if it is such a fine line, then, surely there are going to be a whole lot of American Christians who walk it poorly. So practically speaking, does that mean Christian nationalism will end up resulting in some degree of national Christianity? This may come as a surprise, but yes; I think it will. Does this therefore mean we must avoid it at all costs? No; absolutely not.
If you’re looking for an invincible political ideology that will never fall to corruption, your only option is to wait for the eschaton. Politics corrupts. Always. There is no nation that will last forever. There is no political ideology that fits all circumstances. There is no earthly authority that will not be abused and misused. As life changes, Christian nationalism in America will fail–just as it already failed once in the past, resulting in today’s multiculturalism and globalism.
In the same way, if you’re looking for an invincible Christian tradition that will never be affected by worldly corruption, you’ll be empty-handed until Christ returns. The gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church, but the various traditions she creates will inevitably have a shelf-life. Worldliness corrupts. Always. Even when that world is shaped by Christians for the better, it will still come back to hate us. Indeed, in the post-Christian West, it already has. The very institutions and ideas born from Christian compassion and faithful activity in the world are even now being wielded against their sire.
That’s a grim prognosis to be sure, but do not mistake it for fatalism. It is nothing of the kind.
Christians of weak constitution will perceive such natural consequences and simply give up and withdraw from the fight. They will continue in the futility of severing their faith from their politics, desperately trying to keep both pristine. But in doing so, they will increasingly abandon their responsibilities in both Kingdoms.
After all, we are not of the world, but God has deliberately placed us in it. He has called us to many and various worldly tasks. He has given us divine wisdom to carry out those tasks well. Pastors should condemn those politics which contradict God’s word. Laity should carry out their civil vocations as Christians and let God’s word inform their public lives.
That is why to the strong, the inevitability of corruption in a fallen world merely provides a scope to our warfare. We are not responsible for building an eternal utopia; we are only responsible for the tasks that have been given to us–including preparing our children for the tasks that will be given to them. We must learn to discern well. We must teach the next generation to discern well. We do our best, and then we lean on Christ’s forgiveness.
Right now, neither the Church nor the American nation are under assault from Christian nationalism. They are under assault from globalism, multiculturalism, wokeness, absentminded Marxism, and the like. Those are the battles that face Americans today–including Christian Americans. And as I’ve written before, these poisonous ideologies wreak the kind of havoc they do precisely because of the fake religious neutrality we’ve embraced. America needs Christian nationalism because that religious neutrality has failed. Right now, our civic responsibility is to provide for that need. If we shy away from that fight and instead throw down against Christian nationalism because of what it might someday become, we’re playing Screwtape’s game: “To have them all running about with fire extinguishers when there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.”
Now, if America succeeds in her present conflict, then in 200 years, American Christians may very well need to fight against whatever form of national Christianity that Christian nationalism devolved into. They will need to retake their ecclesial traditions from worldly corruption. They will need to retake their civic institutions from false religion. Such a battle will no doubt look very very different from our own.
But we don’t live in a speculative future when Christian nationalism is our enemy. We live in a very real present in which Christian nationalism is a necessity for reestablishing competent American civic institutions (and benign with respect to the common ecclesial corruptions of our day.) It is our job to take up that banner even if it may be our descendants’ job to lay it down for a time. To be clear, this doesn’t mean we embrace Christian nationalism as some kind of necessary evil. It means we embrace it as a good which is not immune to corruption—as is the case with all earthly goods.
We cannot fight every conceivable battle at the same time–though Satan would certainly like us to exhaust and defeat ourselves trying. Instead, we need to engage in battles we’ve actually been given. Right now, that means being Christian in everything we do as Americans.