Answering Some Objections About Christian Nationalism

The nice part about having something up on the Federalist is all the feedback you get.  The bad part, of course, is the nature of 90% of that feedback.  But as per my custom, here are my responses to the objections that I found the most amusing, common, and/or personally interesting.

Is a Christian nation going to execute or imprison Bill Nye to prevent him from continuing to debunk Christian apologists?

Yeah, someone actually said this.  Suffice to say, I don’t know a single Christian apologist who is even remotely threatened by Bill Nye. “Village idiot” is normally a social designation rather than a legal one, so he should be safe in a Christian nation.

You want a theocracy! Which denomination will you impose as the state church? Etc.

See, stuff like this is how everyone knows you didn’t actually read the article. There have been Christian nations with state churches, but it’s not a necessity and not what I’m suggesting. Particularly since the subject is y’know, American Christian nationalism.

 The government shouldn’t be making converts!

Mostly more non-readers with this one, but… I do bear some of the blame here as well. I noted the Christian distinction between Church and civil government, but never really explained it. So I’ll briefly sum up the Lutheran version here. The Church’s job is to proclaim God’s Word and administer His Sacraments (Matt 28). Civil government’s job is to punish wrongdoers and commend those who do good (Romans 13). A Christian nation doesn’t have to conflate those two responsibilities within its government, and in the Lutheran view, they mustn’t conflate them. America, in particular, specifically refused to conflate them, and writing that refusal into our Constitution was a good idea.

Nevertheless, the Christian identity of a nation is going to affect the way government responsibilities are viewed regardless of whether they conflate the two kingdoms. After all, it cannot help but inform our discernment between wrongdoers and right-doers as well as our views of what properly constitutes punishment and commendation. And looking at America today, I think we desperately need better discernment on these matters–not for the sake of making converts, but for the sake of better civil government.

Christianity doesn’t need government support! In fact, it’s better off without it.

True, but I never suggested otherwise. You’ve missed the point of Christian nationalism. The point isn’t government making Christianity better but rather Christians making their own government better. The Church doesn’t need government support and certainly not government management. It’s rather the government which needs the Church–not in the sense that the Church manages civil affairs but that the Church feeds the consciences of those individuals whose job it is to manage civil affairs. It’s a matter of providing things like wisdom and identity to the nation which, in turn, makes the nation’s civil government more just and more faithful to those for whom it is responsible.

But this would make non-Christians feel left out of our national culture!

Believe it or not, I’m not particularly concerned about how it makes people feel–not that I have no sympathy, but it doesn’t affect my argument or the reality of the situation. The flip-side of any and every identity is that it excludes the people who don’t share it. That exclusion can take many forms–anywhere from deliberate persecution to simply feeling left out–but it always exists so long as identity exists. Getting upset that it makes some people sad makes about as much sense as getting upset that cloudy days make some people sad. It is what it is. The only alternative is to expunge human identity altogether, and the cost of doing that should make anyone shudder.

When feeling left out is the predominant form that exclusion takes, you’ve arrived at the best-case-scenario this side of heaven.

The governing philosophy of the United States is actually more Jewish than Christian!

Uh, not so much. Jews have been around and made their marks, but this assessment is as transparent an attempt to take credit for Christian accomplishments as Ben Shapiro calling Notre Dame–Notre Dame!a monument built on a Judeo-Christian heritage.

Despite modern bloviating about the West being Judeo-Christian, Judaism is an explicitly tribal religion–inextricably tied to the blood and heritage of the Jewish people. We’re considering a community with very powerful in-group preferences and, often, low regard for outsiders. Now, don’t misunderstand that observation as an indictment. Given what they’ve gone through together, that sense of tribal identity is understandable; I’m not faulting them for it. Nevertheless, there’s no use pretending that it provided our foundation for religious freedom either. On the contrary, the overall tendency of Jews in the West has been to push for the removal of Christian religious expression from the public square because they believe that makes them safer. At present, the Jewish legacy in America has much more to do with the removal of free expression than the establishment of religious liberty.

Your view of Christian nationalism isn’t neutral with respect to the Church of Rome vs other Christian denominations.

This is true, but it’s not so much a error in my argument as an uncomfortable implication for some. America’s heritage is indeed mainly protestant, and my own argument is rooted in Lutheranism (as is my reframing of the question to heavily imply that the Church or Rome is just another denomination.)  While Roman theology distinguishes Church from state, it also makes the latter a subsidiary of the former–civil government is ultimately considered subject to the Pope. Protestants, in contrast, tend to arrange them into different spheres of life that overlap to various degrees. So neutrality on this question is also untenable. If Christian theology is going to inform the way we see government, then the different specifics of those theologies will lead to differences in our view of government and our execution thereof. But again, since neutrality isn’t possible, we shouldn’t really be treating it as though it’s some kind of alternative.

So where does that leave papists and protestants? Well, we’re both going to follow our respective theologies in the public square–that’s a given, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Can we both have religious freedom despite that? It’s certainly possible. We can under some protestant understandings of government, as America has demonstrated. What about a government informed primarily by Roman understandings? Honestly, I’m not the best person to answer this one, since I’m Lutheran, but… well, it’s my blog, so here goes.

I believe it’s possible, so long as such a government refrains from exercising in practice some of the prerogatives that Rome grants it in principle. For example, it would need to refrain from having civil government execute church discipline or from deploying church discipline for the purpose of political coercion (even though political coercion may be an unavoidable side-effect when it comes to things like withholding communion from enablers of abortion.)

Could it show such restraint? Again, I believe its possible–at least I don’t know of anything which would make such restraint an explicit violation of Roman theology. Would it show such restraint? It depends on the people–the specific nation. Contrary to popular perception, the Church of Rome is by no means monolithic in its beliefs and practices. Would such restraint last? I don’t think this is a good question to ask because every government becomes corrupt over time. Nothing “lasts” in that manner. And I will say in Rome’s favor that their theology is less susceptible to the neutrality lie that’s infecting America, even if its more susceptible to other failings.

In any case, I’ll be rigorously pursuing my involvement in civil government according to a Lutheran understanding, and I believe that’s to the benefit of American papists and protestants alike. And it’s also worth pointing out that the smaller government is, the less one side’s privilege is going to burden the other.

About Matt

Software engineer by trade; lay theologian by nature; Lutheran by grace.
This entry was posted in Christian Nationalism, Culture, Politics, Theology, Tradition, Two Kingdoms. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Answering Some Objections About Christian Nationalism

  1. Caleb says:

    There was a debate between Sohrab Ahmari and David French on a somewhat related subject. Christian Nationalism was not mentioned but that caused quite a stir and everybody was writing about it, from NYT to National Review and even TheFederalist had an article on it.

    I was wondering If you could let me know your thoughts on that? It covers so many areas of concern and culture at large as well.

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