Christian Nationalism—the belief that patriotism and Christianity are inextricably linked — is often at the root of divisions among Christians today. Whether or not they use that term, many Christians embrace the tenets of Christian Nationalism as the only way to preserve faith, country, and the values they believe are foundational to the United States.

In their book, Taking America Back for God, Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead write, “Christian Nationalism contends that America has been and should always be distinctively Christian.” In The Religion of American Greatness, conservative scholar Paul Miller defines Christian Nationalism as “the belief that America was founded as a Christian nation and that the government should take active steps to promote and keep our national Christian identity.” Miller goes on to say: “Christian Nationalism is a dangerous idolatry.”

Along with many other Christians, I echo Miller’s urgent concern. Loving God and loving our country are appropriate loyalties. They are not the same, but they are also not mutually exclusive. Christian Nationalism, though, goes beyond patriotism or love of country. It is a destructive ideology that is causing an increasing number of Christians to put their primary allegiance to our country rather than in God. It idolizes the state and implicitly embraces an ethnic national identity.

It is helpful to realize that identification with Christian Nationalism exists along a spectrum— from those who have a soft acceptance or sympathy for it, to those who are hard adherents to it such as Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene who has declared, “We should be Christian Nationalists.” In 2018, former president Donald Trump also declared himself to be a nationalist.

But Christian Nationalism is not just an extreme position adopted by a few public figures. According to a recent Public Religion Research Institute survey, 54 percent of Republicans consider themselves either Christian Nationalism adherents or sympathizers. The great majority of those respondents support the idea of an authoritarian leader and nearly one half of adherents to Christian Nationalism support resorting to violence if necessary “to save our country.”

As C. S. Lewis writes in The Four Loves, “love of one’s country…becomes a demon when it becomes a god.”I hope the following comments bring both clarity and perspective on such a significant issue among Christians and in our culture.

Why Is Christian Nationalism Dangerous?

It Is Against the Separation of Church and State

Ironically, in wanting to impose Christian dominance in our government and culture, Christian Nationalism violates a clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” The recent law promoted in Texas requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments (in King James English!) in every classroom in the state is an example of this kind of violation. (I don’t think most Christians would be happy with a mandatory posting of elements of Sharia law in classrooms as a free expression of religion.) American Christians have a Christian identity and an American identity, but Christian Nationalism unconstitutionally wants to join the two.

It Distorts History

Christian Nationalism asserts that the United States was wholly founded as a Christian nation. America was indeed deeply influenced by Christians such as the Pilgrims who were staunch Calvinists and believed in the divine election of America to be “a city on a hill.”

Also, at the time the United States was founded, it had been a British colony with many of the symbols and religious practices of the Church of England. It further was governed by English Common Law which was influenced by the Bible and Mosaic Law. So, there was a broad expression of inherited Judeo-Christian values in the structures of the Colonies.

But America was also deeply influenced by the European Enlightenment with its emphasis on liberty and the detachment of religion from the state. Many of the Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, were deists. They may have had a distant belief in an “Almighty,” but their primary orienting principles were liberty and human reason. Even our country’s embrace of democracy and capitalism did not emanate from Christian doctrine but from ideas of pagan Greece and the secular Enlightenment.

Not only is there is no mention of God in our Constitution, but according to noted historian Rodney Stark, only 17 percent of Americans went to church in 1776. The Treaty of Tripoli in 1797—which was drafted by George Washington, signed by President Jefferson, and unanimously passed by the Senate—states that “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” So, although many claim that our country was founded on Christianity, the founders themselves didn’t.

It Is Inherently Racist and Anti-immigrant

Christian Nationalism has the same DNA of all nationalisms, just with a Christian name. It embodies a belief in the superiority of a racial or ethnic identity. An extreme example of nationalism is the German Nazis and their extermination of 6 million Jews in the name of country. But throughout its history, the United States has also had racist and anti-immigrant laws against Native Americans, Catholics, Jews, Blacks, Asians, and now Latinos.

In 1830, for instance, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which led to the forced 800-mile migration of the Cherokee nation. Four-thousand Cherokees died on the westward march—known as the Trail of Tears—due to the government’s popular edict.

The Know-Nothing party (later known as the American Party) of the 1850s developed in response to the anti-Catholic sentiment against immigrants from Germany and Ireland. American-born Protestants saw Catholic immigrants as a threat to democracy.

One of the most blatant examples of the distortion of patriotism, of course, is the American Civil War, when white Christians used the Bible and their love for the Confederacy to defend their practice of enslaving Blacks. A few years later, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers for ten years.

Although the term Christian Nationalism is relatively new, we see throughout our country’s history an ideology of exclusion and repression. This is in sharp contrast to Christian teaching that, “in Christ, there is no Gentile or Jew, slave or free, male or female” (Galatians 3:28). Ninety-seven times the Bible speaks about the need to welcome the stranger or take care of the foreigner. Christian Nationalism is really an oxymoron because no nationalism is Christian.

It Idolizes a Nation

Former national security advisor Michael Flynn once urged pastors to read both the Constitution and the Bible in church. It is right to give to our country our taxes, our patriotism, and loyal citizenship—but not our worship. Jesus taught the difference between allegiance to a government and to God when he said, “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). We violate that teaching, as well as the first of the Ten Commandments — “Have no other gods before me”—when we merge our faith with our country.

A current international example of Christian nationalism is Vladimir Putin’s unholy alliance with Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church. It has been widely reported that Kirill exhorted Russian troops that in their war with Ukraine, their “sacrifice in the course of carrying out your military duty cleanses away all sins.”

The images of the cross and the American flag together during the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol portray a similar blasphemy—and the frightening danger of being open to authoritarianism and violence under the guise of patriotism.

It Compromises Christian Faith and Witness

Why are so many Christians tempted to identify with Christian Nationalism? Christian sociologist David Verhaagen, in his well-researched book, How White Evangelicals Think, writes that white evangelicals “perceive the world first through the grid of conservative and Republican politics, then through their racial identity, then through their identity as Christians.”

He goes to say that many white evangelicals have “grown up in a sub-culture that says they are right and must be in charge to keep the country on the right track” and that “those outside the group are intent on destroying the country they love and are eager to persecute and harm them.” There is a palpable fear among many white Christians that we are losing our cultural power and control of the country and we need to get it back.

One example of this is the growing belief in the “Great Replacement Theory.” This is the unfounded belief that left-leaning international and domestic elites are attempting to replace white citizens with non-white immigrants to gain greater voter superiority. This aligns with a White Christian Nationalism, which has a strong correlation with the brand of Christian Nationalism that is linked to militia groups and violence. (The man who killed ten African Americans in a Buffalo supermarket last year was a strong believer in this conspiracy theory.)

Russell Moore says that the Great Replacement Theory is “bad for democracy but even more poisonous to the church.” Former speech writer for President George W. Bush, David Frum, writes that “the most politically important ‘great replacement’ underway in the United States is the ‘replacement’ of conservative Christians by their own liberal and secular children and grandchildren” who are being repelled by the Church for its moral hypocrisy and political captivity.


I’ll conclude with a quote from author Jamar Tisby: “White Christian Nationalism is the most urgent threat to democracy and the witness of the Church in the United States today.” Christian Nationalism is dangerous not only because it is based on a flawed understanding of our country’s history, but because it idolizes our country and is prone to racist and anti-immigrant beliefs.

Most significantly, Christians do not reflect the values of Jesus and His Kingdom when we engage in culture wars for power over those who are different from us or disagree with us. Instead, we honor and serve the Lord by “acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).

During the intense presidential campaign after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the rock-ribbed conservative Republican candidate Barry Goldwater dramatically declared, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

More recently, Jim Hightower, a progressive political activist from Texas, wrote a book called, There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos.

Why do both men on opposite sides of the political spectrum see so little value in moderation? Why does this seem to be the default position of not only politicians but also of so many in the general populace and in our churches and among our friends and families? Why do many on the left feel that unless you fully buy into a “defund the police” position that you don’t care about social justice? Why do many on the right believe that if fighting against abortion rights is not your single most controlling issue that you don’t care about human life? Why do we put others in these political boxes that squelch not only meaningful dialog but constructive actions to effectively counteract the evils that we are against?

The Greek poet Hesiod (c.700 BC) spoke about “moderation in all things” and the Apostle Paul encouraged the church at Philippi to let their “moderation [gentleness] be known unto all people” (Philippians 4:5). Eugene Peterson emphasizes an intention of collaboration in his paraphrase of this text, “Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them.” Wouldn’t that Christian attitude make a difference in our political discussions?

But sadly, instead of moderation, the militant idealism of perfection and purity dominate political agendas with either scathing ridicule or dismissive neglect of those who have the courage to be a moderate. In today’s climate, if you’re not totally for the New Green Deal or conversely if you are not firmly against climate change legislation you may not be deemed worthy of your respective Democratic or Republican political party.

Such blind loyalty is not new in traditional partisan politics, but like crabgrass it has now spread over the entire political landscape and is choking off almost all fresh green shoots of moderation. Moderates like Republican Mitt Romney or Democrat Joe Manchin are seen as fringe members of their party rather than as leaders of reason and balance. Why is this the case? I believe there are at least three reasons for this wholesale rejection of moderation in much of contemporary culture and political discourse.

Moderation seems weak.

We live in a competitive culture of always needing to be strong and our opponents always needing to be wrong. It is argued that “one cannot be moderately pregnant.” Indeed, being in the middle can be a wishy-washy or compromising stance of not having any real convictions. It can also be a lowest common denominator for those who need or want to avoid conflict. The former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin was seen as a weak politician because he did not have the backbone to resist Hitler’s advances in Europe.

But is moderation always weak? Isn’t it much harder to say “come let us reason together” than to say “do it my way or else”? Doesn’t it take more strength to welcome honest disagreement than to demand feckless loyalty? Perhaps to Barry Goldwater (who lost forty-four states in his presidential election bid!) one could better say, “Moderation in pursuit of relational trust is no vice and ego in the name of domination is no virtue.” Or to Jim Hightower, “There’s nothing on the side of the road but ditches that go nowhere.”

Moderation requires humility.

A second reason it is hard to embrace moderation is that it takes humility. Intellectually, humility exhibits a curiosity of learning new things that might change one’s opinion. It may mean watching more than one cable news channel and reading thoughtful opinions from different political perspectives. It also means listening to those with proven and widely respected expertise in areas like science, ethics, international relations, or whatever issue is under discussion. Experts can be wrong sometimes but not nearly as often as ignorance!

Spiritually, humility is counter to the destructive arrogance of pride. Proverbs says that “with pride comes disgrace but with humility comes wisdom.” God says through the prophet Isaiah that the people the Lord looks on with favor are those “who are humble and contrite in spirit.” The New Testament writers time and time again exhort followers of Jesus to “humble themselves.” (See Proverbs 11:2, Isaiah 66:2, Romans 12:3, 1 Peter 5:6, James 4:10.) Unfortunately, these biblical commands are too often ignored by some Christian leaders who confuse “zeal for the Lord” with their own ego and prominence.

Moderation recognizes our humanity.

The Preacher of Ecclesiastes teaches us to “not be over-righteous, neither be over-wise—why destroy yourself?” (See Ecclesiastes 7:16.) This may sound like a strange exhortation. Isn’t perfection or purity or righteousness our goal? Isn’t it good to abound in wisdom? When is purity not good? What does it mean to be over-righteous and why does it seem to be the besetting sin of the religious and the ideologs of our culture?

When I studied material science I learned about alloys and how the inclusion of other elements or impurities can actually strengthen a metal. Pure iron sounds impressive but it is very heavy and not practical for most applications. However, by adding some carbon it becomes steel, which is not only much lighter but more malleable and stronger as well. To use another metaphor, purebred dogs are beautiful but are often more susceptible to diseases that may not affect a more resilient crossbreed or even a mutt.

Unfortunately, some of the worst instincts in human experiences have been to try and create a superior or pure “race” by subjugating people of other ethnicities or differences. The New Testament Jews didn’t like Samaritans and Hitler didn’t like the Jews. Today, national fundamentalists around the globe want a society of people like themselves and white supremacists militantly want to exclude people of color from their lives.

So, aspiring to purity is not always a virtuous aspiration. It is as a spiritual virtue—to be pure in heart or to seek God’s righteousness. But when we embrace an ideological or a self-centered purity, it tragically disintegrates into a spirit of perfectionism and pride. Parker Palmer writes, “Wholeness is the goal. But wholeness does not mean perfection. It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.” Wholeness means recognizing the impurities in our lives as means of grace and growth.


I believe wise moderation is another form of wholeness—of bringing together ideas and people that create something that is not fragmented into disparate opinions and self-centered constituencies. As the Apostle Paul said, “when I am weak, I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Thoughtful and meaningful moderation is not being lukewarm. Instead, it is a humble and courageously human posture for living life well with others.

When it comes to politics, I often hear people say that they are conflicted. This was magnified during the 2016 presidential election when for the first time both major party candidates had larger disapproval poll numbers than approval numbers. There were common laments such as, “I voted for the lesser of two evils,” or “I just held my nose and voted for …,” or “I voted for a third-party candidate,” or like Senator Mitt Romney who said he voted for his wife!

But we also may feel conflicted about policing issues, how safe or risky to be with pandemic health concerns, the size and role of government, and a host of other dilemmas. These challenges remind me of the story of President Harry Truman meeting with his economic advisors who kept giving him their opinions with the qualification “but on the other hand.” Exasperated, Truman blurted out, “What I want is a one-handed economist!”

Truman’s desire for a simple one-handed solution to complex issues resonates with any of us who at times just want a simple answer. But simple answers rarely lead to lasting solutions. At best they appease the moment and usually postpone any real answers. They reflect a lack of curiosity and necessary commitment to really understand and work through the complexities of an issue.

Simplicity – Complexity – Simplicity

But is embracing complexity the answer either? Oliver Wendall Holmes famously said, “I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

It is important that although Holmes obviously puts down simplistic (and let me add sloganized) solutions, he also wants to get beyond being stuck in an exhausting complexity typical of political issues. For instance, when it comes to the economy, probably most people would love to cut the size of federal spending unless it means cutting their own particular benefits. Even Ayn Rand—the well-known author of Atlas Shrugged and a staunch individualist who railed against government handouts for others—wound up receiving Social Security!

But who has the wisdom and the political will to navigate through these political complexities to reach a simple solution—and who would vote for someone who tries to do so? Do we just live with either being simplistic or conflicted or is there a better way out?

Being Conflicted as a Path to Wisdom

Let me suggest that being conflicted may be a necessary avenue to wisdom if wrestling with that conflict leads to greater understanding and subsequent action. The Apostle Paul experienced this truth in his spiritual life. He wanted to do good, but “evil is right there with me” (see Romans 7:21-23). He was conflicted about the law of sin in him to do wrong that was fighting with his delight in God’s law to do right.

A simplistic solution for him would have been to deny this tension and pretend that he didn’t battle with sin. That’s an attitude that leads to a super-spiritual and superficial faith. Or he could have just accepted and fulfilled his sinful compulsions. Instead, Paul goes on to say that it is through Jesus that he finds real freedom from the bondage of sin and death and he is then able to live life according to the Spirit. (see Romans 8:1-2).

Does God Take Political Sides?

But does this kind of spiritual discernment apply to the tortuously complex political realm as well? Reinhold Niebuhr observed that politics is the hard work of negotiating “proximate solutions to insoluble problems.” In such a complex reality can we ever get to a place of confidence that we are making the right choice of what to believe or who to vote for?

Very practically, does the Holy Spirit lead us to vote Republican or to vote Democratic or do we even believe that the Holy Spirit cares which way we vote? Are we just left to our own fallible human preferences or does God have preferences that we need to discern? In Lincoln’s second inaugural address he says of the North and the South, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other…the prayers of both could not be answered…that of neither has been answered fully.”

Lincoln’s insight helps us humbly accept that God does not take sides according to our human political desires. Rather, I believe that he selectively answers our prayers and prompts our actions according to his divine wisdom and purposes. In other words, it is crucial that we discern God’s ways for developing our convictions rather than just asking him to bless our political opinions.

As we head into this campaign season, I feel passionate about how our Christian faith must affect our country’s current political climate and choices. I don’t want to shy away from feeling conflicted. But neither do I want to remain in an immobilized state. I want to speak and act on what I discern and believe to be right. This blog is my effort to encourage others to be salt and light in a decomposing and dark political culture. Please join me in this endeavor. And if you feel conflicted along the way – you are probably on the right path!