A bunch of you have sent along one or more recent articles profiling “Christian Nationalists” or so-called “Dominionists.” The forwarded articles were accompanied by remarks like, “This is scary,” “quite disturbing,” or “tell me this isn’t frightening!”
I agree, it is scary and disturbing. Moreover, and having had some experience with right-wing Christianists, I can testify that they can indeed be both frightening and threatening. Little is worse than someone who is absolutely certain they possess the truth, whole and unimpaired.
To me it is not only or even primarily disturbing as an American who believes in the separation of church and state, which I do. This is also disturbing to me as a Christian because I think the Dominionists get so much wrong about Christian faith and about Jesus.
To be clear: the problem is not that believers are challenging the powers-that-be on the basis of their faith. There’s a long, noble history of that, one that begins in the New Testament (notably the Book of Acts) and continues to the present day with Christians standing up against violent and tyrannical regimes in many parts of the world, including present-day Russia.
The earliest Christian confession, “Christ is Lord,” was also and always a way of saying “Caesar [who claimed to be a God and Lord] is not.” Which is why a fair number of early Christians ended up being lion food.
So the problem here is not a conscientious resistance to the power of the state. It is that these folks, the Christian Nationalists, WANT TO BE THE STATE. They want the church to run the government. They want their religious convictions to be the law of the land. And they want Christianity, or their version of it, to have a privileged place in American society.
None of this fits the one they and I call “Lord,” namely Jesus. He said pretty clearly, “My kingdom is not of this world,” which did not mean he was all “other-worldly,” but did mean conventional political power wasn’t his goal. He declined all sorts of pressure to be a nationalistic messiah, one who led an army of rebellion. He had power, but it wasn’t political or state power, nor was it coercive power. Today, he rules by the power of love and grace, not the threat of violence. He was always saying things like, “Blessed are the merciful,” “Blessed are the peacemakers,” “Blessed are those persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” and “Love your enemies.”
Yes, other scriptures can be cited to kind of rebut these, but you have to do some real cherry-picking, otherwise known as ignoring context, to pull that off. Moreover, if you want to turn Jesus into the lead guy for the forces of vengeance and retribution, here to purify the nation, while carrying an AR-15, you really have to distort him beyond all recognition. He was never mean-spirited. He was invariably generous. He liked those society considered “less than,” and invariably had trouble with those who were certain they were “more than” or better than everyone else.
If all this weren’t enough, the history of tying church/ religion and state together is not good. After all, it was the allied forces of state and religion, their leaders and all society’s righteous people, who hung Jesus on a cross. These days Putin is depending on the Russian Orthodox Church to give its blessings as he hangs Ukraine on a cross. Christians ought to be very cautious, very skeptical, about the use politicians make of religion. Our job is not to take over the state. It is to be the church, a visible alternative to the way of the world.
If you want to get technically theological the problem with Christian Nationalists is idolatry, making something other than God, namely the American nation, Ultimate. I love my country. I love it too much to worship it. The Christian Nationalists who buy into Trump’s Big Lie take all this a step further. They are not only are guilty of the theological sin of idolatry, i.e. worshipping a false god, but of the political crime of treason. The actions of Trump and his minions following the 2020 election, it has become increasingly clear to anyone who is paying attention to the facts, were treasonous.
So that’s what I think about this Christian Nationalist movement. That said, I would add two qualifiers. I think there are some good people in their ranks who have been suckered by the Donald Trumps, Tucker Carlsons, and Lauren Boeberts of the world into believing a false version of the faith and buying into a distorted picture of reality, including American history. So I’m a little reluctant to call everyone who in this crowd terrible names and hate on them.
Second, I note that many of my fellow liberals are very alarmed by batshit on the right, but seem blind, clueless, or indifferent about batshit on the left, of which there is plenty. And it is also “scary,” “disturbing,” and “frightening.” I generally think it important to be as vigilant about the log in your own own team’s eye before undertaking to remove the splinter in that of others, even if it’s a really big splinter.