Last week’s twin posts on celebrating “Independence Day” as an Anabaptist (here, here) garnered lots of responses — likes, comments, shares — on both the blog and on social media. As I’ve already pointed out, readers of The Search for Piety and Obedience seemed to resonate with the ambivalence I (and fellow blogger Kurt Willems) feel on July 4th.
Most of the articles we shared reflected on nationalistic celebrations from a distinctively Anabaptist perspective. Yet Anabaptists aren’t the only ones who recognize the potential problems of blending nationalism and Christian faith.
Last Fourth of July, QIdeas posted a thought-provoking article by Michael Wear titled “Our Long, Uneasy Tension Between God and Country.” (They re-tweeted it this year, which is how it caught my attention.) QIdeas — founded by Gabe Lyons, of unChristian and The Next Christians — is an Evangelical organization founded to help Christians better engage culture for the purposes of redemption and reconciliation. They produce a lot of thoughtful stuff, from articles like the one I’m sharing here to videos and other media. But they do all of it from a distinctively Evangelical perspective.
That’s why I was a bit shocked — but pleasantly so — to discover the QIdeas piece on the dangers of Christian nationalism.
Here’s a taste:
. . . evangelicals, in particular, have long been comfortable with a bold, unapologetic patriotism. A recent survey shows that even today, in what many consider a “post-Christian” America, white evangelicals are the most patriotic religious group in the country. This intense patriotism has contributed to America’s “civil religion” in a substantial way, and with that our national discourse. . . .
President Ronald Reagan became beloved by evangelicals for melding an American optimism and religious language. America, he said, was a “shining city on a hill.” The memorable phrase was taken from John Winthrop, who took the phrase from Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 5:14b). Winthrop used the phrase during a sermon aboard the ship, Arbella, which carried puritans commissioned by King Charles I to establish Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. Winthrop told his shipmates: “Consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill; the eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and byword through the world.” For Winthrop, the idea of a city upon a hill was not about God’s exceptional favor, but the accountability they would be under as professing Christians to personal obedience and faithfulness.
Still, this story—and so many others we collect about the founders’ faith, the history of our Constitution, and references to God on our monuments and by our nation’s leaders through the years—have led some to suggest Winthrop’s vision of what ought to be actually came to be. Until very recently, some Christians acted as though the idea that America is not a “Christian nation” is heresy. As Christians, we are at war with ourselves to love and follow Jesus fully, yet we have sometimes communicated that our nation—a nation full of people with diverse faiths and no faith at all—consistently represents God’s will on earth. This is a dangerous patriotism. It lacks common sense, and it is bad theology.
Check out the full article here.
QIdeas certainly isn’t articulating Anabaptist theology in this article. Reflecting its Reformed/Calvinist Evangelical orientation, the piece concludes with a call toward “Christian pacifism” that reflects the Reformed “worldview” theology of seeking to redeem culture, politics, etc., as distinct realms of God’s creation. There’s no mention of the dualistic “two kingdom” theology embraced by many Anabaptists — including some of the neo-Anabaptists who function in Evangelical circles today. Yet the article rightly calls Evangelicals to disengage from the culture wars posture that would seek to all too easily blend nationalism with Christian faith — and instead replace that posture with one that seeks “an ever-expanding domain of justice in our nation.”
As I tweeted over the weekend, this is an important article for Brethren in Christ (and other Anabaptist) groups to read and consider, especially given our ties to Evangelicals in recent years.