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Why We Condemn Christian Nationalism

 



           At our county convention on April 13, we passed a resolution Condemning White Christian Nationalism as a threat to democracy and contrary to “the separation of church and state as enshrined in our constitution.” The resolution also calls on the DFL to educate voters and its own members about those threats. Delegates did in fact raise questions about what Christian Nationalism means and why “white” is included. So here’s my attempt to explain.

            A commonly cited definition comes from two sociologists who describe Christian Nationalism as a “cultural framework that blurs distinctions between Christian identity and American identity, viewing the two as closely related and seeking to enhance and preserve their union.” If that sounds a bit dry and academic, I don’t blame you. Most basically, that means that if you aren’t a Christian, you can’t be a true American. Right away, then, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, etc., are categorically excluded.

            More than that, though, you aren’t considered a true Christian if you don’t share the belief that Christian and American identities are and should be deeply intertwined. It is an article of faith with Christian Nationalists that the United States was specially ordained by God as a kind of chosen people. As such, we have a special obligation to uphold biblical law and make it the foundation of our social and political order. That’s why Christian Nationalism is directly opposed to the separation of church and state. In a word, they believe that Christians should rule. To the extent that they don’t, America is sliding into moral ruin.

            You’re probably not that kind of Christian if you are indeed a Christian at all. Maybe you’re the kind of Christian who believes in finding grace and loving your neighbor, rather than imposing a legalistic moral code. I think of that as a Sermon on the Mount kind of Christian. Indeed, the impetus for that resolution against Christian Nationalism came from a group called Christians against Christian Nationalism. From their point of view, Christian Nationalism is a lot more nationalist than it is Christian.

            Not that nationalism is inherently evil. For a Kurd or a Palestinian, it can express the reasonable demand of a people for the right of self-determination. Problems typically arise, though, when you try to define who’s included in the people. At its best, American nationalism embraces everyone who shares our ideals of freedom, equality, and democracy. Nationalism easily lurches into authoritarianism, however, when “the people” is restricted to one group that sees itself as the only legitimate members of the nation and seeks to dominate the “others.”

            In the case of Christian Nationalism, those “others” include just about everyone who isn’t white. After all, it’s rooted in a belief that the U.S. was founded as a Christian Nation and never should have drifted from its origins, notwithstanding the fact that much of the population at that time was enslaved. The culture war battles over our nation’s history largely boil down to the question of whether the U.S. was born in a state of perfection under the guidance of the Almighty, or whether our founding ideals are aspirational and the focus of our ongoing struggle to realize them.

            The founders weren’t demigods, but they were smart guys. They knew from history that while religion can be a source of social cohesion, it has also been the source of enormous bloodshed. That’s why the First Amendment forbids the creation of any kind of religious establishment and protects believers in the free exercise of their faith.

            If you believe as I do that the U.S. was not then and is not now fully free, genuinely equal, effectively democratic, or entirely faithful to the teachings of Christ, I invite you to join us in the campaign to keep the country moving forward.

 

Paul Harris

 

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