May 2024 Church & State Magazine - May 2024

Misnamed Movement: Christian Nationalism is neither Christian nor patriotic — just dangerous

  The Rev. Polk Culpepper

The Great Prophets of Israel understood their mission as warning their beloved nation of its fall into oblivion. Micah was the first prophet to predict the downfall of Jerusalem. According to him, the city was doomed because its beautification was financed by dishonest business practices, which impoverished the city’s citizens. Others like Jeremiah, Isaiah and Hosea followed, warning Israel of internal collapse for failure to heed God’s commandments to do justice and walk humbly with Yahweh.

American prophets like Martin Luther King Jr. and James Baldwin warned us that without major changes in the way non-white Americans were treated, this nation, like Israel, would fall into a morass of its own creation.

It is because they loved America that they alerted her to possible failure and called her back to her founding ideals. In the words of Baldwin: “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

Like Baldwin, I speak out of love for the nation of my birth which, it seems to me, is on the verge of destroying its values and traditions from within.

A hellish alliance has developed between a wayward form of American Christianity and an extreme incarnation of American politics that threatens to destroy many of our traditional values. A demonic spirit has taken hold of some political and religious organizations to the extent that our traditional understandings of freedom and faith are in danger of becoming warped and unrecognizable.

It’s called Christian Nationalism, and it was on display at the Beaufort County, N.C., Board of Education meeting on Jan. 30, 2024. Adherents of Christian Nationalism accused the board and school system of promoting curricula and books that “jam that stuff on our kids.” By “that stuff” they meant whatever is included in a hypothetical LBGTQ+ “agenda.”

What else do followers of Christian Nationalism believe? Followers of Christian Nationalism nationally claim that (1) school board decisions and all local, state and national political bodies should be guided by a strict interpretation of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures (rather than the Constitution and Bill of Rights); (2) that America was founded to be a Christian Nation (even though the evidence disproves that proposition); and (3) that a Christian Nationalist version of Christianity should be used to decide all matters of public policy.

The movement is dangerous to both the nation and the faith because it fuses American and Christian values, symbols and identity. In its view, Christianity should be privileged in public life, before all other faiths. Supporters describe current politics as warfare for the destiny of the nation and refer to America as the “New Jerusalem” founded by Bible-believing Christians — all in contradiction of American history which moves ever toward greater inclusion of minorities and other faiths.

In the end, Christian Nationalists are neither Christian nor patriotic. What they seek is political power to dictate to the rest of us what we should believe and how we should live. That is both unpatriotic in a democracy and irreligious in a religiously pluralistic society.

For all their pandering to patriotism, the movement is nothing more than politics masquerading as faith and as such, wholly un-Christian and Un-American.

Both the Constitution and the Bible are under assault. If we are to continue as a democracy and as a religious culture, we will have to fight to prevent the Christian Right from destroying both.   

The Rev. Polk Culpepper is a retired Episcopal priest and Americans United member. He resides in Washington, N.C. This column originally appeared in the Washington Daily News.

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