Christianity seeks mercy, not power. A true Christian nation is not about nationalism

·3 min read

In what way is America a Christian nation?

Seriously, I’m asking.

Christian nationalism has been on the rise again. Christian nationalism is a conflation of Christianity and nationalism masquerading as patriotism. It assumes that true Americans must be Christian, and Christianity (or what passes as Christianity) should be enshrined in law.

Christian nationalism emerges out of fear that, without special protection, this narrow Christianity will lose its grip on culture and politics and wither away. Certain Christians in the United States preach this message, and they find comrades in Russia’s Orthodox Church, whose patriarch supported the invasion of Ukraine.

This revival of Christian nationalism trots out the same tired passages around sexuality in the Bible while ignoring the greater number of passages about mercy, love and justice. Christian nationalism also strangely attributes divine inspiration to the Constitution. Just as Christian nationalism picks and chooses from the Bible, so it does with the Constitution. The Second Amendment gets lifted, while the Ninth Amendment goes unread: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

And so legislatures and activist judges go imposing their worldview on others. The right to bodily autonomy and the freedom to make health care decisions with your doctor are superseded by the authority of judges to make that decision for you based on their personal beliefs.

I can only imagine what other decisions these judges might make. Will their worldview override the right to same-sex marriage, the right to be treated as equal under the law, the right for students not to have religion imposed on them in schools? What other rights might these activist judges and legislatures undermine?

Christian Nationalism is neither patriotic nor authentically American, let alone Christian.

But let’s ask a question: What would a Christian nation really look like?

A nation that gives access to health care to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay? Jesus healed a lot of people. He didn’t even ask whether they were employed or able to work.

A nation that supports education for all? Jesus taught the crowds openly and freely, and his disciples provided for material needs. Good thing Jesus wasn’t working on an Idaho teacher’s salary!

A nation that supports families and children — with access to nourishing food, clothing and community support? Where kids can go to school in safety, without fear of being murdered by someone with a gun? Imagine being eager to take care that there is no stumbling block for one of these little ones.

A nation that is slow to anger and abundant in steadfast love? Love toward neighbors and even enemies?

A nation that is quick to forgive crippling debts and burdens? “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors!” Uh-oh, what about personal responsibility?

A nation that embraces refugees, remembering that Jesus, Mary and Joseph sought refuge in Egypt when despotic Herod targeted them?

A nation that prizes goodness and righteousness over wealth? “You cannot serve God and wealth,” as it says in Matthew 6:24.

Now that’s an interesting image of a Christian nation. Even so, I wouldn’t want the nation to be conflated with Christianity. As a faithful Christian, I want all these things for people, no matter their religion, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, abilities or lack of economic power. An America for all Americans.

Christianity should always push for greater goodness, greater justice, greater mercy, not greater power. That’s a Christianity worthy of the name of Christ.

The Rev. Joseph Farnes serves as rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Boise. The Idaho Statesman’s religion column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.