Should Americans be Christians? An excerpt from “The Religion of American Greatness” by Paul D. Miller

The following excerpt is taken from The Religion of American Greatness by Paul D. Miller. Copyright (c) 2022 by Paul D. Miller. Used with permission from InterVarsity Press. www.ivpress.com

American Christians have long fused their religious faith with American identity. In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, Americans regularly described the United States as a “new Israel”; in the 20th century, as a “Christian nation”. When they do, they are expressing a set of beliefs: that to be a faithful Christian in America, one must be faithful to the American nation; that the American nation is defined in part by Christian values ​​and Christian culture; that it is, in a way, the culmination of Christianity in a political form; that he enjoys a special relationship with God; and that American Christians should ensure that their government maintains Christianity as the predominant framework for ordering our public life. American national identity has long been defined by many Americans to include Christianity as a necessary part of it. Since at least the Civil War, Americans have regularly read 2 Chronicles 7:14 (“If my people, who are called by my name, humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their evil ways, then I hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land”) and Psalm 33:12 (“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord”) and applied it to themselves and to the United States: Americans are the people called by the name of God, and the United States is the nation of which God is Lord. Seen in this light, the Christian Right, a broad social and political movement born in the late 1970s, is not new in its efforts to define the United States as a Christian nation. On the contrary, the movement is firmly in the tradition of American Christians – mainly white – who define their sacred and secular identities in relation to each other. The Christian right is the latest in a long line of white Protestant American nationalists.

In response to Trump’s campaign speech aimed at them, 81% of self-identified white evangelical voters voted for him, and they remained a key base of his support throughout his presidency. Their acceptance of Trump suggests that many American evangelicals have accepted nationalism as their political philosophy: at a minimum, as something consistent with their faith; at most as the necessary political implication of Christian belief and practice. In a recent poll, 65% of Americans felt it was “somewhat” or “very” important for a citizen to be Christian to be “truly American,” including 75% of those with the highest scores in of nationalism.[1] In other recent polls, 29% of Americans believed that “the federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation”, and almost two-thirds that “God has granted America a special role in the history of humanity”.[2]

Christian nationalism asserts that there is something identifiable as an American “nation,” distinct from other nations; that American nationality is and should remain defined by Christianity or Christian cultural norms; and that the American people and their government should work actively to defend, support, and cultivate America’s Christian culture, heritage, and values. Historians have often argued that a generic Protestant Christianity served as de facto established religion of the United States until the 1960s. A Christian Nationalist is someone who believes that historical fact is normative for today, that the United States should return to the time of a quasi-official establishment and non-denominational (Judeo-) Christian which privileges Christian norms, values, symbols, culture and rhetoric. in American public life and public policy. They do not advocate repeal of the First Amendment, but they do favor a strongly “accommodationist” interpretation of it in which the government is permitted to favor religion over irreligion, and even to favor the historically predominant religious tradition of the America (ie Christianity) versus new or different traditions. Christian nationalists believe that the American nation was, is, and must stay a “Christian nation” – that America’s identity as a Christian nation is not simply a historical fact but a moral imperative, an ideological goal and a political program for the future, which also means that the defining the nation’s religious and cultural identity is rightly part of the government’s responsibility.

What are the origins, historical development, key beliefs, and political and cultural implications of American Christian nationalism? Is this a good or a bad thing? What is its relationship to the ideals of the American experience? What does nationalist governance look like in practice and what effects has it had on American society and the world when they have had the opportunity to pursue their agenda in the past? What is the difference, if any, between nationalism and patriotism? What is the right way to love your country? To these historical and political questions are added a host of theological questions. What is the relationship between Christian nationalism and Christianity? Between Christian nationalism and other forms of Christian political engagement? Does the Christian faith allow, even oblige, its adherents to believe in the principles of nationalism? In short, should American Christians be nationalists? Should Americans be Christians? These questions raise broader and deeper questions about the relationship between religion and politics, questions that have been asked ever since the Pharisees used a question about taxes to understand Jesus’ position on collaboration against resistance to civil government, and on the ultimate loyalties of mankind.

[1] Bart Bonikowski and Paul DiMaggio, “Varieties of American Popular Nationalism”, American Sociological Review 81, no. 5 (2016): 949-80. [2] Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry, Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020), 10.

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