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Is "Battle" Promoting Christian Nationalism?
I grew up on a farm with sheep and cattle. To herd cattle very far, you need a horse or else they run around you. To herd sheep, you need dogs that are trained to form a funnel into the destination (usually a sheep pen) and to bark. By staking out the boundaries and barking, the sheep go where you want them.
Americans have been a bit “sheep”ish for a while. Our cultural leaders have become sheep dogs that stake out a point where they don't want us to go, label it with a name, and bark at us if we dare go near it. One example is "Christian Nationalism," a term of dis-endearment. Christianity Today's Bonnie Kristian recently took her position among the herd dogs. She reviewed a book called "The Religion of American Greatness: What’s Wrong with Christian Nationalism." Here's how the herding works.
First, they make up a name or reappropriate one already in use -- they stake out a boundary -- "Christian Nationalism" in this case. Then, some barking professor applies an academic definition: “The unique feature of Christian nationalism is that it defines America as a Christian nation and it wants the government to promote a specific Anglo-Protestant cultural template as the official culture of the country.” Now, they disparage based on THEIR definitions. "Anglo-Protestant culture", of course, means "white" which connects Christian Nationalism with White Nationalism -- another term used to form a boundary. But, that's the next Australian shepherd up the line. Back to the herding, they then claim America was never a Christian nation. And, they dismantle nationhood along with nationalism. "[His book shows] that nationalism is incoherent in theory, illiberal in practice, and, I fear, often idolatrous in our hearts. In all three aims, he ably succeeds," says the review. Create a label for the whole category, disparage it, and then discredit it, and warn of idolatry (bark loudly). Note, the entire process is one of the pundits own making. Then, if someone calls you a Christian Nationalist, people run the opposite way.
The cover of Battle for the American Mind raised eyebrows about Christian Nationalism -- with a girl saluting the flag. Once read, the pundits don't know what to think. We squarely land in the conservative camp, but we claim it was progressives who invented patriotic forms of nationalism to draw Christians off-sides. We applaud a measure of patriotism, but we order it below Christianity. Was/is America a Christian nation? Most certainly. So our founding fathers were Christian, right? Not really. There's no denying that the vast majority of Americans were Christians prior to the 20th century. So, in a sense, this makes us a Christian nation. Confused?
Classical Christianity avoids applying labels and categorically rejecting ideas as "good or bad." To be sure, "good and bad" exists -– we’re not relativists. And some things are vicious (lacking any virtue). God makes these clear through His law. But, goods are a function of ordering. All good things are lawful, just not equally profitable. Applying labels and warning off people is a pharisaical tactic. If properly ordered, love of one's nation is a good thing. "Tongues, tribes, and nations" are ordained categories used affirmatively in Scripture. Augustine, in the City of God, gives us a better frame.
Classical Christianity orders affections. In Battle, we argue that America lost her way when Americans quit revering Christ and His Kingdom over all nations -– even our own. We created an unholy conflation of the two. But, as a nation, America's founding documents were forged from a combination of enlightenment ideas (our Declaration of Independence, for example) and Christian principles (limited government in the Bill of Rights). The "City on a Hill" went from being a Christian community (John Winthrop) to American exceptionalism. We reject this transposition. But, we acknowledge that America's governing principles were the closest approximation of certain Christian principles in the history of human government. This allows Christians to revere the good in America's historical governmental system, and retain a love for our people and our traditions. It also allows us to condemn slavery and certain views of manifest destiny, but continue to love our country.
While more complicated, the ordering of goods as a tool is far more Christian than pharisaical. Classical Christian schools practice students in the art of ordering goods. To the extent we succeed, our alumni will be harder to herd in the direction the world wants to take us.
I hope you enjoy the celebration of the 4th -– a day for every American to enjoy and appreciate those Christian principles upon which we were founded. Oh, if you doubt my sheep analogy, here's a fun video: