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The term “Christian Nationalism” has been trending a lot lately in much of the mainstream news media, and it is mostly being used as a pejorative. It is being used in a way to try to make faithful Christians, in particular, appear to be radical right wingers.
Those using the term the most have taken it upon themselves to define the concept and apply it to Christian beliefs in general. That is a totally false application of the word, and it does tend to paint Christians in a negative light.
The latest pop culture definition posits that Christian nationalists want the U.S. to be a Christian nation, and that the country’s laws should be rooted in Christian values. The problem with this definition arises because there is a lot that of vagary in the definition that makes it subject to misinterpretation. And to make matters even worse, the definition itself assumes certain things that sound reasonable on the surface, but upon deeper inspection are totally false. Detractors use this vagary to their advantage to make Christians, and Christian values in general, appear unreasonable.
The main reason this definition is so hard for true Christians to respond to is that those accusing Christians of being Christian nationalists are using the term based on a naturalistic worldview understanding, rather than a Christian one. They are taking certain common vocabulary and assigning meanings to words and phrases that do not correspond to what Christians actually believe. Further, they are advocating for non-Christian beliefs in a way that is deceptive and dishonest.
First, Christians do, indeed want America (and every other nation in the world, for that matter) to be Christian. On top of that, we want Christian values to be the foundation for the nation’s laws. But what does that really mean? The distinctions we make regarding these matters make a MASSIVE difference in the outcome. To sort this out, we really need to ask and answer some other questions.
What do Christians mean when they say they want a Christian nation?
The detractors, when they accuse Christians of wanting a Christian nation, paint this as Christians wanting to usher in a theocracy. That is simply a lie. I know of no one who wants to have a religious head of state and religious leaders guiding our governmental systems. To get a picture of this, think of the Vatican where the Pope is the head of state and various bishops and priests are the governing authorities. That is what a theocracy looks like. Christians do not want that in any respect.
So if Christians don’t want a theocracy, what do they mean when they say they want our’s to be a Christian nation? What they are talking about relates to the values that guide the country and form the foundation for its laws and societal institutions.
Why is it important to base American society on Christian values?
Here is where the rubber meets the road. The fact of the matter is, society will be dominated by some set of values, and whatever values those turn out to be emerge out of some faith system. So, if the Christian values that America was founded upon are kicked to the curb, they will have to be replaced by the religious values of some other faith system. There is no other possibility. The reason Christian values are so critical is because those are the only ones that respect the rights of individuals and promote justice and fairness as an absolute value. This doesn’t mean that the outcomes of society’s actions always measure up to the ideal, but without the ideal in place, anything goes – which leads to anarchy, poverty, and destruction (picture most of America’s big cities). Atheistic Naturalists want Christian values to be replaced by relativistic naturalistic philosophy.
Exactly what values are we talking about? If Christian values are bad, as the detractors say, then what is bad about them and what values would be good to replace them with?
To get at this, let’s make a short list of the most prominent Christian values that Christians want to promote in society. (This list is not exhaustive.)
- An objective foundation for the legal system (vs. a relativistic one)
- Freedom of conscience (vs. enforced conformity)
- A high value on human life (vs. a low value of human life)
- Equal opportunity for all (vs. equal outcomes for all)
- Individual liberty (vs. collectivism)
- An impartial judicial system (vs. a politically guided judicial system)
- Due process (vs. a relativistic approach to process)
- Equal justice under the law (vs. unequal justice based on personal preferences)
Here’s the situation: A naturalistic worldview has no reason to accept Christian values, or any other particular set of values for that matter. And in fact, Naturalists are only willing to accept Christian values to the degree they can be used to further their own personal goals. Those who believe in a naturalistic faith do not accept ANY of the above values as objectively right. They might accept them when they can be used to further their own personal agenda, but the minute they don’t they can be thrown out. In other words, the bottom line is their own personal agenda, not truth, liberty, and fairness (which they don’t accept as objectively real concepts).
So What About Christian Nationalism?
As with any population, there will be fringe elements who promote extremist ideas. So, yes, there is such a thing as genuine Christian nationalists. But those really are fringe elements. It does not pertain to the vast majority of Christians as the mainstream media tries to portray it. There are fringe radicals on the other end of the spectrum as well who want total anarchy. But interestingly, the media doesn’t seem to have much interest in exposing them.
The truth is, genuine Christians are not Christian nationalists. They are people who believe in the values expressed in the Bible (such as those listed above), and they want society to operate by those values as opposed to the detractors who want to eliminate and replace them with values that promote personal agendas – agendas that lead to death, destruction, and anarchy. Biblical values are the best values for a society to be built upon, no question about it!
Freddy Davis is the president of MarketFaith Ministries. He is the author of numerous books entitled The Truth Mirage, Rules for Christians Radicals, Liberalism vs. Conservatism, and his latest book Shattering the Truth Mirage and has a background as an international missionary, pastor, radio host, worldview trainer, and entrepreneur. Freddy is a graduate of Florida State University with a BS in Communication, and holds MDiv and DMin degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a popular speaker, particularly on the topic of worldview and its practical implications for the Christian life. He lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife Deborah.
You may also contact Freddy at Leadership Speakers Bureau to schedule him for speaking or leadership engagements.
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