Nationalism is and always has been a danger to humanity. When politicians talk about American exceptionalism, they are promoting an extreme form of nationalism. Stoking nationalism is most often the way citizens are mobilized to support and make war against other humans; it is the basis of imperialism, xenophobia, racism, ethnic discrimination, and sows the seeds of fascism. The Church and Christians should have no part in it. Yet, everywhere I look I see nationalism in our churches.
This past June I took part in a pastoral care conference at one of the mega churches in the area. A wonderfully radical evangelical minister was the keynote speaker and there were some exciting redemptive discussions on racial reconciliation. Undiscussed or mentioned by anyone at the conference were the two U.S. Army recruiters, in their dress blue uniforms, at a table in the narthex. What were they doing there? They were invited to convince ministers to help them recruit young people for war. I have never come closer in my life to flipping tables in a church.
In some of my sister Roman Catholic Churches, I have recently seen some promoting groups to pray the so-called Patriotic Rosary.[i] When I mentioned this to a priest friend, he became defensive saying that the Bible supports patriotism. That is debatable, but Jesus and the Bible clearly do not support nationalism. The Patriotic Rosary includes singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic and the Star Spangled Banner, which are clearly militaristic and nationalistic songs.
Connected to my own religious tradition is the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East. I recently read that the Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Church of the East wants to develop a formal relationship with the nation of Israel. He wants to forge this relationship, not based on justice or peacemaking, but because of the military strength the Israeli nation has in the Middle East.[ii] Additionally, in the article he calls for yet another nation to be created for the benefit of the Assyrian people. Though this sounds like a good thing to many, creating new nations, borders, and armies cannot bring long-term peace; it is not the peacemaking Jesus has called us to!
The Church which Jesus Christ founded, the Church that was born on the day when Babel-like nationalistic walls were symbolically torn down, is not to be involved in nationalism. Furthermore, the local church is not to be a flag-bearing microcosm of their nation, but agape bands of love agents, bringing about the nonviolent and egalitarian Kingdom of Heaven to earth. Christians are, first and foremost, “citizens” born of heaven and come to earth. Our savior said we cannot serve two masters; either we are citizens of heaven or we become denizens of hell.
For the Church to speak prophetically for peace on earth it has to renounce and remove any hint of nationalism from within its walls and from its speech. Christian nationalism is a gravely sinful oxymoron.
© Paul Dordal, 2016