By Rudy Barnes, Jr., September 23, 2023
Most of the Founding Fathers of America were deists who believed in God, but not traditional Christians. None asserted that Jesus Christ was their personal savior, but they considered the altruistic teachings of Jesus as inspired by God. They detested the Anglican Church as an extension of an oppressive power, and rejected its 39 articles of faith.
At the nation’s birth most Americans were Christians who believed in Jesus Christ as their personal savior; and little has changed since then. Most Christians continue to profess faith in the ancient Apostles’ Creed with church doctrines never taught by Jesus. The Gospels portray Jesus as a maverick rabbi who called his disciples to follow him, not to worship him.
In both America and Russia a moral vacuum in Christianity has allowed charlatans and demagogues to hijack churches to promote unprincipled politics. Trump’s America First policies and Putin’s aggression in Ukraine to restore the ancient Empire of Peter the Great are examples of policies that conflict with the teachings of Jesus but have been supported by many churches.
No nation, no matter how religious, can credibly claim to be a Christian nation. In 2016 a majority of white “Christians” elected Donald Trump as their political messiah and President, despite his narcissism and egregious immorality. And in Russia the Russian Orthodox Church supports Putin’s unprovoked aggression in Ukraine to restore the ancient Russian Empire.
The dilemma for people and nations that profess to be Christian and support policies that promote national prosperity and power is that those priorities conflict with the teachings of Jesus. The altruistic teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those we would rather ignore, as we love ourselves.
America is a materialistic and hedonistic nation that has long asserted its exceptionalism and unabashed nationalism. American values came close to the altruistic values taught by Jesus during the Depression, but in good economic times they have more closely resembled those of Ayn Rand and the Prosperity Gospel than those taught by Jesus.
Politics and Wall Street illustrate that in America selfish values prevail over the altruistic teachings of Jesus. That’s just human nature. As long as popularity is the measure of success in politics and for the church, it's unlikely that the altruistic teachings of Jesus will be given primacy by Christians who seek wealth and power over humble service.
The church has hoisted itself on its own petard by making popularity its measure of success and a form of cheap grace in Christianity. That doesn't mean that nationalism is always a bad motive in politics. It's only when nationalism conflicts with the universal and altruistic teachings of Jesus that it becomes a problem for Christians.
Hoist with his own petard is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and it has come to mean being a victim of one’s own immoral schemes. See Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoist_with_his_own_petard.
David French served as a military lawyer in Iraq and has written extensively on religion and politics (see My Decision to Serve: A Veterans Day Reflection, at https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/11/veterans-day-us-military-iraq/672081/). I’m also a retired JAGC officer who served in Special Action Force Asia in the 1960s, and I have written on the importance of law and as a standard of legitimacy in military operations. See Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium. A copy of the manuscript and other writings on military legitimacy are provided in Resources at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/p/resources.html.
On the Taming of White Christian Nationalism, see https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/on-the-taming-of-white-christian-nationalism/.
On Christian nationalism in America and Russia, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2022/03/musings-on-civil-religion-christian.html.
Other commentary on Christian nationalism:
(3/29/15): God and Country: Resolving Conflicting Concepts of Sovereignty
(5/6/17): Loyalty and Duty in Politics, the Military and Religion
(6/23/18): Musings on the Separation of Church and State and Christian Morality in Politics
(4/12/19): Musings on Religion, Nationalism and Libertarian Democracy
(7/13/19): Musings on Sovereignty and Conflicting Loyalties to God and Country
(8/10/19): Musings on Christian Nationalism: A Plague on the Church and Democracy
(8/31/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Politics of Christian Zionism
(1/16/21): Truth and Reconciliation in Politics and Religion in a Maze of Conflicting Realities
(4/30/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Obsolescence of Christianity in Politics
(6/25/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Church and the Greatest Commandment
(11/5/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Jesus, the Church and Christian Nationalism
(12/10/22): Musings on the Evolution of Christianity into the American Civil Religion
(3/11/23): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Future of Christianity and Democracy
(3/26/22): Musings on Civil Religion, Christian Nationalism, and Cancel Culture
(4/15/23): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christian Nationalism and Democracy