Christian Nationalism is not Christian

There are times when the messages of my tradition resonate with what’s going on in my community more broadly. I love sharing my perspective while including or listening to other traditions in ways that increase our mutual understanding. But sometimes I hear things bubbling up within my religious tradition that are troubling, and I feel an urgency to speak to my own. This is one of those times. People are using the Christian tradition to promote ideas that are antithetical to the love of God and the messages of Jesus. This is my response to one of those troubling ideas. It is based on a sermon I preached on May 21, 2023.


“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

This is the desperate question of the apostles when they realized that the Lord they loved and lost, who then came back to them, was leaving them again. When the trauma of crucifixion had passed and the shock of resurrection had sunk in, they confronted a new twist in the story of their journey with Jesus. He was leaving them again. He would ascend to the Father. Where does that leave them?

We can hardly blame them. After all, we know what happened after, we know what happened to them and because of them. But they were living it all in real time. And living through it in a harsh, brutal environment of occupation, violence, and poverty. No-one had ever experienced what they were about to experience. 

“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom…is this the time when you will fulfill our dreams of controlling our own destiny, of living according to the covenant in the land you gave us? We’ve been expecting it for hundreds of years.” 

Indeed, God’s people have always been looking toward the fulfillment of God’s promise – of freedom from bondage, of a land of milk and honey, of a covenant community based in love. Like Abraham and Sarah, like Moses, like the exiles in Babylon – we are an expectant people always looking ahead, anticipating fulfillment of promise. Jesus’ followers are heirs of this expectation. And so are Jesus followers today. 

And yet time and again, we look for that fulfillment in social and political structures that are, let’s face it, too small for God’s promise. 

“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Jesus’ answer to them and to us is not what we want or expect to hear. He basically tells them three important things about God’s kingdom. It isn’t for you to know when or how God will establish the Kingdom.

And. The power you are expecting will not come from political or economic dominance but from the Holy Spirit.

And. Your role is to be witnesses to the power of the Spirit in ever widening circles – from where they are in Jerusalem to the region of Judea to their so-called enemies in Samaria and then to the entire world.

This new understanding of the Kingdom was radical and like nothing they had ever seen before. And yet they were to be witnesses to the whole world about it. It is much more comfortable to recreate the kind of kingdom that has already existed – maybe even a nicer version of the one you live in now. But that’s not what Jesus tells them. That is not the promise. 

They were focused on how the kingdom would be structured – who would be in charge, how power would be allocated and wielded, what the rules would be. But Jesus was pointing them away from structures and toward the content of the kingdom – which is love, the bonds of community that we have between us and that we have with God. 

We have seen this struggle play out over and over. Despite the witness of generations of Jesus followers, there have been calls for an earthly kingdom ever since. A couple of centuries after Jesus told the apostles they’d get spiritual power from the Holy Spirit, the church received political and military power from the Roman Empire – and carried the cross before armies. In the many years since, church leadership and national leadership have been intertwined or even fused together in various places and times. The church colluded with governments and monarchs to extend power around the globe, usually in brutal ways. Under the guise of bringing the love of Christ, they brought war, disease, and oppression.  

Today, the message of Jesus is important for us as we hear calls for Christian nationalism – both in our own country and in others. In some ways it is an understandable longing of people to control their destiny, to have a way to organize themselves that is based on faith and values. 

But there is a big problem with Christian nationalism. It is grounded in ideas that are antithetical to the desire of God. 

  • First of all, Nationalism of any kind is the belief that humans can and should be divided into distinct groups based on shared traits that are different from the traits of other groups.
  • Second that these nations should promote and protect their identity to the exclusion of others.
  • And third Christian nationalism in particular says that national identity is grounded in faith in Jesus Christ and that the government should take steps to keep it that way, using force if necessary. 

These characteristics fly in the face of what Jesus taught and his final message before he ascended to the Father. 

“It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)

Nationalisms of all kinds are contrary to the vision of God that all people share the trait of being created in God’s image and the mission of God for all of us to live in community. It is not the mission of the church to create divisions among people.

Jesus did not create disciples who would focus inwardly on their own political power. Jesus is sending disciples out into the world as witnesses to a different kind of power, the power of the Spirit. The Kingdom of God is a gathering of people from all nations, it unites people. It requires love, generosity, and going outward – not power, control, and pulling inward. 

“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Jesus shows them and us that the kingdom is bigger than we can imagine. Start where you are, he tells us, make God’s presence known there. Then go from where you are to other places where you are comfortable. Then go to people you despise, who make you uncomfortable. Then to people you don’t know at all and who are very different from you. 

This is the very opposite of nation-building. It is kingdom building. It is the mission for which the Holy Spirit has empowered us.