What to do about those less than Christ-like ‘Christian’ churches? | Lloyd E. Sheaffer
Beyond misconstruing and misusing the Gospel’s message, Christian nationalists pose a threat to peace in our nation
Lack of confidence in U.S. elections is just one example of the danger to democracy posed by misinformation and disinformation, much of it spread by social media. (Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)
By Lloyd E. Sheaffer
They probably would not let him into their church. The fact that he is a homeless, brown-skinned, Jew would certainly keep him out of their pews, pews reserved for the White Supremacist-infected “Christian” Nationalist churches.
Those who have followed me during these last 10 years of my baring my innards in opinion pieces, formerly for PennLive/The Patriot-News, and now for the Capital-Star, are aware that I do not hesitate to share that I am a life-long Christian; for over 50 years I have been active in faith programs and activities at local, synodical, and national levels.
Though not always successful, I strive to let my faith inform my decisions, including my political views; I do not allow my political views to inform my faith.
Unfortunately too many citizens are putting loyalty to politics and party ahead of religious creeds and practice. While it is not a new phenomenon, during the last half decade in many Pentecostal and so-called Evangelical denominations, Christian Nationalism has been thriving; such growth is dangerous to both the Christian Church and our nation’s democracy.
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A professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Paul D. Miller contrasts Christianity with Christian Nationalism: “Christianity is a religion focused on the person and work of Jesus Christ as defined by the Christian Bible and the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. It is the gathering of people ‘from every nation and tribe and people and language,’ who worship Jesus (Rev. 7:9), a faith that unites Jews and Greeks, Americans and non-Americans together.”
However, “Christian nationalism is the belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the government should take active steps to keep it that way. Popularly, Christian nationalists assert that America is and must remain a ‘Christian nation’—not merely as an observation about American history, but as a prescriptive program for what America must continue to be in the future.”
In his review of Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States by Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry, English Professor Dennis McDaniel cites a number of passages that show how far this movement has strayed from the credos of Christianity: “Christian nationalism bears little resemblance to Christianity. Christian nationalism works in a decidedly un-Christ-like manner by supporting policies that marginalize those who, through their beliefs or identity, don’t conform to a biblically ordained order that reverences the traditional family, militarism, closed borders, and white, Protestant supremacy.”
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As an example of their un-Christ like positions, McDaniel quotes the authors, “For the Christian nationalists, keeping refugees on the other side of a wall takes precedence over caring, feeding and seeking social justice for migrants, acts of love that many would associate with Christianity. Indeed, Christian nationalism is a ‘hollow and deceptive philosophy that depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ.’”
Beyond misconstruing and misusing the Gospel message, adherents of these nationalistic views present a threat to peace in our nation.
The Time Magazine article “January 6th May Have Been Only the First Wave of Christian Nationalist Violence,” Whitehead and Perry report, “But what’s most troubling is where this could all lead. The trends we cited above show that white Americans who subscribe to Christian nationalism are warming up to the attempted insurrection, but does this portend more political violence? We think it could.
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“In our August 2021 survey we found roughly 46% of white [Christian Nationalists] agree ‘there is a storm coming soon that will sweep away elites in power and restore rightful leaders’ and 40% agreed things have gotten so far off track in our country that ‘true American patriots may have to resort to physical violence in order to save our country.’
Other polls report similar findings. For example, in their September 2021 survey, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that roughly one third of whites who believe God granted America a special role in human history completely agreed that patriotic violence may be necessary to save the nation (my emphasis). Another poll shows a greater comfort with the use of force to achieve political ends among political conservatives.”
Violence. Country before God. Racism. Xenophobia. Sexism. President as idol. Homophobia. Us vs Them.
It sickens me that more and more people are turning to “churches” that espouse these tenets in the name of Jesus, the Christ.
I am not the only one nauseated by the heresies preached by Christian Nationalist leaders. The Reverend Brian Zahnd painfully writes, “I know the world of Christian nationalism well. I was in it for a long time. One of the speakers at the ‘Prayer To Save America’ rally just prior to the attack on the Capitol was on our pastoral staff sixteen years ago.
On January 6 he stood on a platform with a worship team amidst flags festooned with slogans such as, Stop the Steal, Fight for Trump, and The Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
With the practiced cadence of a preacher this Pentecostal pastor said:
“We’re not fighting for a victory, we’re fighting from a victory! We serve a resurrected Jesus! Does anybody think America is worth fighting for? Does anybody think the Second Amendment is worth fighting for? Let the District of Communists know you’re here! Come on patriots!”
The crowd roared. And then attacked the Capitol. That ‘serving a resurrected Jesus’ could be employed as a battle cry for a violent insurrection reveals the depth of distortion the gospel is subjected to in the hands of Christian nationalists.”
I am in sympathy with Pastor Zahnd as he continues, “Followers of Jesus have no business storming the seat of government to overturn the results of an election. We confess that Jesus is Lord and that is the reality we seek to embody. As believers we are called to the peaceable way of the Lamb — regardless of who occupies Palatine Hill or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The kingdom of God is already among us. As followers of Jesus we persuade by love, witness, Spirit, reason, rhetoric, and if need be, by martyrdom — but never by force. The violence we saw on January 6 came about in part as the result of Christian leaders preaching religious nationalism — and nothing could be more contrary to the kingdom of Christ.”
Committed, obedient, and devout members of all true religious persuasions must speak out against the heresies of the Christian Nationalist movement. Otherwise, our belief systems and our nation will be in peril.
One common belief among all Christians is the biblical promise of the Second Coming of Christ. If the homeless, brown-skinned, Jew whom we call our Savior were to return now, I can imagine only one response from him:
Opinion contributor Lloyd E. Sheaffer, a retired English and Humanities teacher, writes from North Middleton Township, Pa. His work appears monthly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].
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Lloyd E. Sheaffer