Christians concerned about the rise of Christian nationalism in the US have taken the issue head on this week – using one of Christianity’s most tried-and-true tools: a study guide.
Responding to Christian Nationalism is a free, downloadable resource containing three lessons to be used by individuals, small groups, or as the basis for a sermon series.
It is designed to be used along with the video recording of webinar Democracy and Faith Under Siege. Users are encouraged to watch clips from the webinar and then answer the discussion questions provided. PowerPoint slides are available with relevant video clips for each lesson.
The study guide opens the discussion about what Christian nationalism means. Dr Andrew Whitehead is an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University Purdue-University, Indianapolis, and he describes it as “a cultural framework that idealises and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life”.
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The study goes on to look at “theological grounds to guard against Christian nationalism”. Among other discussion points, users discuss the credal statement “Jesus is Lord” as a core theological safeguard, and examine two biblical passages:
Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2.9-11).
We know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ … I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2.16 and 19-21).
When Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee Amanda Tyler spoke to NPR’s Sarah McCammon about the launch of the new resource, she described Christian nationalism as an “ideology [that] has been with us for a long time”.
Tyler went on to call Christian nationalism a threat to “our unity as Americans, [and] also to our faithful walk as Christians”.
Pastor Michael Mills told NPR’s McCammom that he planned to use the study guide with his church, Agape Baptist Church, in Fort Worth, Texas. But the pastor admitted he was worried opening up a conversation about Christian nationalism would result in some church members choosing to leave the church – as it had in the past.
“These are difficult conversations. And stepping into conflict, especially with what feels like a land mine or a minefield – that’s hard work,” the pastor said. “But … I want to be able to send them in love, knowing that I’ve had the conversations that we needed to have.”
“We hope that this new resource will help them have those tough conversations in their churches.” – Amanda Tyler
Tyler said that “for as many of the people who are going to leave or not want to be associated over these topics, there are so many other Christians who are ready to have this conversation, who understand the threat to our country, who understand the threat to our faith, and they’re ready to choose Christianity over Christian nationalism”.
“We hope that this new resource will help them have those tough conversations in their churches.”
Responding to Christian Nationalism is published by Christians Against Christian Nationalism – an initiative of the Baptist Joint Committee – in partnership with Vote Common Good, a not-for-profit group aimed at influencing voters of faith. Together, the groups represent a large coalition of US Christians alarmed at Christian nationalism’s rise in recent years.
Christians Against Christian Nationalism was launched in 2019. They aim to provide “a place for Christians to call out Christian nationalism and the threat it poses to our faith and to our democracy” by signing a statement. It has since been signed by 22,000 Christians, many of them ministers and other leaders, who condemn Christian nationalism as a “distortion of the gospel of Jesus and a threat to American democracy”.
But it was earlier this year that concerns about Christian nationalism really peaked, when a strong contingent of Christians took part in a violent insurrection of the US Capitol Building, displaying signs that read “Jesus Saves”, “Jesus 2020” and crosses.
In response, more than 100 pastors and other faith leaders wrote an open letter condemning the role that radical Christian nationalism played in feeding the political extremism behind the Capitol Building riot. Within days, more than 1300 other Christian leaders co-signed this letter.
“We recognise that evangelicalism and white evangelicalism, in particular, has been susceptible to the heresy of Christian nationalism because of a long history of faith leaders accommodating white supremacy. We choose to speak out now because we do not want to be quiet accomplices in this ongoing sin,” the letter read.