Most Christians are taught to expect some sort of pushback from “the world” on their beliefs. This notion goes too far when any pushback on political beliefs, and even indirectly religious beliefs, is viewed as a secular attack on the sacred. This leads to unnecessary in-group/out-group behavior and end-of-the-world fear mongering among Christians. This “othering” of Christians and “everyone else” is mistakenly taken as a sign that righteousness abounds and the world is after us. David French, a conservative political commentator, aptly noted “Sometimes the world rejects Christians because it rejects Christ. Sometimes, however, the world rejects Christians because Christians are cruel. In that case, alienation isn’t persecution. It represents righteous judgment for our own political sin.” There is a name for these attitudes– Christian Nationalism.
Christian Nationalism “seeks to merge American and Christian identities,” and uses religion to justify nationalist secular agendas. If American identity is inseparable from Christian identity, a cultural shift in America (for example, legalized gay marriage or a Christian candidate losing an election) is viewed as an attack on religious culture as well. This is a flawed and dangerous conflation of religion and American history. Many at the recent Capitol insurrection justified their actions, and their general support for President Trump, with the notion that he would help restore America to its Christian roots. Lost in the chaos was the sad irony that reckless violence and disrespect of safe, democratic institutions is fundamentally anti-Christian behavior. David French wrote that idolatry occurs when Christian teachings are contingent, but loyalty for political leaders, parties, or policies are not. French, in December, also sadly predicted that the rise of Christian Nationalism could lead to violence– and it did at the Capitol.
The Scriptures illustrate that Christ was a bit of an out-the-box thinker, and not a fan of the conflation of zealous religion and government. One article of faith in the Church of Jesus Christ states “We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” The Church also recently released a statement on the violence and insurrection at the Capitol, saying “As [Christ’s] followers, we should treat one another and all of God’s children with respect, dignity, and love. No political or other affiliation should supersede that covenant and sacred responsibility.” Unfortunately, Christian Nationalism is a toxic ideology that supersedes this sacred responsibility to treat all with love and respect. At the Capitol last month, flags read “Jesus is my Savior. Trump is my President.” Shirts read “Guns, God, Trump.” The Proud Boys stopped to pray on their way to the Capitol. A white cross read “Trump won.” One man decided to dress as Captain Moroni and wave his own Title of Liberty. The fusion of political extremism and Christian fervor is a bizarre but intoxicating phenomenon for many.
While these examples represent a minority of Christians and Trump voters alike, Christian Nationalist attitudes pose a real danger to democracy and Christianity in America. What would a persecuted early Latter-day Saint think of the political world today? On one hand, they would be inspired by the growth of the Church, the modern religious freedoms we enjoy, and the proliferation of well-known Latter-day Saints in science, business, politics, and the arts. However, I believe they would be disturbed by the prevalence of fear-mongering, divisive rhetoric, exaggerated persecution complexes, and placement of partisanship above discipleship in American political life. Members of the Church typically stand out as more compassionate on issues like immigration than other traditionally conservative Christians– as we enter a new political era, we should also stand out against the growing popularity of Christian Nationalism. We can, and should, heed the advice of Church leaders and place no political affiliation over the imperative to treat all people with love.
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