Spirituality, What is Just?, What is True?

Why I am a Christian but Not a Christian Nationalist

I want to write about why I am a Christian but not a Christian nationalist.

First, I want to beg pardon of all my non-Christian and non-religious readers.

This blog post will certainly have a lot of Christianity and spirituality in it.

I still hope you find something valuable in the post.

So, let me tell you first why I am a Christian.

I am a Christian because when I was about eight, I realized that I was fighting with my brother all the time.

Weirdly enough, I didn’t want to fight with him anymore. But I felt like I couldn’t stop.

If fact, I felt full of anger at my brother for the silliest of reasons.

Namely, I was older than him. And I thought I knew a lot more.

But he wouldn’t admit I was right most of the time. And that made me mad.

So, I was mean to him. A lot.

This was typical sibling rivalry.

But I didn’t like my anger. I wanted to be a kinder, more loving person.

Drawing and painting by Shelly P. Johnson.

My family attended church regularly, and my Grandpa Clark was a pastor.

Both my church teachers and Grandpa said that if you gave your life to Jesus, He would change your heart.

So, I dedicated my life to Jesus.

And I can’t say the change was immediate, but I did change.

I started praying a lot and asking God for help.

And slowly but surely over the years, I became a kinder, more loving person.

(Update: By the way, my brother and I get along great and have for decades.)

My faith in God became a steady anchor for me.

It still is.

I am a person who regularly has what some folks call peak religious experiences.

By this, I mean that I regularly have vivid encounters with  God’s love.

I don’t ever hear voices or see visions in these experiences.

Rather, I feel a strong sense of goodness, peace, and love that feels as deep and wide as the Universe.

And it always helps me be kinder, compassionate, and more respectful of myself and others.

It helps me live a good and joyful life.

So, if I had to say in a nutshell why I am a Christian, it is because becoming a Christian helped me connect to the love in the Universe.

This love is the light of God.

Drawing and painting by Shelly P. Johnson.

And that  light is also inside of me and you, which I will explain shortly.

Now, you might think that because I am a Christian that I support Christian nationalism.

That is, you might think that I believe we should try to rule the United States (where I live) according to Christian laws or rules.

But that is not the case.

So, now let me tell you why I am NOT a Christian nationalist, even though I am a Christian.

I first remember learning about ideas associated with Christian nationalism when I was a teenager in the 80s.

My history teacher at the Christian school I attended assigned us to read a book called The Light and the Glory.

The basic gist of this book is that God led Columbus, as well as the early Puritans and pilgrims, to sail to North America and create a city on a hill.

It would, in essence, be a Christian nation.

I vividly remember reading this book and thinking that the stories in it were interesting.

But I also remember feeling concerned about some of its content.

My concerns might make more sense if I tell you a little bit about my family heritage.

I was raised in the Quaker Christian tradition.

And I learned when I was little that both sides of my family are Quaker going back many generations.

In fact, my great grandmas were recorded Quaker pastors.[1]

If you know me personally, you probably already know I am Quaker because I TELL EVERYONE I AM QUAKER.

Usually within the first couple of months I know someone.

Let me tell you a brief Quaker history that is important for this post.

The Quaker faith developed in England in the 1500s and 1600s.

At this time, the Anglican Church taught that only priests and clerics had direct contact with God.

And only men could be priests and clerics.

Everyone else had to go through them to gain God’s forgiveness and blessings.

England at this time was also hierarchical, and the aristocracy did all they could to maintain their power and status.

For instance, the aristocracy expected that people from lower classes would bow to their betters in the streets.

However, Quakers rebelled against all this.

For example, Quakers insisted that every human being equally shared the light of God—they called it the inner light.

And they also believed that everyone could communicate with God directly.

As such, Quakers promoted equality between sexes, races, and people of every class.

This is why they recorded female Quaker ministers and protected freedom of speech and religion.

And it is also why they became some of the biggest champions of what some folks today might call social justice initiatives.

For example, one famous Quaker in England, William Penn, was a friend of the king of England.

Being Quaker, he refused to bow to the king, a rebellious act which could have spelled his doom.

Luckily for Penn, the king found Penn charming.

And, recognizing that Penn would not last long in the England of his day, the king granted him a tract of land in North America.

Penn gladly traveled to the New World and established Pennsylvania.

It became a haven for people persecuted for their religious and political beliefs.

Penn was also well-known for establishing peaceful relationships with the native-American tribes around him.

He did this while many of his other fellow colonists considered indigenous natives their enemies and routinely battled with them.

Quakers in both the United States and England took this notion of the light of God in everyone seriously.

Therefore, they were some of the strongest advocates for native-American rights, the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, prison reform, and the Civil Rights movement.

Hannah Whithall Smith was a Quaker speaker and writer in the 1800s.

She was active in the women’s suffrage movement and wrote a book called The Christian’s Secret to a Good and Happy life. I read it in high school around the same time I read The Light and the Glory. (Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

I tell you all this because it is my Quaker heritage that made me concerned about what I read in the Light and the Glory.

For instance, the book portrayed Columbus as coming to the Americas to spread God’s word especially to native-Americans.

And I am sure Columbus did have these intentions, at least sometimes.

But growing up, I also knew that Columbus and his men enslaved many indigenous Americans  and treated them cruelly.

So, as I read the book, I thought, “Why didn’t Columbus treat native-Americans respectfully like Penn and protect their rights?”

The book also had a lurid chapter on Anne Hutchinson.

Hutchinson was a Puritan woman who held somewhat unorthodox views according to the Puritan leaders of her day.

Her beliefs sounded awfully Quaker to me.

For instance, she believed that anyone could connect with God through personal experience.

She offended many Puritan leaders of her day for preaching and teaching her theology in her community.

That also sounded very Quaker to me.

But the authors of the Light and the Glory portrayed Anne Hutchinson as an evil and rebellious woman.

In some passages that I remember sounding a lot like something out of Rosemary’s Baby, they suggested (and I am not making this up) that Anne Hutchinson eventually gave birth to demon spawn.

(You can read this account in the chapter titled “The Pruning of the Lord’s Vineyard.” I double checked to make sure I was remembering this correctly.)

To be fair, the demon-spawn rumor was going around a lot in Anne Hutchinson’s day.

But as I read the Light and the Glory, the authors reported these rumors as though they were probably true.

And further (as I read it) the authors suggested that such demonic goings-on were likely the natural consequence of this terrible woman disagreeing with the God-ordained  leaders of the day.

And this is when I first realized vividly that there were Christians in the world who interpreted Christianity very differently from me.

I also realized that they had a very different view of what creating a Christian nation meant.

For me, creating a Christian nation meant that we love people, respect their conscience, treat them equally, and help folks in need.

For instance, this was in the 80s, and the AIDS crisis was a major cultural concern.

I remember wanting to go and visit AIDS patients at the hospital.

That felt to me like the very thing a Christian, especially a Quaker Christian, would and should do.

At this time, I was also I was especially concerned about poverty and homelessness.

Migrant Mother”, picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I thought,

“Okay, look. Solving this problem is easy. There is a lot of food and money around.

You just make sure everyone has enough food and a home to live in.”

There were also a lot of Mexican immigrants living in a nearby city.

And I often heard people speak derogatorily of them.

This greatly troubled me because growing up, one of my neighbors and my best friends was a boy from Mexico.

My friendship with him made me especially concerned about these prejudiced remarks.

Such experiences made me feel like white Christians had to learn to reach out to the Mexican community and work to decrease their own prejudice.

“Members of the Texas Border Patrol . . .” by Harry Pennington, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

All these concerns seemed, in my thinking, to flow logically from what it meant to be a Christian.

But these weren’t the ideas I read in books like The Light and the Glory.

And as I got older and read more about Christian nationalism, I was often perplexed.

It seemed to me that folks in the Christian nationalist movement promoted beliefs and practices that were the opposite of those Christ exemplified.

For instance, people in the Christian nationalist movement tend to focus on things like forcing people to pray in public schools and putting up Christian monuments in public spaces.

In addition, they advocate laws that punish people for violating certain scriptural commands the way they interpret these commands.

Such goals struck me as odd because they seem to focus on forcing people to do or say things, rather than loving them.

But it always seemed to me that the heart of Christianity is love, not force.

There is another history lesson from my teens that helps to explain this discrepancy between different Christian religious beliefs.

I loved studying history in high school.

One of the most interesting periods of history we studied was the Protestant Reformation.

I loved learning about how Martin Luther got fed up with the abuses and greed of the Catholic Church of his day (like selling indulgences).

Martin Luther, picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

So he decided to call them on it.

As a result, he wrote 95 points of disagreement with the church (The 95 Theses), and he nailed the theses to the cathedral door of his hometown.

And this sparked a massive reformation in which people argued that everyone had direct access to God.

As such, reformers argued that people didn’t need priests to talk to God for them.

Furthermore, reformers believed that everyone could read the Bible and interpret it for themselves.

The Quaker in me loved this story.

But sadly, I also learned that the Protestant Reformation descended into years of religious wars.

During these wars, people fought bloody battles over doctrine and theology.

Ironically, many champions of the Protestant Reformation often became  intolerant of religious dissent themselves.

For example, many Christians including Puritans in the early American colonies considered Quakers religious heretics.

Some Quaker women were even accused of being witches and were executed.

Salem witch trial engraving, by Howard Pyle, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

And this illustrates one of the primary reasons I am concerned about Christian nationalism.

If we were to make the United States a Christian nation, what kind of Christian beliefs would we try to establish?

After all, Christian nationalists don’t appear to promote historical Quaker Christian beliefs.

Nor do they promote the beliefs of the Quaker churches and colleges of my youth.

In addition, they don’t appear to promote the beliefs of the Baptist church I attend on Sunday.

Nor do they reflect the beliefs of the Baptist college at which I teach.

And they don’t reflect the spiritual community I attend during the week, among whose members are Catholics and Christians from several other denominations.

And Christian nationalists don’t reflect the beliefs of the Methodist churches or  the New Monastic community I have attended in the past.

Nor do they reflect the Presbyterian graduate education program I attended.

This list represents a wide variety of Christian people that Christian nationalists do not represent.

As best as I understand it, Christian nationalists are a small group of Christians in the U.S.

And they want to shape the country according to a narrow theology that a small group of Christians hold.

As such, it seems like they want to set up a kind of priesthood of Christian leaders.

And they want these leaders to interpret the Bible the way they see fit.

Then they want to force other people to follow such interpretations and judge them accordingly. (Christianity Today has written about this potential problem here: What is Christian Nationalism?)

That doesn’t sound very Christian to me.

It sounds much more like the pharisees that Jesus often criticized in the Bible.

“The Pharisees Question Jesus”, by James Tissot, picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Or it sounds like the way Jesus’ disciples sometimes behaved when they got too big for their britches.

That was just before Jesus rebuked them.

I understand why Christians would want the United States to a Christian nation.

However, the power of Christianity lies not in forcing people to behave or believe a certain way.

It lies in the compassion of Christ who fed the poor and healed the sick.

And it lies in the radical creativity of Christ who loved the world so much that He laid down his life that the world might be saved.

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You might also like these posts:

Should the United States be a Christian Nation?

Why Social Justice Matters for Everyone

Why Acting with Reason and Respect is Wise and Rare

And you might find these posts helpful:

Christians Against Christian Nationalism

With Project 2025, US Bishops Can’t Sit Silently on the Sidelines

Christian Nationalism Leveled by a Conservative

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[1] Quakers record ministers (their calling), rather than ordaining them.

6 thoughts on “Why I am a Christian but Not a Christian Nationalist”

  1. Thank you for writing this. I have been feeling the need to address this very question and your words will help me find mine. ♥️

  2. I appreciate you as a person and also the peice you wrote.
    I will say that the term Christian Nationalist was (in my understanding) a derogatory term for any Christian who spoke against the prevailing cultural norms of the day and advocated for a Christian ethic. Fortunately that is what the Quakers did. So they would be considered Christian nationalist today.

    1. Hello There, Allan. In this post, I was drawing on a definition of Christian nationalism in the U.S. that holds that Christians are to make the nation Christian in terms of trying to enforce Christianity or a version of it as the national religion of the nation and to establish laws accordingly. According to that definition, Quakers wouldn’t have been Christian Nationalists in that they weren’t trying to make Christianity the official religion of the nation. One reason for this is that Quakers generally were strong supporters of freedom of religion.

      Here is an article from Christianity Today that explains that kind of Christian Nationalism. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2021/february-web-only/what-is-christian-nationalism.html

      In addition, there may indeed be some people who equate all Christians with Christian nationalism. I haven’t met such folks, but I am certain they do exist. My concern is with the specific kind of Christian Nationalism Christianity Today writes about. That specific type is what this post addresses.

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