Why so many Christian leaders get it all wrong about nationalism, patriotism and immigration.
Seven Things You Need To Know About Nationalism, Christianity and Politics.
God Created nations and states. These states serve a divine purpose.
God created nations. God created states. This is undeniably true. The Old Testament affirms the creation of both nations (Tower of Babel) and the state (God’s delegation of capital powers Genesis 9:5). The New Testament affirms a divine function for the state by the words of both Peter (1 Peter 2:13-14) and Paul (Romans 13, etc.)
Further, Paul’s sermon on Mars’ Hill in Athens provides even greater detail about God’s involvement with states. They serve the plan of Divine Providence. “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,” (Acts 17:26-27).
The Divine Purpose is salvation.
God’s created order is part of God’s plan of salvation. For some reason, the order states create in the protection of life and property aid in the spread of the Gospel. Paul touched on that in the above quote from his sermon in Athens, “feel their way toward him and find him.” This is something that the great New Testament scholar C.E.B. Cranfield explains,
“It is implied that God wills the state as a means to promoting peace and quiet among human beings, and that God desires such peace and quiet because they are in some way conducive to human beings’ salvation. It is God’s purpose that the state should, by restraining chaotic tendencies of human beings’ self-assertion, maintain those outward conditions under which the gospel may be preached to all and sundry without hindrance.”
Thus, it is through the punishment of evil that even bad states can serve some ultimate good. The Roman Empire is one example that despite its corrupt rulers, the order and safety it created paved the way for the spread of Christianity.
States and Nations are given limited realms.
States are given limited realms. Nations are given limited numbers of people. These are also facts supported by both Old and New Testaments. Once again, Paul preaching at Athens affirms this with reference to God’s Divine Will setting the times and extents of peoples.
Also, the Old Testament affirms the limited extent of nations and states. God limited nations at the Tower of Babel for the purpose of His divine plan. There are some important hints at why God created limited powers within the Genesis 11:1-9 history of the Tower of Babel—namely, when humanity amasses too much power it will work independently of God. According to one commentary, “Genesis 11:1–9 also mirrors the attempt of humanity in the garden to achieve power independently of God. The attempt of the Babelites to transgress human limits is reminiscent of Eve’s ambition (3:5–6).”
As for states, the Old Testament goes into great detail explaining the borders of Israel. As Rich Lowry explains in his excellent new book, The Case for Nationalism (our review coming soon), “Borders are a key part of a nation, and God couldn’t have set them out more specifically to Moses absent a map and a surveyor: ‘And your border shall turn from the south to the ascent of Akrabbim, and pass on to Zin: and the going forth thereof shall be from the south to Kadeshbarnea, and shall go on to Hazaraddar, and pass on to Azmon,’ and so on.”
Yoram Hazony in his book, The Virtue of Nationalism, writes, “Moses, who speaks with the Lord of heaven and earth, nonetheless initiates no universal conquest, and presents himself as legislating for Israel alone. The prophets of Israel certainly understood that the Tora had been given for the betterment of all mankind. And yet Hebrew Scripture maintains a permanent distinction between the national state sanctioned by Moses in Deuteronomy, which is to govern within prescribed borders; and the aspiration to teach God’s word to the nations of the world.”
States are responsible to God. Christians are responsible to God.
Since states hold their powers from God, they are ultimately answerable to Him. Christians have a dual responsibility to God, both to practice the teachings of Christ and upholding the God-ordained political order. There is no conflict between these missions, despite the claims of some. In America, Christians have the special blessing of being part of the political process. As such, Christians must evaluate policy through the lens of God’s purpose for the state. This Divine purpose for the state is told to us through biblical and secular sources.
The biblical model for the state is the creation of order so that the Gospel can be preached. Specifically, Peter and Paul affirm the punishment of evil and rewarding good as the purpose of a state.
The United States and its foundational document the Constitution declares the purpose of American government is to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
Christians must evaluate politics through this lens: does it foster Divine order and meet the requirements of the US constitution. These are harmonious points. God ordained the United States as he ordains all nations and states. He expects the Christian-citizen here to rule in a way that fosters the National Interest.
All policies such as immigration and foreign affairs must be evaluated on how it serves the National Interest. After all, God expects the United States government to pursue the protection and benefit of the people entrusted to its care. The people under its sovereignty are divinely placed and entitled to a government that protects their life, liberty and property.
God loves all People. The best way to bless the nations is through a strong America.
God loves all people. He cares for them and gives to them the blessings of life and government. However, the fact that God loves all people is not an argument for unlimited immigration, the removal of borders or similar Universalist missions for the State. We must remember the lessons from the Tower of Babel—the temptation is always there to make the state a replacement for God and to use human achievements to realize the eschaton.
Such moves are dangerous.
And futile. For any attempt to immanentize the eschaton will only result in frustration. The same frustration seen on the plain of Shinar.
This is disorder. It is what we see in the disintegration of Europe as it abandons its nation-states for the illusion of supra-nationalism. However, the lessons of history are that multiethnic empires are unstable, dangerous and expansionist.
The alternative approach to the disorder of the modern world is a strong America. The United States and its values are best served by enacting policies that serve to enhance American power. While this must never be unjust, it is not only wise but biblical to insist that policies do not weaken the nation.
It is good to love America. Nationalism isn’t a sin.
If you are an American, it is good to love your country. We have a unique national identity that makes us different than other people. As Rich Lowry explains in his book, “As for national identity, it is what used to be known as national character. It is the culture that marks off one country from another, that makes France so French and England so English.”
So, love your national pastime whether it is baseball, college football or soccer. Love your apple pie, or the distinctly American takes on Italian, Mexican or French cuisines. Feel free to acknowledge a bond to the fellow citizen in Minnesota over the person in the Bahamas.
And Lowry goes further by explaining why Nationalism matters, “Whereas patriotism is loyalty to what is your own, particularly your own people and government, nationalism is more specific, namely, as the scholar Azar Gat writes, “the doctrine and ideology that a people is bound together in solidarity, fate, and common political aspirations.”
In the West, there are competing visions for how our political aspirations should be handled. Yoram Hazony writes in The Virtue of Nationalism, “FOR CENTURIES, THE POLITICS of Western nations have been characterized by a struggle between two antithetical visions of world order: an order of free and independent nations, each pursuing the political good in accordance with its own traditions and understanding; and an order of peoples united under a single regime of law, promulgated and maintained by a single supranational authority.”
The single authority is an attempt to recreate Babel. To build, often for purposes of self-aggrandizement, an empire and power that rivals and surpasses all under heaven. It is wise to resist all such enterprises. It is best to prefer a limited state, controlling a limited land and with a limited number of citizens.
Resources for the Christian
There are many excellent resources to help the Christian. First, check out our series on Evangelical Political Theology. We argue that one must Get the State right by understanding its divine purpose. Also, we explain a Two Kingdoms approach to politics.
Lastly, consider some of the best recent scholarship on the issues of American history and nationalism. Prof. Mark Hall’s new book, Did America Have a Christian Founding? Is an excellent refutation of the secularist lies about America. As mentioned earlier, Rich Lowry’s new book The Case for Nationalism and Yoram Hazony’s new book The Virtue of Nationalism are useful studies. Both deal with the intersection of faith and politics.