Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas can't be serious, can he?
The most vital rule: Damn it, you have to be kind

American Christian Nationalism has Mainline Protestant roots

The core idea behind the religious/political aberration known as American Christian Nationalism is that God has uniquely blessed the United States. (Isn't that in the Bible somewhere? Clue: No.)

Bap-amerIn Christian theology, the accurate word for that belief in a special divine blessing for America is idolatry, the subject of the first of the Ten Commandments.

A new and important book, Baptizing America: How Mainline Protestants Helped Build Christian Nationalism, by Brian Kaylor and Beau Underwood, not only makes those points but provides some guidance for how to unplug Christian Nationalism wherever we find it -- and it's easier to find these days than ever.

But here's what many readers may not expect: We find it almost everywhere in the history of Mainline Protestant churches. The widespread belief that Christian Nationalism is a relatively new idea promoted by fundamentalist, evangelical or conservative Christians doesn't match up with the detailed history Kaylor and Underwood offer to show how Mainliners have promoted this terrible idea for a long time, though often in softer, less-extreme ways than some kinds of Christian Nationalism we see today.

The authors argue persuasively that it's long past time for Mainliners to recognize this sordid history, repent of it and work to undo the damage Christian Nationalism has done historically and that it continues to do in its more recent and more virulent versions. Today you can easily find such people as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Mike Johnson, former President Donald Trump and many of his most ardent supporters advocating Christian Nationalism.

Kaylor and Underwood take us back through U.S. history but focus particularly on the ways that such more recent former presidents as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harry S. Truman advanced Christian Nationalism because it seemed patriotic in an innocent way. When Ike was president, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that prayers in public schools led by teachers were unconstitutional, causing lots of Americans to drag out Christian Nationalism arguments in defense of such prayers. It also was in that era that the official motto of the U.S. became "In God We Trust," which was printed on all our currency and coinage.

As for Truman, he made a way for the publishers of the Revised Standard Version of the Christian Bible to present the first copy of it to him at the White House -- as though somehow it was a patriotic book reflecting the nation's values, not unlike our founding documents.

Kayler and Underwood lay out this truth about Christian Nationalism early in the book: "No matter who expresses it, Christian Nationalism does violence to our nation's pluralistic ideals and the teachings of Jesus." And yet throughout the book we find Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and other Mainliners promoting various aspects of Christian Nationalism.

Conf-class-58Christian Nationalism, it turns out, runs in two directions. In one, churches make space for and promote such national symbols as the American flag (true of the Presbyterian church in which I grew up. In fact, if you look at this photo of my 1958 confirmation class at that church, you can see the American flag on the left, closest to the pulpit and thus in the place of first honor, and the Christian flag on the right, in the place of second honor). In the other direction, politicians contend that America is a new Israel, home to God's specially chosen people. The authors put it this way: "Christian Nationalism seeks to conflate national and religious identities in a way that inherently provides Christians with a privileged place in American society."

And all across the history of this idolatry, the authors say, you will find Mainline Protestants contributing to it: ". . .the cultural and political preeminence Mainliners possessed in this era and after inadvertently became the seedbed out of which much of today's Christian Nationalism grew." And, they add, "Christian Nationalism isn't Christian."

They write that "Christian Nationalism makes two grave errors. First, it portrays human governments and their leaders as divine agents, rendering them godlike and worthy of a devotion that properly belongs only to God. Second, it reduces the church to a servant of the nation, sapping it of the authority to help discern what does (and does not) serve the common good."

After describing the appalling ways that Mainliners have contributed to the popularity of Christian Nationalism, the authors offer a series of steps those churches can take to repair the damage they've done. If Christian Nationalism survives in the U.S. and continues to influence both our politics and our religions, the future looks deeply problematic for both America and American Christianity.

As the authors say, "We want to see Christians get their priorities straight. We believe that the future of both the church and the nation depends on it." I think they're right.

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It's nice to see a pope with both a sense of reality and a sense of humor. As this Crux story reports, Pope Francis seems well aware that even some people inside the Vatican are praying not for him but against him. And he's able to make jokes about it. It's further proof that no one in a position of authority ever receives universal love and approval. And things go much better if that person recognizes that reality and accepts it rather than always seeking to punish his or her critics.


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