Acton Institute Powerblog

The Idol of Nationalism

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What Amrith Lal calls patriotism in this piece from the Times of India is probably more accurately called nationalism, but the point is well-taken nonetheless. The brief essay begins:

As practised in our times, it is religion at its worst. The canons of morality and logic are lost on it. All that is expected of the patriot is blind devotion to an abstract entity called the state or whatever that symbolises the state. Needless to say, the state can never go wrong. Orwell’s Big Brother is morally permissible in the patriot’s idea of nation. All this is built into our understanding of the nation.

In this sense, patriotism/nationalism can clearly become a competing religion with biblical Christianity. And so often, the nationalistic impulse becomes expressed in partisanship (which I take a brief look at here).

This tendency should serve, I think, to temper the optimism of the growing movement among evangelical pastors to run for political office (most recently Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, has been rumored to be considering a run for Congress). Let me be clear: I’m not saying that pastoral ordination should necessarily disqualify a person from running for political office. I’m also not saying that Christian laypersons should refrain. It’s difficult, of course, to make universal rules about such things. Perhaps all I can say in general is that we need to guard against the conflation of Christian and civil religion.

As such, churches, and church leaders in particular, should be careful to test their motivations and intentions for becoming politically active. According to the evangelical outpost, yesterday’s Justice Sunday II raised this question:

Do politics and local churches go together? Yes, says Ted Haggard, there is nothing that we believe that does not affect public policy. Haggard encourages Christians to get more involved in politics, learning the skills needed to run for public office if necessary. All it takes is a God intoxicated generation to influence a people, Haggard says, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Let’s hope it’s a “God intoxicated” and not a “power intoxicated” movement.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.


  • Weren’t there some pastors in Congress during the early days of our founding?

    Of course then, Congress was an avocation rather than a profession.