The spirit of nationalism is a positive thing in my view. Most people inherently love their country. Christians should not be alarmed by this very normal human emotion. I shared in it by observing the Fourth of July parade in my community. As the band played and the fire trucks blared their sirens I found myself feeling a sense of pride about this community and my country. I watched the politicians go by, seeking recognition and votes, and thought to myself, “Elections never seem to end here.” The best word to describe my emotion was “pride” I think. I am sincerely proud to be an American.
But as with any other emotion I felt some other reactions as I thought further about our country at this time. I believe nationalism is a good thing but I am deeply concerned about the growing “Christian” nationalism on the far right. This spirit is fed by many springs, including popular preachers, best-selling books and mean-spirited talk shows. My concern about this kind of nationalism is not without reason. When I hear conservative Christians talk about the future they envision for America I find myself becoming more and more distant from their vision of nationalism. I think one reason I have these fears is rooted in my racist Southern background. The fears I heard played up in my childhood, often by white conservative Christians, are the same type of fears I hear played up by growing bands of fringe Christians who appeal to the instinctive fear that this country is so anti-God that it is in need of a huge social upheaval that will radically remake everything from our judiciary to our schools.
What I realized, especially as I watched the parade and chatted with my multi-racial neighbors, was how wonderful it is to live in this country where people of all races and backgrounds can find a home in what still is “the land of the free.” I want real Christian influence in this culture but I do not want a “Christian nation.” I do not believe such a nation has ever existed and every attempt to create one will lead to extremes that ultimately harm the real work of the gospel and Christian mission in our society.
John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."