The theme of “Christian nationalism” has reappeared in our political life, taking up residence in the Republican Party. It is nothing new, however, having taken many forms in the past, including moral rearmament, prohibition, Christian Reconstructionism, the moral majority, and the Christian coalition.
In every incarnation , people come to believe that something close to heaven on earth can be accomplished through the political system and through a government led by like-minded people. Each time this impulse has failed to achieve its stated goals.
Leaving aside for a moment the failure of Christian nationalist theology, let us apply a little pragmatism to these movements, including the most recent called “Reawaken America”, led by former national security adviser to Donald Trump (for 22 days), retired General Michael Flynn.
As the respected Pew Research Center has noted, “Christianity’s decline continues apace.” This is reflected in the profile of the people who attend Flynn’s rallies. They appear to be mostly older and white, hardly the image of an America of the future. Several surveys have shown that when asked about their religious affiliation, millennials make up the largest percentage (36 %) with “no religion”.
According to Pew, “65% of Americans” identify as Christians, but it is a diverse group. Among them are mainstream Protestants, who generally vote Democrat. Among evangelicals, there are also divisions, with some voting for the Democrats and others for the Republicans. Roman Catholics are also divided, especially on social issues like abortion. They either vote for competing political parties or identify as independents.
The question then becomes: how does this minority within a minority within an even smaller minority expect to win elections in numbers enough to pass legislation that will reverse what they see as moral and cultural decline? If it could be done, wouldn’t it have been done by the aforementioned movements, which had a higher percentage of like-minded people?
Oklahoma entrepreneur Clay Clark leads the organization ReAwaken America . A report by the Associated Press on a recent rally in Batavia, New York, quotes him: “I want you to look around and you will see a group of people who love this country a lot. On this ReAwaken America Tour, Jesus is King President Donald J. Trump is our president.”
This comment summarizes the attempt to merge faith with politics.
This ideology, this misguided faith that fallen humanity can—or should—impose a worldview through a government that the majority do not share dates back at least to the time of Jesus.
In the book of Acts, the disciples asked Jesus: “Lord, has the time come to deliver Israel and restore our kingdom?” (Acts 1:6). They were looking for an earthly kingdom with themselves in charge. They wanted to get rid of the Roman occupation and “take control”. Make Israel great again!
Later, Jesus would answer Pontius Pilate, who asked him if he was king: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my guards would have fought to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. Now: my kingdom is not from here” (John 18: 36)) . This statement is a powerful rebuke to those who seek a kingdom that would be as flawed as they were if it ever came to fruition.
I have always appreciated this observation by CS Lewis, which speaks to current movements and pasts of “Christian soldiers” who want to transform America in their image: “Aim for Heaven, the Earth comes as a gift; aim for the Earth and you will be without both.”
Perhaps these well-meaning but misguided Christian nationalists should obey the commands of the one they claim to follow (and I don’t mean Donald Trump) . When that was the priority for Christians in the past, the culture has changed. An awakened America will not come through politics and government, no matter how much Christian nationalists want it.
Cal Thomas is an author and broadcaster. He is the author of several books, including “America’s Expiration Date: The Fall of Empires and Superpowers and the Future of the United States”[O fim da América: Queda dos impérios e superpotências e o futuro dos Estados Unidos].