On ‘Christian nationalism’

Several politicians have said recently that they describe themselves as “Christian nationalists.”

This story discusses the trend:

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, and other conservatives have called on Americans to embrace Christian nationalism in recent days, drawing intense backlash from some fellow Christians and non-religious individuals alike.

In Saturday (July 24) remarks to the conservative Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in Florida, Greene argued that Christian nationalism is “a good thing.”

“That’s not a bad word,” the GOP congresswoman said. “That’s actually a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with leading with your faith….If we do not live our lives and vote like we are nationalists—caring about our country, and putting our country first and wanting that to be the focus of our federal government—if we do not lead that way, then we will not be able to fix it.”

Her remarks drew accusations that she was a “Nazi” and comparisons to the Taliban, the Afghan militant group that enforces an extremist version of Islamic law. Other Republican lawmakers have touted the ideology and taken aim at the long-standing principle of the separation of church and state in recent months.

“Christian nationalism is the belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the government should take active steps to keep it that way. Popularly, Christian nationalists assert that America is and must remain a ‘Christian nation’—not merely as an observation about American history, but as a prescriptive program for what America must continue to be in the future,” Dr. Paul D. Miller, professor of the practice of international affairs and co-chair for global politics and security at Georgetown University, explained in a 2021 article for Christianity Today.

So, what do I think about this from the Latter-day Saint perspective? I would not describe myself as a “Christian nationalist,” and I don’t think the Church supports Christian nationalism, but I think the opposition to such a description is WAY over the top compared to the supposed threat. And there are some points of the Christian nationalist perspective that are worth considering.

First, let’s consider what it means to be a nationalist. Church leaders have spoken out against prejudice caused by nationalism over time, including this from Elder Ballard just five years ago:

“We need to embrace God’s children compassionately and eliminate any prejudice, including racism, sexism, and nationalism,” Elder Ballard said. “Let it be said that we truly believe — and truly live — the words of the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi: ‘(The Lord) inviteth … all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female … and all are alike unto God.’”

So what did Elder Ballard mean by eliminating the prejudice of nationalism? To sum up, he did not mean that loving your country is a bad thing or that considering your country’s interests first is a bad thing. He was concerned about nationalism that creates prejudice. In my opinion, he is concerned about caring more about nationalism than about God and the charity and love of the Savior. If I may suggest another way of looking at it, I believe the Brethren are concerned that nationalism may become an idol that prevents us from focusing our attention on the Savior.

This issue is discussed at length in this post, which addresses nationalism when it comes to politicians who support President Trump and many other subjects. Please read the entire post and the comments.

Here is how I see it:

Eliminating nationalism in the U.S. seems politically correct, especially in the days of the nationalist president Donald Trump, but what about eliminating Brazilian nationalism or Japanese nationalism or French nationalism?

Are the prophets saying that no latter-day Saints in these countries should have nationalist feelings?  Should they not love their countries and have feelings of patriotism?

The first point is that we must separate nationalism from patriotism.  I believe Elder Ballard has no problem with people feeling patriotism, and in fact latter-day Saints are among the most patriotic Americans, and I can report that Mormons are also patriotic towards their own countries in the many countries where I have traveled.

The issue, it seems to me, is when nationalism becomes “xenophobia” (fear or foreigners) or jingoism (an aggressive nationalism that includes military force).  It seems to me that Elder Ballard’s concern is when nationalism turns into ill will towards other countries or cultures and results in only caring for insular concerns.  The Gospel is about charity for all people regardless of nationality, skin color, etc.  Elder Ballard is warning that nationalism may decrease love in the entire human family.

So, patriotism and national pride has its place.  There is nothing wrong with rooting for people from your country in the Olympics or shedding a tear when your country’s flag is raised.

But there are times when national pride can become ugly.  World history is filled with horrific nationalist wars.  National pride can sometimes turn into ethnic pride.   And the Church is making it clear that such nationalism is just as bad as racism and sexism.

So is nationalism bad? Again, not necessarily. When considering a policy, shouldn’t politicians consider how it affects the people in their own nation first? Shouldn’t Japanese politicians be concerned how a policy would affect Japan and French politicians be concerned about what will happen in France? I think the answer is obviously yes.

So, even though I don’t describe myself as a “nationalist,” I don’t buy the media hype that people who adopt such a description are necessarily wrong or evil.

But what about “Christian nationalism?” Well, Latter-day Saints are Christians, but we are not generally Christian nationalists, I think. We believe that Christ visited the Americas, and we believe that the Americas are a special land, but we don’t necessarily believe this applies to individual nation-states. We believe that the U.S. Constitution is inspired and we Americans are patriotic, but this does not mean we are disdain other nationalities. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is for all people worldwide.

As Elder Charles Didier of the Seventy said in 1976:

In conclusion, I would say: keep your national heritage in your heart, be proud of it, cultivate these values in your families as long as they are building the kingdom of our Father in heaven. As soon as it comes out of these boundaries, it is used more to create differences among people than to bring them together. We are one nation; we have one eternal Father; we are brothers and sisters—different, but with the same eternal goal of helping to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

The final word is given by our Lord as a commandment, not only as an objective: “I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.” (D&C 38:27.)

To the extent that being a Christian nationalist means you are promoting true Christianity in your country, including building up the kingdom of God and promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I have no problem with it.

But there are dangers, of course. What version of Christianity is promoted? Many Christians don’t consider members of our Church Christians. Will Christian nationalism lead to bigotry against Jews, Muslims and others? People sometimes forget it was supposed Christians who killed Joseph and Hyrum Smith and issued the Missouri extermination order.

Many secularists believes that Christian nationalism will inevitably lead to a “Handmaid’s Tale” dystopia. If you have never read the Margaret Atwood book or seen the movie or TV show, “The Handmaid’s Tale” tells the horrific story of Christian nationalists mounting a coup against the U.S. government and instituting a fascist anti-woman theocratic state.

I am going to declare these concerns WAY over the top. If you actually take the time to talk to a Christian nationalist (and I have many friends sympathetic to this viewpoint), they feel they are primarily on the defensive. They have no desire to tell other people what to do and how they should worship. But they would like a world where there are fewer abortions, fewer groomer teachers trying to brainwash children into thinking they are a different gender, and more people concerned about the loss of jobs and traditional families in the U.S. What these Christian nationalists want is a return to the world we had just a few decades ago, not some radical imposition of forced Christianity.

It seems clear to me that Latter-day Saints should be much more concerned about the spread of woke ideology in the schools and universities, and the negative effects this ideology is having on Church members, than Christian nationalism that probably will have no negative effects at all on the Church.

So, I am going to sum up by saying that I would not describe myself as a Christian nationalist, and I don’t believe Church doctrine supports Christian nationalism, but I also don’t see it as a huge threat. Don’t fall for the hype.

This entry was posted in General by Geoff B.. Bookmark the permalink.

About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

15 thoughts on “On ‘Christian nationalism’

  1. Master observer of human absurdity, Lewis Carrol well wrote:

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    ’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    ’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

    https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/12608-when-i-use-a-word-humpty-dumpty-said-in-rather

  2. Good points all around.

    Up until multiculturalism swept across American culture, it was understood by all but the most hardened Radical that American exceptionalism was a justified sentiment because the ideals of the American system were exceptional. That this was the prevailing view of Church leaders is documented in scriptures (Doctrine & Covenants), Church history, and discourses of Church leaders. These attitudes are captured in this 2012 vignette concerning Mitt Romney and his presidential campaign:

    “As Jonathan Chait notes, Romney is using the opportunity to revive the topic of his 2010 book, No Apology. “His overarching theme,” writes Chait, “is that he, unlike certain current presidents he could name, loves America absolutely and without qualification.”

    Chait questions whether Romney actually believes this himself or whether the rhetoric is just a bit of nationalist demagoguery…

    I think it’s worth noting that an enthusiastic belief in American exceptionalism is part of Mormon culture and theology.”

    https://newrepublic.com/article/105330/amy-sullivan-mormonism-and-american-exceptionalism

    This blurb shows that a decade ago criticism of “American Exceptionalism” was becoming mainstream, with the attitude being dismissed as “Nationalism”. Today, “Nationalism / Nationalist” is a pejorative cast against Conservatives who have the audacity to say the American government should care first and foremost about Americans. And somehow, Mitt Romney is one of those throwing stones – he being the most vocal anti-MAGA Republican. Of course we can understand why the friction between Trump and Romney exists. But still!

    What happened? How did the idea of American Exceptionalism lose its place among Americans? And do note the irony that in the eyes of world immigrants, America is the best and brightest destination. Conservatives believe this but wish illegal aliens would instead listen to Liberals and conclude America was a bad destination!

    What happened to the idea of American exceptionalism is it became politically incorrect to publicly declare it. Multiculturalism has succeeded in making Americans embarrassed of their own country. Now there is plenty to be disappointed about in America. All the while, the American ideals of self-determination and of government limited by Constitutional provision are splendid. These ideals are also essential to the principle of Religious Liberty and the freedom of a people to worship God according the dictates of their own conscience.

    That Church leaders have become cautious about defending American exceptionalism and resort to qualifiers like “Informed Patriotism” and feel the need to warn about “Nationalism” is concerning. What are they reading or watching that gives them the impression that the desire of Americans to have a government that reflects and respects their interests, and not the interests of a global elite, is a threat?

    The current #1 song on iTunes is John Rich’s song “Progress” Latter-day Saints do not have to agree with every point of the song or its attitude. But they ought to recognize the sentiment of the song is felt by millions of Americans who love God and desire to live free of oppression. These are not all Christians. But many are and they will support leaders who will defend their faith. Where are those leaders?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6tOAafAJCA
    https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/johnrich/progress.html

  3. Disciple, you make some excellent points. Indeed, why is promoting American exceptionalism all of the sudden taboo?

    I come from a different place from many people on this issue. I have lived overseas for many years in Europe and Latin America, and I work for a Hong Kong-based company and travel internationally all the time. Most of my co-workers are not Americans. I speak several languages fluently. Yet I feel there is something unique and special about the “old America,” the America the extolled the ideal of individualism and liberty while also promoting Judeo-Christian values. Americans have a healthy distrust of government that I think is very wise given world history.

    But at the same time I am ashamed of so many things in recent American history. Our politicians appear to be especially stupid, and I don’t like the acceptance of world domination and the promotion of empire on the part of many Americans. Why have we accepted becoming the world’s policemen? In addition to being expensive, it is dangerous and a thankless task.

    But then I come back to an important reality: the vast majority of Americans are truly good people trying to do the right thing. And the Constitution is a truly special document that most people continue to reverence. So, yes, we as Americans should continue to be proud, at least about American goals of freedom and religious liberty.

    Regarding the Church’s warnings about nationalism, I would urge you to re-read the post I copied in the OP, including the comments. A lot of people wrestled with this issue, and I think we came to some good conclusions. Give it another look.

    https://www.millennialstar.org/eliminate-nationalism/

  4. As a pretty hard Libertarian, I’ve got no particular loyalty to “America” as a nationalist concept (and in my more tinfoil hatty moments I think the brethren who aren’t President Oaks feel the same– I pick out ‘post-nationalist’ rhetoric in General Conference from time to time). American ideals of property rights, constrained government, and the rule of law I’m all for. But ‘Murica? Nah. It was built by men, and will eventually fall as do all constructs of men. I’m with Ballard and Didier above. You can have some gratitude and appreciation for your freedom, and treasure liberty, without turning it into something you use to create divisive labels.

  5. Lattertarian, I mostly agree, but I would point out that I have loyalty and appreciation for the values of the United States — liberty, respect of law, the Constitution, religious liberty, individualism — more than I do for the actions of the flawed people who have been politicians in our republic. I dislike the U.S. government, especially recently, while loving the idea of an America that upholds its values. So, I have no problem, for example, talking to my foreign friends about what idiots our politicians are while also defending the values of the United States, especially the Constitution.

  6. It looks like we agree almost entirely, and disagreement isn’t one of principle, but ranking. 🙂 Most of the core concepts of American constitutional democracy are treasures. Unfortunately the institutions entrusted with their care have fallen prey to inevitable mortal flaws. Some of it’s been gotten pretty right. Some of it’s been gotten more and more wrong over time. While I’m happy to speak out in favor of fixing what’s wrong, I also concede the damage may be irreparable and a re-start may be coming. I won’t perceive that hypothetical restart as a bad thing. I’ll see it as a chance to evolve and advance those core treasure-principles into a new set of institutions, restarting the clock on inevitable decline.

    Make no mistake. I’m no sign-seeking doomsday prep blackpiller stockpiling guns so I can win the food riots. I’m prepared either way, but I’m not just waiting for the end.

  7. Geoff,

    I strongly dislike the “nationalism / nationalist” label as it is highly prejudiced by the context. Consider this description of Ronald Reagan provided by the Smithsonian: “Reagan’s nationalism and warmth helped change the national mood…”
    https://www.si.edu/spotlight/knowing-the-presidents-ronald-reagan

    Ok then, “nationalism” is good. At least it is good when it is done warmly and with a positive tone. But Trump “nationalism” was bad because Trump was confrontational. In other words, it is the messenger, and not “nationalism” that is the problem.

    It is an eternal truth that sovereignty matters. It matters individually and it matters collectively. We individually are accountable for our choices and we need to have a government that is accountable to the people for what it does. These principles are clearly taught in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants.

    The “nationalism” I support is the view that the government of the people is accountable to the people and should be attentive to the concerns of the people. There is also the “nationalism” of a people justifying its bigotry against others. this attitude is wrong and not compatible with Christianity. It behooves Church leaders to use precise language to differentiate between healthy “nationalism” and actual bigotry.

    The Book of Mormon provides two illustrative examples that apply to the question of “Nationalism”. When the converted Lamanites chose not to raise swords to defend themselves, Ammon went to talk to the Nephite leaders to see if the Nephites would accept and defend these Lamanites. The account explains the Nephites accepted to do this on condition the Lamanites paid for this service. They were not given a “free-ride”. Also, the Lamanites did not simply assume they could demand the Nephites allow them into their lands. Simply put, the converted Lamanites respected the sovereignty of the Nephites.

    Later, in the Book of Helaman, we read that the Nephites and Lamanites were in open commerce, but each retained its own government. The Nephite government was infiltrated by Gadiantons. The Lamanites actively prevented Gadiantons from gaining a hold in their government. This decision by the Lamanites allowed their people to remain free and righteous. The point to recognize is the sovereignty of the Lamanites allowed them to better protect themselves from evil.

  8. I know a number of people who think this:
    “Reagan’s nationalism and warmth helped change the national mood…”
    ends like this:
    “, which convinced the public to ignore two things: his cronies making enormous amounts of money, and the squandering of other people’s lives in service to the military/industrial complex.”

    Reagan’s “nationalism” isn’t good by definition. Though it did inspire the making of Top Gun, so I guess it’s not ALL bad. 🙂

  9. They have been coming for our American heritage for a long time, but it really went crazy the last few years. After all, if one controls the past, one controls the future, right?
    The concept of Christian nationalism came from these same people, taking traditional views and heritage of America, long preached about in this church and even mentioned in scripture, and trying to make it the same as being a white supremacist.
    Maybe some politicians will adopt the label, but I think we need to not accept it as something different or new.
    By their terms, the Battle Hymn of the Republic would be Christian nationalism…..

  10. In fairness, I don’t think that’s what Pete is saying. If I’m reading it right, Pete’s making the case that “Christian Nationalism” isn’t anything either Christians or Nationalists created themselves. Rather, it’s a construct built by their ideological opponents (broadly the hard-authoritarian progressives), and painted as garishly as possible to tie it to “whiteness” and all the other things they hate. By this reasoning, today’s Christian Nationalists (and they’re out there, though I think their real population is extremely small) are embracing a concept they didn’t create, perhaps to spite those who did, and perhaps to try and reclaim the terms. Regardless of the motivation to accept the label, though, the Christian Nationalists are still effectively accepting somebody else’s label, which tragically boxes them into somebody else’s definition of reality.

    Also in fairness, I *detest* the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

  11. Geoff, you misread my point.

    We used to get lots of rhetoric of white supremacy. About 7 years ago, the language moved to fear mongering about “white nationalism”. I just did a Google books ngram search and 2014 is when “white nationalism” shot up and surpassed “white supremacy”.

    “Christian nationalism” is now racing up the same way.

    You probably have seen the ngram searches of the NYT and others greatly increasing usage of the Woke language over the last 7 years.

    These words suddenly becoming used are not accidents. Researchers study very carefully which words and rhetorical schemes will move the country. Remember calling estate taxes “death taxes”.

    So, I am worried that those who criticize “Christian nationalism” are doing so in bad faith.

  12. This an interesting conversation about libertarianism (classical liberalism) versus national conservatism. Individual Liberty versus what will conserve our society and government.

    https://youtu.be/UdTm3B6AVvY

    I had not really thought of the last 70 as the logical extension of classical liberalism. When a woke/marxist says to a classical liberal, that there are injustices for group X, there really is no logical answer.

    To a conservative there is. That our social institutions of church, family, community and country have inherent good. That responsibility (family, community and country) is as important fundamental principle as a natural right.

    That our founding documents enshrine the principles of unity or conservatism just as much as they enshrine that of liberty.

  13. Rich, I listened to that discussion, and there are some good things to recommend it. The problem is that the state, meaning the government, cannot logistically enforce conservative family values in any long-lasting way that allows liberty. I am a big fan of the pre-censorship movies of the 1950s and 1940s, and I wish all movies these days had those values, but I don’t want the government deciding which movies I should and should not watch. If the government today (meaning Biden and the woke federal government) decided which movies I should watch it would be all woke garbage all the time. Can you see how problematic it is to call for government enforcement of certain values? A return to liberty means allowing everything, including the woke garbage, to be shown while promoting people voluntarily accepting the Gospel so they turn away from the garbage and toward Christ. That is really the only solution these days.

    Returning to the issue of Christian nationalism, which was the point of this post, I support the conservative values of Christian nationalists (as I understand them) while also worrying about the possible adoption of jingoist and chauvinistic standards of exclusion and turning nationalism into an idol. I also am more interested in state level and local laws than nationalist laws, and I believe the intent of the Founders was a very small federal government and much more powerful state and local governments.

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