Beware the nationalism trap

"...history shows that the church becomes a mere extension of the state when it falls into the trap of nationalism." - Henley

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JD Miller's picture

If nationalism simply means looking out for our own national interests so that we have a thriving economy and safety, then I have no problem with nationalism- especially when we recognize that much of the challenge is diplomacy with other nations that have similar and not always altruistic goals.  Historically evangelical Christians who have endorsed such an approach to nationalism have used their prosperity in a philanthropic manner that has benefited others in both this nation as well as those in other nations.

If nationalism is more of a theonomy or even dominion approach, then I could see the concern.

pvawter's picture

Yeah, a definition of nationalism would be helpful, but the author doesn't even attempt to give one. Additionally, the use of Zechariah 4:1-7 as a text explaining the right dynamic between state and church is a pretty big stretch.

Bert Perry's picture

....or for that matter, very often the churches descended from the old state churches like the Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Catholics.  It's a horrible situation when God's church is put into a government box.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

KD Merrill's picture

This is a year old during the waning days of the Bad Orange Man administration:

From the article: "Among Black churches, 28% reported they would endorse candidates if they could, the highest of all the religious groups studied. By comparison, only 11% of white evangelical congregations — those that constitute Donald Trump’s political base — said they would endorse political candidates if tax law was changed."

There's an acceptable narrative pushed by favored posters on SI.  This narrative is built on anecdotal evidence at best and is disconnected from reality at large.

JD Miller's picture

I think your assessment is pretty accurate. 

There's an acceptable narrative pushed by favored posters on SI.  This narrative is built on anecdotal evidence at best and is disconnected from reality at large.

The following is not the sort of thing you would expect to find in a SI Filing:


Trevin Wax writing for TGC shared the findings of a study on  ‘Progressive’ and ‘Conservative’ Christians.

But the bigger, underreported story is that conservative Christians are not uniquely prone to such errors, and in fact, “progressive” Christians outpace their conservative counterparts in succumbing to politicization.

KD Merrill's picture

Thanks for posting, JD.  That's the original article I had seen and wasn't able to find.  

I rarely post on SI, but the level of self-righteousness has grown more and more insufferable and unhinged as of late.


Craig Toliver's picture

Important to note that Patriotism is NOT Nationalism!

Recent Atlantic article:

In 1945, George Orwell defined patriotism as “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people.” He contrasted patriotism with nationalism, by which he meant “the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad’”; also, “the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.”

Nationalists may identify as patriots, and some people opposed to both ideologies might argue that they are equivalent. For national and individual well-being, though, distinguishing between them is important. Following Tocqueville and Orwell, we might define patriotism as civic pride in our democratic institutions and shared culture, and nationalism as a sense of superiority or identity, defined by demographics such as race, religion, or language.

dcbii's picture


I think that final definition of nationalism from "The Atlantic" is unnecessarily prejudicial with the way it is using "sense of superiority," even though it might be technically correct.

Merriam Webster's 1st definition of nationalism is this: "Loyalty and devotion to a nation especially : a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups."

Wikipedia has this: "Nationalism is an idea and movement that holds that the nation should be congruent with the state. As a movement, nationalism tends to promote the interests of a particular nation, especially with the aim of gaining and maintaining the nation's sovereignty over its homeland to create a nation state."

Nationalism certainly includes holding one's own nation and national interests to be more important than those of other nations, and in that sense, there is "superiority" involved.  However, most people I know that are nationalistic aren't using the term to say they are somehow superior people to those in other nations but that our nation should take care of its own interests first, and that except in very limited circumstances, those interests should not be subject to the interests of other nations or coalitions of nations.

Nationalism can of course be taken to extremes (e.g. there is a difference between thinking that the interests of ones nation include taking over neighbors and simply executing trade and alliance agreements to one's advantage), but used properly, as JD stated above, nationalism is not something to be feared or decried, and is a reasonable partner to patriotism.

Dave Barnhart