Why I Am Not a ‘Christian Nationalist’

I was the old style of Religious Right, and I make no apologies, but I don’t consider myself to be a Christian Nationalist.  This is, however, a distinction that is probably too subtle for the media to understand. 

I am not a Christian Nationalist.  To understand the distinction I make between Religious Right and Christian Nationalist, you need to understand the concept of the Two Tables of the Law, which divides the Ten Commandments into two sections.

The first table has to do with our duties to God directly and comprises the first 3 ½ commandments [2 ½ in the Catholic and Lutheran traditions]:

1.  Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

2.  Thou shalt not make any graven image for the purpose of worshiping it.

3.  Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord ‘in vain’ to misuse it for your own agenda.

4a.  Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.  [The part about doing no work on the Sabbath, I believe, belongs to the     Second Table along with the rest of the Commandments.]

The second table has to do with our duties to ourselves and other people.

4b.  Six days shall you labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is to be a Sabbath rest.

 5.  Honor your father and mother, that your life may be long in the land. [Considered as also including the obligation to obey    God’s various ordained human authorities when they don’t go against His Law.]

6.  Thou shalt not commit murder. [Extends to all ungodly anger and wrath.]

7.  Thou shalt not commit adultery. [Extends to all sexual morality and includes improper lusts.]

8.  Thou shalt not steal.

9.  Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

10.  Thou shalt not ‘covet’ [lust after or make plans to get hold of, or envy] thy neighbor’s spouse or possessions.

The first table, I would say, is no business of the government at all.  The second table is pretty much the basis of most legal systems, even those that have not been influenced by the Bible.  [However, the government should not try to police in detail motivations of the heart, like lust or anger, that are part of the understanding that Jesus brought to us regarding the Commandments.]

Sometimes trying to legislate parts of the Second Table may be imprudent or lead to selective morality [going against the less popular sins but not the more popular ones] or hypocrisy.  This is especially true with the outworkings of the Sixth Commandment on sexual morality.  Some have tried to go beyond prudence and declare ‘consensual’ sexual activity a ‘right’.  I am not sure that this is a good argument; and postmodern power dynamics have taught us that ‘consensual’ is not always as consensual as is claimed to be.  Consider, for example, the Harvey Weinsteins and Jeffrey Epsteins of the world.

This puts me in the interesting position of not being fully opposed to laws against adultery, which are clearly in the Second Table, but opposed to laws requiring ‘prayer in government schools’, which are of course a matter of the First Table.  Frankly, I think that supporting classroom prayer and Bible reading in public schools [not counting voluntary student clubs] falls into Christian Nationalist territory.

The government [and that includes all the way down to City Hall and the Homeowners Association] is interested in our earthly welfare, so it has an interest in the common morality reflected in the Second Table, but it has no business involving itself in our eternal salvation.  Therefore, ‘true’ and ‘false’ religions must meet on an equal playing field.  Who would be enthusiastic about puja or salat in a public school?  We must guard even against quasi-Hindu practices, like meditation, that are often presented as ‘secular.’  [In my opinion, even Santa Claus is not secular; he is clearly a cargo cult deity.]

Christian Nationalism is the doctrine that the triune God has a special covenantal relationship with a political nation.  In my view, the New Testament, especially Paul, has made clear that in the New Covenant there are no more covenanted political entities and ethnic groups.  There is only the international, multicultural Church, the Bride of Christ.  However, the laws and rulers of a nation, and the customs of a culture, even without any covenant, are accountable to the standards of ‘justice’ held forth in the Second Table.  But for us under the New Covenant, 2nd Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray . . . I will hear them . . . and heal their land,” is about the Church.  It is not about America!

I could go along with the Religious Right on opposing abortion ‘rights’ and ‘rights’ to gay sex, though I wish they would have paid more attention to easy divorce and hetero premarital cohabitation!  But I could not be enthusiastic about ‘prayer in public schools’. I was three years in the public school system, and it was before and after the Engel vs. Vitale decision came down, and I don’t remember any prayers or any Bible reading!  [We did have Christmas carols; I suppose they have since stopped that.]

Allowing clubs of interest – ‘Bible clubs’ or ‘Qur’an clubs’ or ‘Sutra clubs’ or ‘Bhagavad-gita clubs’ — is a different matter.  Yes, the state can have preferences about morality, but not theology; the mosque or pagoda seeking land use rights is and should be on the same playing field as the church.  Yes, we want all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  But that’s not the government’s job.  In the public realm, we should treat other religions the way we Christians want to be treated.

There is another part of morality, as C. S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity.  That is the part about making ourselves the sort of people that are more capable [though never perfect] at living good lives.

What is the good of telling the ships how to steer so as to avoid collisions if, in fact, they are such crazy old tubs that they cannot be steered at all?  What is the good of drawing up, on paper, rules for social behaviour, if we know that, in fact, our greed, cowardice, ill temper, and self-conceit are going to prevent us from keeping them? . . .  It is easy enough to remove the particular kinds of graft or bullying that go on under the present system, but as long as men are twisters or bullies they will find out some way of carrying on the old game under the new system.  You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society.   (Mere Christianity.)

There are several ways that people have dealt with this.  Religions have often thought that religious devotional exercises and closeness to God, or Bible reading, prayer, and meditation, might accomplish this.  Others have other ways, like simple practices of virtue.

A government finds itself involved in this definitely in the case of prisons, and also with schools, in societies [most of them now] where the government has taken on education as one of its roles; this is also the case in some aspects of the welfare state.  And the military – which is strictly speaking not the state, but a means of supporting the state – believes that its drills will accomplish this in some areas of virtue – not all.  But in general I hold that the state is not the most effective at ‘rehab’ from alcohol or harder drugs, because you need a spiritual element to do ‘rehab’ and the state is not good at providing that.

For example, to revert to what is my favorite issue, there is an idea called Housing First that is popular in some government circles.  This holds that the best thing to do is get the homeless off the street into rooms before we try to confront their various addictions and insanities.  This would do, of course, for the purely economically homeless, those who have not developed addictions or mental illnesses.  Christian rescue mission operators, of course, think this is ‘enabling’ and run their programs to confront addictions and wrong thinking among their ‘students’.  And Housing First would provide an alternative to their potential ‘students’ by which those reluctant to surrender their vices might not come to the missions for help.  But I wonder if, since the state is not the most competent at ‘rehab’, which requires a spiritual [secular people might say ‘psychological’] component that the state is not suited to provide, whether Housing First is the best that the government can do!

I was lucky to stumble on a quote by Martin Luther King that illustrates the point.  (“Dr Martin Luther King’s visit to Western Michigan University, December 18, 1963,” quoted in Michael Wear, The Spirit of our Politics, page 129.)  “It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.  It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.”  This is a very important point about the competence, or lack of competence, of the state vs. private and religious institutions.  As applied to the homeless, the state can push them off the street, and perhaps declare some of them ‘insane’ or ‘under conservancy’ and not entitled to adult freedoms – which it probably should do.  But it does not have the power to cure addiction or mental illness by law or decree.

In the end, I am not a Christian Nationalist.  I do think the political order can draw on the Second Table of the Law to make its legal system.  There is nothing wrong with this.  All those who say that ‘religious morality’ should not be the basis of civil law are picking and choosing.  None of them want to legalize murder of competent adults, theft, or perjury; most of them do not want to validate racial prejudice or domestic violence; murder, theft, perjury, racial prejudice, and domestic violence are also sins against ‘Christian morality’.  So these people are picking and choosing which parts of ‘Christian morality’ they like and which they don’t like.

America, as a political entity, is not a Christian Nation, and never has been one.  American culture and manners, for all the evils of slavery, the treatment of the Indians, has been at times more or less influenced by Christian ideas.  So we don’t have a Christian political nation, but it can be argued that we have a partly Christian culture, which, in my belief, is a different sphere of authority than that of the state.

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