Christ, the Capitol, and the need to repent of Christian nationalism

Photo credit: Alex Edelmen / Getty images, via Slate

Since Common Ground’s conception, Molly, Leah, and I have been very careful to avoid making assertions that might offend the political sensibilities of readers or obscure the message of the Gospel. We’ve done so because we hope this blog is a beacon of truth — truth that transcends party lines or racial identities or socioeconomic statuses. We genuinely believe that a Christian can be faithfully following Jesus and holding to the principles of either political party; indeed, among the three of us you will find a variety of political stances represented.  

Yet there come times when the proclamation of truth is not obscured by, but actually necessitates, assertions that are “political.” And we believe that now — after white supremacists have raided the Capitol building, upheld conspiracies undermining the presidential election, and even called for civil war, often in the name of Jesus — now is one of those times

What happened last Wednesday reveals that our country’s present issues are not primarily political; they transcend the particularities of either party and are fundamentally issues of humanity, dignity, justice, and (especially for the Christian) spiritual warfare. If the crisis we find ourselves in is bigger than the divide between red and blue, then so must our answers find mooring in truth which is bigger than policy: truth which is clear, absolute, and may not allow for the same pluralism that purely political discussions demand. For the Christian, there can be only one answer to racism and the idolization of power, not a variety that gets rationalized and talked around on the basis of party lines. 

When a national leader encourages violence from supporters who are blatantly racist, taking advantage of conflated notions of patriotism and evangelicalism, then the name of Jesus has been distorted and disgraced. Regardless of political standing, the response of Christians must be a decrying of the events of last week, as well as repentance from looking to political power to bring God’s Kingdom come. 

A question of loyalty and lordship

This assertion takes root in the fact that for the Christian, the Word of God must be the first and utmost authority guiding our understanding about everything in life. And what is the Word of God other than the life of Jesus Himself, displayed in the Bible? In Greek “the Word” is logos, used to refer both to Scripture and to Christ (John 1). What we believe and proclaim flows from who we look to as Lord. The question all Christians must now ask themselves, then, is this: who am I allowing to be my ultimate authority on our country’s present crises, Jesus or my political party? 

Followers of Jesus are not precluded from having other loyalties which might clarify or guide their personal values — such as loyalties to one’s family, ethnic group, church denomination, or political party. But these loyalties are to be subordinated to the Lordship of Christ. If they demand behaviors and beliefs which conflict with the Gospel, then the way of Jesus must override and take first place. 

Jesus did not care about winning earthly fights

What exactly is this way of Christ? In Philippians 2, Paul writes this:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…”

Jesus was the epitome of meekness; although He was one with the Creator, transcendent and authoritative over all, He did not take hold of the power which He was entitled to by nature of His identity. Instead, He lowered Himself and became a servant of all.

“…And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Jesus’ humility led Him to the cross: to death on behalf of the world, the greatest act of love and justice ever seen. And because of this humility (“therefore” ) God exalted Him such that people of all colors, nationalities, and identities might confess Him as Lord. 

Christ did not grasp power and exalt Himself, although He could have. Instead, He chose the path of humble love, and in the end, God exalted Him for the sake of the entire world. I cannot think of a single instance when Jesus joined Himself with the authorities of His time — whether the religious leaders of the Jews or the authorities of the occupying Romans — for the sake of advancing His cause.

The strain of Christian nationalism that has joined itself with Trumpism emerged from the belief that worldly power is necessary to uphold and build God’s Kingdom. Many believe that the American church is being pushed into a time of cultural persecution, causing reaches for political dominance for the sake of “protecting Christian America.” Yet in the life of Christ, we see that no earthly power is needed for the Gospel to be known and for the work of restoration to be done. Only faithful, humble servant-hearted love displayed in the lives of those who follow Him, sustained by the Holy Spirit and done in care for the “least of these” whom Jesus loved, is necessary.

The Church is not dying

Woven into the Christian nationalist argument for political power is a subtle but insidious belief: that the church in America needs to be protected, through the domination of the political right, in order to save the Church at large. Though often implicit, this belief is exposed in the doomed, apocalyptic terms with which many evangelicals describe our present moment — that the church is dying, and with it, God’s work. That everything will go to Hell in a handbasket if we don’t preserve the remnants of religious freedom and cultural comfort we might still have.

Yet we must remember that the Body of Christ is not restricted to the post-modern West, and its health is not contingent on religious freedom. It extends across the entire world, growing to include all tribes and nations and tongues, and when we look at God’s work in this global context we see that it’s actually doing quite well. Unreached groups are hearing the Gospel; local churches are growing; a bountiful spiritual harvest is being reaped in places like China and the Middle East, where the world’s fastest-growing churches persist in spite of brutal punishment from authorities. The same was true of the early church, immediately after Christ ascended; in spite of persecution in Rome, the Gospel spread rapidly and communities of believers blossomed.

This is not to devalue the religious freedom we have in the States or to trivialize the persecution and suffering that our brothers and sisters have to endure overseas. It is merely to show that God is not limited by any potential lack of religious freedom or discomfort in culture. Just because things may not seem to be going well in America does not mean the Church is withering away, and that should be a source of hope. 

In the Bible, when the prophet Habakkuk sees Israel riddled with injustice and raises his complaint to the Lord, he says, 

“Destruction and violence are before me;

    strife and contention arise.

So the law is paralyzed,

    and justice never goes forth.

For the wicked surround the righteous;

    so justice goes forth perverted.”

Yahweh responds with this:

“Look among the nations, and see;

    wonder and be astounded.

For I am doing a work in your days

    that you would not believe if told.”

(Habakkuk 1:3b-5)

Look among the nations. God is not hindered by the cultural persecution that Christian nationalists fear; His ultimate victory in the world is not at risk. Scripture tells us how the story ends, and it is not in defeat. God’s Kingdom wins — not because one generation of the church in America retained a majority in the Senate or because a president was voted out, but because Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world and rose up victorious. 

How then shall we live?

In order to see these promises made full, the American church must repent. Since following Jesus means there can be only one answer regarding racism and the idolization of political power, deviation from truth in any direction requires correction. Christian nationalists have chosen the political right as their ally, but this does not mean that only Christian Republicans must do the difficult work of admitting wrong, turning away from idolatry, and turning towards the Lordship of Jesus. Regardless of political standing, we are all guilty of subverting Christ’s Lordship through the worship of lesser things and are all complicit in our tolerance of the American church’s grasps at power. We must therefore all repent. 

It is painful to admit wrong and adjust course, and sometimes it may simply feel easier to persist in former wrongs by creating new arguments of defense or rationale. I have seen and continue to see Christian friends (whom I love) try to defend President Trump and extricate him from culpability in last Wednesday’s chaos. Perhaps there is a fear of the shame in openly admitting wrong, especially with the caustic rhetoric and cancel culture which pervade public discourse. I understand that fear and have felt it myself at various points in my life. And yet, humble confession is the only route to genuine healing and forgiveness. Bringing wrongs to light and turning to Christ for restoration is the essence of the Gospel-centered life. Let us not keep such practices hidden away in our private times of prayer; they must also characterize our lives before others, our country, and the world (James 5:16).

We must also remember that American church’s issues are not primarily political. We are in the midst of a spiritual war. In Ephesians 6:12, Paul writes, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” The Church’s real enemy is not a political party, or a president, or the extremists who raided the Capitol. Our true battle is with Satan, who is at work in the background of all of this to distort the name of Jesus and cause division among His body. Repentance is the way to undermine the devil’s schemes and to re-equip ourselves with Gospel truth for defense. It is the way to reconcile with other believers regardless of differences.

And finally, we must have hope. In spite of deep feelings of anger and hurt and exhaustion from last Wednesday, I have been continually reminded that Jesus is the embodiment of hope and there is no crisis too big for Him. Satan will not win, hard as he might try, and we need only look beyond our borders to see that the Church is flourishing in the world. Moreover, while our situation in America is grave and merits serious repentance, it is also evidence that God is doing a new thing to purify His Bride. Rejoice in the promises of Revelation 3:8-10: 

Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.

Repent, be reconciled, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Hear this, church: your Jesus is coming, and His Kingdom cannot be stopped.

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