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If you love America, are you really a 'white Christian nationalist?'

Owen Strachan
Courtesy of Owen Strachen

These days, the younger generation is encouraged to despise their American birthright. According to this worldview, the United States was a force for oppression in centuries past, and racism, baked into the very structure of the republic, constitutes the true narrative of the American people. And what is this worldview’s solution to our country’s alleged ills? To tear down the existing order, cleanse it of its sins, and reeducate the youth such that they become activists against democracy, free speech, and free thought.

This new mentality is driven by what some call “wokeness.” As I detail in my forthcoming bookChristianity and Wokeness, being woke means “waking up,” per the tenets of Critical Race Theory, to the reality of structural racism and inequity in a society. This entails standing against institutions that mediate oppression through power dynamics—institutions like the family, the church, and the nation-state. There is much to say about wokeness’ anti-institutional commitments, but we shall concern ourselves here with the distinctively anti-national nature of the movement, and the fact that it targets religious people explicitly. Today, defending American ideals and history means one is painted as a proponent of “white Christian nationalism.”

The argument commonly goes that the evangelical movement has lost its moral compass by choosing to support conservative political candidates. Instead of standing for equity, justice, and fairness—buzzwords of the modern ideological revolution—the church allegedly chose to back xenophobia, narrowness, and tribalism.  Wokeness has offered Christians the salutary chance to be “antiracist,” but according to many prominent media voices today, Christian conservatives have rejected this move, instead lending their support to the “white Christian nationalist” movement, thinking they are patriots while actually being racist extremists.

This criticism is fierce, as one can see. It is not playing for a draw. But in this brief piece, I believe it is worth responding to the criticism for the good of the rising generation. I want America’s young people, especially Christians who believe in the power of the Gospel, to hear a stronger and sounder word than these lazy bromides. Let me briefly list out a few responses to the ideology mentioned above.

First, it is not wrong for a Christian to love their country. Every believer is called to love their neighbor as themselves (Mat. 22:34-39), and a country is essentially a great mass of “neighbors.” Does this mean we will love every country the same? No, it will be harder to love a tyrannical state than a free one. Further, America’s real failings as a nation temper our enthusiasm and keep us from enshrining this body politic as perfect. Nevertheless, it is good and right for a believer to seek the good of the city in which they live (Jer. 29:7). There is much to be thankful for as an American citizen. If you and I can be thankful for our local community or a city we treasure, why can we not love our country?

Second, it is right that we be engaged as believers in our country. We are called to pray for kings, honor the emperor, and submit to government as much as we can (1 Tim. 2:5, 1 Peter 2:17, Rom. 13:1-7). All this activity is expressly Christian; we perform such duties not as secularists, but as born-again believers. Christians of all kinds should live in these ways. It is not “white” people who are called to engage our community and country in some form, but all Christ’s church.

Third, it is wrong to identify “white” people as national oppressors in our time. America has real historical failings in terms of slavery and Jim Crow, failings supported by groups of “white” people in days past. And surely “white” people in our day need Jesus just as anyone does. But wokeness would have us see the American church, which does include many “white” people, as a present-day racist force acting to oppress people of color. Could “white” people fall prey to such evil? Yes, any person of any skin color or background could. But is the evangelical church inherently and incurably racist today? This is a claim that is regularly made, but it should be read as a statement of slander rather than a statement of fact. A group that is majority “white” does not automatically an oppressive body make.

The fever dream of many columnists, that a militantly racist body of extremist “white” fundamentalists waits just beyond the city gates to take back America, is downright silly. A whole lot of “white” Christians do want America to thrive, yes. But this does not mean they wish to oppress other people; I am linked up with evangelicals across America, and I don’t know anyone who has this goal. If they did, I would try to talk them out of it!

Fourth, supporting conservative politicians does not make you hateful. It does not make you a “white Christian nationalist.” Over and over, Christians who want their country to flourish have been labeled in such terms for voting for candidates of a Republican or conservative bent. The vast majority of Christians I know supported such candidates in past days because they are ardently pro-life, pro-religious liberty, anti-big government, anti-progressive agenda, and pro-free market. They do not have anything close to an evil vision of America that would ruin the lives of people of color. Nor do they wish to impose a ferocious theocracy on any who dare disagree with them. Instead, they want people of all kinds to be free, prosperous, and able to worship God.

The stereotypes about “white Christian nationalism” will likely endure. There are very well-paid and highly connected journalists and leaders who make such arguments, and all too often they serve as a kind of “house evangelical” for elite media. It makes sense why this would be so. Wokeness is the imperial ideology of our age and standing against it is no popular move in our time. On the political front, it works neatly and nicely to denounce a huge and diverse group of people as promoting the evil specter of “white Christian nationalism.” Sadly, different professing Christians are glad to serve this odious cause.

I encourage Christians, and especially younger Christians, to shake off such name-calling. Be a principled Christian young man or young woman. Serve your local church. Trust and follow Christ, the crucified king. Be “salt and light” in your community, on your campus, wherever God puts you in this land (Mat. 5:13-16). Learn American history, both the regrettable parts and the serious accomplishments. Live without fear. Know that God is good, is building his church, and that whatever the media and academicians may label you, if you are in Christ by faith, you will have your vindication on the last day.

Owen Strachan is the author of Christianity and Wokeness (Salem Books, July 2021). He is Provost and Research Professor of Theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary, hosts The Antithesis podcast, and is a Senior Fellow for Biblical Worldview at the Family Research Council.

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