The problem with religious nationalism

The election and the reaction to the results has created a national conversation about Christian nationalism and of course I have an opinion. As usual when people on social media, national news, talk shows, etc., there is no nuance to the accusations or defenses. I started writing this while listening to Day 4 of the second impeachment trial and I thought it was a good time to write about this topic.

Let’s begin the discussion with that fact that there is nothing wrong with patriotism. There is nothing wrong with wanting your country to be a good, fair, healthy place to live. We should help elect representatives who we believe reflects the best of our country and will help us take the high road. At this point in the blog, I will need you to agree that there is nothing wrong with religion. We all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves and hope that there is more to life than what we are doing day to day. Even if religion isn’t involved, I would hope that most of us are involved in some kind of charitable endeavor to help those in need or make our communities better places. There is a difference between trying to improve the world and trying to force others to believe what you believe exactly the way you believe it and that is the problem with religious nationalism.

Religious wars are by far the loudest expression of religious intolerance a group can make. Its very core is the opposite of the basic tenets of almost every religion, destroying another group of people for disagreeing with you is the ultimate persecution. We have seen it play out time and again in history. The crusades from Europe to the Holy Land, the Ottoman Empire, the Moors of Spain, etc. did nothing but leave a bloody wake and generations of hate; no god was served. Neither was a god served between the Shiites and the Sunnis, the Serbs and the Croats, Israel and Palestinians, or the Holocaust. How can anyone think God was served in a war between Catholics and Protestants? This was blood spilled for the same God.

I’m a Christian with a pretty good biblical education. It is safe to assume that I believe following the teachings of Jesus will make the world a better place. I would hope that it would at least make it a kinder place. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been my experience. I worked for the Indiana House of Representatives for many years. During each session, I would receive a lot of correspondence with people afraid that Sharia law would take over the state and the country. I found then, and still find, that those concerns are absurd. But we also got quite a bit more correspondence about creating laws based on the Bible or the Ten Commandments and that makes you consider what would happen if there was a Christian jihad. I don’t know about you, but that scares the heck out of me. This kind of war would make Elizabethan England look like a dispute. The sheer number of denominations all disagreeing about small things would mean all, but one would be lesser or illegal. Everyone in this fight thinks they are the ones who are right and that all things would be better, but they forget they would be accusing people they love.

We came very close to seeing how a war of this type begins on January 6, 2021. Watching I had flashes of The Handmaid’s Tale and thought how easy it would be to spiral out of control. What we should learn from history is that when a religious fight spirals into warfare it destroys the concept of religious freedom that this country was formed on. To wage war in the name of faith is to destroy that faith. My only hope in this conversation is that we return to tolerance and open lines of honest communication. Let’s talk about what is real, not some perceived slight. Colossians 4:5-6 tells us to be wise to outsiders, make the most of the opportunity and let your conversation be full of grace, so that you may know how to answer everyone. This doesn’t sound like a call to arms to me. It sounds like everyone should be able to state the reasons for their beliefs in a kind, respectful way. I think that’s good advice no matter what the subject, even if that subject is public transit v. highways. In case you are wondering, the Bible says it again in Ephesians 4:29. “Don’t let any corrupt talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”. I could keep going, but I will spare you. Teach others what you know, share what you believe, listen with your heart and mind, tread softly, and remember we are to love one another.

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