One of my friends was attending a Christmas light display in his hometown with his family. During the show, there was an interesting mix of music. They played God Bless the USA and the theme from Top Gun, with a few Christian hymns mixed in. My friend commented that it was a classy mix of Christianity and making America great again.
I chuckled when he told the story, but it got me thinking about the dangers of mixing Christianity too closely with patriotism and nationalism. Here in the United States, even though we stress the separation of church and state, Christianity and America are often mixed together. Religious organizations feature prominently in the political process. Religiously charged issues such as gay marriage and abortion are hotly debated in the public sphere. ‘In God We Trust’ is printed on our currency.
Many Christians celebrate and push for the integration of Christianity with politics and nationalism, but I think there are some problems with this tendency to mix Christianity and America. Here are 3 big ones:
- Mixing Christianity with American causes difficulties for minority religions. As America and Christianity become more intertwined, America becomes less open and safe to individuals from different religious backgrounds. In the current political climate, we can see this with negative attitudes toward Muslims. This country should be a place where all people are welcomed, irrespective of their religious affiliation. But mixing Christianity too much with America makes this process difficult.
- Mixing Christianity with America causes Christians to lose their primary identity as followers of Jesus. As Christianity gets more mixed up with what it means to be an American, Christians have a tendency to lose their primary identity as followers of Jesus. Christians begin to support things that seem to directly conflict with the life and teachings of Jesus. For example, Jesus championed non-violent resistance and forgiveness in his teachings and actions, but many Christians celebrate things like war and the death penalty.
- Mixing Christianity with America might lead to the downfall of Christianity in this country. Christianity has always worked best as a counter-cultural movement. Throughout history, there has been a predictable pattern regarding the mixing of Christianity and nationalism. First, people are powerfully impacted by the life and teachings of Jesus. This impact leads to really cool things like loving and serving others in a radical way, and the movement grows. At some point, however, Christians become the people who are in power, and then they start to institutionalize the religion. Christianity then starts to get mixed up with nationalism and the dominant power structures of the time. After a while, the “Christian nation” starts to look less and less Christian and more and more like any other empire. Finally, Christianity declines and the nation becomes “post-Christian.” This happened in Europe over the last few centuries, and I think it is happening in America right now.
Discussion: What do you think about the mixing of Christianity with America? Do you think it is a good thing or a bad thing?