Jesus 2020: Nation-Building for God?

Where does the Adventist Church stand regarding Christian nationalism?

The world saw many shocking images as rioters forced their way into the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, but for me, one of the most disturbing was of a large flag unfurled outside the Capitol. Designed to look like a campaign banner, the flag suggested that the unfolding chaos had an endorsement from an unlikely source. It read, “Jesus 2020.”

Christian leaders from many denominations were quick to condemn the violence in Washington, D.C. Yet, in recent days, some observers have suggested that a particular worldview, known broadly as Christian nationalism, may actually have played a part in motivating at least some of those who rampaged through the halls of Congress. 

These commentators point to the chants of “Jesus is my savior! Trump is my president!” or “Give it up if you believe in Jesus! Give it up if you believe in Donald Trump!” They point to rioters who held Bibles and crosses along with signs that declared “Jesus Saves” and “Hold the line Patriots. God Wins!” 

Others, though, are adamant that even if some of the rioters invoked Christian symbols or sentiments, their actions bear no resemblance to true Christianity. For this reason, they say, any attempts to paint Christianity as a motivating force in the event are either misguided or malicious.  

So, how can people of faith — how can Seventh-day Adventists — start to untangle these competing claims? Did the violence of January 6 stem, at least in part, from a certain view of Christianity and its perceived role in the civic affairs of the United States? 

What Is Christian Nationalism?

Christian nationalism as an ideology is neither new nor uniquely American. Its influence has been studied and documented in the political life of many countries through history — from Great Britain to Germany to Russia. Its impact has waxed and waned through the years, but it’s clear that forms of this ideology have at times played a part in shaping the political discourse of this country and many others.1

One of the hallmarks of Christian nationalism is an attempt to link Christianity closely with national identity — the idea that to be a true patriot, one must also be a Christian. Another common narrative is that of “threat and struggle.” That is, individuals believe that hostile forces are assailing a once-Christian nation, and Christians are therefore called to battle these forces to regain lost territory for their faith. Within this narrative, other faith groups and minorities are sometimes labeled as threats to Christianity.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that the ideology of Christian nationalism is shot through with ugly threads of hate: anti-Semitism, racism, and a sometimes violent hostility toward any ethnic or religious minority that is perceived to be out of step with the dominant form of Christianity.

Where Do Seventh-day Adventists Stand?

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is absolutely clear on how it views Christian nationalism: this ideology is antithetical to our theology and beliefs and alien to our deeply held values. 

A helpful overview of our church’s unique understanding of church-state relations can be found in a document adopted by the Council of Interchurch/Interfaith Faith Relations of the General Conference in March 2002, which is posted on the Adventist Church’s website. It reminds us of the clear biblical framework and prophetic counsel that undergirds how the Adventist Church and its members should relate to the civic realm. 

A key idea found here is a warning against partisanship. The principle is both clear and simple: the church, its various institutions, and its representatives will never align with any political party or political ideology.

Another principle is that as a denomination, we will not seek political preference, and we do not “use our influence with political and civil leaders to either advance our faith or inhibit the faith of others.”2 In fact, around the world, within many different political contexts, we forcefully advocate against the alignment of any religious group — Christian or otherwise — with political authority.

This idea is summed up well in the Declaration of Principles of the Adventist journal Liberty, first published as The American Sentinel in 1886: “Attempts to unite church and state are opposed to the interests of each, subversive of human rights and potentially persecuting in character; to oppose the union, lawfully and honorably, is not only the citizen's duty but the essence of the Golden Rule — to treat others as one wishes to be treated” (see About Us & Contact).

Yes, individual church members are encouraged, where they can, to carefully and prayerfully take part in civic life through voting, or taking part in public dialogue, or even holding public office.3 However, in all these things, the individual church member acts and speaks only for him- or herself.  

At times, the Adventist Church will take a position on a specific public policy issue that aligns with our values and will speak publicly about these ideas. Religious freedom is an area where the church consistently takes public positions. We work broadly to advocate for every person’s right to follow the dictates of conscience, regardless of their religious beliefs or nonbelief.

Yet contributing to the public discourse on specific issues is profoundly different from Christian nationalism's sweeping ambitions. 

The bottom line? Seventh-day Adventists should not seek to harness political power to create a uniquely Christian public square. Why? In large part because our biblical understanding and the counsel of Ellen White lead us to affirm, unequivocally, that “efforts to legislate faith are by their very nature in opposition to the principles of true religion, and thus in opposition to the will of God.”4 

In any of its forms and variants, Christian nationalism will always damage our witness to the Gospel. The warning Ellen White gave almost 140 years ago remains as relevant today as it was then: “The union of the church with the state, be the degree never so slight, while it may appear to bring the world nearer to the church, does in reality but bring the church nearer to the world.”5

An Appeal

Having clear theological and institutional guidelines, though, isn’t the end of the story. These don’t automatically immunize us, as individual church members, from the powerful and often insidious social forces that can distort our thinking about what it really means to be a representative of God’s kingdom. It is good, I believe, to take the time to remind ourselves of where we stand and why.

As someone who works within the public space, I’m immensely grateful for the Adventist Church's church-state relations heritage and religious freedom advocacy. From the earliest beginnings of our church, we have tried to reflect one of our core beliefs: that every person, no matter who they are, is an individual who bears the stamp of the Creator God, someone endowed with both freedom and infinite worth.

Yet, before we become complacent, I would suggest that we have a responsibility to do more than simply stand back and affirm our church-state understanding. In whatever country we live, in whatever political context we find ourselves, we can speak out clearly and compellingly against the alignment of faith with political power. We can contribute to our communities in ways that demonstrate that every person is valued. And most important, we can actively bear witness to a God whose kingdom is not of this world; a God of love, who yearns to claim each person as His own.

 

Notes & References:

1. Many scholarly works explore the roots of Christian nationalism within a historical and international context. See, for instance, Stephen Backhouse’s book Kierkegaard's Critique of Christian Nationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

2. “Church/State Relations,” official statement adopted by the Council of Interchurch/Interfaith Faith Relations of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

3. “Church/State Relations.”

4. “Church/State Relations.”

5. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1911), 297.

 

This article was written by Bettina Krause, associate director of government affairs for the General Conference Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department. It was originally published by Adventist Review/Adventist World and is reprinted here with permission.

Photo by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash

 

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11033

This is a very insightful, informative, and well-written article on a very timely subject. It is important to keep in mind our religious heritage and not to merge it into the political thinking of the day.

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Mrs Bettina Krause, I present my hypothesis:

Church members (de facto or de jure) who participated in the events on 1/6/2021 did so motivated by:

  1. The propaganda and manipulation of some conservative sectors through social networks (Facebook etc.) to weak minds and easy to persuade, with respect to political and social issues, in part due to their ignorance of social processes and their isolation from the society. Those sectors were susceptible to believing in conspiracy theories, and in lies regarding electoral fraud
  2. The existential anguish of thousands of people due to the economic reality in the United States, in which the concentration of capital is increasing in large companies and multinationals, with the legislative favor of the State-Government. Suffocating poverty and student loans, debt, and the lack of economic opportunity as well. These sectors were susceptible and justify the Deep State theory.
  3. A vision that is endorsed by the Old Testament and promoted by some sectors of Christianity, that God agrees that we fight for the salvation of Christianity, that Trump is the person designated by God for it and that we must jump to combat. That is the will of God.
  4. Some evil geniuses who are not worth mentioning by name, who were able to elaborate a populist discourse, collecting the concerns, aspirations, hatred, resentment and prejudices of centuries of all these sectors and brought them together until they motivated them to an insurrection
  5. Adventist Christians who are disconnected from Jesus Christ. His connection is not with love or love of neighbor, much less having the peace and spiritual harmony of the Great Teacher in his heart, in his mind, in his thoughts, in his emotions.

1 John 2: 18-
21st Century King James Version
18 Little children, it is the last time. And as ye have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists, whereby we know that this is the last time.
19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us. But they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

1 John 4: 3
21st Century King James Version
3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God; and such is the spirit of Antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come, and even now already it is in the world.

We are facing a situation that we had never envisioned, individually or corporately. It was always said that the antichrist or antichrists (their origin) were sectors, forces, a movement outside the church, in particular we said that the antichrist was Pope Francis, the Catholic Church.

Today with great pain, we become aware that the antichrists are within us and are all those who are not with Christ, his teachings, his truth, his peace, his character, his love.
Those who do not allow the grace and Holiness of Christ to enter their interior are not going to be transformed by Christ or by his Holy Spirit.
The Adventist Christians and other faith congregations who were there, or who were not there, but sympathized with what happened, denied Jesus and whoever denies Jesus is not in the Son or in the Father.
What happened there was inspired by men whose connection was not with Jesus. The connection of nationalistic Christianity is with hatred, resentment, lies, violence, the name of God blasphemed and men with the appearance of pity.

Thank you for sharing. The toxicity of Christian Nationalism was on full display during the Trump Insurrection. My handful of Christian Nationalist friends - and their friends on social media - remain in denial about what transpired, blaming ANTIFA and other infiltrates. Of course, they have their preferred “news” media perpetuating their belief, and have lost all desire to seek truth.

So how can otherwise good people get sucked up into such a toxic mindset? Confirmation bias plays a huge role. And we’re all susceptible to it, regardless of which “side” we are on. Let’s all be on guard to avoid succumbing to baseless ideas and beliefs. Let’s all make an effort to fact check and even then maintain an open mind as to what is real versus contrived.

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It seems that those caught up in Christian nationalism have overlooked or do not understand the meaning of Christ’s final entry (i.e. “Palm Sunday”) into Jerusalem. Jesus disappointed, you might say alienated, many Jews because He did not bring about change in the governance of the nation. I believe that if we truly believe in modeling Jesus Christ, we will not involve ourselves in Christian nationalism, either.

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