In The Case for Christian Nationalism, Stephen Wolfe hopes to “enliven in the hearts of Christians a sense of home and hearth and love of people and country out of which springs actions for their good.” (5)
Christian nationalism has been a part of the national conversation ever since the riot at the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021. It is almost universally condemned by Christians and non-Christians alike. But is this condemnation fair? Wolfe thinks not and seeks to make the case for it.
For the next few weeks, I will be working through Wolfe’s book and offering a response. Others have addressed some of the more controversial takes in the book—I will not duplicate their work. Instead, I want to engage the sentiment behind it. Parts of the book are very well-written, and I suspect it will have lasting appeal. While I reject Wolfe’s vision for Christian nationalism, I want to highlight the positives and offer an alternative path forward to loving a place well.
The heart of Wolfe’s book is in his depiction of Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show:
"Mayberry is the fictional North Carolinian town of The Andy Griffith Show. That show depicts a Southern form of commodious life: a community of few and small concerns, high social trust, and an ease of life. The residents had common songs and customs, often singing them together on porches, at times for consolation. They all went to church on Sundays. The children, known by all, ran around town perfectly safe, being protected and watched by the community. Any American who watches that lighthearted, heartwarming show cannot but feel nostalgia for an America lost by negligence and malevolence." (226)
In The Case for Christian Nationalism, Wolfe argues for a return to Mayberry. He promotes a vision for society in which Christianity is normative and rejection of Christ is socially stigmatized. The purpose of establishing such a society is not just to promote Christianity, but also to promote human flourishing. Following Jesus is the pathway to human flourishing, whether or not someone has faith. Governments have the responsibility to promote and uphold “the good life,” and the good life is found in Christ.
While Americans might celebrate pluralism and religious tolerance, Wolfe pushes back on the value of these things:
"How is the loss of cultural Christianity going for you? How much effort and time do you and your Christian friends devote to protecting yourselves and your children and grandchildren? How much space in your church bookshop is take up with resources to resist the evil in modern secularist life? The absence of cultural Christianity has brought hostility, not religious neutrality. The social power that might have helped convert your parents or grandparents is now actively wielded against orthodox Christianity, against your children. Christians have abandoned this God-ordained power to the enemies of Christ." (226)
While I agree with Wolfe that the secularist project in America is not going well, I do not agree with his proposed path forward. In the upcoming weeks, I will engage with some of Wolfe’s better points, explain why I think his vision of Christian nationalism is not the path forward, and offer what I think is a better Christian response.
Before we get into Wolfe’s proposals, I want to start with his vision. I live in a small town. I coach my son’s Little League team and regularly run into his teammates at the grocery store or at the park. They call me “Coach Matt.” Through years of being involved in the lives of the people living here, I have become part of the town’s story. Were I to move, the town would miss me. When my kids are grown, I want to continue volunteering as an umpire in the local Little League. I would love to see the kids I coached raise their own kids in the program.
Before moving to rural Washington State, I lived in Dallas, Texas. I didn’t have this same experience there. I never saw people I knew around town. The city felt like a collection of strangers all inhabiting the same space. I don’t think this is how people are meant to live.
What do you think about Wolfe’s callback to Mayberry? Is there a part of you that longs to be a part of a place’s story?