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.
In the last two posts, I have suggested some alternate steps forward. This is my last post on the book and the last suggestion I have for regaining a sense of place.
In chapter 3, Wolfe introduces place as a space tied to human sentiment. The sum total of our experiences in a space makes it a place. A nation is a people who share a story about the significance of a place. A stranger is someone who does not share the same understanding of the significance of a place.
I love Wolfe’s definition of an alien, stranger, or foreigner. Aliens come from outside a place. To them, the place is just a space—they don’t share the same story of the place’s citizens.
The Scriptures have much to say about treatment of the foreigner. Deuteronomy 24:17–22 is key:
“You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow's garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.
When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this.” (Deuteronomy 24:17–22 ESV)
I love the call to remember—“Remember you were a slave.” Remember what it was like to be de-storied, to live in a space as a stranger. Treat foreigners as you wish you were treated.
I moved to Washington State the first time when I was in high school. Halfway through my Junior year of high school, my family left northern Virginia and settled in Bremerton. We made the move in January, right in the thick of the darkness and clouds. I was not happy about leaving my friends in Virginia, and when we settled in Washington I felt like a stranger. The clouds, the darkness, and the rain all felt gloomy and foreign. I hated my new school and I was not excited about starting a new life.
Then one Sunday we went to church. I wasn’t thrilled about this, either. I didn’t know anyone and since my graduation was only 18 months away, I didn’t feel like it was worth it to try to get to know anyone. But my first Sunday in youth group, a young man name Eren recognized me as new, sat next to me, and welcomed me into the group. He invited me to become a part of the story of the place. I would meet my future wife in that youth group and now, almost 30 years later, this place feels a part of me.
But I remember when I was a stranger.
Deuteronomy 24 is quite the challenge to me. Every day I meet people who are new to the community. They are strangers. To them, Port Orchard is a space like any other space. There is no story here for them. Am I willing to invite them to the story? Am I willing to let go of control of that story, recognizing that new characters can take the plot in an unpredictable direction? Do I see the story of this space as my space—something to be grasped and protected at all costs, or am I willing to empty myself and become a servant to the other?
Wolfe’s vision for place shouldn’t lead to nationalism, but rather to hospitality. We should be on the lookout for strangers who aren’t a part of the story of our place and we should be thinking of ways of inviting them in. How could this stranger change the story of this place? How can we redefine this place so that it is a shared place?
Key to this is remembering that the land belongs to God and that the story of a place is God’s story, not ours. God extends hospitality to the stranger. Who are we to deny it?
Inviting others in isn’t a betrayal of those who have gone before. New people change the story of a place, but this change doesn’t have to be a rejection of what has gone before. It can be a continuation and a development of what has gone before.
My hope for Christians who see beauty in The Case for Christian Nationalism is that they learn to love their place Christianly. The path forward is not nationalism, but rather recognizing that our true home is the kingdom of God. It means directing people to the commodious life through fidelity, service, and suffering. And it means remembering that we were slaves and inviting others into the story of our place.
Have you ever been a stranger in someone else’s place? What did that feel like? Has someone ever invited you in to be a part of a place’s story? If so, what was that like?
Remember you were a slave.