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.
In his case for Christian nationalism, Wolfe says that it is not wrong for a people to love their country. Christian nationalism is simply nationalism modified by the adjective Christian. In other words, if our nation is going to have a national story and a grand narrative that unites us, wouldn’t it be better to have a story that gives life rather than a story that brings death? Divorcing Christianity from the story of our nation doesn’t leave our nation without a grand narrative, it means replacing it with a different grand narrative. In the case of “New America,” that narrative is “progress away from Old America.” Wolfe writes:
“In the New America, the ground of patriotic sentiment is progress away from Old America. Thus, civic holidays, national heroes, memorials, and patriotic events are all colored according to the grand narrative of progress, and each is considered true, good, and beautiful only to the extent that it celebrates that narrative.
Conservatives love narratives of progress. But the New American narrative insists that this is only the beginning—there is still much work to be done. Progress is our tradition, they claim. Thus, the narrative of America embodied in our institutions today is relentlessly hostile to Old America. That means that New America is relentlessly hostile to you. Every step is overcoming you.” (435)
If Mayberry is the vision of Christian America, Wolfe claims that the grand narrative of the New America is hostility toward and progress away from Mayberry.
Is this a good thing? Why or why not? Given that most evangelical voices have rejected Wolfe’s Christian nationalism, I think it’s fair to pose the question: “If you reject Christian nationalism, what kind of nationalism do you prefer in its place?” If Christianity is not the story that unites us as a people, what is that story, and is it a more life-giving story than the one Jesus told?