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.
Wolfe’s vision for cultural Christianity isn’t bad. The Christian life is the path to human flourishing, and we should promote it. Part of promoting what Wolfe calls a commodious life is recognizing that love transcends blood ties and in-groups. Even if love for the in-group is “natural,” Jesus challenged us to transcend this tendency:
“You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48 ESV)
Jesus’s “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you” formula does not just challenge sinful tendencies. For instance, Jesus says:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27–28 ESV)
The principle that Jesus challenges us to transcend is one of the Ten Commandments. The commandment was God-given, and yet Jesus challenges us to transcend it.
Even if inequality of love is natural, this doesn’t change the fact that Jesus challenges us to transcend the tendency. “Even the Gentiles love those who love them,” he says. The bar of Christian discipleship is higher. The Parable of the Good Samaritan was told in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Love for the other, love for the stranger, and love for the marginalized are marks of Christian discipleship.
If nationalism is to be Christian nationalism, it must be characterized by love for the other.
If nationalism is a God-given tendency, what does it look like to transcend this tendency? What does it look like to love a place and a people Christianly?