Politics

Possessed by a cult of ‘Christian’ nationalism

For many people the Christian support for Donald Trump is one of the most mystifying and worrying aspects of US politics. It was no surprise to see Jesus banners amongst those carried by those who stormed the Capitol building.

Four years ago, an old school friend, Nick Miles, wrote a guest post on why he, as a Christian, was voting for Trump. I still shudder at the almighty debate it stirred on Facebook.  Blending religion and politics is always incendiary but nothing creates as much heat as arguments about national identity.

And of course, all this has become far more toxic and bitter than ever with recent events. David French, a conservative Christian summed up ‘Trumpism’ well:

“A significant segment of the Christian public has fallen for conspiracy theories, has mixed nationalism with the Christian gospel, has substituted a bizarre mysticism for reason and evidence, and rages in fear and anger against their political opponents—all in the name of preserving Donald Trump’s power”

Eric Metaxas

One of the people I have become increasingly fascinated by is the Christian writer and broadcaster Eric Metaxas, who first came to my attention when he wrote a biography on the German pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Metaxas has also written on anti-slavery MP William Wilberforce, wrote the cartoon series Vegetales and has interviewed many esteemed people such as Tom Wright and Jonathan Sacks in the Socrates in the City series. He is fluent, passionate, ironic and combative.

Initially, I saw him as someone able to provoke and challenge the evangelical world towards greater concern for justice.

Fanatical

But in recent years, Metaxas has become fanatically pro-Trump.  

In the weeks since the election, he has furiously stoked the flames of the conspiracy theories around the election fraud and mixed it all in with pious theology. After the election he tweeted:

Trump will be inaugurated. For the high crimes of trying to throw a U.S. presidential election, many will go to jail. The swamp will be drained. And Lincoln’s prophetic words of “a new birth of freedom” will be fulfilled. Pray.

In a broadcasted phone call with Trump, Metaxas said that this is a cause for which he is prepared to die.  He has said that supporters should fight ‘to the last drop of blood’ to preserve Trump’s presidency, and that those who disagree are the same as Germans who stood by and did nothing to stop Hitler.

To protest the ‘stolen election’ he organised a Jericho March which brought thousands to Washington in the belief they could pray Trump into power. And after the riot at the Capitol, he tweeted:

There is no doubt the election was fraudulent. That is the same today as yesterday. There is no doubt Antifa infiltrated the protesters today and planned this. This is political theater and anyone who buys it is a sucker. Fight for justice and Pray for justice. God bless America!

Spiritually invested

Michael Gerson wrote:

“There is something pathetic about Metaxas’s panting desire to be cruise director on Trump’s sinking ship…but I don’t think his attitude is merely the result of ambition or hero worship. Metaxas seems to be a man in the grip of a powerful delusion.”

Metaxas believes what he is saying and appears gripped by beliefs in which he is deeply invested. Voting for Trump is one thing, but many Christians in the US believe that Trump has a God-ordained calling to lead the greatest nation on earth and that Satanic activity is disrupting God’s plan.

And Metaxas has become High Priest of the Trump cult. It is a cause which has possessed him.

Corrupt

It is important to say that these fusions of nationalism and religion is not just an American problem.

In previous generations similar beliefs corrupted Christianity in the UK. In the 19th century, Britain conquered a significant chunk of the world through military strength and economic exploitation. And an imperialistic form of Christianity helped many believe the cause was noble. Many really did believe that ’God is an Englishman’.

Our nationalism may have been less brash than Trump’s, but it was no less corrupt.

Best response

The best response to these corrupted forms of faith is the most obvious. Because nationalism looks nothing like the values of Jesus.

In Luke chapter 4,  Jesus returns to his hometown and preaches his first sermon about ‘good news to the poor’ and ‘release of the oppressed’. The crowd initially love what they hear and are full of praise for their local boy. But things change when he tells them how stubborn both the town and nation is, and how God often works his purposes through blessing foreigners. The crowd erupt in rage and drive him out of town.

The New Testament radically critiques nationalism because the Church was from the very start such a multi-ethnic and multi-national movement. God shows no favouritism. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). This is the belief that Bonhoeffer gave his life for – in opposition to the nationalism of his era.

Jesus reveals a God who breaks down barriers of nationalism, racism and xenophobia between people. And we should do likewise.

27 thoughts on “Possessed by a cult of ‘Christian’ nationalism”

  1. A great blog,Jon. What is happening in the US is tragic. “The best response to these corrupted forms of faith is the most obvious. Because nationalism looks nothing like the values of Jesus.” Amen and amen!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I confess that although a conservative Christian once lent me a copy of Metaxas’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer I could not bring myself to read it. I first came across The Letters and Papers from Prison in the school library in Zambia where I spent 6 years around the time of Zimbabwe’s independence, our near neighbour. That battered little volume had a profound effect upon me and I read it over and over again.
    There is no doubt that Bonhoeffer was an aristocratic conservative but his lecture on the Führerprinzip, the leader principle, that he tried to give in the early days of the Nazi regime shows where he stood on the subject. We cannot surrender our personal responsibility by hiding behind a leader of any kind. It is not a matter of choosing between so called good and bad leaders.
    I note that, in the UK, the Communities Secretary made a speech at the weekend that called on us to “Save our Statues”. In the name of contextualising historical debate we are to leave our cultural landscape, one that celebrates the British Empire, intact. As you say, there were significant voices in the imperial era who gave a Christian justification for the whole project.

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    1. thanks Stephen. Bonhoeffer’s example and commitment should challenge us all – and I felt profoundly challenged when I read Metaxas’ book on him – it was only later by reading more around the subject that I learnt more about how many scholars feel that Metaxas ‘hijacked’ his subject for his own cause. In retrospect this looks even more sinister. One good example is Charles Marsh’s superb Bonhoeffer biog, published 4 years later, called ‘Strange Glory’ which serves Metaxas the ultimate snub by not even mentioning Metaxas’ book, not even in the index…

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  3. Important in these times.
    I also find the word ‘exceptionalism’ and the phrase ‘a nation’s founding myths’ useful in this context for debunking the mindset which allies the Gospel too closely with any one nationally based ideology.
    Well doe for contributing simply and shortly to the issue, John. You do allow what is needed – space and time for us all to continue to weed our own garden of the pernicious and seductive lies which so easily grow up.
    We want more and more people to be on the journey to greater understanding.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. With a single one word change Metaxas’ prophecy looks to be correct.

    Trump will be impeached. For the high crimes of trying to throw a U.S. presidential election, many will go to jail. The swamp will be drained. And Lincoln’s prophetic words of “a new birth of freedom” will be fulfilled. Pray.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The US Evangelicals seem to have abandoned good theology in order to replace it with a cultural ideology. This nationalistic, strong-leader ‘ideal’ has been eroding true faith and look where the church in the US now stands… Let’s call some of these churches leaders for what they have become: idol worshippers.

    Metaxas seems to be fully in support of this ideology which overrides theology, judgment of character and judgment of facts…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do think that the devotion of people like Metaxas and others is an example of ‘idolatry’ and ‘possession’ and it is scary and (ironically) similar to how Hitler won over so much of the German church to his nationalistic agenda.

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      1. I follow what you say, Jon.
        I do think it’s wise however to be judicious with using Nazi parallelisms, even when we have referenced Bonhoeffer earlier in the thread. We want people to engage and not turn off.

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      2. Cool. It was some Jewish friends who heightened my awareness of this (side) issue and as I reflected, I had to agree with them.

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    1. Obviously there is a nationalism driving some of the Brexiteers agenda but we don’t have anything like the spiritual interpretations focussed on that issue that can be likened to what is happening in the US. We have had demos and arguments but no insurrection!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. What is deeply muddling about this for me is that so very many brother and sister Christians who read their Bible and say their prayers appear to see nothing wrong in the way Donald Trump has conducted his Presidency. I want to find a way to listen to and hear from them and to try to understand the origin of what seems to me to be their anger and fear. We are not I think very good at that.

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  7. John,
    I was fascinated by your comments on Metaxas, since I bought his book on Bonhoeffer a few years ago. I have to confess that, as someone with huge respect for Bonhoeffer, I found this book deeply troubling. Although it was obviously well researched, it seemed to be trying to explain away some of the most original insights that Bonhoeffer brought to Christianity. And I never managed to finish reading it. Perhaps now I understand better why. Thanks for this post, John. It is indeed very troubling that so many Christians have such a fervent faith in Trump as a sort of saviour. One wants to engage with them, but frankly they often seem to be quite beyond my limited capacity for human understanding! Malcolm

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    1. Hi Malcolm, thanks for your comment. I initially liked the book as I did not know much about Bonhoeffer and it was very well written. But later I bought another biog of Bonhoeffer ‘Strange Glory’ by Charles Marsh which is superb and treats Metaxas with the ultimate disdain by not even mentioning his book. Subsequently I have learnt of the distress of Bonhoeffer scholars with Metaxas’ book. See here for my review from 2012: https://gracetruth.blog/2012/09/22/bonhoeffer-pastor-martyr-prophet-spy-by-eric-metaxas-review/
      Thanks for reading and all the best, Jon

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  8. It truly is the most disheartening, yet fascinating thing: to see American conservatives who proclaim Christianity be so warped up in this dangerous nationalism and idolatry that looks nothing like the gospel of Christ but yet be so sure of their theology. It’s terrifying and oh so heartbreaking.

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  9. I have only just discovered this
    https://charleseisenstein.org/essays/from-qanons-dark-mirror-hope/
    I know nothing of the author but I think it poses an interesting challenge to Christians; about how we open ourselves to receive the gift of deep compassion from God for all his children and how we resist the natural desire to take sides and become more aware of what is going on inside ourselves both helpful and unhelpful. I was struck at the start of the first lockdown by some words of Edith Stein on her journey to the concentration camp saying that there are times when we have to learn what it means to “live from within”. I hope that our churches are providing us with adequate resources to “live from within” for when we need it most.

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  10. I am not a liberal. I am a Christian/conservative/ independent best describes me. I do not idolize a political party .

    What I do know is that the enemy is clever. He has cloaked himself under the umbrella of conservatism. Many Christians for some reason seem to be blind about this.

    It’s cultic and idolatrous the way some people are behaving. It is causing discord, strife, and division. People are so fiercely devoted to the so-called political platform and the person who is the political leader of their platform, that they’ve taken their eyes off of God.

    When the madness happened at the Capitol on the 6th of January, some were so in denial believing that most people who claim to be conservative are Christian, that some people focused on antifa being behind the event. Surely the “Christian” Republicans wouldn’t act that way!

    What they fail to realize is that white supremacy has for a long time attached itself to Christianity. I believe it is an oxymoron, but even the Klu Klux Klan long ago claimed to be Christians and Pentecostal.

    Many of the so-called conservatives I believe are far from God, and anti-government, but what it boils down to it seems, is that they are simply anti-liberal so the whole thing has become a liberal against conservative war. Democrats against Republicans.

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