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Shake the Dust
Bonus Episode: What Is Christian Nationalism? And Why Do White Christians Love It So Much?

Bonus Episode: What Is Christian Nationalism? And Why Do White Christians Love It So Much?

Plus, why merely denouncing it isn't enough

On today’s episode, Jonathan and Sy talk Christian Nationalism. They cover:

-        What Christian Nationalism is exactly

-        Why they personally reject it

-        Why it’s so hard for White Christians to let go of the idea that the US is a Christian nation

-        Why White Christians need to confess, repent of, and oppose Christian nationalism, rather than merely stating that it’s wrong or minimizing its importance

Mentioned in the Episode

-        Jonathan’s book, Twelve Lies That Hold America Captive

-        Dr. Anthea Butler’s article on why White evangelicals need to own Christian nationalism

-        The Belhar Confession from South Africa


-        Follow KTF Press on Facebook, Instagram, and Threads. Subscribe to get our newsletter and bonus episodes at KTFPress.com

-        Follow host Jonathan Walton on Facebook Instagram, and Threads

-        Follow host Sy Hoekstra on Mastodon

-        Our theme song is “Citizens” by Jon Guerra – listen to the whole song on Spotify

-        Our podcast art is by Robyn Burgess – follow her and see her other work on Instagram

-        Production and editing by Sy Hoekstra

-        Transcript by Joyce Ambale and Sy Hoekstra


[An acoustic guitar softly plays six notes, the first three ascending and the last three descending – F#, B, F#, E, D#, B – with a keyboard pod playing the note B in the background… both fade out as Jonathan Walton says “This is a KTF Press podcast.”]

Sy Hoekstra: White Christians in our democracy today have power and we want to know what to do with that power. And the answer has to be, “Oh, we have to use it to enact what Jesus would enact.” It is trying to apply teachings from a person who was occupied, who was in no position of power, and who was not interested in establishing a government on Earth…

Jonathan Walton: [Laughs]. Yes, that’s true.

Sy Hoekstra: …to the question of how you establish a government on Earth [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: Yes.

[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “I need to know there is justice/ That it will roll in abundance/ And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]

Sy Hoekstra: Welcome to Shake the Dust, leaving colonized faith for the kingdom of God. I'm Sy Hoekstra.

Jonathan Walton: And I'm Jonathan Walton. Today, we're going to be talking about Christian nationalism. What it is exactly, why it's much closer to what the average White American Christian believes than you might think, and some others might think, and why rejecting it is mostly an excuse not to engage in some deeper and very necessary self-reflection about the church's political witness in America.

Sy Hoekstra: Just some small things like that, that's what we're talking about. Before we get to that, I just wanted to encourage everyone, as we've been doing all these bonus episodes, to go to Apple or Spotify and give this show a five-star rating. It really helps us as we try and spread the word about the show when people look at it and see that other people find it valuable, and we would really, really appreciate it. We've gotten some, a few more of these ratings as we've been asking you all to do it, and we would just please encourage anyone who hasn't done it to keep going. It's a really easy and free way to support what we do at KTF Press helping people leave the idols of the White American church to follow Jesus, and we very much appreciate it.

If you're on Apple, if you could give us a written review as well, those are so encouraging to us and they give other people a great kind of flavor of what the show is about from the perspective of readers. So Apple or Spotify, give us a five-star rating, and leave a written review if you're on Apple, please, it helps us so much. And we very much appreciate it.

Jonathan, what are we up to? Let's get into it.

What Is Christian Nationalism?

Jonathan Walton: Sy, I mean, this is going to be a light-hearted, very simple, straightforward conversation. Alright [laughs], So can we start out with just a simple question to get everybody on the same page because there are lots of different definitions out there. So what is Christian nationalism?

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. I'm going to talk about what it is technically, meaning there are lots of people operating with many definitions of it out there. There are also lots of people using the word without having a particular definition of it [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: This is also true [laughs].

Sy Hoekstra: Which just happens a lot in political discussions, it's sort of unavoidable. But there is a technical definition of nationalism and Christian nationalism. So I'm going to start with nationalism broadly. This is where kind of my background and history in law and politics comes into some usefulness on this show. I'm going to give you a definition of nationalism and you're going to think, “That doesn't sound that weird or important or interesting.” So let me just tell you, I promise you, it is [laughter]. I'm going to give you the definition first then we're going to talk about it more.

So effectively, nationalism is the belief that people should identify with their nation state over other nations. It's like creating a sense of political identity in the people who constitute a nation. And the thing that they're identifying with is the whole nation of people over whom the government operates as a state. So not that odd or controversial, particularly in America, lots of people think that way. To understand it a little bit better, you have to kind of understand the historical context that it comes up in. Obviously, like when nation states were first arising in Europe, there were lots of other competing loyalties. You could be loyal to your church or your kingdom or whatever else, so it was important to construct an identity around this new thing called a nation. Or at least it was important to the people who were trying to build the nations.

So when you're constructing an identity around a nation, you have to find something for people to sort of hold on to as they’re building a common identity. So what that means is nationalism gets combined with a lot of other stuff. And again, this is important. This is not just like random historical information. This will come into play when we talk about the details of our current debate today. Nationalism gets combined with a lot of other things, it gets combined… Like I'll give you an example. I'll give a couple examples, because there are examples that we might find sympathetic and examples that we will find horrible [laughs]. So for instance, there were lots of anti-colonial movements, where they relied on nationalism to create a sense of solidarity among all of the people in a given colony that we're trying to fight, say like Britain.

Like what Gandhi did was nationalism. Gandhi fought very intentionally for a unified Indian state that was not about religion or any other divisive thing. It was about all of the people who are native to this place called India fighting against… having self-determination, governing themselves apart from the British Empire. That's what he was fighting for. That happened in anti-colonial movements in a lot of different places. He's just one of the more famous figureheads of it.

Nationalism can also be combined with, it's not about like fighting a distant empire or trying to counter an identity as being part of a British, being a British subject or whatever. It could be part of creating an ethnocentric community, meaning like… the most famous example of ethno-nationalism is the Nazis. Nazi being a word that is short for the German word “nazional,” meaning national, because they were the National Socialists. So basically, that's creating a national identity around being Aryan. Around being anti-Semitic. So anyways, there are a million different ways that nationalism gets combined with other stuff. And there are lots of different versions of religious nationalism around the world. In America, we have Christian nationalism, which is basically a belief that America is or at least it should be a Christian nation, and that you should have your identity as an American, specifically in the fact that America is a Christian nation. And that that's part of your primary identity, “I am an American, which is to say that I am part of this Christian nation, and that's a primary identity of mine.”

So again, not everybody is thinking that way. Like a lot of people are just saying, I'm a Christian nationalist, because that basically just means I support Trump and his movement [laughs]. Or there's lots of other ways that people talk about it, but that is the kind of technical definition. Jonathan, do you have anything to add, or should we just move on from my history and poli-Sy lecture [laughs]?

Jonathan Walton: No, I think the only thing that I would add is that nationalism is… Or I guess, could you tell me the difference between nationalism and patriotism?

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, I mean, patriotism could apply to any sort of political organization, I guess. But patriotism is more usually a question of love of country, meaning they go together a lot. But basically, it's more just about your identity with a nation state in particular. So you can love your nation state, you could also love your kingdom [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: Right.

Sy Hoekstra: You know what I mean? You could love your tribe, you could love your whatever. Like there's lots of different ways to… I don't know. Love the political organization that you're under. So it's more they're just sort of separate questions is the real answer.

Jonathan Walton: Yeah. No, no, that makes sense. The only thing I would add to it I think, is patriotism slash… because sometimes I feel like they get conflated, especially when we get into Christian nationalism, is that this is a normal way of thinking for most people, but is most likely heavily subconscious.

Sy Hoekstra: Yes.

Jonathan Walton: So as you're listening to Sy’s definition, even as I'm thinking about it, I'm like, yeah, these are all quote unquote, “normal” ways to think and be in the world. And without interrogation, it becomes the basis for a lot of actions or inaction that we take each day.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, totally agreed with that.

Why Should We Reject Christian Nationalism?

Sy Hoekstra: So before we get into the kind of meatier part of the discussion of why rejecting it isn't enough and why it's actually very common, Jonathan, there's a book that was written called Twelve Lies That Hold America Captive: And the Truth That Sets Us Free.

Jonathan Walton: [Laughs] Yes. I’ve heard of it.

Sy Hoekstra: And it was written by Jonathan Walton. Yeah. And one of the titular lies of this book [laughter], one of the twelve lies was that America is a Christian nation. Effectively, you have a chapter in a book rejecting the ideology of Christian nationalism [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: Yes. It's chapter one actually [laughs]. It’s the most important chapter of the book.

Sy Hoekstra: Is it really chapter one?

Jonathan Walton: It’s chapter one, yeah.

Sy Hoekstra: I’d forgotten that actually.

Jonathan Walton: No worries, no worries.

Sy Hoekstra: Can you give us the bullet points, Jonathan, why is it something Christians should reject?

Jesus Did Not Want Us to Establish a Kingdom on Earth

Jonathan Walton: We should reject Christian nationalism because it's antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I think it's very clear in Scripture that if Jesus was trying to start a political revolution and baptize a nation state, he could have done that. There's a prime moment in Scripture when Jesus is arrested and Peter pulls out a sword and chops off the ear of Malchus, the people who were there to arrest Jesus. In that moment, if there was going to be a revolution that would have been the moment. There's a detachment of soldiers there, Jesus' disciples were there. There could have been a start to a fight. This was the height of Jesus' ministry, and instead of overthrowing the Empire, which is what Peter, Simon the Zealot, and thousands of Jews at the time were waiting for, he didn't do that.

He picked up Malchus’ ear and put it back on his head. Jesus was not there to bring his kingdom of the world, because he told Pontius Pilate after he got arrested, “My kingdom is not of this world.” So when we as followers of Jesus say the United States is a shining city on a hill as Barack Obama did in his speech in 2008, echoing John F. Kennedy from the 1960s, we are doing the work of Christian nationalism. We are baptizing, we are sanctifying a land theft, genocide, patriarchal, racist, hyper capitalist, militarized project, to create a quote-unquote, “new people in a new place,” which God did not ordain or endorse in any way as the way of his kingdom coming into the world.

Sy Hoekstra: Can I ask you one step further? I agree with all that.

Jonathan Walton: Sure.

Sy Hoekstra: Wouldn't it be best for a nation to operate according to Christian principles, wouldn’t that be the best way to make people flourish?

Jonathan Walton: I would argue that the answer is no.

Sy Hoekstra: Why?

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Shake the Dust
Leaving colonized faith for the Kingdom of God – Shake the Dust features candid interviews and informed discussions that guide us as we seek Jesus instead of empire.