By The Rt. Rev. Gretchen M. Rehberg
There is a growing danger of Christian nationalism in this country.
Christian nationalism is heresy for Christians and dangerous rhetoric for all Americans. To state that is not a denial of Christianity, or a denigration of patriotism, rather the call to a proper relationship between church and state.
As a follower of Jesus my faith teaches me to call all humans part of my family. Jesus teaches me that my connections to other people transcend political party labels and country citizenship. I am not allowed to dismiss others on the basis of skin color, country of origin, or religion. As an American I believe in the protections embedded in our Constitution and the Bill of Rights for all people to freely practice their religion, or indeed no religion.
Christian nationalism is not about a particular political party, it is about the claiming of one particular understanding of Christianity as the only true faith and one form of political understanding as the only way to live. To equate Christianity with loyalty to any nation is heresy. To claim that our nation is “Christian” is to fundamentally misunderstand, or deliberately choose to ignore, the realities of our Constitution.
The Reawaken America event coming to Post Falls on Sept. 16-17 is not an event of the Republican Party, if it was I would not say anything. Whether I am a Republican or Democrat or Green or independent is irrelevant, all political parties are freely able to engage in the public sphere. This event, however, is a Christian nationalist event. It is wrapping the flag and the cross together in a way that misappropriates both. God is not in any political party, and it is wrong of any political party, or any country, to claim that God is on their side.
As a follower of Jesus, I am called to love my enemies, pray for those who persecute me, do good to those who harm me, bless those who curse me (Luke 6:26-28). I will be praying for all who are speaking at and attending the Reawaken America event. I am convinced that the majority of those who will attend are people who are trying to be faithful followers of Jesus and good Americans. The organizers, however, will use the language of fear and God to cast those who disagree as “enemies” and will seek to increase the divisions in this country. They do not seek to bring unity but division.
Whenever anyone, politician or pastor, speaks to stir up divisions, I find myself wondering “who profits” from dividing us. I urge everyone to listen carefully to the words used, and ask if those words would ever be spoken by Jesus in the Gospels. Words that exclude and demonize those who disagree are not the words of Jesus.
For too long the mainline Christian churches have stayed silent in the public sphere, preferring simply to work for justice through quiet actions in our communities. We have ceded the public sphere to the louder Christian voices, voices that seldom sound like Jesus. The time for silence is long gone, and indeed never was. Those of us who claim the faith of Jesus must be willing to speak up when we see the Gospel co-opted for political gain.
As an American I am convinced in the power of representative democracy with a robust exchange of ideas and the need to learn from each and compromise for the sake of the common good. We need all of our political parties to return to the days when people with different viewpoints were not considered enemies but simply people with differing understandings of the best way to approach common problems. The increasing rhetoric of division is a danger to our country.
As a follower of Jesus I have a higher allegiance than to any one country, and a citizenship that is beyond this country. I cannot sit by quietly when the faith is wrapped up in the flag. Christianity was here long before the U.S. came to be a country, and will be here long after we have colonized space.
In this time, I invite all of us, of every political party, of every faith and no faith, to study the truth of Christian nationalism and to be active in speaking against it.
The Rt. Rev. Gretchen M. Rehberg is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane.