Christian Nationalism: A Follow Up by Matt Maler

Jan 18, 2021


Editor’s Note: This is a Part II to Matt’s first compelling discussion posted here. I thought I’d share this today, as we prayerfully move forward. I continue to welcome your own reflections! — Jennifer


In my recent post, I talked about Christian Nationalism from a theoretical distance. It seemed important at the time to highlight the Church’s need not only to move on from Trumpian Christian Nationalism, but to provide an alternative to that same Trumpian Christian Nationalism.

We need an alternative because, as citizens of God’s kingdom and citizens of the United States, we have dueling loyalties that we cannot escape. Insofar as we live public civic lives, our identity as children of God necessarily interacts with that same public civic life. But that interaction needs to be healthy.

There are at least two markers of healthy Christian Nationalism (i.e. how to interact as a Christian in civic life):

(1) a rightly ordered hierarchy of allegiance that holds identity in and allegiance to Jesus and His Kingdom as distinct and higher than identity in and allegiance to the United States, and

(2) operating for the sake of all people and not to grab power for the sake of the gospel, Christian Nationalism desires to see the nation and its people flourish by prophetically criticizing unworthy uses of power and encouraging worthy uses of political power without grabbing political, earthly power to build Jesus’s kingdom.

What we collectively witnessed January 6 as rioters violently trespassed in the U.S. Capitol, and, for the first time in American history, threatened the peaceful transfer of power vis-à-vis the certification of the electoral college’s votes, was nothing less than a direct assault on our democratic republic.

An analysis of what this means to our democracy is better left to political experts, but for my part, I cannot help but reflect on certain images from the events on January 6. Protestors and rioters waved Confederate flags and brandished symbols of white supremacy alongside signs saying, “Jesus Saves” and “Jesus 2020.”[1] People chanted “Christ is king” outside; some referred to the neo-fascist Proud Boys as “God’s warriors.”

Eric Metaxas, a prominent author and Evangelical radio host, claimed in a tweet that “there is no doubt the election was fraudulent. 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!”

Televangelist Mark Burns decried claims that Trump supporters were responsible as a “lie from the gates of hell.” Franklin Graham claimed, “Our country is in trouble” and called Christians to pray for Biden and Harris but nevertheless concluded that those “who broke the windows” were “most likely” Antifa and that “to tell people to go home [is] not for me to decide . . .”

Other prominent Christian voices had a better response. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called “the cult of personality” surrounding Trump “the greatest danger to the American experiment.” Rick Warren tweeted that “armed breaching of capitol security behind a Confederate flag is anarchy, un-American, criminal treason, and domestic terrorism.” Beth Moore tweeted that “I don’t know the Jesus some have paraded and waved around in the middle of this treachery today. They may be acting in the name of some other Jesus but that’s not Jesus of the Gospels.”

Other responses included silence, offering general prayers in the name of the country without condemning the violence visited on the Capitol, or equating the rioters to Black Lives Matters protestors to apparently show that liberals and conservatives make the same mistakes.

Conspicuously absent from all of these responses except Moore’s is a disavowal of the invocation of Jesus’s name in a political movement and a violent riot. Yes, violence against our political institutions, police, and people in general is not in line with the “Jesus of the Gospels.” Neither is it American or healthy for our democratic experiment. But if our allegiance is to the Kingdom of God, then why do we so easily permit a blatant coopting of our Lord’s name in the service of earthly power—especially a violent act— to go unnoticed and uncriticized?

If we believe about Jesus that, as Paul writes, “God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” [2] then we—the Church—must be outspoken in our condemnation of Christ’s name shouted and brandished to the glory of Donald Trump and America.

After witnessing the events at the Capitol, our concern as Christians should not be that America is in trouble, or that what occurred was an assault on our nation’s democratic institutions and traditions; rather, our primary concern should be that the public weight of Jesus’s name has been desecrated, and the Church’s witness has been violently tarnished.

It is only by following our Lord above partisan politics, elections, and the machinations of earthly governments that the Church can prophetically witness to human institutions as an agent of God’s Kingdom, not as an agent of worldly authority. But if we allow our witness to be reduced to the Jesus of the Capitol rioters, we make ourselves out to be conformed to the patterns of this world and not those of the world to come.

The most egregious aspect of the Capitol riots for Christians should be the coopting of Jesus’s name for completely secular and even violent ends. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, but as soon as the world believes that Christians see Jesus as a Republican or Democrat, then our prophetic witness to the world evaporates; we look like hypocrites more interested in the earthly power Jesus rejected than the heavenly power of the gospel in which we supposedly believe.

We reclaim the name of Christ for the Church when we condemn the use of Jesus’s name in conjunction with white supremacy and violent riots. We reclaim Jesus’s name when we do not permit our Lord’s name to be used to justify political insurrection or to legitimize a president. We remind those who would do so that Jesus’s kingdom is different from any other earthly kingdom.

Like any other nation before it, America will fade, but the Kingdom of God will last forever. No movement, political party, or politician is the vehicle for the Kingdom of God on this earth; only the Body of Christ—the Church—is that vehicle for the purposes of the Kingdom of God on earth as it proclaims the gospel and stands in defense of the poor and the powerless.

Evangelical Christians and many Protestants suffer from a lack of this robust idea of the Church as an entity distinct from our nation. Many buy the narrative that my faith is my individual affair, reducing the body of believers they worship with to a loose affiliation of friends and people they generally want to be with until something—a person’s unkind words, a feeling of rejection, an internal church conflict—cuts loose their weak moorings to that body. Many Christians lack a sense of identity as part of the Church, and so their communal identity as Americans usurps that place in their lives.

Early Christians’ highest allegiance was to the Kingdom of God and the Lord who bought them. Pliny the Younger, a Roman lawyer, senator, and governor, wrote about how he differentiated Christians and non-Christians offered to him in anonymous lists submitted by community members:

Among [those accused of being Christians] I considered that I should dismiss any who denied that they were or ever had been Christians when they had repeated after me a formula of invocation to the gods and had made offerings of wine and incense to your [the Emperor Trajan’s] statute, and furthermore had reviled the name of Christ: none of which things, I understand, any genuine Christian can be induced to do.

If Pliny understood anything, it is that being a Christian meant believing a competing claim to authority—that Jesus is Lord and God—to the claims of the Roman gods and emperor. Yet when the name of Christ is invoked to support, praise, and legitimize Trump’s supposed claim to a second presidential term and infuse a riot with religious fervor, the name of Christ is dethroned from its rightful place as the highest name to which all else must and will bow.

I encourage you to not lose grip of this when so many Christian leaders are trying to distract us—intentionally or unintentionally—from just how egregious this was. Some distract by recklessly announcing that it was an Antifa conspiracy without and contrary to any and all evidence.

Some distract by subtler means, soliciting prayers for our nation when the Church and the legitimacy of Christian witness in America is at stake. Paul is concerned about this when he writes: “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath …. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, honor to those you owe honor.”[3] Peter is similarly concerned: “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits.”[4] By not reclaiming the name of Jesus from its use in the Capitol riots, we do not conduct ourselves honorably among our secular neighbors.

Others distract by minimizing the harm done, equating the riots at the Capitol to Black Lives Matter protests this summer. There’s much to say about how this comparison is, charitably put, a fallacious incomplete equivalence. One reason it’s incomplete is that the name of Jesus was not invoked to legitimize whatever vandalism did occur during the Black Lives Matter protests. Those who make comparisons to violent incidents during the Black Lives Matter protests miss what’s truly at stake for Christians in the Capitol riots.

As we move ahead, we should not, as American citizens, forget what this moment in history says about our nation’s divisions, as though the past five years has not already proved that time and time again. We should, as American citizens, be concerned about the health of our nation.

But more importantly we, as Christians, must take seriously that there is a not-so-insubstantial group in this country that would coopt the name of Jesus for its own ends. As the Church, we cannot allow the name of our Lord to be desecrated; we must stand up to those who claim to speak on Jesus’s behalf as a cover for speaking on behalf of a president, a political brand, and a political movement.

If you have questions or would like to discuss this, please feel free to email Matt at



[1] These and the following examples and quotes all came from Molly Olmstead, “’God Have Mercy on and Help Us All:’ How prominent evangelicals reacted to the storming of the U.S. Capitol,” Slate (Jan 07, 2021)

[2] Philippians 2:9-11

[3] Romans 12:17-19, 13:7

[4] 1 Peter 2:12