Our identity in Christ and America are not mutually exclusive
Those who criticize conservative Christians' love for America should consider the "narrow door"
I know many Christians who believe that conservative Christians lack compassion toward America’s immigration policies; that our country’s racist past has left an inexorable scar that needs assistance in healing; that many of us take our privilege for granted and haven’t done enough, if any, soul searching to see the world through the eyes of those who have far less than we do. It is why many Christians who put their identity in Christ have no reservations in forfeiting their identity in the current America. They want to change America, for the better. They are also the ones perplexed by conservative Christians, like myself, who like America just as it is; the ones who want to make America great again. We are evangelical Christians, also known as Maga Christians.
Maga Christians, to them, have a reverence for America that is tantamount to putting their identity in America before our identity in Christ. This cannot be farther from the truth.
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But first let me try to steelman the case for these Christians who are confounded by this love of America when it is clearly in need of atonement. The blemish on America’s identity is its structures and systems – monuments that cover up its abhorrent, murderous crimes that elevated certain families and ethnicities while enslaving others, resulting in generational wealth gaps. This blot on America’s identity is something that needs to be expiated as a society. To make America great again isn’t to maintain the values and foundations that made it great for some or to celebrate the men and women who served to save and shape those one-sided institutions. To make America great again is to make Americans acknowledge their sinful past and accept their privilege was not earned but more accurately stolen from others they exploited. To make America great again is to realize we are so complicit in reveling in our advantages that we’ve forgotten who we should be: a compassionate nation of immigrants standing for all human rights. Paul says in Romans, after all, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
The idea that conservatives lack compassion hasn’t been lost on me. Yet it is hard to make the case they should be otherwise. It is akin to a household where one parent is compassionate and the other is a disciplinarian. They’re both good traits that countervail each other. On the other hand, a household that only has two compassionate parents could result in extreme permissibility with no accountability. Look no further than the so-called “compassionate” soft policies that have led to an explosion of violence in the streets.
But what hasn’t been obvious was this idea that conservative Christians were placing their identity in America above Christ. I learned this by reading Tim Alberta, writer at The Atlantic, who in an article “My Father, My Faith and Donald Trump” as well as a new book titled: “The Kingdom, The Power, The Glory: American Evangelicals in the Age of Extremism,” had this observation:
“For much of American history, white Christians have enjoyed tremendous wealth and influence and security. Given that reality—and given the miraculous nature of America’s defeat of Great Britain, its rise to superpower status, and its legacy of spreading freedom and democracy (and, yes, Christianity) across the globe—it’s easy to see why so many evangelicals believe that our country is divinely blessed. The problem is, blessings often become indistinguishable from entitlements. Once we become convinced that God has blessed something, that something can become an object of jealousy, obsession—even worship.”
Alberta, who is a Christian, ends his essay with this question he asked a pastor friend. “What’s wrong with American evangelicals?,” he asked. The pastor replies: “Too many of them worship America.” In other words, America has become a false idol that conservatives believe God ordained as a divine world we must save at any cost, even if it means backing a mercenary - Donald Trump - to save it.
Those words imply that evangelicals, or should I say conservative Christians, are putting the country before Christ. As a Christian, I agree that nothing comes before Christ. Not even a person’s child or spouse. Our identity isn’t in our families, homes and accomplishments, let alone our country. Our identity is in Christ. The Bible warns us of worshiping anyone over him. In fact, some would say Jesus is anything but tenderhearted when he demands this of us. In Luke 14:26, he says “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his one life, he cannot be my disciple.”
We are taught this so we don’t find ourselves on the slippery slope of venerating things of this world that are bound to fail us, disappoint us or disappear.
Yet the idea that a society shouldn’t unite around its nation’s ethos and principles and systems of government bother me to the core. Even Jesus says in Luke 20:25, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s” meaning respect the government that you put in place. We don’t like being overly taxed by Democrats, but we pay our taxes. Note that Jesus says respect the government as symbolized by Caesar. But nowhere in the Bible are we to bow to every whim and mandate of the government. I’m referring to why many Christians can love America, but find fault in its government’s mandates to say “mask up for the common good.”
So how is it that standing for the flag is putting America first before God? What is wrong with having fealty to shared principles that define this country? Aren’t these shared virtues the same ones immigrants from all over the world so desperately want to be a part of? Are they not trampling over their flags to salute ours? Importantly, is it worship to stand for a country that was founded on Judeo-Christian principles? Placing identity in Christ and America are not mutually exclusive, much like placing one’s identity in both Christ and family. Family and country are unifying forces. America isn’t our God. Nor do we want to worship it as one.
America is what unites people who don’t believe in God with people who believe in God.
Jesus says it’s a “narrow door”
America represents the purest form of freedom of any country in the world, providing a blank canvas upon which we can express our individual faith. No country in the world allows that much liberty. Jesus himself tells us multiple times that faith is a choice to be made based on evidence that is discernible to all. America represents choice, not force.
In Luke 22:67, Jesus says: "If I tell you, you will not believe; No one can force anyone to believe anything. Each one of us chooses whether we will believe something, based on our evaluation of the evidence presented to us.” In Hebrews 11, it says, “Faith emits a spiritual light, and that light is discernible. Faith in Jesus Christ is a gift from heaven that comes as we choose to believe and as we seek it and hold on to it.”
Conservative Christians also know that this very freedom of choice is why we can’t be a theocracy. Jesus doesn’t want the government to mandate who or what we put our faith in. That’s up to Jesus to provide grace and up to man to believe. Conservative Christians are also not so arrogant that we should believe that we can determine who gets into heaven.
Are we going to mandate that everyone go to church? Why would we? It’s not up to us. As Jesus says in Luke, it is a “narrow door.” He says, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”
The Catholic church redux
Lest Tim Alberta, and other professing Christians with similar views, want to be outside that narrow door, they would be wise to remember Jesus’ words and not revert back to medieval times when corruption ensued because certain Christians arrogantly believed they were the chosen ones that knew the truth.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Schlosskirche church to condemn Catholic practices of indulgences, defined as payments for forgiveness. These theses were Luther’s heretical opinions of the Catholic church. His grievances could be summed up this way: 1) the church was selling forgiveness, which it had no authority to do; 2) the pope claimed the power to distribute forgiveness, which only God could do; 3) Catholic priests were not the only ones allowed to interpret and teach the Bible because the Bible’s truth was accessible to everyone. Luther’s actions began the Protestant Reformation.
Today these indulgences are paying homage to climate change, or checking off DEI boxes or maybe putting virtue signaling signs on the lawn, or acknowledging that one is anti-racist or voting Democrat. There is nothing free about this path. Conservative Christians stand for freedom, much like Jesus.
There is something very cynical and unfortunate about people like Alberta. His views that the majority of conservative Christians are either indolent lemmings or unscrupulous greedy peddlers are far too sweeping, ill-informed, presumptuous, and not to mention insulting. Alberta believes conservative Christians are compelled by a “persecution complex” – which are fears and conspiracy theories of an emerging anti-Christ surrounded by Marxist minions that have taken over the Democratic party. This is why conservatives would still back Donald Trump and Mike Johnson. There’s far too much to debate here over what is truth and what is conspiracy.
But what is observable is that Alberta, and his ilk, position themselves to be arbiters of that truth. If they don’t see this in themselves, then it is they who need to do some soul searching because they sound a lot like the medieval Catholic leaders who bequeathed unto themselves exclusive power to interpret God’s word and absolve men of their sins.
This view is anathema to American values, which is why we should celebrate, honor, or dare I say, “worship” America, its values, its flag, its institutions, and yes the brave men and women, despite their flaws, who shaped and fought for it.
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