The media has given considerable attention to the rise of what has come to be known as “Christian Nationalism,” or alternatively, “White Christian Nationalism.” The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty issued a statement– Christians Against Christian Nationalism– that provides a clear definition:
Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation.
Some Bible scholars, including Adventists, have long identified the biblical symbol of “Babylon”—the harlot riding on the beast—with the Constantinian church-state arrangement. This “arrangement” powered the church through the use of the government’s strong arm. This arrangement dominated the west for more than twelve centuries, until it suffered a “fatal wound.”
By the time Babylon appears in Revelation 17, the powerful church-state union is in a resurrected, a reconstituted form, having survived that would-be fatal wound.
The second and third angels of Revelation 14 have already sounded their warnings about the sway of this power, and God’s call to His people to be true. The angels are referring to a world power, running on a reunited relationship between church and state. This world power will once again use political power to punish religious dissent.
However intolerant the secular left can be, it does not represent the uniting of church and state represented by the biblical text. It is not a church state union that prosecutes conservative Christians for refusing services to same sex weddings, for example. Jesus warned that the final deceptions would be in His name, (Matthew 24). In closing the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned about those who profess to do marvelous deeds in His name, but do not know Jesus.
The final apostasy that places humanity beyond the possibility of repentance and redemption creates a Jesus in our own image, and worships a counterfeit Jesus who expects His people to assert God’s authority on earth.
Lauren Boebert (R-CO) summed up the Christian Nationalist ethos succinctly when, at a political rally in a church in the summer of 2022 she reportedly proclaimed: “The church is supposed to direct the government. The government is not supposed to direct the church. That is not how our Founding Fathers intended it.”
Boebert then made allusion to a private historical document that apparently created a smoking gun on the issue. “I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk that’s not in the Constitution. It was in a stinking letter, and it means nothing like what they say it does” (Washington Post, June 28, 2022).
The “stinking letter” she referenced was a New Year’s letter from Thomas Jefferson to a Baptist community in Danbury, Connecticut. Members of that community had expressed concern about their religious freedoms. Jefferson sought to reassure them:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties. Thomas Jefferson, Jan 1, 1802.
Jefferson’s concept of religious liberty – that one’s duty to worship God is owed to God alone, not to the state—is distinctly Protestant. It also represented an historic break from centuries of what historians call “Christendom,” in which one’s good standing before God and the state became virtually one and the same.
This integration of church and state can be traced back to the Emperor Constantine. Constantine completely altered the relationship between the church and the imperial government, thereby beginning a process that eventually made Christianity the official religion of the empire. Encyclopedia Britannica, “The alliance between church and empire”
In the end, the emperor was in submission to the church as its son, not its master.
The Irony of Today’s Religious Freedom
Today, religious liberty doesn’t mean what it used to mean. The separation of church and state—the result and operation of both religion clauses of the First Amendment—has been relegated to the historical ash heap. It is now replaced by what some scholars now call “most favored nation” status for religion. Religious liberty is rapidly returning to a Constantinian approach to the relationship between church and state.
Although Christian Nationalism is a political ideology rather than a religious one, it draws strength from perverse theological strains, including Calvinism and Reconstructionism. It is a theology of exclusion—that only the “elect” few are chosen, know the will of the Almighty, and are destined to enforce God’s will upon the nation. It is accompanied by a presumptive millennialism, that by taking political power, they will establish the kingdom of God. As witnessed publicly at Reawaken America rallies across the country, supporters are engaged in a “spiritual” and “political” war that can become violent, as witnessed at our nation’s capitol on January 6, 2021.
It’s one thing to be deceived by false christs at the last day, or visions and messaging by the enemy. However, we must also understand the danger of a presumption that one’s own motives and goals are those of the Holy Spirit.
The modern day emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit—to the exclusion or at least subjugation of every other teaching—has led to an explosion of self-proclaimed prophets. They boldly insist that the Holy Spirit has shown them whom God has chosen to be president of the United States. And they don’t back down, even when their chosen candidate loses. The apostles of Christian Nationalism have proclaimed a “holy” war that has occasionally broken out into actual violence. They literally demonize their political enemies, an endeavor consistent with the religion of the beast described in Revelation 13.
Protect Rights, not just “The Right”
Christian Nationalism misrepresents the character of God as exclusive and hateful. The Jesus of Christian Nationalism bears little resemblance to the one written about in the four gospels. The Christian Nationalist “Jesus” does not teach His followers to beat their swords into plowshares, or to become the meek who will inherit the earth, or to love enemies, or even to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Christian Nationalism is a dangerous heresy, and a threat to both church and state. An astute student of history, James Madison observed the legacy of the Constantinian church state union:
During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments.
Alan Reinach, J.D., is the executive director of the Church State Council, a writer, teacher and presenter on matters of religious freedom. He writes from Westlake Village, California.
This article is part of our 2023 January/February Issue