By Kirk Petersen
“We must counter the negative perversions of Christianity and of our humanity with an affirmative, positive way of being Christian,” said Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry. “Christianity must re-center itself on the teachings, the example, and the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth.”
That was the central message Curry conveyed on January 27, when he participated in a webinar with the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton. The webinar was sponsored by Christians Against Christian Nationalism, an interdenominational organization that asserts “government should not prefer one religion over another or religion over nonreligion.”
Three weeks to the day earlier, an angry mob broke into the United States Capitol in an effort to prevent the transfer of power from the Trump administration to the incoming Biden administration. Outside the building, one of the demonstrators carried a large wooden cross, and another waved a sign reading “Jesus 2020.”
Eaton said that whenever any group claims “we have God on our side – that’s always dangerous, when human beings decide they have God on their side as opposed to us trying to be on the side of God.”
What is Christian nationalism? For a definition, the webinar began with a man who wrote a book about it, Dr. Andrew Whitehead, associate professor of sociology at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), co-author of Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States.
He defined Christian nationalism as “a cultural framework that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life,” noting that Christian nationalists tend to think of Christianity as “people like us.” His research showed that while Christian nationalist tendencies are more common in the South and among less-educated people, the phenomenon exists in every demographic of American society.
“Christian nationalism is different from being a patriot,” Eaton said. “God knows I love my country. But my primary allegiance as a Christian is not to my country, but to God. But we can still be active citizens, participants in the public square.”
Curry noted that Christianity has been misused to justify various forms of evil in the past, including slavery, apartheid, and Naziism. This happens when the Jesus of “the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 25, Parable of the sheep and goats, the Good Samaritan – that Jesus of Nazareth gets moved aside and suppressed for a broad, ambiguous Christ figure who can be adapted to any cultural context or adapted to anybody’s whim.”
“Christianity has been held hostage” by Christian nationalists, he said. “We must reclaim it. We have to counter the negative with the positive, because the positive is there. We also have to embody it.”
The webinar was moderated by Amanda Tyler, executive director of BJC (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty), one of the sponsors of Christians Against Christian Nationalism.