Christian Nationalism, the tendency to conflate American patriotism with the Christian faith and message, came into its modern form in the Eisenhower years. It did so largely as a civil religious bulwark in the context of the escalating Cold War and domestic “Red Scare.” It was deliberately fostered by President Eisenhower. It morphed into the political arena in a meaningful way from the 1980s to roughly 2004; the glory years of Moral Majority and, later, the Religious Right.
Eisenhower and Graham did not agree on theology or foreign policy, but they agreed on the place of religion in what both considered perilous times. They agreed that America was fighting atheistic Communism and that national survival rested on the belief of Americans in God.
“A spiritual awakening,” Graham said, “will restore our spiritual heritage, create moral stamina and consciousness, bring back the sanctity of the home . . . strengthen the bulwarks of freedom and bring integrity back to the people of the world.”
They agreed that patriotism and religious belief were synonymous and that America had a moral and spiritual mission to redeem the world. “If you would be a loyal American, then become a loyal Christian,” Graham said in one sermon, and in another, “We are created for a spiritual mission among the nations.”
Graham, of course, did not believe that just any religion would do. In a sermon titled “Satan’s Religion” he offered five ways Americans could “most effectively combat Communism.” The first was “by old-fashioned Americanism”; the second “by conservative and Evangelical Christianity”; the third by prayer; the fourth by spiritual revival; and the fifth “by personal Christian experience.” “The greatest and most effective weapon against Communism today is to be a born-again Christian,” he said.
Despite his sectarian perspective, Graham’s position was closer to Eisenhower’s than to that of liberal Protestant leaders, all of whom objected to the conflation of Christianity with Americanism, and some of whom had a disconcerting tendency to call for nuclear disarmament and talks with the Communist Chinese.
It was also closer to the majority position of the day. In 1949 Graham had styled himself as Amos, the prophet crying in the wilderness, but in four years he had become a pastor of the national civil religion.The Evangelicals, pgs. 185-186.
This is why this article by Michael Svigel is so helpful. He offers up a third way for Christians to engage the world. A way that isn’t isolationism or a bad marriage to politicians and their all too often crocodile promises. It’s a way Svigel calls the “Conscience of the Kingdom” approach:
In this approach, Christians uncompromisingly commit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ with regard to their priorities and values, morals and message. They surrender none of these to any other lord or any other leader. The Church is the community of their primary allegiance, which they will share with no other party or political organization.
However, Conscience Christians view their relationship to the world as analogous to the conscience of an individual. On the basis of God’s Word and in allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, Christians speak and act on behalf of righteousness.
Christians address political corruption, weigh in on social ills, take righteous action on behalf of truth, justice, and mercy, and do so in ways that refuse either to empower a “strongman” or take shelter in a bunker.
Svigel’s article provides a helpful corrective for Christians who may tend to conflate American nationalism with the Christian faith. They are very different. They should REMAIN very different. The hopes and dreams that fire a Christian’s heart and mind MUST come from Christ’s kingdom, not from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.