God And Country
By JIM NICHOLS
She looked like a regular university student, but she was carrying a background that made her unique and, to me, especially positive. She was a “missionary kid” and had spent most of her life in a country and lifestyle much different from mine. She told me that it had taken her several months after arriving back in the United States before she was brave enough to wear shorts to Walmart; in her previous life that would have bordered on immoral.
Those kinds of seeds planted and nourished in “foreign” missionaries seem particularly attractive to me. If one has been reared outside the U.S., what seems normal to us is not at all normal. I have been particularly attracted to returning missionaries’ views of the U.S. Those of us who have lived most of our lives here logically do not see the American idiosyncrasies that are obvious to others from the outside.
Of note is the mixture of Americanism and Christianity so prevalent today. Missionaries living in other countries have as their primary goal the sharing of the Good News of Jesus. To me, they seem singularly dedicated to that goal and not at all inclined to become concerned about the native government culture around them. They seem to have perfected at least to some extent the ability to be focused on being God’s people regardless of their surroundings.
Sadly, that does not seem to be the case for Christians in 2021 America. You and I have read and seen more than we want to about the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. Frankly, it makes me heartsick and not just because I believe those people were misguided. What should be most devastating to followers of God was the religious imagery displayed there. It was wrong; it was evil; it was a pitiful mixture of jingoism, racism, and misunderstanding of God’s will.
Can you imagine what thoughts a returning missionary would have when viewing that scene? Why are there Confederate flags? Crosses? Why are people carrying cardboard boxes labeled “Holy Bible?” Why is there another flag with a Christian fish symbol on it and “Trump?” Why are these people dressed up in Halloween costumes shouting prayers as if to God? Why are they proclaiming the coming of Jesus when they appear to be political oddballs?
Unfortunately, January 6 was not an anomaly. It was just a clear manifestation of a misguided movement that has tried overtly to connect Christianity with Americanism. Some people refer to it as Christian Nationalism. Others have written and commented eloquently on the topic and I have resisted the temptation to pile on—but I feel a weight to say some straight things.
Let us not put our hopes on Democrats, Republicans, politics, government, or on the United States. Our faith is in God through His Son and Spirit. All the rest of it is just human stuff and will return to ashes soon. We do Christianity no favor by tying it to a country, including the United States. This is a characteristic that foreign missionaries seem to understand much better than the rest of us.
Mixing Americanism with Christianity is, frankly, blasphemous. Using Christian symbols as American symbols is wrong. If someone were to refer to themselves as a “proud American Christian,” he or she should be challenged to explain the statement.
Following Christ makes one different. We each do so imperfectly, but we need to have eyes wide open to some corruptions we can fall into if we are not alert.
One of the most damaging effects of Christian Nationalism is that is presents a warped view of Christianity to those outside who just might give it a hearing if better presented. God does not really need our defense, but we do have an obligation to present the Good News as accurately as possible. Even planters of seed need to do so carefully, even though growth and fruition are out of our control. When people around us see us combine ourselves as Americans and Christians, they are viewing a warped view of Christianity. It is no wonder that so many criticize Christianity when we portray it so poorly. Let us be aware of where our American patriotism swamps our relationship to God through Christ.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain
Jim, I appreciate your differentiating between patriotism and Christianity. So many Americans seem to equate them, but wrongly so.