Jesus in a MAGA Hat


It is a startling poster/photograph. Taken during the January 6, 2021, riot, it shows a white-skinned, bearded Jesus (like I grew up with) wearing a red MAGA hat.

Before we dismiss it and the woman carrying the photo as extremist nuts, let us be honest about what is seemingly common in our country today. There is a clear puzzle in American Christianity. People seem to have Americanism and Christianity mixed up—tangled and fused together in such a way that neither is coming out looking good. Of particular concern is the apparent redefinition of Christianity.

The Bible clearly identifies a Christian as a follower of Jesus, the Christ. That is a serious identification with many connected assumptions, obligations, and blessings. We are now part of God’s family and have others with whom we share responsibilities and lives.

“Christian” makes a good noun; it makes a poor adjective.

In the news recently are the results of a study by the trusted Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institute concerning the term “Christian nationalism.” Definitions of this concept usually present something as follows: America is a Christian nation and God’s continued blessings on it depend on adherence to certain moral positions believed to be God’s positions. This should shape the country’s laws.

This is a worldview and depends on a person’s perception of the American story. In this story, the founding fathers were devoted Christians whose intention was to build a nation with a biblical basis. God uniquely favors America above all nations and blesses it in accordance with how it seems to follow Him.

There is another story, of course. The second story is that America was founded as a religiously plural nation. It certainly receives blessings from God, but those are dependent on God’s nature and goodness only. The role of the government is to pass laws that benefit the common good of all citizens, regardless of religious preference.

The survey/report by PRRI/Brookings found that ten percent of the country’s respondents strongly adhere to the Christian nationalist approach and another 19 percent are sympathizers. Looking at the survey in another way, half of the voters from one particular political party are in those two categories. Of clear concern to me is that many Christian nationalist supporters favor an authoritarian leader who leads in a way to keep Christian values preeminent in society.

I understand why the Christian nationalism approach is attractive. It is what I was subtly taught beginning in elementary school. Many of you are friends who might wonder what my problem is. My serious concern is this tangle of a human government form being complexed with the God of the ages. Christian nationalism is not Christianity.

Jesus (Matthew 28:19) clearly identifies our mission as Christians to “. . . go and make disciples of all nations.” The closer we allow government to come with the church, the greater the danger of Christ’s goals being diluted or re-directed. We all understand that governments become corrupt; why would we marry that corruption to our lives and aspirations as followers of God?

Related to that, do you sense (as do I) that there is a serious distrust of the church in modern times? Why would someone who is not a believer give the gospel a hearing when (to some extent) they see the church simply as the arm of a government that has flaws and directions with which they do not agree? How evangelical is Christian nationalism? Love of country has a bright side; it also has a dark side.

We are not having honest enough conversations about this. Theologian Will Willimon, a visitor to our city, recently offered a troubling position: “I’ll help you in your self-deceit if you’ll help me with mine and we’ll call it church.”

Let us keep asking ourselves some questions. What is my first love, God, or my country? What evidence would I give to defend my response? What allegiances could I give to demonstrate support for my position? How does my behavior illustrate my stance? Anything other than God that demands our worship is idolatry.

Writer Paul Basden adds: “When the Church gets in bed with government, the offspring is unholy.”

Amen and amen.

Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain


  • Jim, this is an excellent, brave article. Every preacher in every church that follows Jesus should be expressing this sentiment. They are not because of the large number of their congregation who would leave. I am afraid the only solution is to let them leave.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Your first commenter, Carlin Brooks, said it correctly–“excellent, brave” article. So many of the people I know fall into the Christian nationalism area of belief. I agree wholeheartedly with your viewpoint.


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