Without question, our country is in a tense place right now. And while I would love to speak to our nation as a whole, I think trying to do that will cause it to get lost in all the noise. And really I feel like I am more qualified to talk to Christians about what that means during these times. I have written about a similar topic before (HERE), but with all the stuff that recently happened in Charlottesville, I think it bears repeating.
I want to talk about nationalism and how we might be letting that affect how we follow Jesus. First, a couple caveats. Right from the start, nationalism is not bad. You can love your country; I do. I love being an American and spent two decades serving and defending it. So be a nationalist. This is not about that. Second, this is not strictly about Charlottesville. Instead, it is about how we respond to this type of situation. So even though it is not specifically about it, I think Charlottesville is a good barometer for measuring if we are letting something other than Christ influence how we follow Him.
With that said, I have seen a number of articles, from Christians and Christian media outlets, that muddy the issue even more. Most of it revolves around how the media is lying to us and making Charlottesville worse than it seems. While that may be true, it does not undo the truth of what occurred there and how some Christians have responded to it. Another point these Christian writers/media are pushing is how violent both sides are, specifically BLM and ANTIFA being the other side of the “racist coin” as White Supremacist and Neo-Nazi. Maybe that is also true, but it still misses the bigger picture of how a Christian should respond. It is a big enough deal that I think it deserves its own section, so I will address that later in the post.
Here are four ways you can know if your Christianity is informed by nationalism, rather than Jesus.
If you think Charlottesville was just an expression of free speech.
I am all for free speech. And, as abhorrent as hate speech is, it is permissible. Like I mentioned, I spent 20 years defending people’s right to say whatever hateful and vile thing they want. But, if your response to hate speech is, “It’s freedom of speech, so get over it” and you disregard the hurt it inflicts your fellow human, something besides Christ is influencing you.
My biggest difficulty with the free speech excuse for hate speech is that it ignores the very real oppression that it intends to inflict. Whether you agree with the speaker being able to say it is not the point. What is more important is how you respond to the people who feel those words and hate cut into them. Unfortunately we can easily let the “free speech” thing override our call for compassion for the oppressed. And, many of those words are aimed at are your brothers and sisters in Christ. That alone should break your heart. Our response ought to be condemnation of the speech and compassion toward the target of it. It is not about necessarily trying to silence the speaker, but rather standing with the person who was the target. That is Jesus influence.
If your expression of hate for the ideology extends to the people.
There is really no way to get around Jesus saying, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45) If your response is I hate BLM or White Supremacists, then likely you are missing the point of what Jesus said. You can hate the ideology all day long, and many times you should because it is incompatible with following Jesus. But, when you cross the line to hating the people in it, you leave Jesus’ camp. God is a people-ist. For God loved the world, right?
If you feel a need to point out how violent the other side is also.
This issue here is not about who is more violent. If violence or hateful speech exists on both sides, then you condemn it. But, if your response to hate or violence on one side is to point out the hate or violence on the other, you are missing the point. Our attention should focus on the hundreds of armed (with real guns) white supremacists and neo-Nazis who showed up in Charlottesville. They did not show up to peaceable assemble (see previous “armed” comment), but instead were ready to do violence. And, their language and rhetoric was intended to insight violence and fear, rather than bring attention to a broken system.
The issue at hand was not violence that occurred in Baltimore. The issue at hand has to do with what was and did happen in Charlottesville. To argue violence with others violence is to ignore and condone the present violence. In that we “bypass justice and love for God.” (Luke 11:22).
If you are mostly concerned with your rights or liberties.
This one is hard because we are taught to fight for our rights, especially the one to party. But, at the end of the day, if your rights and liberties are your main focus, maybe you are missing the point of Christianity a little. Literally every part of following Christ has to do with you being about other people. Even in Romans 12:3 the Apostle Paul is telling Christians that they ought not consider themselves more highly than others. And, every one of the Apostles, not to mention countless other Christians throughout history, have died to ensure others could have freedom in Christ. So, if your biggest concern is, “What about my rights?” then you missed the whole, “take up your cross and losing your life” thing Jesus mentions in Matthew 16:24-26.
We should be continually evaluating whether it is our love of country or love of Jesus that informs our Christianity.