The Christian nationalism experiment failed


The United States is not a Christian nation. Still, we reside in a country that pledges to be “one nation under God” and holds “In God We Trust” as its motto. At best, these are hopeful suggestions and remnants of some small parts of our past. But they do not represent who we are, especially at present.

Because of this reality, many in the faith community have looked for an audacious political leader to battle secularism for quite some time. After decades of playing relatively nice, they decided on a new approach. In 2016, Donald Trump became “the chosen one,” and an era of high-profile Christian nationalism began. Only this time, the strength of passion behind the movement hit growing progressivism head-on. This toxic mix has only grown worse as many in the Republican Party became obsessively convinced of the president's divinely inspired “rightness,” no matter the words, issues, or actions. He was placed in a position of power to save our nation and change the course of history. One could argue he accomplished the latter. The former, not so much.

Early on, it became clear that the Republican Party under Trump would be unseemlily devoted to the man through thick and thin. After all, he was placed in the White House “for such a time as this.” Criticism was not allowed. Engaging in any condemnation meant a tacit endorsement of the Left and, by extension, godless socialism. Trump represented the party of freedom of speech and religion, the right to bear arms, small government, right to life, and pride in the country. No matter the issue, opposing him was proof the combatant didn't care much about stopping evil or defending the good. Worst of all, it was proof that they didn't care about our nation and its transformation.

At the end of the Trump presidency, a larger audience sees what critics saw all along: Christian nationalism is not a healthy extension of belief, and Trump is the last person who should have been tapped to lead the reformational charge.

Still, a noxious political atmosphere didn't happen overnight. In this case, it has been brewing for quite some time, long before Trump emerged on the scene. Trump is the Republican Party's immediate answer to the eight years of former President Barack Obama. While the Left viewed Trump as the problem, the Right primarily saw him as an antidote to a problem. Beyond the purely political motivations sat something even more powerful. Christians in the U.S. embraced him as an unapologetic fighter and defender of their beliefs. It didn't matter if Trump was not devout because God would use him to turn the country back to Christianity and right many wrongs. It is a significant problem with Christian nationalism. It seeks to sway society through legislative means as if the law is what influences hearts. By investing so much in one seemingly anointed man, the Christian community lost sight of the goal early on and idolized the vessel to its collective detriment.

The corruption of the Republican Party will last well into the future, so, too, will this corruption of faith. During the last four years, Christianity and Trumpism have become intrinsically linked. Undoing it will take a lot of effort. On Jan. 6, the mob descended upon the Capitol, and dispersed among the crowd were crosses, signs, and banners with “Jesus Saves” or “Jesus 2020.”

Days later, the faculty and staff of Wheaton College, an evangelical institution, issued a statement, saying, “The January 6 attack on the Capitol was characterized not only by vicious lies, deplorable violence, white supremacy, white nationalism, and wicked leadership — especially by President Trump — but also by idolatrous and blasphemous abuses of Christian symbols.” The mob mentality at the Capitol wasn't just in the name of the Republican Party. It was supposedly a holy stand against the wrong — in this case, President-elect Joe Biden, who is set to be sworn into office on Jan. 20.

The response wasn't just in reaction to the Nov. 3 election results. During the pandemic, people saw houses of worship unfairly targeted despite secular businesses being allowed to remain open. Government officials used a global health crisis to suppress faith communities, and the new year would usher in a new, unsympathetic administration. Christians and Republicans could not stand by and watch as their only hope for protection was kicked out of the White House.

But none of this began with Trump. He was simply the tool that many in the Christian community had been waiting to arrive. As long as he delivered results, the churchgoing base would look past the deep flaws in his character. Christian nationalism aims to turn the country back to God through the avenues of patriotism and politics. It's a faulty premise from the start because the focus relies far too much on those who crave power first and foremost. This mindset gave Trump a blank check in which he could behave in any manner he chose with little to no repercussions.

The U.S. is a diverse nation. We do not reside in a theocracy. Regrettably, the attempts to place all hope in one man for the sake of a holy mission have failed across the board. When nothing else matters except “owning the Libs,” the substance of belief is pushed away for temporary victories. Such nonchalance has not only harmed a party that lost the White House, Senate, and House, but it's harmed American Christendom, too.

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