By Josh Breslaw, Lead Pastor at FBC Gonzales
Christian Nationalism is a buzzword that has infiltrated our culture over the past several years. Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry define Christian Nationalism as “an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture.” This premise of fusing civic life with Christianity is nothing new. It did not begin with the Moral Majority of the 1970s, Reaganism in the 1980s, or Trumpism in the 2010s. The rhetoric of Christian Nationalism has existed since Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 C.E. recognizing Christianity as an approved religion in Rome.
The Bible is not answerless when it comes to a Christian’s relation to the state. It gives us guidance on whether or not a Christian should support Christian Nationalism. The answer is not found in one Scripture, but it is found in the symphony of passages discussing the relationship between church and state. The two passages which we will look at today find themselves pro-government and anti-government. One is in Romans 13 and the other in Revelation 13.
The message is clear in Romans 13:1-7: submit to the governing authorities. For most people, Romans 13:1-7 is the most familiar of the passages in the New Testament which discusses a Christian supporting and submitting to the earthly government where they live. Romans 13:1-7 is also a favorite passage for Christian Nationalists. When justifying family separation at the United States Southern Border during the summer of 2018, then Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited Romans 13:1 as reason to obey the immigration laws of the United States. Other times that this verse has been prominently used in American culture was when loyalists to England used it during the American Revolution, and when Southerners used it to fight against abolitionists in the 1840s and 1850s.
The problem with interpreting Romans 13:1 in this way is its context within Romans and its context in connection with the original hearers. The appeal to being subject to governing authorities must be understood in conjunction with the appeal to be “living sacrifices” (Rom 12:1). Romans 12-13 is a message to those with no earthly power to willingly submit to authority, allowing God to avenge them (Rom 12:19). It is not a message to be used by the government to force submission.
As Christians, before we willingly submit ourselves as Romans 13 says, we need to ask some hard questions. Mainly, are Christians supposed to support all regimes, even corrupt ones? In addition, do we really believe that “those authorities that exist have been instituted by God”? In a democracy, do we think that God is putting his hand on the ballot box and making Christians and non-Christians vote a certain way? Do we think God wants tyrants and dictators to rule? Are evil leaders part of God’s plan? Or did humans, while using our own free will, mess the world up? And, on top of that, where does Satan fit into this picture? I think the best way to answer is that we must realize a balance between God’s providence, humanity’s free will, and Satan’s influence. And within that balance, we find some leaders who are good and some who are bad.
But how do we distinguish between good and bad? I think this can be determined by whether Christians can live according to Romans 13:3. Romans 13:3 says, “for rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior but for evil.” We know that this is not always the case. When making the godly choice, when being a “living and holy sacrifice” leads to conflict in the government, living according to the statements of Romans 13 is not feasible. It is in these types of situations in history and throughout the world today that Christians need to turn to Revelation 13.
It is my opinion, along with the majority of Christian thinkers, that Revelation is not a vision of future events. Instead, Revelation is a revealing of what is spiritually happening to the original audience in the first century and is a revelation to us on how to live when the authorities are not Christian. The entire book of Revelation gives an alternative view of the world; Revelation 13 is no exception. Instead of the view seemingly expressed in Romans 13:1-2 that all authority is ordained by God and whoever resists will incur judgment from God, Revelation 13 expresses a vision of earthly authority as a demonic authority.
Revelation 13 reveals the Unholy Trinity of dragon, beast of the sea, and beast of the earth. The dragon (Satan) has just attempted to devour the child (Jesus) in Revelation 12 but is unsuccessful, so it sets out to wreak havoc on the child’s brothers and sisters (Christians). In Revelation 13, the beast of the sea rises with ten horns and seven heads. Most likely, the original hearers of this apocalypse would have recognized this as a representation of Rome. To us, as we read today, this beast of the sea represents the evil government regimes that fall unto the rule of evil. Later in Revelation 13, another beast rises up from the earth. This beast forces the people of the earth to worship the other beast which means also worshipping the dragon. Then and now, these are the false prophets who want people to worship government instead of God.
So what should a Christian do and how does this relate to Christian Nationalism?
The picture of government in Romans 13 and Revelation 13 seem to be polar opposites. Romans 13 says that government is ordained by God while Revelation 13 says that government is under the influence of Satan. How do we harmonize these texts into a Christian’s view of government and how does Christian Nationalism fit into this?
Even though it seems these texts have different views of government, they have the same command for Christians. Romans 13:7 says to “render to all what is due them.” Revelation 13:10 says “if anyone is destined for captivity, into captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed.” Romans 12:21 says “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” No matter if you read Romans 13 or Revelation 13, the command for Christians is to be people of peace.
This is informative and important for us as we consider a Christian’s response to Christian Nationalism. Christian Nationalism seeks to protect a certain way of life which enmeshes historical American and Christian values. In order to protect that way of life, Christian Nationalists are prepared to fight for a certain way of life. Nothing in Scripture tells us to fight; instead, it tells us to be ready to pick up a cross, not a sword.
My conclusion is that Christians should not condone or participate in Christian Nationalism or any of its causes. Reviewing Romans 13 and Revelation 13 shows that Christians are to submit to earthly authorities and wait for God to be our avenger. This is not the attitude of Christian Nationalism. Christian Nationalism seeks to gain power in the world today. Christianity is not about power. Christianity seeks to follow the example of Jesus “who as He already existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself by taking the form of a bond-servant and being born in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death: death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8). Whether government is pro-Christian or anti-Christian, a Christian’s task remains the same. We are to be people of peace, no matter who is in charge.
 Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry, Taking America Back for God (New York, NY: Oxford University, 2020), preface, Kindle.
 Other passages include: 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Titus 3:1-2; and 1 Peter 2:13-17.
 Julie Zauzmer and Keith McMillan, “Sessions cites Bible passage used to defend slavery in defense of separating immigrant families,” Washington Post, June 15, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost .com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/06/14/jeff-sessions-points-to-the-bible-in-defense-of-separating-immigrant-families/.
*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common