The Not Easy Road
For what does it profit a man
if he should gain the whole world and lose his soul?
Like many American youth, I grew up being taught that “America is a Christian nation founded on Christian principles.” However that concept raised a number of unanswered questions in my mind. If we were a Christian nation, how could we take so much land from indigenous Americans and break our treaties with them? Why did we develop the legalized caste system of slavery and hold on to it for years?
As I have worked with Christian schools across the country, I have encountered variations on this theme of our “Christian nation” status. In her outstanding book, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, Kristin Kobes Du Mez defines Christian nationalism as “the belief that America is God’s chosen nation and must be defended as such—serves as a powerful predictor of intolerance toward immigrants, racial minorities, and non-Christians.”
It is my belief that many Christian supporters of Donald Trump have fallen prey to Christian nationalism. Following a call to “make America great again,” they have excused behavior from our nation’s top elected official that they would never tolerate in a school administrator. Too many Christian leaders have been complicit with a leader who has conned them and said what they wanted to hear.
I write this post the day after the mob invasion of our Capitol building, an insurrection incited by the President, who told them that morning: “you will never take back our country with weakness.” Tragically, even this violent, unsettling display was associated with Christianity as demonstrators carried a Christian flag and unfurled a “Jesus 2020” banner. Untold damage has been done to the name of Christ, Christianity, and Christian education by the Christian nationalism that has crept into our homes, schools, churches, and states.
So where do we go from here? Confession, repentance, and reform needs to start at home. Christian educators in K-12 and higher education should carefully consider how deeply they may have been impacted by white, evangelical, nationalistic thinking and how much this ideology has permeated their institutions. Our silence and complicity has sustained a movement that advocates white supremacy, toxic masculinity, and compromise with unprincipled leaders. These associations are antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that should be the foundation of Christian education. They are attempts to gain the world, but in the process lose our soul.
A devastating result of Christian nationalism has been our allowance of racism. The support by fellow Christians of a president who is racist (who appealed to these base instincts from the very beginning of his candidacy) is astounding and appalling. How can you say you love Jesus (a dark-skinned Middle Eastern Jew, by the way) and hate and fear those made in his image? How can we excuse children separated from their parents and locked in cages? How can we stand back and stand by while our black brothers and sisters live in constant fear of law enforcement? Do we dare to teach our students what really happened in the founding of this country and lament how we have not repented or atoned for what has happened and continues to happen to Black people in this country? (If you yourself are seeking to learn more about racial injustice in the U.S., I suggest reading the books Caste and The Color of Compromise.)
Recently I heard about a group of parents pushing back at their Christian school for teaching diversity. After my initial astonishment, I started to wonder, “What is this resistance really about?” Is it about keeping our schools safe from people who don’t look like us? Jesus made it really simple: love one another. He didn’t specify what color. Let’s agree to measure all things by Jesus’ law of love: if an action doesn’t promote love, it is not Christ’s way. Boards and leaders, I beg you to examine how your school is living out its mission.
Jesus warned us that his way is not the easy path. It is much easier to seek politically expedient solutions and go with the political flow in your community. But what does obedience to Jesus demand? What does love require? How can we be like him? Are we teaching our kids that they must stand with the oppressed? Are we teaching that their first allegiance is to Jesus, the King of all kings, whose kingdom is not of this world?