(From a few weeks ago)
Me: Hey, so, remember this is Holy Week and we’re thinking about Jesus and how he died for us; he didn’t fight back and chose love.
9 yo: So, we have a leader who didn’t fight back and he just died.
7 yo: Well, that’s just dumb.
Me: Well, it does seem crazy. But Jesus chose love and kindness for all.
9 yo: What kind of ruler is that who just lets people do anything they want, even kill him? That’s a terrible ruler for a nation.
Me: Jesus didn’t want to rule a nation, he wanted to rule your heart.
9 yo: But I want to rule my own heart.
This is basically the problem with Christian nationalism -- it is thinking, like 9-year-olds, that Jesus is supposed to be ruling this country. I'd say that if Jesus wanted us to use the government to bring about his kingdom, he would have gone ahead and done so himself. Instead, he was executed as an enemy of the state.
Christian nationalism, in case you missed it, is a belief that America is a Christian nation and the government should take steps to keep it that way (definition from Christianity Today, full article here). It is not the same as patriotism, which is love of country. Patriotism loves; Christian nationalism gets pushy, exclusive and sometimes violent. The bishop of my denomination elaborated on this in a statement released a few years ago.
Not that this is a new problem, of course. Writing in the 16 century, Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, wrote in an explanation to the first commandment (you shall have no other gods), that we are to fear, love and trust God above all things. Yes, that includes the country where you live! Jesus first. Country second. Worship of both is breaking the first commandment before breakfast.
But this was not my 9-year-old's concern, not really. He wants to be the boss of himself and that is pretty relatable. And when he thinks of leaders and role models, he thinks about the super heroes of Marvel and DC comics. The cultural messages are clear: leaders are strong, they fight, the rule and they win. Leaders don't sacrifice, suffer, step aside or get killed. That's ridiculous.
I'm may or may not be able to convince my son that Jesus is more awesome than, say, Green Lantern, but the truth is they're not in the same....universe. The purpose of super heroes is to entertain and maybe see the good guys beat the bad guys. But the purpose of Jesus is to see that there's something beyond ourselves, an eternal love, and endless peace, a presence in hard times. A movie superhero will only get you so far when you are afraid and alone in real life.
This same distinction is true for God and country. They each play a role. They can each offer goodness. We can love them both. But they are not in the same....universe. Your country cannot give you the peace that passes all understanding. Your country will not grant you eternal salvation. Your country will not offer you forgiveness of all of your sin. Your country may or may not endure until the end of time. But God can do all those things.
I'll let my kids keep reading about superheroes who wear capes, but I also want them to hear about other superheroes and leaders. The Bible is full of stories of heroes, leaders and trailblazers, many of them unlikely: David, Ruth and Esther come to mind, but there are many others.
A friend of mine gave me this book about different kinds of heroes, and this has been great for my boys. It features well known and lesser-known people who blazed new trails, were true to themselves, and shared their gifts with the world, from Jesse Owens to Matahma Ghandi to Louis Braille.
I hope to show my children (getting back to Christian nationalism) the breadth of the giftedness and goodness to be found in our nation, which includes people of many backgrounds, races and faiths. And that the true strength of any leader is not how much power they amass, but how they treat those who are vulnerable, which, at some point, is all of us.