One of the most well known stories in the Bible is that of the narrative of Luke. In the second chapter Joseph and Mary are looking for an inn. The story of Bethlehem teaches a lot about Christianity. Yet in the wake of the vitriol of the 2016 election I felt sick over what I heard. Unable to connect to the traditional Christmas narrative I ended up walking out of a Christmas service asking myself if evangelicals have rejected the story of Bethlehem? Also in Christianity Today the Chief Missiologist of the North American Missions Board wrote an article about how Christian Nationalism and politics is harming missionary work. This blog is looking for stories from American missionaries abroad who have had to deal with this issue in their job.
“I’m one hundred times more passionate about creating Christians and churches that will be faithful, biblical, countercultural, and spiritually minded in a socialist America, in a Muslim America, in a communist America, than I am in preventing a Muslim America or a communist America. That puts me in a very different ballpark than many public voices.”
At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.
Luke 2:1-5 NLT
In December of 2016 I was attending a Christmas eve service in Chantilly, Virginia. Chantilly is a suburb in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The service did what many evangelical services do on Christmas – they read the story of Luke. You probably know the story of Caesar Augustus, the decree, Mary and Joseph looking for a room for the night and all while Mary is pregnant. But in 2016 the story changed for me. Here is what happened. I sat in the chair and my mind was a whirl. Due to Christian Nationalism I had lost a number of friends. In my mind I reflected on all that I heard the previous year. Mexicans being called rapists. Racist banter and boasting of violence. And while I believe in strong immigration laws I was sickened by the over the top put downs that I was hearing. While I was there in church I was thinking about how 81% of the people around me voted for Donald Trump. I was in the 17/18% who did not. I wondered to myself if I was part of the church or was this foreign to me? Did I belong to it? What was I a part of? As I heard the pastor preach about the story of Luke I started to feel sick to my stomach. I could not connect the traditional story of Bethlehem with what I was hearing in the media. The thought of worshiping, singing or doing communion with people made me feel sick. And as I sat there I wondered are the people around me reading from the same Bible that I did? And finally I found myself wrestling with this question. Do evangelicals believe in the Christmas story in Bethlehem? The story of Mary and Joseph, exhausted, tired and looking for shelter and assistance. As my stomach was in knots I did something I never did before on a major holiday service. I got up and walked out midway through everything while the pastor was preaching. I felt that if I stayed that I was going to vomit. And so I walked. Dazed and confused I spent the evening at a nearby Popeyes and sat in a booth thinking about this issue until the restaurant closed and I was kicked out. But for the first time I was asking myself do evangelicals believe in Bethlehem? Now I was not sure and could not state that claim.
Is Christian Nationalism Harming Missionary Efforts Inside the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Missions Board?
There was an article recently in Christianity Today that I wanted to write about as well. It comes from the chief Chief Missiologist of the North American Missions Board. Jeff Christopherson writes about how American politics is adversely affecting Southern Baptist missions and hurting the spread of the Christian Gospel. This is what he recently wrote in Christianity Today.
When it comes to mission, we know our sides, but we seem to understand little else.
Square in the middle of this social morass, a hefty subset of evangelicals have staked their sacred ground. The seamless convergence of cultural politics and religious identity has provided the climate for darkness to flourish with full permission from the very people who are commissioned to bring Jesus’ light. But sadly, this isn’t a new thing. This marriage of an exterior religion shrouding an interior darkness has often been recorded throughout church history in the most shameful seasons of our past. Another chapter appears to be in order.
Here is a question. What happens to the mission field when partisan evangelicals collectively turn their missionary platforms into ideological troll farms? What happens to the mission field when our highest calling is to leverage a profound cultural angst into a vitriolic nationalism? What happens to the mission field when those with whom we disagree become cultural enemies to vanquish rather than friends and neighbors to love? What happens to the mission field when an aberrant version of Jesus is formed in our own image and weaponized online as a parochial wrecking ball? What happens to the mission field when evangelicalism’s good news has nothing to do with the gospel?
The trajectory of the religiously unaffiliated continues to climb at unprecedented rates, while the great evangelical prize—political significance—will continue to erode. Our preferred weapon of cultural engagement, politics, will, as Jesus taught, be turned and used against us in full measure. The mission field has been torched by our own hand, and the utility of evangelical voting bloc will no longer be desired.
It’s a lose-lose scenario by any measure.
Jeff Christopherson then leaves with four thoughts to consider.
- Christian beliefs have public power.
- Blind affiliations can only compromise Christian beliefs.
- Christian beliefs assume that Kingdom Patriotism is primary.
- Kingdom patriotism has chooses truth over power.
In the article which you can read here Christopherson lays out the issues that exist. The Christian Gospel has been harmed by Christian Nationalism. Politics has affected missionary efforts abroad. Its led to confusion and raises many questions that now exist.
Some Questions on What Jeff Christopherson States and The Wondering Eagle is Looking for Stories From American Missionaries that Have Experienced This
These past two years I have wondered how Christian Nationalism was affecting missionary efforts abroad. It was been embraced by many evangelicals, especially the more traditional Baptists and regular white evangelicals. Those that have rejected Christian Nationalism have been those in the Neo-Calvinist movement. Russell Moore, John Piper and others have written about the topic and while I disagree with Piper I can respect what he says in this area. Here is the question that needs to be asked. Should Christian Nationalism be put in the same category as Mormonism or Jehovah Witnesses? Should it be looked at as another gospel? When one considers Robert Jeffress and First Baptist Dallas should they be considered an un-reached people’s group? Should missionary efforts target churches like First Baptist Dallas to teach them Christianity? These are questions that I am wondering if they need to be raised.
This blog is wondering how the issue of Christian Nationalism is personally affecting American Southern Baptist missionaries. If you are a current or former missionary that had to deal with this issue in the last three years this blog would love to tell your story. It can be done anonymously. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.