Reflecting on Christian Nationalism in Evangelical Christianity and Being Caught Flat Footed in its 2016 Resurgence

This post is a reflection on Christian nationalism from 1999 until 2018. How it evolved over the years before surging in 2016 and catching me flat footed. Christian nationalism is deeply divisive and causes unnecessary conflict.  After coming back to the church it became one of the issues to drive me away from it. Why did Christian nationalism flare up to such an extreme version in 2016? This post attempts to answer that question toward the end.

“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”

Albert Einstein 

“Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.

Charles De Gaulle

God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend. For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour.

Job 37:5-6 ESV

Wooded Hills Church in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area. Note that absence of face masks indoors during a pandemic. 

When I started in evangelicalism it was at Fresno Evangelical Free in 1999 and 2000. At the time Bill Clinton was president and while many disliked him I did not see a great politicization of the EFCA church I was a part of at one time in my life. I really didn’t hear comments, nor did it come up in Bible study.  The same was true for Campus Crusade for Christ at Fresno State. I heard comments about Catholics and Mormons being a cult. Or how mainstream Protestants were spiritual liberals and in heresy at the time but not politics. Today as I reflect back on that I wonder why that was the case. 

 

George W Bush and Elmbrook Church and Wooded Hills From 2000 Until 2005

I first began to notice Christian nationalism in the Bush Presidency in Wisconsin. The mantra among Republicans at the time is that he is “one of us.” I remember when the wife of my senior pastor at Wooded Hills explained to me that Bush was to be commended for his character and integrity. I heard a couple of people commend Bush on overcoming his alcohol problems through faith in God. Bush was spoken highly of and respected. Elmbrook Church is the largest mega church in Wisconsin and is in the most conservative county in the state called Waukesha. You can read more about Waukesha here. At Elmbrook people loved George W. Bush. When I was at Wooded Hills it was also a third wave charismatic church. This led to a unique situation where some in the church supported Iraqi Freedom in 2003 because they desired and wanted war in the Middle East to help usher in the End Times. I wrote about this awhile back in, “Iraqi Freedom and Wooded Hills Bible. When You Blindly Lust For War in the Middle East Hoping to Usher In the End Times.” I thought it was normal to see so many people excited about war. Today in reflecting back on this topic it breaks my heart that I was brainwashed. At this time there was an uptick of Christian nationalism but it was no where what I would see in about a decade. In Campus Crusade I saw Christian nationalism from my Milwaukee Metro Crusade director Steve Papez and I blindly went along with it. 

 

Evangelicals at McLean Bible and National Community Church From 2005 Until 2008

When I arrived in the Washington, D.C. area I found a city that was very political. Politicians were a part of the make up and you would see them at different churches. For example Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe you could find at McLean Bible. At Mark Batterson’s National Community Church you could regularly see Attorney General John Ashcroft in attendance. I remember the time I was standing in the back and I turned around and Ashcroft was right behind me.  In addition I also know a person who worked in the sound booth who accidentally cut the mike when Ashcroft was preaching. He was not happy about that occurring. There was politics in the church but it was also Washington, D.C. or the surrounding area. At McLean Bible you did have Joel Rosenburg teach about the End Times and he spoke about the Middle East and Iran. He also sold books like, “The Ezekiel Option” as well. The rapture and End Times theology was pushed at McLean Bible. In all the churches I attended there was a deep respect for Bush during this time. 

 

A Faith Crisis and the Obama Years of 2008 Until 2016

I descended into a long faith crisis from 2009 until 2013 largely driven by the problem of evil which I wrote in other areas of this blog. I avoided evangelicals and proclaimed myself at atheist at this time. I was away from the church so I did not know how it was changing i n the Obama era. It was during this time that I was unsuccessfully recruited to a former Sovereign Grace church and dealt with a false accusation which was psychologically traumatic. But after 2013 when I tried church again I noticed something that was weird. There was an increased Christian nationalism which I had a hard time putting my finger on. I heard more about religious freedom during this time. I also heard a few evangelicals say that Obama was Kenyan and I remember scratching my head and thinking to myself, “No he was born in Hawaii…” On social media I saw some evangelicals talk about how Obama was going to outlaw Christianity. This messaging came hard from charismatic churches like Wooded Hills in Milwaukee which I once called home. I saw members from the church post weird and disturbing stuff on Facebook. It just baffled me. And I did my thing and just avoided it thinking it would die down. 

 

The Trump Era and my Final Evangelical Church and Realizing I Don’t Belong in Evangelicalism

When 2016 came around and the presidential race began I was involved in an evangelical church in the Northern Virginia suburbs. I attended Bible study each week and worship service frequently. I saw some evangelicals exhibit almost a paranoid psychosis about Obama and them being drawn to Trump. It was during this time that I saw issues that I never saw before becoming center stage. Faith was linked to taxes and the right to own guns. I just scratched my head watching all this and being bewildered. At the time I didn’t think evangelicals would go all the way with Trump. After all over the years I was always told by evangelicals “character, character, and character.” Donald Trump didn’t have the character of someone like George W Bush. I was appalled by the racism and then the affairs with porn stars like Stormy Daniels. I thought in my mind that would be it. I could not vote for Trump because of character and I didn’t view the election as normal. I viewed it as democracy vs. autocracy on the ballot and I voted for Hillary because I was concerned with democracy. But at this time the issue of Christian nationalism surged to an unprecedented levels. And then I was caught flat footed by its resurgence.  I was not prepared for it at all. I never saw it coming. 

Then what began to happen as someone who was part of the 18% of evangelicals who rejected Trump is that there started to be incredible conflict. Support of Trump it seemed became the mark of being born again or being saved. People I knew for years started to say that I was a libtard and Obama liberal even though I was a Rubio voter in the 2016 primary. It was cult like. Evangelicals I knew started rejecting me, questioning my faith and saying I was not a Christian and withdrawing. A lot of the bridges I rebuilt after a faith crisis were torn apart again. It was painful. Some of the behavior was unlike anything I saw. I saw evangelicals yelling profanity screaming that they were so persecuted that Trump now represented them and was their warrior representing Christ. I thought to myself what about the character issue that I heard from the beginning of evangelicalism of 2000 until 2015? And then I saw so many people I know who downplayed it. Character suddenly didn’t matter. To this I wondered was I lied to? Many evangelicals even defended Trump’s racism to my shock. What also stunned me is that I was hearing some evangelicals say that George W Bush was not a Christian and that he did nothing for the church whereas Trump delivered to the church. I didn’t see any of this coming.  Not one bit and I felt like I was hit by a truck on a highway. Christian nationalism started to crawl into my church and also a Bible study. I heard more positive things about Trump. I had a Bible study leader who graduated from Liberty showering the school with praise and I would think to myself, “Did you see what Jerry Falwell Jr said on Twitter this afternoon?” But I became nervous over what was happening. I felt uncomfortable having lost so much.  It was like being torn apart spiritually. The other factor is that I saw Trump’s behavior and I began to feel sick at church. I would sit there on Sunday mornings and think “81% of the people around me supported Trump…” In evangelicalism it seemed like I saw a de-emphasis on missionary work and helping others. Faith now was about the culture wars and capturing the Supreme Court at any and all costs. I walked out of a Christmas eve service thinking I was going to vomit. I couldn’t listen to the Gospel story about Joseph and Mary and Bethlehem and think of what I was hearing about how refugees and those who fled persecution as refugees were facing.  I sat alone in a restaurant thinking about everything until it closed and I was kicked at. That was how I spent a Christmas Eve. I wrote about that in, “When Evangelicals Rejected Bethlehem and How I Walked out of a Christmas Eve Service. Plus is Christian Nationalism Derailing Southern Baptist Missionary Work?” In the fall of 2018 I sat down and wrote a long email to my small group saying I was leaving and broke from the church and walked away from it. 

I left the church and evangelicalism for the second and what I believe is the final time. I realized that I could not be an evangelical. The Trump era was a defining time for me. It turned faith on its head. I didn’t believe faith should be political. Many people did. By not being a Trump supporter, people I once knew turned and questioned my faith. And yes this happened after seeking forgiveness from a faith crisis and approaching about 140 people in 2013 and 2014 to make amends. I thought I knew what faith was, and now I did not. I was isolated, alone and felt like I had much more in common with atheists. When I finally decided to walk away I chronicled the reasons in time as to why I left evangelicalism in the following post, “Reflecting on My Decision to Reject Evangelical Christianity. Its Too Corrupt, Political and Intellectually Shallow.” 

 

What Happened in My View? 

Reflecting on my time in and around evangelicalism between 2000 and 2018 this is what I think happened. 

  1. Fox News for a lot of evangelicals has supplemented the pastor and the Bible. For a lot of evangelicals the Gospel comes from Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingram, or Sean Hannity. The Bible I would contend for many evangelicals is no longer relevant. 
  2. The rise of Fox News happened during this period and I think that had a perverse effect on many pastors, churches and evangelical ministries. 
  3. The rise of social media helped feed evangelical’s problems with conspiracy theories. Facebook and Twitter became platforms for those evangelicals who rejected vaccinations or who thought Obama was born in Kenya. After all many evangelicals have rejected science and  are still stuck in Dayton, Tennessee because of the Scopes Monkey Trial. Too many evangelicals can’t process faith from fear or separate conspiracy theory from fact. Facebook became a good breeding ground for alterative facts and to fan the flames from echo chambers. 
  4. Many evangelicals are spiritually lost and don’t know what Christianity is about. If you were to ask Christians what is missionary work, or what is the book of 1 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 John, or Esther about they could not tell you. Many are consumed by prosperity theology and spiritually lost. Many evangelicals are Biblically illiterate. And their ignorance is going to continue as evangelicalism is permanently broken. 
  5. Evangelicalism is sicker than I thought. The Southern Baptists were formed over the right to own slaves. Afterall slavery was viewed as Biblical. This is why the Baptists from the South split from the Baptists of the north before the Civil War. Many evangelicals deeply struggle with race and many Baptists haven’t moved beyond 1845. That is why they like Trump, Trump allowed many evangelicals to be openly racist and reject missionary work in places like Africa, South Asia, the Caribbean or Central America. 

This blog doesn’t believe evangelicalism can be reformed. Today for me the bigger questions are what do I believe about God and why? Some days I feel like an atheist. Other days I feel like I am hanging on by a thread. 

One last point in the near future I am going to use a blog post to get a lot off my chest about fractured and lost relationships and faith. I need to sit down when the time is right and put together a very blunt post. 

22 thoughts on “Reflecting on Christian Nationalism in Evangelical Christianity and Being Caught Flat Footed in its 2016 Resurgence

  1. I’m much in sympathy with your journey of disillusionment. I had left (actually I was excommunicated) church in 1989, but had not felt that God had left me–kind of a surprise. I still occasionally attended church and I continued to fellowship with Christian friends, did a lot of thinking and did not read the Bible much. I felt that I needed to “cleanse” my brain from years of indoctrination and have a fresh go at it all in good time. I didn’t even pray much–but I knew God was there, at my elbow so to speak, but mostly not being “pushy.”

    I watched from a distance as we declared war on a nation that had not attacked us and I also was horrified to realize that Christians were licking their chops at the thought of forcing God’s hand in the Middle East. And I became more and more aware of the political creep into church.

    As to why atheism was not a temptation, I am not really sure. I had definitely been saved from a life of sin and I knew that I needed God and I discovered that I did not need church in order to have a relationship with God. I sought to see the hand of God in my ongoing life and in the world around me and I only felt a little apologetic about not being a church goer.

    I currently have made a renewed commitment to deepen my relationship with God, fellow Christians and even a Zoom church. I too have wrestled with the terrible problem of evil in the world and still do. But I have decided that I do believe in God and His sovereignty which also means that I am holding Him–the Head Honcho–responsible to fix this mess.

    I have confidence that God will draw you to Himself in good time. I still have bones to pick with Him, not everything is sunshine and roses in our relationship, but I would rather fight/argue/wrestle with Him than anyone else in the universe. All that and wanting more of Him too….

    Liked by 2 people

    • I also was horrified to realize that Christians were licking their chops at the thought of forcing God’s hand in the Middle East.

      “Imminentizing the Eschaton”.
      i.e. JUMP-START ARMAGEDDON. With Nukes.
      “IT’S PROPHESIED! IT’S PROPHESIED!”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Where do you think I heard it first?

        For anyone who doesn’t know, I’m a casualty of The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay and Jack Chick. And yes, CHRISTIANS FOR NUCLEAR WAR was THE Zeitgeist back then.
        As was Armageddon as a Spectator Sport with catered Superbowl Suites in Heaven for the Raptured.
        (any minute now… any minute now… any minute now…)

        You cannot endure that for long without permanent damage to your psyche.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this very personal post. I understand very well your struggle with what you see in evangelicalism and why you left. I haven’t quite left yet myself, although it is probably accurate to say that evangelicalism has left me, so the end result is basically the same.

    I have written elsewhere here that I was not surprised by the rampant nationalism, as I watched it growing ever stronger in my former church during the Obama years. What did catch me by surprise was the willingness (actually, I should say the *eagerness*) of evangelicals to make Trump into an idol, to relentlessly praise everything he does and says, and to defend him from even the slightest degree of criticism, and to view him as their protector and savior as they imagine themselves to be so terribly persecuted in America despite all evidence to the contrary. At this point their blind and complete allegiance to him is dumbfounding. I think the reasons you provide here for nationalism serve as reasons for this phenomenon as well.

    I really don’t know where I fit into this whole picture. My faith is as strong as ever, as there is nothing like being confronted with a strong negative example to cause one to examine and refine one’s own faith and beliefs. But I do not feel like there is any space in which I can live out that faith within the evangelical world. Too much of it is a cult that no longer worships Jesus, but instead worships sociopolitical power and has as its golden calf the one who they see as defending that power.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I appreciate your transparency here and can understand your stance due to your history.

    Because I am a pastor I have kept such nonsense as Christian nationalism, QAnon, and politics out of my church. In fact, the denomination I serve (The United Brethren in Christ) is for all purposes, totally apolitical. So because I have distanced myself from all of these things, I confess it has taken some time for me to understand these issues and how they affect American evangelicalism at large. It wasn’t until I deliberately started searching them out that I realized how much they formed a cancer in the American evangelical church.

    However, because the circles I walk in avoid the issues you have mentioned, I still see a good chunk of Evangelicalism that has not drunk the KoolAid and I believe that American evangelicalism can be redeemed in spite of itself. In fact, I think a Biden win has been the best thing that has happened to evangelicalism because it will force each individual church to either completely deny what they are as Christians, or finally grow up and depend more on God and finally get serious about the fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and not depend on Trump to do it for them.

    Time will tell. I am no prophet.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I am glad to know that some segments of evangelicalism have not drunk the KoolAid, at least at an organizational/denominational level. My previous church was Evangelical Free and while the denomination is not political, my particular church was heavily so. Our current church is nondenominational and it is not overtly political, although I recognize that most people have political leanings in one particular direction, and that sometimes manifests itself in unexpected ways (a leader tipping their hand in the middle of a prayer, or an offhand comment by an elder during a sermon, strong peer pressure to not be masked, etc.).

      I don’t know a lot about your denomination but looked up some information to get an overview. Interesting. Are you perchance in Adams County PA? If so, we are just a short distance down the road from you, in Hanover. I work at Messiah University, which comes out of the Brethren In Christ denomination, which I recognize is a completely separate denomination despite the commonality of the “Brethren” word.

      Like

      • Yes, I pastor two small country churches in Adams county ten miles north of Gettysburg, one in Heidlersburg and the other outside Biglerville.

        Small world. 😉

        Like

      • He’s also been one of my two main writing partners for years.

        And a voice of sanity which I’ve had to phone pretty often for rumor control and sanity checks in this Age of COVID and Q-Anon.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I was hearing some evangelicals say that George W Bush was not a Christian and that he did nothing for the church whereas Trump delivered to the church.

    According to Chesterton(?), the appeal of Black Magick is that in the unseen realm, it is the Dark Powers that have the reputation for Getting Things Done. They Deliver the goods.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Evangelical Christianity didn’t ‘get caught flat-footed”.
    They leaped on the bandwagon shouting “ME, TOO!”
    The bandwagon to Future Commanders of Holy Gilead by way of Trump Tower DC.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. In 2003, in the EFCA church, there were people who wanted the pastor to preach about politics, but he said no. He wanted people to make up their own minds. I was a Bush fan, but we had at least 3 staunch Democrats in the church. But the church was also tilting Calvinistic at this time, and Evangelicalism had been getting crazier and crazier (Halloween, Harry Potter, etc), so shortly after, we left.

    2004 was the turning point for me. There was Gitmo, stories of Bush allowing torture, the Patriot Act, doubts about the Iraq War–so I voted for Kerry. I went first to a liberal church and then became Greek Orthodox, so there was no idolizing of Bush there. The church was mostly cradle, not converts, so they weren’t affected so much by Evangelical nationalism. But I saw it elsewhere, especially on Jesus Camp.

    However, the couple who first influenced me into Orthodoxy–a convert couple I found online, who later moved to my town–was also right-wing. *He* was a Libertarian and didn’t like Bush, but *she* was a Republican and sounded very much like the extreme side of Evangelicalism that I’d been trying to escape. And *he* became a Tea Partier. Even though he didn’t like Bush, he still hated Obama, thought he was going to outlaw Christianity. So even though they were Orthodox now, they brought that Evangelical extremism with them. At the time I was upset that they didn’t like my church and went to another one in a different county. Now I’m glad. That church closed, but they never started coming to mine. We have Republicans and conservatives, but we also have Democrats, and usually conversation is about gardening or arguing over who left what mess in the basement.

    Then over time, the right-wing converts in Orthodoxy have been bringing in the extremism, so I see it online. I haven’t seen it in my church so much, fortunately. Though for the past 8 months, I haven’t been to church….

    I see it online, though: People I used to know in college or in the church where I grew up, posting about guns. I don’t remember them ever mentioning an interest in guns before this past decade. One person just posted a picture of herself with an AR-15. One was in my church youth group; we never talked about guns back in the day. Christianity was about peace and love, not shooting people, though shooting deer was okay. Then I found one of my exes and friended him on Facebook; his wall was covered with memes about guns and Sean Hannity quotes. I knew he was conservative, but I knew him for two years and he never mentioned guns!

    Ever since I came out and started posting political things on Facebook after a 5-year break, the claws started coming out. I was tired of people posting their conservative memes and assuming that I agreed with them because I never said anything. People I thought were nice, started to actually harass me for my posts. On Saturday I had to unfriend two people. One of them made a nasty, homophobic comment that insulted me and my church as well. When did this become Christian?

    This could’ve been me, if not for the crises of faith I experienced in college. Many of my beliefs on many things were tested in a college I thought would be a safe Christian bubble. (They actually let everybody in and didn’t care what they did.) Pat Robertson said God told him Bush would win re-election; that didn’t happen. I learned that what he said about a LOT of things wasn’t true, everything from politics to Dungeons and Dragons. Media class taught me that Rush Limbaugh was manipulating people. My eyes were opened and, while I was still Republican for a while, I was moving away from it. When Fox News came out, I knew better than to watch it, and stuck to the newspaper, news magazines, and occasionally CNN. While everybody around me was starting to go nuts, I still kept my head. Now I look at people’s social media posts and it’s like they’re in a totally different reality. It’s surreal.

    But I keep reminding myself that the Church has survived 2000 years of political upheavals and religious wars. The German church turned Nazi for a time, but many Christians kept their faith. The Church survived Soviet Russia. I can’t let American fascism turn me away from it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your story. It is surreal, isn’t it? It just amazes me how far down the path some people are willing and eager to go. For many years at the church we previously attended, I knew that most of my church friends were very conservative, more so than me, but seemingly rationally so. I think it was in the Obama years that I saw this really turn down a very dark path. Conservative became ultra-conservative, and then started down the fringe paths that have unfortunately become more mainstream as the conservative media outlets and political leaders give voice to outlandish conspiracy theories. I am very glad I got out of this environment. Today, I look at many of my friends and acquaintances from our former church and wonder, how on earth do you balance any kind of Biblical view of Jesus and your Christian faith alongside the anger and hate and gracelessness you display towards so many of your fellow creations? But they have invested themselves so heavily into a partisan political narrative, and worse yet have imagined it to be the genuine Christian narrative, and now they are completely unswayable in their mindset.

      Liked by 2 people

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