While attending a local high school basketball game recently I stood with others in the school gym, hand over heart, to sing the national anthem. That’s patriotism, love for one’s country.
But we are hearing much these days about nationalism. Is patriotism the same as nationalism? As patriots we sing the National Anthem with a sense of pride, and we honor those who serve in the military.
Nationalism, on the other hand, goes beyond simple patriotism and love of country and expands patriotism to mean love of country at the expense of other nations. Nationalism leads to the belief that because one is born in a certain country, then someone from a different country is less valuable. Nationalism never considers what one’s country could learn from other countries. And it’s not just Americans who struggle with this kind of nationalism. Other countries do as well.
With so much talk in the news today regarding nationalism, I think we need to ask these questions: Are nationalism and Christianity in agreement? Is nationalism compatible with Christianity?
Whereas nationalism focuses the concerns of citizens on one country—theirs only, Christianity focuses people on the whole world. Hence the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19: “Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples.” For this reason, Christian groups send out missionaries to other countries because followers of Jesus believe the whole world matters to God, and that all people have value and worth regardless of their country of origin.
Nationalism can lead one to the view that his or her country is the hope of the world. Take for example the statement that we sometimes hear: “America is the last best hope of the world.” Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Regan, and Barack Obama all used these words in speeches they once gave.
Is there anything else Christ-followers might believe is the hope of the world? Yes, the gospel of Jesus–the good news that Jesus gave His life as an atonement for human sin. Only in Jesus does one find ultimate fulfillment, peace, joy, and eternal life.
Here in America, nationalism can lead citizens to embrace the idea that God cares about us more because we are Americans. Nationalism can even prompt American citizens to believe that America is God’s Chosen Nation, and that other nations are somehow inferior in God’s plan.
God loves the whole world as much as He loves America. John 3:16 says so: “For God so loved the world.” God’s love for the world is what prompts followers of Jesus to live with a global view and to have a heart for the world.
Nationalists sometimes say, “America right or wrong,” or “America first,” or “America love it or leave it.” Is America to have our first and full-blown allegiance? In an idolatrous way do we elevate the nation over God?
Christianity teaches that “Jesus is Lord.” Neither a country nor another person gets our ultimate allegiance. Christians seek to be guided by God’s will, and sometimes His will requires that we speak out against the sins and evils in our own country.
I love to hear Lee Greenwood sing, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” For those who are authentically Christian, freedom often requires us to do good even to those who are not Americans.
Bruce Ashford of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has said, “To effectively counter nationalism, we need not love our own nation less; we need only to love, honor, and obey God more.”
(This article written by Gary, first appeared in the Post Newspaper 3/18/19)