The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It is irrefutable that the founders of the new republic respected an individual’s freedom in terms of religious choice; however, it is equally unquestionable that they insisted on a secular state. In other words, a state religion was verboten.
The irony of something like Christian nationalism rests in the fact that Jesus was born into a Jewish family, was raised a Jew, practiced the Jewish faith as an adult, and died a Jew. He never indicated he wanted to begin a new religion; rather, he expressed a desire to amplify and magnify the Jewish belief system. As a matter of fact, Jesus did not call himself Christ or Christian. Jesus most often referred to himself as the “Son of Man.”
The term “Christian” appears over a decade after Jesus met his death by crucifixion. The people to whom Paul and Barnabas preached in Antioch are purportedly the first to coin themselves as Christian in the early 40s AD/CE. Both apostles were, like Jesus himself, apocalypticists: they believed in the imminent end of the world and a day of judgment. Understandably, none of them was interested in creating a new religion. In essence, they were seeking to inject novel principles based on their Jewish belief system.
When Jesus was brought before the people, and Pilate asked them to choose the fates of Barabbas and Jesus, the majority of the crowd—made up of both Jews and Gentiles—elected to save the life of the former. The above notwithstanding, there were many Jews and some Gentiles who were empathetic towards Jesus and desired his life to be spared. The idea that only the Jews condemned, betrayed, and opted to crucify Jesus is a biblical device to differentiate the faithful followers of Jesus from those considered apostate.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are characterized as Abrahamic faiths, being grounded in the patriarch Abraham. They all embraced a monotheistic perspective. This common heritage makes mockery of historical and contemporary interfaith hatred. There is too much commonality among them, especially as far as ethical interpersonal and group relations are concerned. Often, they are morally complementary, despite the lacunae of their various traditions and polities.
Jesus and his followers did not seek to form a theocracy: a nation state based on a single religion. Likewise, the founders did not desire such a government. And most assuredly, despite the evident xenophobia endemic to the new society and throughout its history, our country’s documents of freedom did not include the establishment of a Christian nation.
Christian nationalism is nothing new. It is an aberration and has no place in a democratic republic. The racism and sociocultural discrimination, which pervade Christian nationalism both yesterday and today, is anathema to the Abrahamic faiths. Jesus was not a white man, and he taught his followers not to alienate or discriminate against people of different nationalities. In addition, he was not at all misogynistic. Rather, his talk of God’s commonwealth was a genuine beloved community—not an exclusionary, oppressive, or repressive place. Hatred of others was not his modus operandi or his objective by any means. And as far as the establishment of a nation-state based on his religio-cultural situation, his statement, or the understanding of his followers, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s,” seems to put the kibosh on anything that resembles Christian nationalism.
Is Christian nationalism legitimate by any standard? Nope!