The scene of the mob that invaded the U.S. Capitol on January 6 was disturbing enough. But my shocked disbelief soared to new heights when I learned that one of the first rioters to enter the Senate chamber carried a Christian flag. A banner reading “Proud American Christian” with Old Glory inside an ichthus—an ancient Christian symbol of a fish — was also spotted. Digging further, I found out that these were not isolated incidents. Some of the insurrectionists waved “Jesus Saves” signs and others chanted, “Jesus is my Savior/Trump is my President.”
Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, echoed my sentiments when she noted, “Like nearly all Americans, I watched in horror … as a violent, unlawful and delusional mob attacked the seat of America’s representative democracy. My outrage increased when I saw photos of the rioters, cloaking their destructive acts in Jesus’ name and Christian imagery.” Tyler urged fellow believers to help “dismantle Christian nationalism.”
I will try to do my part in this post.
Let me start by saying this as clear as I can: the Jesus of Christian Nationalism is not the Jesus of Scripture.
Christian Nationalist Jesus takes on the image of politicians who use the Bible as a prop and casually mention scripture to appeal to flesh, not God. The real Jesus stands light-years above any human president or ruler. He is the true King of kings and Lord of lords who will not be mocked by the self-serving consolidation of political power in His name. This goes for any party at any time.
The disciples of Christian Nationalist Jesus approve of name-calling, demonization, gaslighting and sometimes even violence to advance their political ends. Mike Pence, who loyally served as Trump’s Vice President for four years — but who wouldn’t (and couldn’t) unilaterally overturn the election — is now a “traitor.” If you don’t think America and the Kingdom of God are one and the same, Christian Nationalists will dismiss you as unpatriotic, worthy of grimacing scorn.
On the other hand, the Jesus of Scripture was gentle and humble in spirit. He never used political means for self-serving ends. While recognizing the necessary role of government by “giving unto Caesar,” He also urged to give to God what is God’s – the highest priority of all. The real Jesus rejected heavy-handed violence, warning that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).
Christian Nationalist Jesus is highly suspicious of immigrants, Jews and Muslims, and people of color. His followers spy bogeymen everywhere, especially those who don’t look, act or think like them. (Remember the accusations that Obama was going to enact sharia law because he was really a radical Muslim? That didn’t age well). During the January 6 invasion of the Capitol, one man shouldered a “Stars and Bars” flag as he strolled past a portrait of Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, an abolitionist. Though never officially adopted by the Confederacy, this banner has been proudly displayed by various white supremacist groups who claim Christianity.
The Jesus of Scripture has nothing to do with such hatred and oppression. He broke all kinds of racial, religious, and nationalistic traditions when he befriended lepers, tax-collectors, a Roman centurion, children, and a Samaritan woman — people who were spurned in His day. Jesus cast a wide net, loathe to reject any of those for whom He called His disciples to fish.
Christian Nationalist Jesus is authoritarian. Those who follow him pay lip service to the God of the Bible, but really worship at the altar of secular power, tolerating no signs of perceived weakness. They will brook no debate or discussion with those who won’t kowtow to their extremist views, preferring to follow bullying autocrats than allow any voice of dissension. Because of their rigidity, they inoculate themselves against the possibility of repentance or reconciliation.
In contrast, the Jesus of Scripture carried the full authority of God, but never lorded this infinite power over others. Rather, He used it to heal, bless, and love others, including outcasts. The real Jesus willingly laid His life down on the Cross, the ultimate sign of failure and shame in His world.
Christian Nationalist Jesus is a fake Jesus. He exists only in the minds of his misguided followers, and should be roundly rejected by believers who treasure the Gospel. If we claim the name of “Christian,” we must be very careful. It is a weighty name, a name that conveys the highest kind of love. If we misuse it, we do so at our peril, and perhaps even the peril of a nation.