I’m home on furlough, waiting to return to work, while the nation’s leaders are in deadlock over funding for a border wall. There’s no better time for me to reflect on nationalism. The word nationalism was one of the top searched words in 2018 according to Merriam Webster Company, undoubtedly because of President Trump’s use of the word in his October speech. [a]
The facts cannot be ignored. Nations throughout history have come to power and have survived by self-preservation and self-interest. Without these traits they simply would not exist. Nations rule and make laws to protect the people inside their own geographic borders. Nations, by nature, must operate in exclusivity, and maybe that’s fine.
But how should Christians view nationalism? It seems the Scriptures are quite clear: Nationalism and Christianity are incompatible. Why? Because Christians belong to another Kingdom. Nationalism places loyalty to an ethnicity or a nation-state above those of another ethnicity or nation-state. Nationalism demands allegiance to itself. Christ also demands allegiance, but in Jesus’ Kingdom humanity is seen as a whole and He invites everyone who will to join Him. In His Kingdom “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” [b]. The citizens of Jesus’ heavenly Kingdom are multinational by His design.
Before the incarnation of Jesus, the nation of Israel existed as God’s light to the world, placed perfectly in the geographic crossroads of world trade. Israel had its own laws and government to keep order and to demonstrate justice. It was exclusive. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” [c]. Though God has not abandoned the nation of Israel, His light to the world is now His Son and His Church. [d][e]
At first the Jewish Christians continued to show national exclusivity, but then God made it clear that His Kingdom was without nationality. Peter declared, “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” [f].
So for the Christian, when national duty calls, is Jesus’ Kingdom relegated to a fairy tale? In my loyalty to the nation would I take up arms against my fellow citizens of the Kingdom? Would I fight for national self-preservation and self-interest which by nature stands in contradiction to the Kingdom ministry of reconciliation? [g]
I found this quote today that I had jotted down in my notebook about Francis of Assisi, and though I cannot find the source, it seems to fit perfectly here:
“He considered himself no friend of Christ if he did not cherish those for whom Christ died.”
Nationalism may be justified for the nation, but not for a citizen in Christ’s Kingdom.