Updated: Feb 18
Can we talk about repentance and Christian nationalism? I’m not an authority on any of this, but I’m part of it, and Lent seems like a good season to begin such a conversation. I started this discussion last year, but in the face of rising criticism around voting rights, Critical Race Theory and efforts to ban books, it seems just as relevant now as then.
Remember you are dust---and to dust you shall return.
As a pastor I’ve spoken those words again and again as I used ashes to mark the sign of the cross on people’s foreheads. The words felt true when I was looking into ancient eyes, but when I spoke them to a toddler, my eyes betrayed me. My mouth said the words, but my eyes said “Just kidding, little one, see – the ash is in the shape of a cross – through the cross you will live forever! Don’t worry.”
Both the ash and the cross are true. But the ash is first. We will die.
We don’t like death, and we don’t like the humiliation of the ashes, we want the hope of the resurrection, without the death. Maybe that is why we fall for the serpents lie, again and again:
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3: 4-5).
O the temptation to see myself as God—with the power to declare what is good and what is evil: Power to say who has power over whom. The seduction of this power is the pull of Christian Nationalism. After years of extensive research Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry wrote a book called “Taking America Back For God.” They define Christian Nationalism as a cultural framework that “idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture.” The framework is built on the myths of nativism, patriarchy, heteronormativity, white supremacy, and the divine use of militarism and authoritarianism. All of these ideologies combine to establish one type of being at the center of the universe, and its not God, its any and all white heterosexual American males.
I would love to say that I’m not caught up in any of this, but the ashes in me know better. Whitehead claims that Christian nationalism is the experience of all Americans. Whether we reject it, resist it, accommodate it or even be ambassadors for it; Christian Nationalism is a big part of being American in the 2020’s.
Ash Wednesday begins Lent, a season of repentance. With that in mind, I want to start a conversation. Not about what terrible people Christian Nationalists are, but through stories and experiences that help us recognize who benefits from these myths and who is harmed. As a white woman, my story includes the benefits I receive from aspects of white supremacy, and the harm I endure from patriarchy. But I didn't write all the entries in this series. Instead they were written last year for the SWCA Synod of the ELCA. It would be lovely to be able to say that because these stories are a year old they are no longer relevant. The pandemic has changed many things, but Christian Nationalism hasn't been one of them. Instead it has become more visible. This is awful, but there is one benefit to it: because it's out in the open, we can identify it and work to dismantle it brick by brick. Legislation against voting rights, Critical Race Theory and banning books are the 2021-2022 campaigns motivated by the ideologies of this foe. My colleagues wisdom remains relevant. I hope that you are challenged to action by the words of Pastor James Philips, Pastor Scott Peterson and Bishop Brenda Bos as they tell the stories of their own benefit/harm experiences.
May God bless your repentance with insights that lead to actions that help create a more just world for everyone.
You can find my colleagues stories by clicking the links below:
Reverend James Phillips: https://www.livingtheresurrection.com/post/christian-nationalism-is-white
Reverend Scott Peterson: https://www.livingtheresurrection.com/post/coming-home
Reverend Dr Marj Funk-Pihl: https://www.livingtheresurrection.com/post/my-confession-and-maybe-yours