What’s Your Idol, America?

  • What if . . . your neighborhood homeowner association passed around a flyer that said only adherents of Hinduism can apply to live in your neighborhood?
  • Or what if . . . the governor of your state declared that as of 2024, the only people welcomed in must be followers of Islam?
  • Now what if . . . a candidate for the top position of your country declared that the only people allowed in are ones who like the Christian religion?

I hope in each case we see the unfairness of the proposal, regardless of our own personal beliefs.

However, according to survey after survey, there is a strong sector of white evangelical Christians who might agree with the third scenario.

I made up the first two “what if’s.” But the third is taken from the actual statements of a candidate in New Hampshire on October 23. He said (among other things), “If you don’t like our religion…then we don’t want you in our country and you are not getting in…. We don’t want you! Get out of here!”

Those who believe that America should become a Christian theocracy are known as adherents of Christian nationalism.

It’s one thing to desire others to believe a religion that you think is beneficial and true, but it’s another thing to require it of all citizens or to exclude those from civic life who don’t believe as you.

Whether you agree with Christian nationalism or are opposed to it, I highly recommend this new book about Christian nationalism—by a Christian—to help you learn more about it.

American Idolatry: How Christian Nationalism Betrays the Gospel and Threatens the Church is written by a leading scholar on the subject, Andrew Whitehead.

In the book, Whitehead explains everything you want to know (and even things you’d rather not know) about Christian nationalism. He makes the case that the greatest threat to Christianity in the US may be coming from within.

How does Whitehead define Christian nationalism? It is . . .

“a cultural framework asserting that all civic life in the United States should be organized according to a particular form of conservative Christianity.” 

If you’re a Bible reader, you’ll remember that Jesus taught his disciples to serve their neighbors, to even love their enemies. He gave the example of standing with the marginalized and calling out those who misused their power. He made no guarantees of a life of ease or privilege; actually, quite the opposite.

But according to Whitehead, Christian nationalism (and specifically white Christian nationalism) promotes the opposite. It pushes social hierarchies, authoritarian social control, an acceptance of violence to maintain order, and strict boundaries around national identity, civic participation, and social belonging that fall along ethno-racial lines.

Three of the more dangerous and powerful idols inside Christian nationalism are power, fear, and violence, things Jesus never promoted nor exemplified.

In American Idolatry, Whitehead shares many examples and cites many studies of the prevalence of Christian nationalism in the US. He also gives a list of identifying markers of Christian nationalism.

The picture of Christian nationalism is grim and discouraging for those who view Christianity as a religion of humility, vulnerability, and empathy.

But Whitehead proposes a solution to Christian nationalism.

“Instead of choosing fear, American Christians can choose to act in opposition to fear.

We confront and oppose fear by choosing to listen to and love racial and ethnic minority groups through seeking justice.

We confront and oppose fear by embracing and building relationships with those who worship differently than we do or who do not worship at all.”

American Idolatry

Whitehead lists several ways that Christian organizations can counter the effects of Christianity nationalism, such as:

  • Sharing portions of their wealth with minority denominations, schools, and congregations
  • Developing true bonds of relationship across color lines
  • Advocating for more equality in health, wealth, and educational opportunities at the state and federal levels
  • Erasing “us” vs. “them” boundaries personally and collectively

Whitehead says that when he looks at white Christian nationalism, he cannot find Christ. His hope is to see American Christianity remade “to look a lot more like Christ than a servant of empire.”

Regardless of your religion or your politics, Whitehead’s final statement of the book perhaps says it best:

“Sometimes, the bravest thing we have is hope.”

Share your thoughts in the comments.

My thanks to NetGalley for the
review copy of American Idolatry

12 thoughts on “What’s Your Idol, America?

  1. Martha J Orlando

    This sounds like a wonderful read, Lisa! Our Constitution declares that we are free in this nation to worship as we are called, no matter our religious leanings. Christian nationalism, therefore, is unconstitutional.
    We persuade others to follow Christ by showing our love and respect toward them.
    Blessings, Lisa!

  2. Corinne Rodrigues

    We see this happening around us in India – the Hindu majority changing the rules for us all. It’s scary and such a step backward! I believe that more and more people are getting needlessly insecure about other religions and cultures! We can hope and pray and show the way, as best we can!

  3. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Tx for yet another book recommendation, Lisa. First, while I would love if everyone were a Christian, saved by grace, and I pray for Christ to make Himself known to individuals, this kind of thinking is not biblical. You can’t force anyone to be a Christian. The Holy Spirit does that regenerative work in heartslwe can’t, and nor can any law, etc, make it so. Faith is a gift. I think moral principles of Christianity can benefit all humankind, but they must first be lived by Christians (oh boy!), and then they reach out in love to benefit their neighbors. Witnessing is a far cry from forcing or proselytizing. Do I agree with Islam? No. I have a Constitutional and a Christian right to do so. Does it mean I think all Muslims are evil? No. Lisa, I will send you a piece I wrote on this in Dr. Charles Stanley’s In Touch Mag (sadly no longer in print) called “The Things I Carried,” originally titled by me, “The Other.” I held a prejudice against Muslims I did not even realize that I harbored. it took my wonderful daughter who loves all people, from all tribes and nations, and meeting firsthand her Muslim school mate (here from Saudi Arabia while attending college) to know him and to love him. A lot of times Christians (just as w/ any religion or group) jump on bandwagons without carefully examining why they do and if that bandwagon is playing the right tune. And the framers did not advocate for one religion. In fact, just the opposite. We have the freedom to practice religion, period. That is a great privilege and freedom, indeed. We should cherish it. That is a far cry from banning Muslims, who, too, have a right peacefully to practice their religion. Practicing Muslims are a far cry from Isalamic terrorists, which btw, my daughter’s Saudi Arabian friend and devout Muslim loathes, just as I do, and as I do white supremacy (sometimes masquerading as Evangelicalism in certain groups–think J6). This is a far cry from true Christianity.

    As usual, I go on far too long, but I appreciate that you explore, think, and share.

  4. Harry Katz

    Thanks for this review, Lisa. I’m not Christian and I mostly look at Christian nationalism from a political perspective. I think it represents a frightening assault on tolerance, democracy, and ultimately on all our freedom. I’m heartened to see arguments against it from a Christian perspective too.

  5. Nancy Ruegg

    If we isolate ourselves, we can’t share the good news about Jesus with those who don’t know him. That’s not what God called us to do. But neither should we stand by and do nothing when evil rears its head–in the name of keeping peace.

  6. Tea With Jennifer

    Sadly, there are many distortions of the gospel message of Jesus in “Christian circles”. Jesus actually warned us this would happen. We really need to be fully aware of this & be transparent as believers.

    For there are extremists in every country, culture & belief systems which makes it difficult & we’re seeing that play out around the world today.
    Blessings, Jennifer

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