Nationalism can be beautiful and good. It can also be ugly and vicious.
Modern history reminds us how terribly destructive nationalism can be. German, British and French nationalism led to millions of deaths in World War I. That war also led to a widespread turning away from Christian faith. Why? Because (before the US entered the war), 45 million Protestants and 63 million Catholics on one side were trying to kill 46 million Protestants and 62 million Catholics on the other side. Tragically, these Christians placed nationalism above their unity in the one body of Christ. And millions turned away from Christianity in disgust.
And just 20 years later, Hitler stoked German nationalism with his blatant white Aryan racism that led (with the help of Japanese and American nationalism) to tens of millions dying in World War II. Misguided nationalism has terrible consequences.
Of course there is a good kind of nationalism or patriotism. We are made for community. When a group of people share a common culture, geography and history, they develop a deep sense of community. It is right for us to have a strong love and affection for the hills and valleys, the rivers and mountains, the lakes and sandy beaches where we as children first experienced the earth’s splendor. Songs telling us that “this land is your land, this land is my land” reflect a natural, healthy nationalism or patriotism.
Tragically, patriotism so easily slides into “my country right or wrong”. It so easily becomes “make America the top priority” no matter how that harms people in other nations.
That kind of nationalism flatly contradicts fundamental biblical teaching. The Bible insists that every single person in the world is my brother and sister. In his speech at Athens, St. Paul said that we are all God’s children and we are all descendants of Adam. “We are God’s offspring” (Acts 17:29) and “from one man He made all nations” (v. 26). Paul is teaching us that every person on this planet has the same heavenly Father and the same earthly father. Furthermore, every single person – – Chinese, Nigerian, Russian, American – – is created in the image of God and is equally loved by God
Why is this biblical teaching so important right now? Because both President Trump in the US and President Xi in China are stoking nationalism in a dangerous way. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” means an exclusive focus on the self interest of Americans – – and the rest of the world be damned! President Xi is playing the same game in China. Both leaders stir up dangerous nationalistic sentiments as they seek to blame each other for most of what is wrong in the world – – even the origin of Covid-19 (perhaps intentional, their deputies suggest!).
And the problem is not limited to China and the US. Demagogic leaders in Turkey, Hungary, the Philippines and Russia do the same. Even in democracies like Germany, France and Great Britain, fringe (and increasingly not so fringe) nationalistic movements and political parties are increasing. Both in the US and in Germany, white nationalist groups spouting Nazi ideas and flaunting Nazi symbols are growing. They blame others--immigrants, Jews, LGBTQ folks -- for all their problems.
Why is this so dangerous? Because history shows that nationalism frequently explodes in hatred, violence, and war. Destructive nationalism develops a life of its own. Political leaders who stoke nationalism for short term political advantage discover that they cannot control it even if they want to --and not all do.
The most dangerous stoking of destructive nationalism is happening in China and in the US. China now has the second largest economy in the world after the US. China is rapidly expanding its military power. Increasingly, the two nations are on a collision course. If nationalistic sentiments keep increasing in China and the US, terribly destructive military conflict will become more and more likely.
Christians know that God loves and desires the well-being of the Chinese just as much as the well-being of Americans. Therefore we must say NO! to this growing un-Christian, dangerous nationalism. We must condemn it with our words and oppose it with our votes. We must demand that our leaders work together with other nations and international institutions to strengthen global efforts to combat epidemics, destructive global warming, and the escalation of nuclear weapons. We dare not, like the vast majority of German Christians under Hitler, quietly accept or even enthusiastically embrace our country’s escalating dangerous nationalism.
My country “uber Alles” (as Hitler used to say) is heretical, unbiblical, and anti-Christian. In our sermons, speeches, teaching, and political activity, we must live out the children’ song we learned in Sunday school: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”
Invite your friends to join my free blog: ronsiderblog.substack.com