Original essay posted 2.14.2011, after reading an excellent biography, “BONHOEFFER”, by Eric Metaxas
"One can't be a Christian and a nationalist at the same time."
This statement appears in the context of the Nazi crisis emerging in Europe in the 1930's. However, it strikes me that it approaches a maxim of universal import.
If the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), then I'm thinking that an exaggerated spirit of nationalism might be a close runner-up.
Excerpting from something I wrote 27 years ago:
Since it has nothing to do with an act of volition, who has the right to be unduly proud or ashamed of his "race" or nationality? (Luke 12:25) Among us we agree, for example, that no one is morally obligated by promises made for him by sponsors when he was "baptized" as an infant. One can be responsible solely for decisions of his own making. How then am I obligated to sing the praises of my nationality to the point where it becomes exclusive and offensive to others? What I owe Caesar is cheerful submission to civil authority and taxes lawfully exacted. But my citizenship is in heaven! An exaggerated spirit of nationalism is the fruit of a narrow perspective. It is arrogant, disrespectful and divisive.
Why do Protestants, particularly of the state/church variety (including Bonhoeffer), struggle so deeply to identify an essential Christianity, whether outside of or within their own denominational structure, all the while espousing high church doctrine and practices which run counter to what they express verbally?
Start with a State church. Add infant baptism as the door of entry into said church. For good measure throw in the phenomenon of pastors licensed and salaried by the State. Then expect a strong, opportune, and unified resistance when a monster like Hitler appears on the horizon? That strikes me as naive.
A nominal Christianity interacting with an exaggerated spirit of nationalism resulted in a "German Christian" identity that included the espousal in the Reich church of Hitler's "Aryan paragraph" with all of the horrors that unleashed in subsequent years.
Jews were barred from the public health system, lost their honorary public offices, were driven from editorial offices (Editor Law) and theaters (Reichskulturkammer), and were excluded from agriculture (Reichserbhofgesetz), a progression culminating in the Nuremberg Laws "for the final separation of Jewry from the German Volk”.
It is a wonder that there was a "Confessing Church" at all that attempted to stem the tide.
I am glad... I feel such freedom... to be identified with a living testimony for Jesus Christ unshackled by denominational churchiness... a testimony that has been here since God the Son came into this world... one that calmly enjoins all people to be a part of it... not mysterious… not as elusive as some theologians make it out to be.
Historically, Anabaptists generally appeared to be content as the non-conformist separatists, quietly living and spreading the message of Jesus Christ. Often, they appear in history living out the Gospel's consequent life of love and peace in their spiritual communities... no coercion, no militarism.
Absent also appear to be the mental gyrations to define "church" in a larger context, having lived and breathed it so purely in their own flocks. Why do we feel compelled to identify larger trends of thought in the overall "Christian community"? When we need to view our Christianity in a national context, measuring its influence at that level, we might make a mistake in interpreting how God is working.
Between the resurrection and the catching away of the saints, the Holy Spirit works in people’s hearts through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is dreadfully consistent. He is not trendy. He is not subject to nationalistic agendas. He is not suddenly leaning more heavily on a new set of popular shoulders (spiritual or political). Nevertheless, his presence in believers and their respective congregations abounds. To the disappointment of many, he goes about his work in a quieter, more prosaic manner than their tastes require.
What guarantee is there of not seeing a repeat of the grievous errors of a nominal Christianity in our own time? It is never hard with the right kind of symbolism and emotional verbiage to manipulate large segments of a population. Politically entrenched churches and denominations have vested interests in maintaining the status quo... thus the propensity to accommodate or to postpone clear action just when peaceful resistance might be called for.
Germany, 1930's, Hitler... not the only place and time in history when a nominal Christian community has been threatened by similar derailment and disaster. Yes... sometimes a clear choice has to be made.
To start with, maybe we should consider separating nationalism and an emotion-charged patriotism from the crucified and resurrected Christ. Too often, history has shown the mix to be fatal. The Gospel does quite well, thank you, without the extra baggage.
This is not about being an extremist or anti-anything. It is about living and proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ... undistorted by agendas not entirely his.
From a Christian standpoint, you can't get any more "centrist" than that.