This is my sermon from January 17, 2021. It’s based on Proverbs 1:8-18 and Matthew 21:33-43. The video below is a video from inside January 6th’s insurrection. It serves as a up close view of the alternative religion I reject in this sermon.
I’m not sure how many people are familiar with the term “coreligionists,” but this morning I wanted to open up with some thoughts on this concept. Coreligionists are people who practice the same religion. On one level, duh, but there’s more to it than that. Christianity, for example has three main traditions–Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism. Among each are different sub-traditions, sects, with Protestantism having the most numerous. Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Episcopalians are all different Protestant sects–just to give some examples. There is also another Christian tradition, called Anabaptism, which emerged around the same time as Protestantism. Traditionally these folks do not consider themselves Protestants. Some examples of Anabaptists are the Mennonites, Brethren, and Hutterites, and Amish. We all coreligionists. We practice the same faith, even though we may have different takes on how to celebrate things like Communion or Baptism. We are identified by an embrace of the mystery of the Trinity, the dual natures (fully human/fully divine) of Jesus, and the redemption brought about though Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We work these things out differently, but this is the framework which creates our shared conversation–opened to us through both Scripture and worship.
I bring all this up because because there is an alternative religion which has always been present in the Church’s history but is growing in popularity in this era at an alarming rate. This is the religion of Christian Nationalism. This religion takes the language and symbols of actual Christianity and then overlays it with a new mythology that takes on greater importance than the Christian Gospel–sometimes overtly and other times through subtle inference. If you’ve ever heard people talk about the United States as God’s chosen land, you’ve encountered Christian Nationalism. If you’ve ever been told to “take back America for Jesus” you have encountered Christian Nationalism. And what we saw on January 6th, which a number of faith communities have since doubled down on as good, was Christian Nationalism write large.
It’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between Christianity and Christian Nationalism because there is a huge overlap of both spoken and symbolic language. So here’s some key differences as I see them.
Christianity is a call to humility and service. Christian Nationalism is a call to self-aggrandizement and power.
Christianity uses prayer as supplication and reflection. Christian Nationalism uses it as way command the divine. This manipulation is, by the way, called “magic.”
Christianity is focused on being the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven, and expresses this desire in its worship. Christian Nationalism is focused on being in control, and expresses the call to force a nation to its will in worship.
Christianity stands alongside the weary, poor, and oppressed. Christian Nationalism, in this country anyway, can be seen standing in a crowd that includes tee-shirts reading “Camp Auschwitz.”
It takes wisdom to both see these differences and acknowledge them for what they are–evidence of two different religions which have very different goals.
Practitioners of Christian Nationalism are not coreligionists with Christians. And look, just like with Christians, there are the “true believer” Christian Nationalists and the folks who are just hanging around because they kinda like the sound of what they hear–as well as people everywhere in-between. That’s they way religions are.
But why bring this up in a meditation on Proverbs 1:8-18 and Matthew 21:33-43? Because in our context there are a good number of Christian Nationalists who are publicly stating their intention to rise up in armed insurrection so they can have the country set up the way they want. Aided and Abetted by nationalist “prophets” who are claiming God is telling them to do this. These folks point to the Cross, but no idea what it means.
To a degree I find difficult to imagine Christian Nationalists, especially the true believer types who are ready to start shooting people, have abandoned the teachings which have been passed down to us through the faithful witness of the Church–teachings Proverbs 1 summarizes with the image of instruction coming from father and mother. And in rejecting this faithful teaching they have done the very thing Proverbs 1:8-18 warns the reader to reject. Instead of embracing wisdom, and we Christians would say “in the way of Christ,” Christian Nationalist true believers have decided instead to “lie in wait for innocent blood.” Their goal isn’t trinkets or wealth or possessions–it is a nation. That’s their plunder.
And Christians need to pay attention to what is happening and heed the words of Proverbs 1:15-18. We must stay off those paths on which people who are eager to shed blood tread. Because in the end, people who walk those paths only ambush themselves. It leads to destruction–of their lives, and their families’ lives. And if we are not very clear in our rejection of these schemers, it could bring the witness of the Gospel itself to a screeching halt in this country. Not because God is somehow unable to communicate in light of human wickedness. Rather, it’s because if Christians have a difficult time spotting the real difference between actual Christianity and Christian Nationalism, how well do you think someone with no religious background can tell them apart?
In the end Christian Nationalism, and this has been true many times in Church history, plays the role of the wicked tenets in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 21:33-43. God planted a vineyard, the witness of the Kingdom of Heaven, and left workers to tend that witness. But, instead of continuing to bow before the lord of this vineyard, Christian Nationalism instead keeps his name on their lips while claiming it as their own property.
And the Lord Jesus Christ, as has been shown in history over and over and over again, will not stand for it. The message of the Gospel does not belong to us. The call and mission of the Church does not belong to us. We are stewards. We are servants. We are caretakers of both the wider ministry of the church and this little manifestation of it we call Central Baptist.
Let’s reinvest ourselves in the work entrusted to us, and reject the dead end of Christian Nationalism. Because, just as Jesus warned the good religious folks back during his earthly ministry, there’s a reckoning coming for all who claim ownership of something which does not belong to us, “…I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed 1.”
Let’s stay true. Let’s remember humility. Let’s never lose site of our calling. And let’s always reject the paths of lies which replace Jesus’ good news with another story altogether. Amen.
- Matthew 21:43-44 ↩