Debating “Christian Nationalism”
In Response to Neil Shenvi
Neil Shenvi doesn’t like the term “Christian nationalism.” Both in his long review of Stephen Wolfe’s book, The Case for Christian Nationalism, and elsewhere, Shenvi has complained that the term is too broad, too tainted, encompasses bad beliefs, and plays into progressive hands. Neil is a good man and a friend who has called upon self-described Christian nationalists to answer their critics and the objections lodged against them. Do his objections have any merit?
Shenvi’s first complaint is that Christian nationalism isn’t defined precisely or exhaustively enough to prevent theological or ideological corruption from within or without. What definitions have been put forward by proponents of Christian nationalism? Wolfe defines it like this:
Christian nationalism is a totality of national action, consisting of civil laws and social customs, conducted by a Christian nation as a Christian nation, in order to procure for itself both earthly and heavenly good in Christ.[1. Stephen Wolfe, The Case for Christian Nationalism (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2022), 9.]
On a recent panel at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s American Politics and Government Submit, I presented the following definition:
A Christian nation is a self-consciously Christian people who deliberately form a nation whose political institutions (fundamental laws), legislation (ordinary laws), moral principles, and cultural mores are grounded in the truths of the Christian religion, whether known through reason or revelation.
In my definition, the way in which a nation can be Christian is that a majority of the people are Christian (the material cause), the political institutions, laws, public morality, and cultural norms are derived from or in keeping with Christian teachings and truths (the formal cause), and the ends for which the nation exists are commensurate with man’s natural, social, and spiritual nature as known through both reason and revelation (final cause).[2. In the American context, the efficient cause of a Christian nation would be the people and their representatives compacting or covenanting together to create a body politic and then ratifying constitutions drafted by leading statesmen at the national and state levels.] In short, I am claiming that for a nation to be Christian, Christianity must be the public religion of the people (though not necessarily formally established) and the source of public morality that animates and inspires the people in their common civic and political life. While my definition is slightly different than Wolfe’s, it is comparable and complementary to it. These definitions are sufficient and robust. To complain that a definition fails to meet exhaustive criteria—such as condemning every fashionable offense or regurgitating Nicaean or Chalcedonian orthodoxy—is unreasonable. To be manageable, definitions must be short, precise, and comprehensible, which these are.
What’s In a Term?
What of Shenvi’s complaint that “Christian nationalism” is too broad, tainted, corrupted, or unwise? Does it encompass bad beliefs or play into Progressive hands? Should evangelicals reject the label because “it has no agreed-upon meaning and simultaneously has extremely negative connotations”? No. None of these constitute good objections to the term.
Is the term too broad? Supposedly self-identifying Christian nationalists are “all over the map.” Sundry and disparate definitions are bantered about, not all of which are coherent or mutually compatible. Shenvi likens “Christian nationalism” to the left’s favorite activist term over the past decades: “social justice.” The argument is that in the same way that “social justice” has been polluted by a secular culture that smuggles in unbiblical ideas and so preys on the minds, emotions, and imaginations of well-meaning but undiscerning Christians, the same thing is happening with “Christian nationalism” on the right.
While it is certainly possible that a “Christian nationalist” philosophy and political action could be co-opted by anti-Christian ideas or persons, this is not a necessary development. Such an objection could be lodged against any term politically-minded Christians select, no matter how precisely or carefully we define it. More to the point, “Christian nationalism” is unlike “social justice” in key ways. Critically, “social justice” is incoherent in terms of its lexical components. Justice, by its very nature, is social. In Book V of his Ethics, Aristotle correctly argues the following:
Indeed, therefore, this justice is the perfect virtue, but not simply, but for another. And for this reason, many times justice seems to be the mightiest of virtues … and it is perfect because the one who has it is also able to make use of the virtue for another, and not only for to himself … and for this reason also it seems that justice alone among the virtues belongs to the good of another, because it is for the sake of another. (1129b18-34, 1130a3-5; my translation)
Similarly, Thomas Aquinas claimed that justice “denotes essentially relation to another,” and that since “it belongs to justice to rectify human acts … this otherness which justice demands, must needs be between beings capable of action” (STh II-II, q. 58, a. 2, resp.). This is why justice is the preeminent virtue of political society, because it rightly orders men toward each other in their communal relations. It is why James Madison could say, “Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society” (Federalist, no. 51).
“Social Justice” entered the western lexicon in the 1840s through the writings of Luigi Taparelli d’Anzeglio, who used it as a formal concept to describe justice between men. However, its lack of substantive meaning, combined with the incoherence of its compound parts, made it susceptible to being co-opted.[3. In his review, Shenvi comments that “The meaning of a phrase is more than the sum of its component words” in reference to why we cannot take “Christian nationalism” simply as a nation that is Christian because this obscures that more is going on (i.e., racism or xenophobia). However, this is not always true. Many compound words—ice cube, apple pie, video game—are literally descriptive of the objects they depict, while other compound words—hot dog, carpool, sweet tooth—convey a meaning beyond the literal understanding of their combined lexemes (whether as a synecdoche, metonym, hendiadys, or other figure of speech). My contention is that “Christian nationalism” is not like “social justice” in that (1) the former is coherent while the latter is tautological, and (2) the former is literally denotative and descriptive while the latter is ambiguous and fungible. Of course, the way in which a nation can be Christian is what is up for debate, and it is what Christian nationalists are attempting to explain.] By the end of World War II, English Christian Socialists had won the tussle over the term’s meaning, which is why the Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice now defines “social justice” as overcoming “historical inequities” such that “measurable proportional equality across all peoples” is achieved.[4. Christine Clark and Kenneth Fasching-Varner, “Social Justice,” in Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice, ed. Sherwood Thompson (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), 670-71. Per this definition, “social justice” would be more accurately termed “group justice,” where the group is believed to have an independent ontology greater than its aggregate parts (i.e., an organic, not synthetic nature)—contrary to Taparelli’s idea of human societies and associations. The complaint against Aristotle and Aquinas would be that, while their concepts of justice are social, they conceive of sociality only as among individuals. While it is true that the ancients and early moderns spoke of political communities as if they were persons (Plato compares the polis to the human soul but in analogical terms (“looking upon the likeness of the greater (city) in the idea of the smaller (individual),” Republic 369a, my translation); Hobbes speaks of the commonwealth as being “an artificial man” (Leviathan, introduction); and Emer de Vattel, James Wilson, and early American Whigs often spoke of the nation as if it were a “moral person”), they did not actually believe the nation and its various associations to be integral, organic wholes the same way a human possesses reason, consciousness, and self-identity within a unified body-soul organism. Critical theorists, however, do: they reify groups as not only having the same ontology as persons, but of being more important than individuals such that people are subsumed and dissolved under group identities according to predetermined (and often artificial and pejorative) markers (skin color, ethnicity, gender, wealth, religion, ability, etc.).]
“Christian nationalism,” on the other hand is coherent both in its parts and in its compound meaning. While “Christian” and “nation” (or “nationalism”) are certainly broad terms in themselves, they have well-established and sensible meanings (despite the attempt by liberals and globalists to associate nationalism with Nazism or fascism). When combined, “Christian nationalism” is one possible iteration of the idea of a Christian civilization that encompasses political governance, social norms, economic relations, ethics, and more—an ancient project that goes back at least to the Roman Emperor Constantine. In the American context, “Christian nationalism” is an apt description of the American founding. Christianity was the public religion and the source of public morality for America from the colonial period until the mid-twentieth century (and in many ways even today).
The definitions of Christian nationalism above are clear in their meaning and substantive in content. Shenvi certainly has quibbles and questions—he complains that Wolfe’s description of a “nation” is unhelpful, and he is sure to query what I mean by “grounded in”—but these matters can be taken up in subsequent debates. We welcome this debate, especially from those who think that Christianity is incompatible with nation-states and particular political communities, because (some believe) Christianity, as a world religion, must commit Christian citizens to a universal and homogenous world state.
Precedence, Prudence, and Bad Connotations
Shenvi also complains that Christian nationalism has “extremely negative connotations,” because notorious groups with virulent beliefs may claim its mantle. He says it “conjures up images of the QAnon Shaman, Ku Klux Klan marches, and the Handsmaid’s Tale.” He argues that these connotations are set in stone, and thus any effort to reclaim or restore a positive image of Christian nationalism is all but hopeless. He even goes so far as to aver that “trying to reclaim the phrase ‘Christian nationalism’ seems as foolish as trying to reclaim the word ‘Neo-Nazi’ or ‘fascist.’” To use such a term would be to play into the hands of Progressives or our political opponents. Why would we deliberately use a term that was devised to smear and tarnish us? This is unnecessary and imprudent.
The first thing that leaps to my mind when someone utters the word “Christian nationalism” is not QAnon, the KKK, or The Handmaid’s Tale. I would argue that the meaning of the sense (i.e., concept) that a linguistic symbol points to endures far more readily than its connotations (or the word itself).[5. This analysis assumes the Odgen-Richards triangle of reference, which itself is based upon Aristotle’s Περὶ Ερμηνείας (On Interpretation). This is also why the classical understandings of racism (unjustified prejudice against a person because of biological characteristics like skin color) and marriage (monogamous, permanent, and exclusive union between a man and woman) continue to stubbornly persist among the common folk who have not been indoctrinated into accepting twisted definitions by the progressive educational system in America.] There is no ironclad law of nature that says that because “nationalism” was once a dirty word for some, it always will be. In fact, we have witnessed a sea change of positive public opinion in favor of nationalism in the last six years; the same can happen for Christian nationalism. Comparing Christian nationalism to “Neo-Nazi” or “fascism” is unfair and begs the question of what Christian nationalism really means. Nazism and fascism are, by definition and historical experience, anti-Christian and anti-nationalistic (they are imperial and despotic).
While some believe that “Christian nationalism” as a term only emerged recently as an epithet coined by our political opponents, we should not concede this ground. “Christian nationalism” is (1) either an older term that has been used in our history before (but that critics are not aware of), or (2) it is a newer term that recapitulates older notions of a Christian America, or (3) it is a completely novel term whose meaning is currently being contested.[6. Neither the concept of an American Christian nation nor the term “Christian nationalism” is novel, even though the latter has not been frequently used in our history (this partly depends upon if one thinks “Christian nationalism” is distinct from the idea of a “Christian nation,” or whether the former is the philosophy undergirding the phenomenon of the latter). Yet what today’s advocates of “Christian nationalism” denote by the term (a Christian people and nation with Christian laws, norms, and institutions) has been ubiquitously discussed in our history. For a small sampling, see: Jasper Adam’s 1833 sermon, “The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States,” in Religion and Politics in the Early Republic: Jasper Adams and the Church-State Debate, ed. Daniel L. Dreisbach (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1996); Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (Boston: Hilliard, Gray, and Company, 1833), 3:722-31, §§1864-1872; Benjamin F. Morris, The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States (Philadelphia: George W. Childs, 1864); Isaac A. Cornelison, The Relation of Religion to Civil Government in the United States of America: A State Without a Church, But Not Without a Religion (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895); Edward F. Humphrey, Nationalism and Religion in America, 1774-1789 (Boston: Chipman Law Publishing Company, 1924); James Hutson, Forgotten Features of the Founding: The Recovery of Religious Themes in the Early American Republic (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2003); and Mark David Hall, Did American Have a Christian Founding? Separating Modern Myth from Historical Truth (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2019).] If the term is completely novel, then the criterion of “well-established and dictionarily defined” is moot. Instead, Christian nationalists should be given the chance to define the movement and determine its goals, manners, and boundaries. If the term is older or if the concepts it refers to are well-known, then Christian nationalism in America has a settled meaning and experiential element that helps define its nature, ends, and boundaries—in a similar way to “Christianity.”[7. Consider just one example: Alexis de Tocqueville, in the 1835 edition of his De la démocratie en Amérique, proclaimed that Christianity was one of the principal causes of the American democratic republic. In doing so, he spoke in general terms of the characteristics of a “nation chrétienne” (Christian nation) and of “un peuple chrétien” (a Christian people), in order to explain why Christianity (in America) was favorable to liberty (see Democracy in America, ed. Eduardo Nolla, trans. James T. Schleifer (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2010), 2:467-72, esp. 468).] Thus, a retrieval of America’s Christian nationalist past will help answer many of the questions, criticisms, and doubts that interlocutors like Shenvi raise.
Regarding so-called “negative connotations,” at least three things are going on that Shenvi ignores or doesn’t realize. First, there has been a concerted effort since the end of WWII by political theorists and public officials who favor the Liberal International Order (LIO) to denounce and smear nationalism in all its forms, wrongly reducing every nationalist movement to some kind of neo-Nazi endeavor or fascism redivivus (exactly what Shenvi falls for).[8. Robert Kagan complains that “nationalism and tribalism” are signs of illiberalism and authoritarianism, and thus is proof that the “jungle is growing back” (see The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018)).] Globalists relentlessly push for multinational and international organizations (UN, EU, NATO, WHO, WEF, The Hague Courts, etc.) to first usurp and then supersede the sovereign nation-state as the political order of the world.
Second, in America there have been a torrent of political pundits and authors who have gone out of their way to explicitly condemn nationalism (and especially Christian nationalism) as a bigoted, racist, and hatefully exclusive political movement whose apotheosis was the January 6, 2021 “insurrection” at the Capitol. David French, Paul Miller, Russell Moore (and Christianity Today in general), Samuel Perry, Andrew Whitehead, Jemar Tisby, Katherine Stewart, Andrew Seidel, and many others have poured invective upon Christian nationalism. We only have ourselves to blame if our sense of the “bad connotations” of Christian nationalism comes from allowing our ears to be filled with the shrill mewling of these bad actors.
Third, Shenvi wants us to Google “Christian nationalism” to see for ourselves the “vile groups” that identify themselves as Christian nationalists. Yet who naively thinks that Google’s algorithm and search results are unbiased and fair? Of course, if one uses the search engine of the world’s most powerful anti-Christian and woke tech provider they are going to be barraged with the most horrific results.
None of this is to say that there might not be some fringe groups that claim the mantle of Christian nationalism who are truly noxious and despicable. But the specter of fringe associations falls prey to the fallacy of nutpicking, and we should not let it dictate the conversation. The Christian nationalism we espouse has nothing to do with them and is not promoting their ideologies.
The arguments Shenvi makes against “Christian nationalism” are unconvincing because they could easily be made against other common words that we unhesitatingly use and espouse. Consider “Christian” or “Christianity.” “Christian” is too broad: do we mean Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant? Anglican, Baptist, Congregational, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist? It’s too tainted: crusades have claimed its name, civil wars fought over its doctrines, schisms, pastoral and church abuse, intolerance, and exclusion—even Westboro Baptist Church is supposedly Christian. All sorts of heresies and destructive ideologies have taken up refuge under the banner of “Christianity”: Trinitarian and Incarnational heresies (Arianism, Nestorianism, Sabellianism, Unitarianism); anti-Semitism, race science and slavery, and exclusion of the weak and vulnerable. Finally, “Christian” plays into Progressive hands: the Social Gospel, Progressive Christianity, Revoice, and The Reformation Project all claim its name.
If one responds to this counterargument by claiming that “Christianity” is already a well-established term and its doctrinal and ethical boundaries have long since been debated and determined, then consider that at one time this was not the case. Early in the first century, when Christianity was still perceived as a sect of Judaism, “Christian” was a dirty word. Christians were accused of atheism (worshiping an unseen God like the Jews), they were set apart and uncivilized, and they threatened the ancient political order by refusing to participate in many of the pagan religious rituals. Bad connotations all around! If only Shenvi had been there to advise these early Christian communities, they might have abandoned the “Christian” label right then and there and saved themselves a lot of theological slippage—if not martyrdom!
Christian Nationalism vs. Christian Federalism
Is there another preferred term—a safer, more accurate, or less inflammatory term—that politically-minded Christians could use instead of “Christian nationalism”? Shenvi suggests “Protestant integralism,” “Pan-Protestantism,” or “Christian Federalism.” Let’s briefly consider why none of these are good candidates.
While “Protestant integralism” is an intelligent political theory, the term has been captured by post-liberal Catholics. In most instances, it has come to symbolize a specifically Catholic state in which government is completely subordinated to a political Catholic Church. In addition, integralism is a stiff, obtuse, academic term that normal Americans will not love—let alone understand. Yet healthy, everyday Americans love their nation, and they understand their nation in unique and beautiful ways because their lives, families, and histories are what make their nation what it is. If you are a Christian and an American, and you love your nation and want to see it glorify God, then “Christian nationalism” effortlessly follows.
“Pan-Protestantism” actually describes the reality in America for most of the nineteenth and half of the twentieth century. Few realize that the disestablishment of religion in the states by 1833 did not lead to secularism or religious pluralism. Instead, Protestant denominational establishments (e.g., Congregationalism in Massachusetts) as well as the non-preferential “general assessment” agreements in other states (e.g., in New Hampshire and Georgia) were put aside in favor of a non-sectarian Protestant consensus. As James Kabala writes, disestablishment did not purge religion from American life, but organized religion “around a broadly tolerant non-denominational Protestant Christianity that had pushed aside both belief in a confessional Christian state and open ‘infidelity.’”[9. James Kabala, Church-State Relations in the Early American Republic, 1787-1846 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2013), 2. For further reflections on the 19th and 20th centuries, see David Sehat, The Myth of American Religious Freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).] This settlement continued for well over a century until hostile secular inventions by the Supreme Court in the mid-twentieth century targeted Christianity as the privileged religion of the American people.
What then of “Christian federalism.” Perhaps this is Shenvi’s preferred term, and he cites a recent Twitter thread by Josh Daws to this effect. Daws attempts to draw out two different lines of thought grouped under “Christian nationalism”: a theoretical project of providing philosophical and theological justifications for a Christian nation, and the recovery of America’s Christian political heritage.[10. In many ways, this explains key differences between Wolfe’s work and my own, even though I realize that Wolfe applies his theory to the American context. Whereas Wolfe begins with sixteenth and seventeenth-century Reformed Protestant political theory and applies it to seventeenth and eighteenth-century America, I construct a theory of American Christian nationalism from the historical facts and political treatises of the founding era (1763-1791).] This distinction—the basic difference between speculative and practical reason—is good and fine. The problem, however, comes in trying to define the American project as “Christian federalism” vis-à-vis the theoretical project of “Christian nationalism”—or as Daws describes Christian federalism, “reinvigorating federalism within a Christian moral framework.”
Yet in American political history and thought, nationalism was federalism—and vice versa—meaning that nationalism was not merely speculative, but also substantively practical. The Constitution revised the Articles of Confederation by replacing a confederate league of independent nation-states with a “partial consolidation” of the states under a national head. Complete sovereignty was still retained by the people (see Federalist no. 49), but the people engaged in a form of dual delegation: they delegated foreign, military, and international and interstate commercial powers to the national government and reserved domestic policy and the police powers to the states. This means that neither the national nor state governments are complete in themselves; both make up a part (federalism) of the whole (nationalism).[11. Donald S. Lutz captures this idea well when he says, “there were thirteen state constitutions in existence in 1787, and they were part of the national document. Referred to directly or by implication more than fifty times in forty-two sections of the U.S. Constitution, these state constitutions had to be read in order to understand what the document said” (italics added; from The Origins of American Constitutionalism (Baton Rouge, LO: Louisiana State University Press, 1988), 2). Joseph Story was even more explicit about the relationship between the state and national constitutions when he said, “The members and officers of the national government have no agency in carrying into effect the state constitutions. The members and officers of the state governments have an essential agency in giving effect to the national constitution. The election of the president and the senate will depend, in all cases, upon the legislatures of the several states” (Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (Boston: Hilliard, Gray, and Company, 1833), 3:703, §1839). In other words, the state constitutions are more foundational than the national constitution, since the U.S. Constitution presupposed state legislatures in order to function (per the Senate this arrangement was unfortunately overturned by the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913).] While the states were to be the primary loci of moral and religious life, this did not mean that the national government was bereft of similar responsibilities. Foreign policy, as a species of the Law of Nations (the jus gentium), has a decidedly moral and theological element; war and self-defense must always be justly decided (jus ad bellum) and conducted (jus in bello); and both interstate and international commerce, as Montesquieu showed, have positive and negative consequences for the virtues of a people (requiring regulation commensurate with the common good).
Since under the Constitution the states were stripped of their foreign policy powers, to speak of “Christian federalism” apart from national politics is like speaking of the rational soul without a physical body. Daws points to Ron DeSantis in Florida as a preeminent example of Christian federalism. But if DeSantis were to become President, he would govern no less as a Christian; the only thing that would change is the specific ends for which the national government was instituted. Thus, “Christian nationalism,” when properly understood in the American context, incorporates all the elements of “Christian federalism” that Daws prefers while animating them under a national character and way of life.
Shenvi (and Daws) seem intent upon finding a safer term than “Christian nationalism” that avoids negative connotations, bad beliefs and associations, or theoretical dilemmas. The problem, however, comes in picking a niche term that’s safe but impotent. Any term that is accurate, relevant, or potent will be contested precisely because of its imaginative and political potency; and if you’re not ready to contest words and their meanings, you probably ought to pack it up. Consider what a tame, esoteric, and flaccid term would do: Progressive Christians and anti-Christian secularists would love nothing better than for Christian nationalists to impale themselves upon the altar of irrelevance and academic obscurity.
In fact, the reason the term “Christian nationalism” has received so much blowback is not primarily because the idea encompasses bad beliefs or carries negative connotations as Shenvi thinks, but because it is a threat to the pagan liberal order currently ruling the American roost. The idea of a Christian nation that is well-ordered, that serves the good of all, and that brings glory to God is beautiful and inspiring. This is the kind of stuff that common Americans long for and would become politically active over—and might even fight to preserve or achieve. Christian nationalism might awaken Americans from their drug, porn, and Netflix-induced stupor; it might startle them into realizing that their land, heritage, religion, and ways of life are being intentionally demonized and trampled underfoot; it might cause them to reorient their lives—in their intellectual meditations and creative imaginations, and in their daily, physical activities—and cast off the palls of a crass materialism and selfish commodification that preys on their libido. It might cause them to long for a beautiful and meaningful life that is pleasing to God and good for their fellow man. God forbid such a thing ever happen!
On Politics; or, Saving America
Politics is the art of governing men. To accomplish this, collective action is needed, especially in republics or democracies where public opinion weighs more heavily than in aristocracies, monarchies, or dictatorships. Collective action always requires aligning oneself with like-minded compatriots and with those whom we disagree with on many things, but with whom we hold enough shared beliefs to have a common goal. This is necessary, even if not desirable. It is morally licit and even praiseworthy if it is done for a greater good that benefits all and defeats what is harmful to the community or even evil. To believe that maintaining one’s own ideological—or theological—purity is more important than preventing evil free reign is cowardly and sinful. It is also a false belief: one can hold to true moral, philosophical, and theological beliefs while working prudentially with men who hold false beliefs in all these areas.
Shenvi criticizes Christian nationalism for harboring bad actors. He demands that responsible and respectable Christian nationalists reject these scurrilous persons, and either condemn them and their ideas openly or defenestrate them privately from the Christian nationalist movement—or both. In addition, he asks Christian nationalists to be very clear in what they believe about racism, interracial marriage, women’s right to vote, freedom of liberty, the First Amendment, democracy, and the like.
Shenvi also admits that he is “just not that into politics. If you look on my website there are maybe two articles on this topic. I’ve devoted far more of my time to theology and to critical theory.” I appreciate Shenvi’s candor about this, and I would gently suggest that his not being into politics is precisely the cause of his angst about Christian nationalism, because Christian nationalism is primarily a political movement to restore American sovereignty and civilization. The problem we face is existential and urgent: the republican form of constitutional government established at the founding (1776-1791) has been completely razed to the ground and replaced with an anti-founding philosophy and ruling class. All that remains is constitutionalism in form and manners, but even this is quickly being discarded. America is currently ruled by a self-interested, godless, global, techno-oligarchy that cares not one bit about American national sovereignty, the principles of self-government, Christian morality, natural rights, or civil liberties. This coastal, affluent, tony, and condescending oligarchy is determined to reduce American citizens to serfs; and we all got a whiff of what this would be like during the COVID lockdowns, masking, and vaccines. We are, simply put, not far from tyranny.
Christian nationalists grasp these realities; Shenvi (and others like him) do not. Concerning ourselves with the unsavory private beliefs of some fringe actors under the big tent of Christian nationalism is exactly what the oligarchs would want us to do: engage in navel-gazing, self-purifying exorcisms that will fragment the movement and destroy our capacity for effective, collective, political action. We will at times have to join ranks (though only in some areas) with those whom we would not ordinarily befriend or cooperate, or with whom we strenuously disagree on certain matters (morally, theologically, or socially). Sound theology is absolutely necessary in the church, but not for unified political action. Would Shenvi prefer rigorous theological purity among political co-belligerents while our nation drifts in a sea of political anarchy?
Likewise, to bow to the demand that Christian nationalists spend their time clarifying their views about the hot topics of the day—like race, marriage, sex, gender, suffrage, liberty, and forms of government—is to once again fall into the enemy’s trap. Proponents of the globalist, neo-liberal order delight in pouncing upon Christian nationalists when they fail to toe the line on woke ideologies, which then results in endless rounds of articles, public statements, and Twitter sub-tweeting—all with the goal of cancelation and social ostracization. On these issues, the game is rigged. Shenvi himself has written about the oft-employed “Kafka Trap” that well-intentioned, but naïve, conservatives easily stumble into. Or how the idea of “racism” has been endlessly redefined so as to now encompass the absurd. Christian nationalists are not going to fall for this. We will, in time, clarify our positions on many of these matters, but not so as to satisfy the demands of our enemies and their lackeys.
Finally, Shenvi believes there is a more pressing concern than all of this: exposing and defeating Critical Theory, which threatens the Church’s mission and her witness. I have long believed that Critical Theory in its various permutations (law, race, gender, etc.) is a pernicious ideology in America, but my concerns, while not ignoring Christian theology and the Church, transcend both. This is because Critical Theory does not merely turn various Christian doctrines upside down and inside out (anthropology, hamartiology, soteriology, eschatology, etc.), but as a species of Marxist and postmodern deconstructionism, its real goal is regime change—the demolishing, reprogramming, and transformation of an entire civilization, and its political constitutions, institutions, laws, social norms, people, and land. In this sense, Critical Theory applied to twentieth-century politics yields the political ideology of what I call Critical Neo-Liberalism.
Critical Neo-Liberalism takes advantage of the philosophical and structural weaknesses of neo-liberalism (which itself is a gross distortion of early modern liberal political theories) to push western civilizations to devour themselves through self-hatred and self-immolation. Yet this is not all: Critical Neo-Liberalism also offers a positive and utopian political theory as a replacement for our heritage of a self-governing people grounded in the truths of the Christian religion. So far, this dual strategy of demolition and replacement is working and is much of the reason why America is more divided today than it has been at any time since the Civil War.
Shenvi’s obsession with Critical Theory has taken the form of a purely negative apologetic to expose the ideology as false and harmful, and to protect Christian orthodoxy and the health of the Church. Once this is done, what then? The ruins of western civilization left in the wake of the crazed and transhumanist Left cannot be rebuilt by merely appealing to Christian theology; nor is the institutional Church able to put American society together again, especially when she has contributed to much of the destruction.
Christian Nationalism is a restorative, civilizational movement that sets out to challenge and conquer Critical Neo-Liberalism, and then restore the American way of life according to her western and Christian heritage. It is more comprehensive, historic, and future-oriented than Shenvi’s anti-Critical Theory sandbox. Shenvi is a helpful ally in many ways, but he is not going to help save our country by reading and reviewing yet another book by Anthea Butler, Jemar Tisby, or James Cone. Beyond critiquing Critical Theory and extolling the historic Christian faith, Shenvi has nothing to offer. He obviously dislikes Christian Nationalism and is using his formidable critical thinking skills to examine it, but his good-natured suspicions mask a crippling myopia. He might succeed in casting aspersion upon Christian Nationalism and in dissuading many from embracing it, and he might, at the same time, contribute to the death of his country.
*Photo Credit: Unsplash