As of late, the President, as well as the Republican Party as a whole, has made it very clear, through their policies on immigration, expensive border walls, refugees and breaks for the wealthiest Americans, that they are “tribalists.” Tribalism is America’s “original sin,” brought over to the Colonies from Europe and perpetuated by our Founding Fathers and clearly seen in the American ideal of Manifest Destiny and America’s attempts toward global domination, both economically and militarily. You will often hear that racism is America’s original sin, but that is really a manifestation of tribalism.
In America, as in many other nations, tribalism is wrapped in the guise of patriotism, flag waving and anthem singing. Nationalism is tribalism on a grand scale. Nationalism, as President Trump’s recent comments on refusing immigration from “sh**hole” countries, reflects the elitism that accompanies nationalism, i.e., you can’t believe America is the “greatest nation on earth” and not look down on “lesser” nations.
While keeping our nation safe, securing borders and protecting our interests abroad is one of the primary functions of government, it is not the function of the church. In fact, most of the functions of government are DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED to the Kingdom of God. This is why it is so dangerous for the church to identify itself unreservedly with nationalism and patriotism.
No one is more “patriotic” than a Franklin Graham or a Jerry Falwell. Theirs and many other evangelical leaders like Wayne Grudem’s unabashed support of Trump and republican politics puts evangelicals in the awkward position of standing behind and supporting Nationalism, racism and in opposition to basic human rights. I am not saying that Christians should be non-political but clear distinctions should be made as to what we as Christians wish to represent. Do we clamor for war or work for peace, for example. In the case of Trump’s attitude towards non-white immigration and refugee admittance, do we stand on the side of the oppressed and poor…even if our nation does not benefit directly, or are we to be known as siding with a self serving government.
Of course, not all evangelicals, nor, indeed all Republicans indorse or are happy with President Trump. Nor does wishing to secure America’s borders or have immigration reform immediately label one as as a Nationalist or a right-wing supremest. But when evangelical leadership repeatedly makes excuses, is silent or outrightly agrees with Trump’s posturing the message the world receives is that evangelicals are racist and xenophobic.
If evangelicals wish to counter this perception, there is work to be done. The same outrage and relentless condemnation evangelicals showed the last president, a respectable black man, needs to be shown the current president, a wealthy, sexist and racist white man. Currently only a minority of evangelicals seem to be grasping this fact, even while republican politicians are having second thoughts about Trump. Whether this is indeed possible remains to be seen. If evangelicals can hold their leadership more accountable, calling them out when they are clearly in conflict of the teachings of Christ, the evangelical community may repair their image problems.
In conclusion, progressive Christians are often accused of pandering to current social movements, thereby losing the ability to confront the evils within society. While there may be some truth to that, evangelicals need to realize that complete identity with white conservative politics also removes objectivity and the ability to have a prophetic impact on society.