In my previous post I described the Russian Christian Nationalism that exists in Putin’s regime and the Russian Orthodox patriarchy, leading to Putin’s war to take over Ukraine, and a form of American Christian Nationalism called Dominionism. This post will, I hope, help to clarify these two terms.
Christ Nationalism has been evident throughout the history of Christianity, beginning when the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. As Richard Niebuhr wrote in his book Christ and Culture (1951), Christians can challenge the culture in which they live, accommodate to the culture, or practice their faith separate from the culture. Niebuhr makes no ethical distinction between these positions but surmises a kind of dualism that can result. Dualism can be good or bad, depending upon the human frailties of those involved. Throughout two-thousand years of Christian history there have been extremes and variations of these positions of how a Christian functions in the country and cultural times in which each Christian lives.
Christian nationalism arises from the relationship of a government of a nation with a body of Christ or, in other words, of group of Christians calling themselves a church. Countries that have such a relationship often have a history of violent conflicts. One only needs to examine what has happened in English history between British Kings and Queens and the Church of England and in Ireland. Struggles for control or power of one over the other have had disastrous results. The same can be said for the Roman Empire and the Russian Empire over centuries of the history of Christianity. Today that struggle for power and control exists in both Russia and the United States.
In Russia power and control rests in the current ruler, Putin, who, like the rulers before him, accommodated with the Russian Orthodox Church or visa-versa. Under the former Soviet Union, the Communist Chairmen first tried to control the Russian Orthodox Church and then sought to eliminate the Church’s influence by arresting priests and exiling them to Siberian camps. When that failed and after the Russian Orthodox Church celebrated its millennial celebration under Gorbachev, Christians emerged from hibernation, rejoined worshipers at Russian Orthodox churches or formed non-denominational bodies of Christ. Although the Orthodox believers were once again allowed to worship, when Vladimir Putin took over as president, believers simply accommodated to Putin’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
In America, Christian Nationalism took a dangerous new twist beginning in the 1960s with the formation of the New Apostolic Reformation, with help from some Southern Baptist Church leaders, some charismatic churches, and a group called the Family. These Christian bodies believe that in the beginning America was founded as a Christian nation and the US Constitution was inspired by God and therefore should be again and those elected to office should only be Christians. When the take-over over of both government and government institutions will be completed, America will then become fully the Kingdom of God. Dr. David W. Scott, a Methodist historical researcher and Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries, defines our American brand of Christian Nationalism as moral cover for any action taken in pursuit of national or political goals, identifying our nation with God’s will and action in the world. In its extreme form, this American Christian Nationalism has been called Dominion Theology, Dominionism, Christianism, or Christian Reconstructionism.
The term dominion derives from Genesis 1:28 when God gave the right to mankind to rule over the animal kingdom. Nowhere in any Bible translation does the term dominion mean the right to rule over other humans. In the Old Testament, God reluctantly allowed the Israelites to have a king, whom He would anoint, instead of a Judge, which God preferred. Americans do not have a king but an elected president who doesn’t have absolute power, like Putin has. Today, the influence of Dominionism is widespread in the United States; there is even a Dominion Christian School. This term is not to be confused with the Roman Catholic Dominican orders. These orders are based on scholastic and democratic principles and are named after a Spanish Saint, Dominic, who, in 1200 AD, was an evangelistic preacher.
Any Christian should cringe in horror at what is happening in the current attempt by Putin to reclaim Ukraine and realize the danger of today’s Russian brand of Christian Nationalism. At least, in the UK, the English head of the Anglican Church anoints the king or queen, who seems, under their democratic form of governing, to have only limited powers at this time in English history. However, the current brand of American Christian Nationalism allows American Christians to remake our nation’s government the way these followers believe God wants it to be in preparation for Jesus’ second coming.
Jesus never tried to remake the Roman form of government, but he did challenge the Pharisees to live the way they preached and taught. He teaches in the Sermon on the Mount how all believers should treat everyone with the kind of love God has for each of us, to love a nation’s enemies, to be humble servants, to care for the poor and sick, to welcoming refugees and immigrants, and to be active as peacemakers.