On November 13, former Trump national security adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn spoke to a group of evangelical Christians at the Reawaken America Tour, a church-based political rally held at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. Flynn–and others–spoke about many things. Still, a couple of the highly noteworthy things deal with themes that are becoming much more prominent in today’s Evangelical political culture that is heavily influenced by patriotism.
First, Flynn used a very common analogy for the American experiment. He referred to America as the ‘city on a hill.’ This is significant because it brings to mind the famous words of Jesus in Matthew 5:14. Of course, we know that Jesus was referring specifically to the church and not America. Still, the analogy has stuck in the American mythos ever since John Winthrop first used it in 1630 in his famous sermon entitled, “A Model of Christian Charity.” While not published in his lifetime, Winthrop’s sermon stands as a testament to the belief that the journey to America was vital because it was a way to fulfill God’s mission. Winthrop drew parallels between the settlers and the ancient Israelites crossing the ocean to settle the Promised Land. This journey was a sacred story tied intimately to their unique chosenness, much like the nation of Israel. This concept of America as a city on a hill still proves helpful in describing America as a nation. From this concept arose the development of a distinctly spiritual and intellectual understanding of the American spirit; America was chosen but also existed as a light to the world.
The analogy of America being a ‘city on a hill’ is not new. The Puritans used it, JFK used it, Ronald Reagan used it, and even Barrack Obama used it. What is a bit different is the way that Flynn used it. Flynn didn’t say that America is like a city on a hill; he said America is the ‘city on a hill.’ This is significant because he is literally equating America with the Church.
This brings us to the second issue that Flynn brought up in his speech that we must consider. He said that “But if we can have one nation under God, we should have one church under God. Right? And I think that that’s really, really a powerful, powerful statement.” I agree that this is a powerful statement, but probably for a different reason than he does. America is a melting pot of religious ideals. While I wished all of my fellow citizens were Christians, that just isn’t the case. This is one of the reasons that we must take the Great Commission very seriously to share the Gospel with our fellow countrymen. But that is not truly the issue here. The issue is religious liberty.
Baptists have always stood firmly for religious liberty. In fact, that is part of what drove people to America, to begin with. People fled to America–this new ‘city on a hill’–to worship freely. The one religion that Flynn is arguing for would most likely not be the religion that Jesus spoke of. We need to be very careful that we understand that religious liberty must go both ways. If the government ever encroaches on anyone’s ability to freely choose, they infringe on everyone’s ability to freely choose.
These are tenets of Christian nationalism and are becoming more and more mainstream in the current Evangelical climate in America. We would do well to begin to recognize and speak to these issues if we maintain a biblical worldview that says to our proper place in the church in America.
I believe that we need proper education on true patriotism because Christian nationalism is becoming more attractive to many people in Baptist life. I define patriotism as “loyalty toward one’s own home country and personal identification with one’s home country, culture, and people.” We need to rediscover a biblically-informed patriotism that stands in contrast to Christian nationalism. Patriotism respects other countries because they are created and established by God. The American flavor of Christian Nationalism stresses that America is God’s chosen nation. Patriotism is the biblical alternative to nationalism, and we would do well to consider it.
I love our country. But make no mistake, America is not God’s last hope for humanity…the last hope for humanity–and that of America–is the Gospel. God has chosen to use America, and I hope he continues to do so. Still, I hope that we will understand that the Gospel should supersede our political and national allegiances. So, let us love our countrymen and share the Gospel with them because we have the hope of the world–we have Christ.
Some of these concepts can be found in my new book about Biblical Patriotism.