THIS CONTENT WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON MY OLD SITE AND FORMS PART OF THIS SITE’S ARCHIVE
In 1983 Grove Books published Jesus or Britannia? The Christian Dilemma over Patriotism by Reverend David Prior – I own a few of David’s books, including his books on House Church – but it is the core of Jesus or Britannia? that I wish to focus on.
In 1983 Grove Books published Jesus or Britannia? The Christian Dilemma over Patriotism by Reverend David Prior. I own a few of David’s books, including his books on House Church – but it is the core of Jesus or Britannia? that I wish to focus on.
Prior questions at some length the difference between nationalism and patriotism – writing: “…it is biblically, debatable whether even such patriotism can be sustained as a Christian option.”
After ruling out Nationalism as an option for Christians. And highlighting that the disciples Matthew and Simon epitomise the nationalistic fervour of first Century Palestine – one a tax collector, and thus in collusion with the occupiers (Rome) and the other a freedom-fighter or terrorist (depending on perspective) hell-bent on the destruction of Roman rule.
Prior highlights one of the key elements of Jesus’ time on earth: “In making himself out to be a king, Jesus was quite deliberately ranging the kingdom of God, which he embodied, against all earthly kingdoms, Roman or Jewish, present or future.”
That point alone should make one wonder if a Christian can support any form of nationalism or patriotism.
Prior highlights that Orwell is supposed to have delineated between nationalism and patriotism, that patriotism is merely the love of one’s own native land, whilst nationalism is a claim to natural superiority over others.
But note that “a patriot will do his duty when his country calls him. He will fight if his country is attacked… But nationalism is exclusive, for it… sets out to exclude other races from the body politic.”
I am not sure if the Scottish National Party’s so-called Civic Nationalism, is supposed to be Nationalistic or Patriotism.
What I can say is that military service involves an indoctrination as an essential part of basic training – an indoctrination that is best defined by Che Guevara’s statement that “Unbending hatred of the enemy, which goads the individual beyond his natural limitations…” essentially enabling him to kill other humans for King and/or Country. It is this hatred which “…transforms him into an effective, violent, selective and cold mechanism of death – that is how our soldiers must be; a people without hatred cannot win over a brutal enemy.”
This is the kind of nationalism I see in the Scottish Independence debate, whilst not fought with guns or even sticks and stones, it is fought with words – with the tearing apart of individuals online by cyber-nats – both Scottish and British Nationalists.
Prior argues that the nationalism facing the tale end of the 20th Century was “arguably…far more blatant and defiant… than the unconscious assumed superiority of the previous 150 years.”
He adds that the exacerbation of this nationalism is down to immigration, citizenships and nationality, and that this “…can also be seen in the passions roused by regional (e.g. Welsh and Scottish) nationalism.”
Having previously highlighted that, for many, nationalism is a religion, evidenced by “the behaviour of certain football fans at international matches.”
We should not forget also the words of Catherwood, describing the formation of over a dozen nations formed out of the four defeated empires of Russian, Germany, Austro-Hungry, and Turkey, marking: “an acceptance that it is no longer possible for countries to be effectively governed except by those of their own race who could govern by appeals to nationalistic ideals.”
Bearing in mind that Prior wrote this in 1983, it seems that this situation has only gotten worse, as we’ve seen the meteoric rise of the Scottish National Party and the 2014 referendum, do not be fooled by civic nationalism, it is the same superiority complex that all Brits have effectively suffered since “the glorious days of empire” – despite our age shunning some words, and spitting the word colonisation, a pejorative term for the revisionist approach to British history.
This is not to say I do not, in many ways, agree that the British empire was both a disgusting abuse of oppressive power – but identity politics is almost as disgusting to me, this is not, however, the debate.
And we have also seen this nationalism rise in the form of UKIP, BNP, Nigel Farage, Jacob Reese-Mogg and ultimately in Brexit.
As Christians can we really ethically support such an appalling appeal to worldly kingdoms, when claiming to belong to another extra-worldly Kingdom – the Kingdom of Heaven?
Is our identity so tied to this plane of existence, that we relegate the Kingdom of Heaven to a less-real one? How can we claim to support any separatist movement?
Because it might fulfil the biblical prophecy of the end times?
No, that is poppycock – it is ultimately our earthly trapping – we are so wedded to the world we have forgotten who we really belong to, instead, we are so broken and sinful we cling to the trappings of this world.
A Christian with nationalist or patriotism tendencies is as anathema to scripture as sin is to holiness – it is by very definition, a form of heresy, or heterodoxy – a theology so corrupted by the ideology of the world, it is blind to the things of heaven.
Moving on from Prior, we can turn to George Bernard Shaw who said that “Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.”
It is clear to me, and anyone with any regard for actual understanding of this issue that nationalism and patriotism are both forms of degrees of exceptionalism.
We most often think of American or British exceptionalism – but it exists in anything that puts nation before heaven, and earth before Jesus.
I think there is a form of exceptionalism that Christian’s can expose – the exceptionalism that says Heaven is the best, Jesus is the greatest King, he is Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace and King of Kings.
That’s exceptionalism, but that’s biblical – it is not exceptionalism that breeds anti-immigration sentiments – because ultimately, we are all sojourners from the Kingdom of Heaven – we are called, so that we may go into the physical, fallen world, to make disciples, that is to bring about the influx of immigrants into the Kingdom – thus to expand the Kingdom’s citizenship.
It’s not exceptionalism that breeds a superiority complex, as we are called to serve the weakest amongst us – and it is also, despite historic issues, not a Kingdom with an army staffed by citizens.
Christians are called to fight the good fight – but that is a spiritual battle – and we are not called to wield weapons, rather we are called to stand against the torrent of sin and pride.
To be Christians in the world, we are called to relocate our identity and our citizenship out-of-this-world – to place it in the Kingdom of Heaven – one of the great offences to Rome was that Christians’ did not serve the Empire and Emperor first but served the High King of Heaven.
No earthly kingdom, has ever truly allowed its civilians to pledge allegiance first to God and then to themselves – God becomes subservient to the state.
Whatever others may have said – one of the largest arguments in American Evangelicalism is the issue of the Flag, the issue of the President and the issue of American Nationalism and Patriotism within the Church.
Something the Church is called not to be is a part of the structures of government – a part of the civic order – because earthly trappings will do exactly that, trap it in the bindings of State then God, and never truly free it to be God before the state.
No earthly nation truly accepts Jesus as first – it cannot, a Christian nation can not exist in this regard – for to allow your citizens to first serve a kingdom out-with the states’ control is to invite sedition and rebellion – even pacifistic rebellion and unrest.
It would be like inviting Martin Luther King and Gandhi into the midst of the Houses of Commons to stage a protest, whilst simultaneously banning protests.
This is why the state always creates God in its own image – this is the poison of nationalism and patriotism upon the heart of the Church of Jesus Christ.
But there is more to the blight of patriotism and nationalism on Christians – it has turned a peaceful religion into one of war – this began before the rise of nationalism and patriotism as most historians define it – though one can not see any real difference between the nationalism of Ancient Rome and modern Britain.
The Church fathers were primarily anti-war – pacifism is the name we would give their views today, though there is nuance, according to defenders of Christian warfare (I would argue this a tautology and hypocrisy of one of the highest levels).
The key work, however, on Christian attitudes towards war & peace (in a book of that title, amazon.co.uk link) by Roland H. Bainton (1960/1991).
This survey includes a description of modern war as “incompatible with just war” (Cardinal Ottaviani – see: The Catholic Worker, Volume LXXXIII, Number 5, 1 August 2016, p. 3); and that depictions of the failures (whilst acknowledging the successes) of the Middle Ages; the Renaissance; the 18th & 19th Century; Switzerland during the reformation and the USA during the American Civil War – that these times were essentially “less lethal than our own”.
Bainton highlights using the words of R. H. Tawney that “War is either a crime or a crusade.”
However, modern warfare is unlike the medieval crusades – it is neither the desire to save the heathen or to send them where they “belong”.
And frankly, it never could have been.
Bainton states that “The crusade suffers from the assurance not to say the arrogance of all elitism… it breaks down such restraint as can be placed upon the carnage of war… it impedes the making of a magnanimous peace…” and finally with regards to all war (but specifically crusades) – “The victors in war cannot administer disinterested justice, and least of all is this possible in the case of a crusade.”
Essentially this is because “The crusader is severely tempted to arbitrariness in the final settlement, for the mood of holiness leads to the punishment of war criminals by the victors under the fictitious trappings of impartial justice.”
Arguing further that even in a just war “The Christian in war cannot win without the aid of obnoxious allies… and he becomes therefore in a measure guilty of their crimes.”
And that a just war requires that “war shall be just on one side only” which requires “an impartial court of judicature which does not and never has existed.” to determine which side is just only.
Whilst most modern Christians adhere to a variation of the just-war theory – which Bainton calls the edge of justice rather than the exclusive justice (of just-war theory) – but again, this falls down, as can modern warfare really “vindicate that edge of justice”?
And whilst one can talk of the protection of smaller states – as a way of describing just war, we must not forget “that protection often imperils the protected” especially, I would add, with the American invention of “friendly fire”.
And if to highlight his point, in this age of mass warfare, we can not square modern warfare with any notion of a just war.
Bainton writes that “The possibility of killing in love is remote in the frenzy of battle when passions are unleashed and hate becomes the slogan.”
It is therefore with Bainton, that we have no real reason but to accept that “If the crusade and just war are rejected as Christian positions, pacificism alone remains.” And that “Christian pacificism is not a strategy but a witness.”
Bainton highlights that “The choices which confront the pacifist are almost as grim as those which confront the soldier, and he is not to delude himself by supposing that by his stand he can avoid inflicting all hurt. Yet, if he dissociates himself from the use of war to advance a cause however noble he is not for that reason irresponsible, and he may not be irrelevant.”
I would wish to extol further on this matter, but this is not my primary point.
My primary point on this issue is that Christian Pacificism is the only reasonable position for Christian’s to take in this post-modern world.
This pacificism must be tied to our rejection of nationalism and patriotism – for only by the active pursuit of trans-nationalism, of international co-operation, of seeking to break down walls, boundaries & borders; and simultaneously building bridges, co-operation and dependence upon one another, whilst progressing the cause of peace through pacificism and witness to the Gospel of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, that is the only reasonable and honourable way forward for Christians.
Christians are called to be peacemakers, to be in the world but not of it.
These are two fundamentals of Christian doctrine and life – to be peacemakers in a world we are not of.
The experience of being in the world but not of it, is an underpinning of our world-view and any Christian who does not base their conceptual framework on this is failing to realise that we are in the world to influence it (Salt and Light); to act for and the best of interest of peace (violence begets violence); and to provide a ministry to the world (of love; care for the needy; freedom for the imprisoned; homes for the homeless and the sojourners; the lost; the orphans; the widows) – this is the calling of each and every single Christian – we are not called to the trappings of this world, at least not to be trapped by it. Christian’s can be called to the military – I sincerely believe only as support personnel.
Christian’s can be called to politics – but they are called to be change makers (and to hell with economics, perhaps) – they are called to selflessness and sacrifice for the good of others, not for the enriching of themselves.
Christian’s are call justed to serve – to take the least of seats at the table, not the top seat, to be counted less than everyone else; to be the last to eat, not the first; to be the downtrodden, the walked-all-over; we are called to be last, rather than first.
The only first in our life should be God – before nation; before presidents and kings; before flags; before ourselves; before our pride; before our hypocrisy; before the entire world – if you support nationalism – consider that in light of your bible, not your own ideology; if you support war – consider that in light of the Prince of Peace – is your story in-line with that gospel.
For those who would like to read more, please consider (with one caveat):
- Prior, David., Jesus or Britannia? The Christian Dilemma over Patriotism (Bramcote, UK: Grove Books, 1983)
- Bainton, Roland H., Christian Attitudes Toward War & Peace – A Historical Survey and Critical Re-Evaluation (Nashville, USA: Abingdon Press, 1991)
- The U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on War and Peace in the Nuclear Age, The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response (London, UK: SPCK, 1983)
- Bonk, John., The World at War, the Church at Peace: A Biblical Perspective (Winnipeg, Canada: Kindred Press, 1988)
- Zahnd, Brian., A Farewell to Mars (Colorado Springs, USA: David C. Cook, 2014)
- Machen, J. Gresham., Christianity & Liberalism (1923) – Can be read here: https://reformed.org/books/chr_and_lib/index.html
- Blog Article: Pavlovitz, John., The Heresy of Christian Nationalism (JohnPavlovitz.com, https://johnpavlovitz.com/2018/02/13/christian-nationalism-heresies, 2018)
- Blog Article: Spencer, Andrew. Christianity or Nationalism (Ethics and Culture, http://www.ethicsandculture.com/blog/2018/christianity-or-nationalism, 2018)
 I do not agree with Spencer that there is such a thing as a healthy form of Patriotism, however, I am not as set on this opinion as other points – simply because we are, as he notes, called to seek the good of the city we live in & it may be possible to be nominally patriotic without any real religious-like devotion.
Since writing this article I have come across the following blog posts, some are rediscoveries:
- Notes on Christian Pacifism: http://gettingtothetruthofthings.blogspot.com/2018/01/notes-on-christian-pacifism_7.html?m=1
- What I – A Pacifist – Would Say To Obama About The Crisis In Syria: https://reknew.org/2013/09/what-i-a-pacifist-would-say-to-obama-about-the-crisis-in-syria/
- No Christian-Pacifists are not cowards: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/no-christian-pacifists-not-cowards-christian-gun-slingers-might/
- Does Following Jesus Rule Out Serving In The Military If A War Is Just?: https://reknew.org/2008/01/does-following-jesus-rule-out-serving-in-the-military-if-a-war-is-just/
- American Crap: https://www.redletterchristians.org/american-crap/