The spirit of nationalism is a positive thing in my view. Most people inherently love their country. Christians should not be alarmed by this very normal human emotion. I shared in it today by observing the Fourth of July parade in my community. As the band played and the fire trucks blared their sirens I found myself feeling a sense of pride about this community and my country. I watched the politicians go by, seeking recognition and votes, and thought to myself, “Elections never seem to end here.” The best word to describe my emotion was “pride” I think. I am sincerely proud to be an American.

But as with any other emotion I felt some other reactions as I thought further about our country at this time. I believe nationalism is a good thing but I am deeply concerned about the growing “Christian” nationalism on the far right. This spirit is fed by many springs, including popular preachers, best-selling books and mean-spirited talk shows. My concern about this kind of nationalism is not without reason. When I hear conservative Christians talk about the future they envision for America I find myself becoming more and more distant from their vision of nationalism. I think one reason I have these fears is rooted in my racist Southern background. The fears I heard played up in my childhood, often by white conservative Christians, are the same type of fears I hear played up by growing bands of fringe Christians who appeal to the instinctive fear that this country is so anti-God that it is in need of a huge social upheaval that will radically remake everything from our judiciary to our schools.

What I realized, especially as I watched the parade and chatted with my multi-racial neighbors, was how wonderful it is to live in this country where people of all races and backgrounds can find a home in what still is “the land of the free.” I want real Christian influence in this culture but I do not want a “Christian nation.” I do not believe such a nation has ever existed and every attempt to create one will lead to extremes that ultimately harm the real work of the gospel and Christian mission in our society.