Christian Nationalism has been in the news a lot lately, but what exactly is it, what's the real problem it poses, and what does pudding have to do with it??? Skye Jethani answers these questions and shows that Christian Nationalism and the Prosperity Gospel have a lot more in common than what we might think - Jesus isn't the goal, but a means to receive what they really want.
For more information about Christian Nationalism, check out these past Holy Post episodes:
Episode 442: Christian Nationalism & the Good Life with Derwin Gray https://youtu.be/i9rSrgJxKTY?feature=shared
Episode 498: Making Christian Disciples or Christian Nationalists? with David Kinnaman https://youtu.be/jg7-eeff458?feature=shared
Episode 531: What’s Wrong with Christian Nationalism? with Paul D. Miller https://youtu.be/iddDRwND6BM?feature=shared
Episode 572: Christian Nationalist Hospitality & Atheists Get Political with Ryan Burge https://youtu.be/AI8vAHcYQtA?feature=shared
This pudding can help us understand Christian nationalism. I know you don't believe me, but I promise we'll get to it. Everyone seems to be talking about Christian nationalism these days. Politicians, preachers, pundits, scholars. Everyone has something to say about this issue. Some of them are proudly wearing the label, while others are writing books to denounce the movement.
One book is by Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry, both of them are professors of sociology. In it, they define Christian nationalism as, "the belief that America has been and should always be distinctively Christian from top to bottom, in its self identity, interpretations of its own history, sacred symbols, cherished values, and public policies, and it aims to keep it this way."
Now, some of you hear that and might think, that doesn't sound so bad. After all, wouldn't America be better if distinctly Christian values filled the country? But what exactly does that mean? For example, which Christian values are we talking about? There are thousands of churches and denominations in the US, and we're deeply divided over all kinds of stuff.
Christians are split over things like gender roles, the nature of sin, the definition of marriage. Good grief, we can't even agree on how many books are in the Bible, and whether we should take Sunday or Saturday as a day of rest. And what about all of the fellow citizens around us who aren't Christians? What place do they get to have in a country that is supposed to be Christian from top to bottom? As you can tell, there are lots of questions and critiques out there about Christian Nationalism, and most of them focus on how the movement is both deeply un American and dangerously unchristian. And we've talked about it a lot on the Holy Post. I'm including some links in the show notes below the video with the best conversations and interviews we've done on the topic. But I want to talk about something a little bit different today. I want to get to the real core problem of Christian nationalism. A core problem that I think often gets overlooked in all the details. And that brings me back to the pudding. So buckle up, a little more history here. Back in 1999, Healthy Choice Frozen Foods and Snacks launched a promotion that allowed customers to redeem barcodes from their product labels for frequent flyer miles. And a guy in California named David Phillips soon found a way to game the promotion when he realized that each individual pudding cup made by Healthy Choice had a barcode. And those pudding cups were just pennies per cup, way cheaper than their larger frozen meals. So he bought over 12,000 pudding cups wherever he could find them, and his plan worked. In the end, he earned over 1.3 million miles. The equivalent of 30 flights around the world, and a lifetime platinum status with American Airlines. And he did it all with just $3,000 worth of pudding. Here's the important part. David Phillips doesn't care at all about pudding. In fact, he didn't even keep the pudding. He donated it to the Salvation Army. What he really wanted were the frequent flyer miles. The pudding was just a convenient method to reach his goal. It was a means to an end. The point of all of this is that what David Phillips did to pudding is exactly what Christian nationalism does to Christ. In the end, Christian Nationalism does not really care about Jesus. He's not the goal. Sure, Christian Nationalists may talk a lot about God and Jesus and Biblical values, just like David Phillips was all over town trying to buy pudding cups. In fact, people started calling him the Pudding Guy because from all appearances it looked like he was all about pudding. But underneath the surface, he had another goal in mind.
And similarly, Christian nationalists may appear on the outside to be all about Christianity, with their flags and crosses and signs, but deeper down, their actual goal is not Christianity. Christianity is just a device, a tool that they use to achieve their real goal, which is about cultural and political progress. They talk very little about a life with God, but a lot about all the blessings they expect to get from God for themselves and for their country. And here's the interesting part. When you actually read and listen to Christian nationalists, They don't hide this fact. They talk very openly about using Christian faith or using Christian values or using the Bible or even using Jesus to get what they really want, which is a country that looks more like themselves. For example, Stephen Wolfe says, "Christian nationalism is a totality of national action, consisting of civil laws and social customs conducted by a Christian nation as a Christian nation, and here's the key part, in order to procure for itself both earthly and heavenly good in Christ." (The Case for Christian Nationalism by Stephen Wolf)
There it is, securing for itself earthly good. And very well known Christian leader Franklin Graham puts it this way, "One thing's for sure, our success as a nation depends on God. Our country can't turn its back on him and expect his hand of blessing to continue." (Source - https://decisionmagazine.com/franklin-graham-the-government-will-rest-on-his-shoulders/)
In that statement, the pudding cup is God. We can't turn our back on God because we won't get what we really want, which is blessings. Again, the goal is blessing from God, not God himself. And William Wolfe offers a warning for those who will not follow Christian nationalism. He says, "Christianity is the indispensable moral, cultural, social, and spiritual foundation of the United States of America. And, if we utterly forget this and lose that foundation, little good will follow." (Source - https://www.standingforfreedom.com/2022/12/three-quotes-on-christian-america/)
There it is again. The good that will follow, the good blessings that will come from following the teachings of Jesus in our national setting. Whether it's securing earthly good for ourselves, national success and power, or the blessings of God for our country, in each of these cases and many more, it's evident that the goal of Christian nationalism is not Jesus.
Instead, he is just the pudding cup. Jesus is just the means to achieve what they really want, which is a stronger, more powerful, more successful country. In America, where their tribe of conservative, white, evangelical Christians is in control, from top to bottom. That's how Christian nationalism makes cultural and political power.
There's another popular American heresy that operates the exact same way, and it's one that you might be more familiar with. The Prosperity Gospel. It also simply uses Jesus. It reduces him into a means of achieving some other goal. It says that if you worship Jesus, and if you follow biblical principles, well then God will give you what you really want.
Success. Money, health, and fame. And it's an outrageously popular message in our very religious and very consumeristic culture. But here's the difference. A lot of Christians recognize the problem with the prosperity gospel. They recognize that it's not what Jesus and his apostles preached. They get it that the goal of the Christian life isn't really supposed to be money.
But, when those very same prosperity formulas are applied to something other than money, Somehow we lose sight of the problem. We have difficulty recognizing the heresy for which it is. Consider purity culture. The purity culture movement, or what Katelyn Beaty calls the sexual prosperity gospel (https://religionnews.com/2019/07/26/joshua-harris-and-the-sexual-prosperity-gospel/), told millions of Christian teenage boys that if they remained celibate, and it told many millions of Christian teenage girls that if they remained modest, then God would reward them with fantastic marriages and satisfying sex lives. In that form of the prosperity gospel, following Christian sexual ethics is the pudding cup. The real goal is satisfying sex lives and great marriages.
Or what about the Gothard movement? Bill Gothard and his ultra fundamentalist Institute for Basic Life Principles taught millions of parents that if they just use his biblical principles, then their children would grow up to be obedient and godly Christians. In this case, the pudding cup is using biblical principles. But the real goal was not Jesus. The real goal was having perfect children. In a way, it was just the parenting prosperity gospel.
Each of these movements looks really Christian. They look Christian because they use Christian language and they reference the Bible a lot. But in each case, the goal isn't really Jesus. Instead, he's just the pudding cup. He's just a means to get what they really want, which is money, or success, or a great marriage, or satisfying sex, or perfect kids. Or, in the case of Christian nationalism, political and cultural power.
Christian nationalism is just the same old American heresy, but with a new goal. It isn't what Jesus taught. It's not what the apostles preached. It's not the mission of the church we read in the New Testament. And it isn't the surrender of power that we see in the cross. It guarantees God's blessing for our whole nation if we would just put the right people in power and pass the right biblical laws. And that's why millions of American Christians are eagerly embracing Christian nationalism.
But you need to remember this, any message in which Jesus is the means but not the goal, is not true Christianity. It's idolatry. And that's why Christian nationalism may claim it's trying to make America more Christian, when in fact, it's doing exactly the opposite.