John Eliot and January 6th Christian nationalists were among the supporters present at the insurrection upon the U.S. Capitol building last January 6th, and around the country generally that day.
What is a Christian nationalist and what’s the deal with them? Should Christian churches be concerned? Should we be concerned? YES.
A Christian nationalist is a contradiction in terms. It is a logical and a spiritual impossibility, simply because Christ said his kingdom was not of this world, not in the way the Zealots of his time or ours understood it. Christ loved the world as it is, in order to improve it. The Christian nationalist wants to improve the country first, and by force of law, in order to love it. Christian nationalists exist in this country by that name who espouse this manifesto in a 1987 book titled Biblical Principles for Political Action by the executive director of D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge (FL) Ministries:
“Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ–to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness. It is not just a voice, it is dominion we are after. It is not just influence, it is dominion we are after. It is not just equal time, it is dominion we are after. It is dominion we are after–world conquest.” Their words.
What did Jesus instruct his disciples to do? Heal them, heal their souls, deliver their souls from captivity. Paul saw mission the same way. Heal them with love, the content of the word love being forgiveness of sins that Christ preached. The eponymous apostle in Duvall’s 1997 movie, is a God-intoxicated and Bible-centered revivalist minister of the holiness variety, who became a free-lance missionary in Louisiana to escape the law. It is a charming and persuasive depiction of someone who willed only one thing: to save people’s souls, heal them with love. What you don’t see, because it is beside the point of the movie to show it, is the dominion theology implicit in Sonny’s evangelical fundamentalism. Duvall himself may or may not subscribe to that theology, but the actual religious superstructure invisibly surrounding Sonny wants not only the individual souls, and not only many souls, but it wants all souls for Christ. To conquer the whole nation, if not the whole world, for Christ–that is Christian nationalism, and white Christian nationalism at that. [Christian Union for Ivies]
The Rev. John Eliot also was a God-intoxicated, Bible-centered minister, like the holiness preacher of Duvall’s movie who willed one thing–to live in the Bible. They were both missionaries, but what we at the John Eliot Church of Newton should want to know is, does that make them the same? Was John Eliot’s motivation the same as Sonny’s–was it Eliot’s mission to liberate the souls of individuals, or to start building a Christian empire?
We have seen Christian nationalism in every century of the Christian era. Was John Eliot any different? There is evidence that he was very different from the colonial clergy and their Puritan followers.
And yet fantasies of Christian hegemony insidiously seem to spread among the sincerest of believers who start out only seeking to pursue the care and nurture of souls. Otherwise, how did a counter-cultural religion become an engine for empire? Moral ministers do give way to immoral churches. But did John Eliot? NO. Before Eliot’s time and after, the religion of a Jewish Jesus had become the religion about a Jesus that wants you to conquer the world for him. American evangelical communities, starting from the date of the 1927 Scopes trial in Tennessee, grew to fulfil the colonial era dream of a city on a hill finally by attempting on January 6th to take over by force the Congress, the state houses, the courts, the educational system and the whole apparatus of government. The grandiose hopes of past movements like the Moral Majority, Focus on the Family, Heritage Foundation, Trinity Broadcast Network, Constitutional Reconstructionists all were fulfilled because, until Trump, they were just so many decentralized white nationalist movements, and then on January 6th they suddenly coalesced and merged into a larger, unified force under the Presidential cover he provided. Thus, a once-legitimate conservative wing of American Christianity made common cause with unChristian values and behaviors. How biblical is that, how is it even Christian?
Let’s step back a little and assess. They claim a biblical mandate for abolishing the separation of church and state, for replacing welfare with charity, for substituting creationism for evolution. None of these has clear warrants from the Bible, because the Bible is not a blueprint for society; it is the record of a spiritual experience.
Let’s assess further. Biblical literalists claim that the Bible doesn’t need interpretation, which is folly because everything requires interpretation which travels from God to thee, and from thee to me. In effect, dominion theologians have fetishized the Bible and made it into a sort of God. Whereas the most that anybody can say is that the Bible points to God.
Let’s assess again. Out of the Bible stories and legend and poetry they distill many doctrines and dogmas. These are used as a hammer by dominion Christians to subdue your brain and violate common sense. Christian nationalists have made the Bible into a paper idol.
Let’s assess once more. The unity which dominion theologians demand requires uniformity, whereas we know that each person comes to God in her or his own way. Jesus is our door to a righteous God, who knew that we would need forgiveness until we got it right.
How far we have come from the solace of the Psalms to pursuing enemies of the faith! How far we have come from the Beatitudes to cursing doctrinal deviants! How far we have come from St. Francis’ prayer that we prayed earlier this morning, although Francis too set out on a missionary journey himself from Assisi through Eastern Europe to Egypt. Folks, it is natural to share the excitement of your liberation–but it remains a mystery, and a tragedy, that Christian faith metamorphoses so often and so malignantly into an “invasion within,” as proselytizing has been characterized?
John Eliot ministered to his congregation in Roxbury for 14 years without being otherwise much concerned with the native Americans that ventured into colonial precincts for trade and to satisfy their curiosity. Eliot may not have been as independent a thinker as Anne Hutchinson or as liberal as the banished Roger Williams, but I believe Eliot charted a different course in that he saw the Indians for themselves.
I have picked up three qualified evidences of this so far–a) Eliot approached them pastorally, b) he sought to put his Bible into their hands in their language, and c) he advocated on their behalf during the disastrous King Philip’s War which he sought to avert [to be explored later in my teaspoon curriculum]. Yes, strict Calvinist that he was, Eliot preached a gospel which has been deconstructed at least two times by his own spiritual descendants–meaning us. Yes, patriarchal paternalist that he was, Eliot made a strategic mistake by segregating his Indian converts into “Praying Towns,” although his intention was only for them to foster their own Christian communities and their own churches, since the colonists wouldn’t have them on any terms. John Eliot was a man of his times, and yet not. Let’s review. If there is a direct line between the colonists and Jan. 6th, and if there was an indirect line from John Eliot and Jan. 6th, that line was broken by the U.S. Constitution in 1789 which white Christian nationalists want to reconstruct without the separation of Church and State. And furthermore, the disciples were sent out by Jesus to heal; St. Paul declared that love is the healing agent. St. Francis gave us our loving orders. Where can one find therein the remotest rationale to overturn the halls of our own democratically elected government? Our problem in America basically is a Christianity distorted by the grandiosity of high school kids. If they won’t grow up, then do we have to pray for a God who will save us from religion? Dietrich Bonhoeffer dreamed of “a religionless Christianity.” Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Not to get involved in another religious war or anything, in the meantime our church must articulate its faith to the world, because not to articulate the Christian faith is either to endorse white Christian nationalism or to be mistaken for the secular society which elects life without Jesus at all.
Let us repeat for our Benediction this morning the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi-- Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.