After the historic election of Donald Trump to President of the United States, America seems to be embarking on a new era of nationalism. The well-known slogan “America-First” has both inspired and concerned Christian evangelicals. Should Christians embrace such a concept? Aren’t we to be more globally minded? Aren’t we to be the light of the whole world, making disciples of all the nations?
Recently, I listened to a Christian speaker revile the idea of nationalism. “Christians should never be country-first!” he proclaimed indignantly. “Our citizenship is in heaven!”
A contributor to Baptist News Global wrote similar sentiments saying, “…America First is not good for us.”1 He continued:
Trump’s own assertion begs a profound theological question: Is “America First” what righteous people and a righteous public should want? It is difficult for me to reconcile the acknowledged selfishness of “America First” with a Christian’s call to common humanity.
…are we American first or Christian first? And if our primary allegiance is to Christ, how can we cheer on a foreign policy that countenances the richest nation on the planet being primarily concerned with itself when more than half the world lives on less than $2 per day? My faith calls me to have concern for the least of these and looks to a model of Christ, who by his own testimony did not “come to be served, but to serve and give his [own] life a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28).1
In this article, we’ll tackle the question of country-first nationalism, along with other hot-button political topics such as globalism and multiculturalism. How should Christians respond to these ideas? What does the Bible say about them?
Origins of the Nations
As is the case with most difficult questions, we’ll start at the beginning. What is the origin of the nations? How did they come about? Thankfully, the Bible provides answers.
Nations are first mentioned in the book of Genesis, immediately after the flood. It’s not clear what government system(s) existed before the Flood but, afterward, God divided them by lands, languages and families (Gen. 10:5, 20, 31). And, as we read further, we find out God separated the nations forcefully, against man’s will.
Early after the Flood, the descendants of Noah intended to build a unified culture, centered in the land of Shinar. They began to build a city there with a high tower. But God disapproved and put an abrupt end to the project.
“Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” —Gen. 11:6b-7
Man wanted a unified nation centered around a single city. God wanted man to separate to the far reaching lands of the world. When man rebelled, God forced them to separate.
So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. —Gen. 11:8-9
Such is a recurring theme of history. “There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the LORD’S counsel—that will stand.” —Prov. 19:21
The Wisdom of Separate Nations
The next logical question might be, why? Why did God want separate nations? Here we have to speculate a bit, but I believe Scripture offers some valuable insight. Just as God cursed the ground for our sake (Gen. 3:17), so He also divided the nations for our sake. Notice His concern over the unity of the descendants of Noah. “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.”
God gave us great intelligence, but also the freedom to use that intelligence for evil. It seems, therefore, God wanted to slow man’s progress that he might not advance as quickly as he did before the Flood. Perhaps unspeakable evil would have resumed rapidly, had He not intervened. A divided mankind is still wicked, but a unified mankind knows no boundaries. There would be no wickedness out of his immediate reach.
The antediluvians (our pre-flood ancestors), by all implications, were unified under one language on one supercontinent known as Pangea2. With no language or land barriers, they may have formed a unified super-culture which engulfed the entire population of the earth. Having both unity and long lifespans (900+years), some speculate their technologies may have rivaled ours. But as we read the account, something went terribly wrong. Perhaps, an evil practice spread quickly though the entire unified population. Perhaps mankind was so unified before the Flood there was nothing they didn’t share and embrace.
This we know for sure. After a mere thousand years of existence, an unspeakable wickedness infected the entire earth, leaving only Noah and his family untouched.
Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the LORD said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. —Gen. 6:5-8
Thus, God may have divided the postdiluvian peoples (our post-flood ancestors) to save them from the fate of their ancestors. By dividing the nations, God was not only slowing advancement, but also quarantining evil, in a sense. Evil would certainly persist after the Flood, but would now be confined within cultural walls. Wickedness could still flourish within a particular nation, but not spread through the entire population as it did when mankind was completely unified.
And, if a culture became too wicked, it could be wiped out. As tragic as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was, it was limited to two cities. Had it not been for Babel, this might not have been the case.
Regardless of whether the above speculations capture the true reasonings of God, we can be sure of the following: God separated the nations for our sake. We, therefore, should be very wary of man’s attempts to reunite the nations.
Globalism vs. Nationalism
Globalism – a national policy of treating the whole world as a proper sphere for political influence (Merriam-Webster)
Globalism – the attitude or policy of placing the interests of the entire world above those of individual nations (dictionary.com)
The idea of globalism (political globalism to be precise) flies in the face of God’s actions at Babel, and should be a concern to all Christians. Since Babel, men have been trying to reunite the nations. Historically, this has been through conquest (or imperialism), but recently through political venues. The ultimate effort will come from the future Antichrist who will be given “authority over every tribe, people, language and nation.” (Rev. 13:7)
Christians, in particular, should be wary of these movements, knowing they are based in rebellion. If God separated the nations, we know Satan is ultimately behind their reunification. From gotquestions.org:
The Bible, therefore, shows that any time man attempts “globalization” it is ruled by wicked, ungodly empires. We should oppose globalization to the extent that we understand that it is implemented by Satan, currently the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4). It is interesting to note that man’s (and Satan’s) final attempt at globalization will include a resurgence of “Babylon,” which started the globalization effort so long ago (see Revelation 18).3
But, what about The Great Commission? What about being a light to the whole world? One globalist Christian writes,
But more importantly, ask any Bible-believing Christian about Christ’s final commandment on earth and they’ll tell you about the Great Commission. Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”(Matthew 28:19)
In Acts 1:8, Jesus is also recorded to have said, “And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
If the Apostle Thomas had never heeded this “globalist” Great Commission, I probably wouldn’t be a Christian today. The Apostle Thomas obeyed the Great Commission by taking the gospel to India and bringing a few unreached higher caste Hindu families to the faith. My spiritual ancestry can be traced back to this small group of zealous Indian Christians.4
But this is conflating two different issues. Christians need to be very careful not to confuse political globalism with world-wide evangelism. The two have little in common. Yes, Christ commands us to make disciples of the nations, but notice He refers to the nations in the plural. “Make disciples of all the nations…baptizing them….” Notice Christ did not say, “Go unite the nations!” Do not confuse the evangelization of the nations with globalism.
Nationalism – spirit or aspirations common to the whole of a nation. devotion and loyalty to one’s own country; patriotism. (dictionary.com)
Not only would I disagree, I would argue Scripture directly teaches nationalism. According to Paul we owe our nation taxes, customs, fear and honor.
For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. —Rom. 13:6-7
If you live in America, your biblical duties to your nation are clear—taxes, customs (also a form of taxation, telos in the greek, sometimes translated duties, tribute or revenue), fear (respect), and honor (loyalty, patriotism).
Please understand, if you are an American Christian, you don’t owe these debts to France, Russia or China. You don’t even owe them to Israel. You may want to help these nations in various ways, but, your first allegiance is to your homeland. America first.
But shouldn’t we put God first? Shouldn’t we be Kingdom First? As the critic charged, “…are we American first or Christian first?”
But, I would contend these charges are specious, at best. Sheer common sense will tell you country-first merely means prioritizing your country before other countries. I’ve spoken with numerous Christian nationalists, and have yet to come across any who elevate their country above God. Furthermore, the very notion runs counter to the heart of American patriotism, which has always emphasized God in patriotic songs and oaths. Even our Pledge Of Allegiance avoids this confusion by explicitly stating we are “one nation under God.”
Country-first is very straightforward. Prioritize your home country above other countries. It’s simple and biblical. If you object, your argument is not with me.
America First vs. America Only
But what about the rest of the world? Do we ignore the needs abroad? Do we ignore extreme poverty abroad?
I don’t believe America first, by any stretch, implies America only. It might be akin to the notion of family first. Certainly we care for all children, but our priority, as parents, must always be to our own kids. Even missionaries that move to poverty stricken lands agree their first responsibility is to their families. They help where they can, but don’t starve their own kids in order to feed others.
Over the past decade, I’ve witnessed many people struggling with unemployment, and the inability to care for their families. It is an emotionally crushing thing to go though, especially for men who feel an obligation to provide. I have compassion for everyone in every nation, but my first obligation is to my fellow countrymen. This is God’s will. And let’s not forget that America is one of the most charitable nations on earth. When it’s healthy and working, the whole world benefits.
Honoring A Wicked Nation?
But what if you live in an evil nation? How can the Christian honor the dishonorable?
First, we need to understand that all nations fall short. All countries have sinned. And, while the United States has been an extraordinary force for good in the world, there is no question it has its stains, from racism and slavery in the past, to the slaughtering of the unborn in the present. It is, therefore, reasonable to ask, how can we honor a sinful nation? How can we respect the evils it’s committed? And the question becomes even more valid when we look at other nations more wicked than ours.
Perhaps the best answers to this question is, the best we can. Paul was a Roman citizen when he penned Romans 13 and I think most would agree, Rome was not a model of righteousness. Yet, Paul honored it and often referred to its laws and privileges (Acts 16:37-38, 21:39, 22:25-29, 23:27).
By honoring your nation, you are not endorsing its sins. It’s much like the command to honor your mother and father. Some parents are saints, others are not. We honor them, not based on their perfection, but on God’s perfect commandment.
While Rome often made wrong choices, Paul desired the best for her, and I believe, prayed for her. And, eventually, Rome supported Christianity and played a large role in its advancement, so perhaps Paul’s prayers were answered.
Multiculturalism vs. Assimilation
This brings us to the issue of multiculturalism within nations. There is a battle in our country over this, and, I believe, an important one. If Globalism wars with nationalism from without, multiculturalism wars with nationalism from within. There is a good healthy form of diversity (which I’ll discuss below), but also some dangerous ones.
First, there is a current push in our nation to impose language divisions. You might ask, What’s wrong with language divisions? But, that’s exactly what’s wrong with them. They divide. Think about how God used languages at Babel. Without communication, unity is futile. It is, therefore, imperative we, as a nation, stay united with a common language. Sure, some will be bilingual and multilingual, and some will have foreign accents, but that’s all well and good. Accents are a beautiful evidence of assimilation.
The problem comes when immigrants are not encouraged to learn our national language. This cripples assimilation and divides our communities.
Second, there is a push to celebrate the national origins of immigrants rather their new identity as Americans. Denis Prager writes,
Diversity and multiculturalism celebrate the national/ethnic identities of the nations from where American immigrants came instead of celebrating the American identity and traditional American values.
…..The left constantly repeats “we are a nation of immigrants” without citing the other half of that fact — “who assimilate into America.” The left mocks the once-universally held American belief in the melting pot. But the melting pot is the only way for a country composed of immigrants to build a cohesive society.
Diversity in a nation is a good thing, but should never supersede unity.
e pluribus unum
This brings me to an important concept all American Christians should learn about and embrace. I believe America to be a wonderful melting pot of languages and cultures which is consistent with one of our historical mottos, e pluribus unum—from many one.
This phrase appears on our Nation’s Great Seal, and also on the seals of the President, the Vice President, the Congress, the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Supreme Court.
It also occurs on all our coins and our dollar bill. We have this value all around us, yet very few Americans are aware of it.
But we should be! American Christians, especially should be, because it’s in line with God’s purpose for individual nations, and stands in opposition to the multiculturalism that divides us. America, from its inception, is a blend of peoples from every background. We are united as a single people with one standard language (lots of wonderful accents, but one standard language). Certainly, we can celebrate diversity, but we should celebrate unity even more.
For a more thorough explanation of e pluribus unum, and how it fits into our American value system, I love this short clip by Dennis Prager.
(For further reading, see: A Nation of Immigrants — Only If They Assimilate)
Borders and Walls
An article on nationalism and globalism would not be complete without mentioning borders and walls. They are political hot-buttons for good reason. Secure borders are to nationalists, what open-borders are to globalists. It should be no surprise, therefore, that nationalists advocate strongly for borders and globalists, even Christian globalists, loathe borders.
If American Christians choose to build walls around themselves today, who will take the gospel to the 6,688 unreached people groups (around 3.1 Billion people) in the world?3
But, I can only scratch my head and wonder how we got to a place where open-borders were somehow related to the Great Commission, as Christian globalists claim. Trump is not proposing Berlin style walls to keep us in. As he often mentions, they will have beautiful doors.
And we are commanded to go to the nations, not lure them to us! Go and make disciples and, if you can’t go, send others with your financial blessing. This is our Great Commission, and walls with doors will not stand in our way.
Furthermore, the Bible is extremely positive about borders and walls. Walls were extant in the ancient world, and considered a blessing. Three of the good kings of Israel built walls (2Chr. 14:6, 2Chr. 27:3, 2Chr. 32:5) and Nehemiah built a wall around Jerusalem per the blessing of God. It’s also notable that walls are used often in metaphors of blessing (Ps. 51:18), while broken walls are used in metaphors of misfortune (Prov. 25:28).
But most importantly, we need to understand that God is the author of borders.
You have set all the borders of the earth… —Psa. 74:17
And He has made from one blood every nation of men…and the boundaries of their dwellings —Acts 17:26
(for further reading see: Should Christians build walls?)
This brings us to, perhaps, the most devise issue in American politics, today—illegal immigration. But, there should be no division among Christians over this issue. If we believe God divided the nations, and ordained national borders, we should oppose illegal immigration, and be willing to label it as such. The term undocumented immigrant is merely a euphemism affirming the globalist idea that borders do not exist. But borders do exist, and they come from God (Psa 74:17, Acts 17:26). And He has given authority over those borders to the governments He ordained (Rom. 13).
But one might ask, what about compassion? Shouldn’t we show grace and mercy to all, even illegal immigrants?
Of course, we should. Grace and mercy should characterize everything we do. That said, there is nothing compassionate, gracious or merciful about supporting the globalist agenda of open-borders. Globalism is Satan’s vehicle of choice to accelerate evil in our world. True compassion can never be inline with Satan’s agenda.
Christians should never encourage immigrants to cut in line in front of other immigrants. This is not only legally wrong, it’s morally wrong. Instead, Christians should be active in encouraging immigrants to honor the nations they wish to move to by following their immigration laws.
Why The Divide?
But, if Scripture supports nationalism, why do so many Christian leaders oppose it? And if Scripture condemns globalism, why are there Christian globalists?
Good questions! I find it remarkable how many Christians, today, are speaking out against nationalism, and how few are even remotely alarmed by modern globalism. I, too, wonder how we got to such a place.
One answer might be, the long war on Genesis 1-11. Compromised interpretations of Genesis have piled up many casualties, and unbelief in the Babel account is one of them. The title of this Biologos article says it all:
The article features three Christian scholars who attempt to help Christians come to peace with the fact that the Tower of Babel and other Genesis 1-11 events may not have happened exactly as described.
In Christian understanding, regardless of whether the events of the primeval history happened or not (or happened in the ways they are described), Gen 1-11 ultimately points us toward the Christ in which Christians are rooted together and the person whom they are called to emulate.
Did God really separate the nations and establish their borders? Did He really break up man’s globalist endeavors at Babel? Depends on which “Christian scholar” you ask. Little has changed since Satan’s first deception in the Garden.
Should Christians embrace nationalism? Yes. In my humble opinion, the Church should take a firm stand on nationalism (offering their home nations prayer, honor respect and service) and an equally firm stand against globalism. If God believed globalism was so dangerous that He needed to thwart man’s efforts at Babel, perhaps we need to be more respectful of the dangers it presents today.
Most Bible believing churches take stands on other political issues like life and marriage (I hope it’s still most), but I can’t help but wonder if they’re undermining their efforts by tolerating the spread of globalism. Think about it. If evils like slavery, abortion and genocide exist in a divided world, imagine what might prevail in a united world? As God said, “nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.”
Should Christians Build Walls?
World Net Daily
Should a Christian be opposed to globalization?
Is Globalism Actually Demonic?
World Net Daily
How should a Christian respond to illegal aliens/illegal immigrants?
What does the Bible say about illegal immigration?
Was the Dispersion at Babel a Real Event?
Answers in Genesis
A Nation of Immigrants — Only If They Assimilate
How Should Christians Vote? A Question Of Origins
- “American first or Christian first? Why supporting Trump’s vision for the nation compromises our biblical mandate” (https://baptistnews.com/article/american-first-or-christian-first-why-supporting-trumps-vision-for-the-nation-compromises-our-biblical-mandate/#.WQzywhiZNp8)
- Pangea is the supercontinent many scientists believe existed before continental drift separated the continents into the 7 we have today. Most creationists believe the continents were rapidly separated at the time of the Flood, just a few thousand years ago. They believe the antediluvians (our pre-flood ancestors) lived on the Pangea.
- “Should a Christian be opposed to globalization?” (https://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-globalization.html)
- “Why Conservative Christians Must Be “Globalists” (http://freedomcrossroads.com/2016/08/15/why-conservative-christians-must-be-globalists/)