International (MNN) — Nationalism and the Christian faith–Bruce Allen with FMI says Gospel workers face this tension, and sometimes it leads to persecution.
An example of this is in India, which shares borders with both Pakistan and Bangladesh (two of the three countries where FMI works). In India, to be Indian is to be Hindu. If an Indian isn’t Hindu, they’re almost considered an enemy of the state.
Christians Facing Pressure From Nationalism
Allen says a lesser extreme of this type of nationalism is seen in Indonesia, but to a greater extreme in Pakistan.
“I think it’s very helpful for the Western audiences to understand what it’s like in so many other countries of the world, where simply by virtue of being born in that country, you are legally considered a Muslim,” Allen explains.
People in these countries who don’t fit the majority are often singled out, treated differently, and discriminated against by society.
“There is this feeling that if you are not of, in Pakistan, of the Muslim faith, you are a second-rate citizen. When you start treating people as second-rate citizens, you end up saying, ‘to be a first-class citizen, you have to be a member of this particular faith’. That’s when nationalism creeps in, where you’re saying only ‘certain’ people can be considered ‘us’,” Allen shares.
However, it’s important to note the differences between patriotism and nationalism, because the two are not synonymous.
How Patriotism Differs From Nationalism
Patriotism is a healthy appreciation and love for one’s country. There’s nothing wrong with this. But, a patriot loves his or her country in a way that allows he or she to see where it can grow. Truth is spoken by a patriot, both the good and the ugly.
One analogy Allen uses is that of a parent and child. A parent will love and cheer on his or her kid. But, a parent will also critique a child to help shape he or she into a better person. A patriot also does this with his or her country.
For example, Allen says many Christians in Pakistan care for and love their country. There’s no friction between loving their country and loving Christ. But, they also intimately know the areas where their country can change for the better. Like, religious freedom for all. Still, they’re aware of the stigma in how they’re considered less of a Pakistani because of their faith and minority status.
“'[God] has ordained that we live here, and so we will do it to the best of our ability and reflect Christ’s values, His purposes. And because we love our fellow countrymen, we want to share the Gospel with them’,” Allen recalls from Pakistani Christians.
Nationalism, on the other hand, is the “us vs. them” mentality. The “us” being the majority and the “them” being the minorities. This can be in regards to race, religion, political views, ancestry, and more. Nationalism can appear as protectionism, isolationism, and ideas of false superiority. This belief system counters God’s heart for all people, and it’s something Christians everywhere should guard against. No one is immune to it.
Challenges of Nationalism
The tricky part of nationalism, though, is it can blind individuals into thinking they’re just being patriotic, when indeed they’re being nationalistic. Nationalism ranks its country above others, to the point of calling it the ‘best’. It oftentimes fails to address the areas where the country can grow and mature.
Allen says if anyone had the right to be nationalistic, it would have been Abraham from the Old Testament. Abraham was promised his descendants by God. He knew of the chosen nation, yet he still saw his citizenship not here on earth, but in God’s Kingdom.
“[Abraham] considered his real home to be a place that was not built by human hands on this earth. Hebrews 11:13 says it’s an easy thing for me to admit that I am a stranger and an alien as long as I am walking this earth,” Allen says.
“He really saw himself as a sojourner or a pilgrim. The real problem comes when we no longer have that attitude of being sojourners and pilgrims, and we become settlers—and we’ve settled down into the comfort of whatever country it is that we live in.”
But, all of Christ’s people are called to live with their eyes on Him, not their passport nationality. Furthermore, Christ-followers, regardless of citizenship, are called to love their neighbor as themselves. Nationalism is a thorn in this commandment.
A Different Kind of Citizenship
“If I’m a citizen of His Kingdom, I have to understand what the apostle Paul was saying in Acts 17, about from one single person were all people born from. Therefore, we have a common bond with people in Kenya, in Japan, in Germany, in Uruguay. It was God who ordained where people should live, according to that same verse,” Allen says.
Furthermore, there are more things which connect humans to each other besides nationality. These include our common humanity, our fallen natures, and the love of a God who wants to redeem us. And ultimately, all people have been created in God’s image, not a select few.
“His Gospel is for everyone. And so we dare not blur the lines between healthy patriotism and nationalism, that starts to do an ‘us vs. them’ mentality,” Allen urges.
“It also means that I have to be willing to be a minority voice at times, regardless of how the message is received because my allegiance is to the Kingdom.”
Guarding Against Nationalism
So, how does one guard against nationalism? By testing one’s thoughts against the Bible and God’s truths. It also helps to grasp what patriotism looks like and understand the boundaries of an earthly citizenship.
“I appreciate living in the US. I find, man, there’s a lot of beautiful places here. There’s a lot of topographical diversity from beaches to mountains, to deserts, to canyons, to cities, to farmlands. We have…jungles, we have all sorts of things…more diversity than most nations do. Wow, let’s appreciate that,” Allen expresses.
“But, we don’t let that become, ‘so our country is better than yours’. No, God said all of His creation was good, not just the boundaries that we call the USA.”
Pray that regardless of where we live, we’d all stand firm in our citizenship of God’s kingdom, have a healthy sense of patriotism, and to not give way to nationalism in our minds or hearts. Also, pray for laws denoting citizens as less or as second-class to be repealed worldwide.
Pray for all pastors to reinforce the notion of how this earth is not our home, instead, we are ambassadors of Christ’s kingdom. Ask God to give perseverance and encouragement to those who face persecution. And finally, pray for all Christians everywhere to grow in the ways of God and to reflect them, too.