This entry is part 39 of 42 in the series Christian Theology of Public Policy Course

This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course by John Cobin, author of the books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy. This column concludes the a five-part series dealing with Christian perspectives on nations and nationalism.

If the Christian “nation” is comprised of every nation, how can it be right for Christians to be nationalists in the common sense of the term? Regrettably, modern cultural dynamics have led many Christians to embrace the sin of nationalism. The dictionary defines nationalism as “a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations”.(1) Absent a theocracy, the New Testament clearly stands out against nationalism. Christians are “strangers and pilgrims” in this world and are comprised of brethren from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Hebrews 11:13; Revelation 5:9b).

The Christian’s King is Jesus and his “country” is a heavenly one where ethnicity is not important and all speak the same, delightful language of “Beulah” (Hebrews 11:16b; Isaiah 62:4b). That fact implies, in short, that nationalism is a prideful sin that is deleterious to Christian thinking, to missionary endeavors, and to personal sanctification. Indeed, the tightest loyalty a Christian should have in this world is to other believers—no matter what political realm they belong to. The moment a believer is more American, British, Argentine, Peruvian, Chilean, Czech, etc. than he is Christian, he is guilty of nationalism. At any time a Christian favors the people of “his country” (e.g., fellow Americans) more than Christians in other countries he is guilty of the sin of nationalism. Are we loyal to Jesus and His church first and to our fellow citizens only secondarily? Or have we succumbed to nationalism?

Is it right for Christians to oppose immigration of foreigners through public policies? Legal immigration is probably not a concern for Christians, but what about illegal immigration? By now it should be clear that the only true outsiders to a Christian are the unbelieving “dogs” of this age—especially those political and wealthy figures who revel in ungodliness (Matthew 7:6; Philippians 3:2; Revelation 22:15). Christians around the world are superficially separated by language and political boundaries but are unified by the Holy Spirit—even though many Christians apparently ignore this fact. Sadly, at times they enthusiastically advocate the bombing of other countries, adversely impacting other Christians. How many Christians were killed or injured by the American bombings of Tokyo, Hiroshima and Baghdad? Does the perceived necessity of bombing a country override our obligation to protect innocent human life— especially the lives of our brethren, the poor, and the oppressed? A Christian foreign policy should be distinct from that of unbelievers because it is influenced by biblical principles.

Christians are pilgrims in this world who seek a heavenly country (Hebrews 11:6). They are told by Christ to “flee” persecution (Matthew 10:23; 24:16; Mark 13:14; Luke 21:21), as Joseph and Mary did (Matthew 2:13)—along with countless other believers throughout history. Such obedient fleeing might entail a Christian having to enter another country, perhaps violating the country’s immigration policies. But so what? Christians are remiss if they make the well-being of their country the primary focal point for deciding the veracity of immigration policy rather than the well-being of God’s beloved people.

On the one hand, a Christian’s nationality is irrelevant and Christians should welcome believing immigrants with open arms—whether they are legal or illegal in the state’s eyes. For Christians, borders and the legality of migration are trivial or extraneous when it comes to obeying Christ’s command to flee persecution or to love and prefer one another in Christ (Philippians 2:2). How can Christians who financially and prayerfully support national pastors and church members living under tyrannical regimes hinder those same people from fleeing to America (or freer countries) by any means? The sanctimonious divine right notion that Christians may only flee when it is legal to do so—and then only immigrate to America after they have clearance from state bureaucrats—is fallacious, hypocritical, and unbiblical.

On the other hand, a Christian may support the limited government where he lives, procuring better self-defense of life and liberty. A Christian is called to steward his private property too (Proverbs 27:23-24).(2) To those ends, Christians may justly back reactive public policy to safeguard national borders, oppose any migration that undermines the common defense of life, liberty, and property, and even (by default rule) oppose the illegal immigration of ordinary unbelievers. Such reactive immigration policy will be most efficiently and effectively carried out through market-based solutions rather than clumsy and venal attempts by government enforcement.

But an American Christian must always be a Christian first and an American second. He must think and consider each issue on its own merits before supporting or rejecting any particular migration policy. He must avoid jumping on an absolutist bandwagon that opposes any and all illegal immigration out-of-hand that would cause him to shirk his biblical responsibilities or trammel his brethren.(3) He must prefer Christians of any nationality over unbelieving Americans. And he should “do good” to poor or oppressed unbelievers when possible too (as Galatians 6:10 mandates) by facilitating their migration. Thus, in the final analysis, a Christian should oppose any proactive immigration or foreign policy that curtails his biblical obligations, and only support proper reactive immigration and foreign policies.

(1) That is, “nations” in the modern sense of the word. I have covered issues regarding the sin of nationalism more extensively in Bible and Government: Public Policy from a Christian Perspective (Alertness Books, 2003), pages 41-48.

(2) “Be diligent to know the state of your flocks, and attend to your herds; for riches are not forever, nor does a crown endure to all generations” (Proverbs 27:23-24), along with many other verses promoting good stewardship.

(3) A biblical understanding of nations leads us to embrace a theology of public policy that differs widely from that advocated by many Christians—especially in America. Christians should not absolutely oppose illegal immigration. Christians should not obey men rather than God.

Originally published in The Times Examiner on September 28, 2005.

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Dr. Norman Horn

Norman founded and the Libertarian Christian Institute, and currently serves as its President and Editor-in-Chief. He holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from the Austin Graduate School of Theology. He currently is a Postdoctoral researcher in Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Liberranter

     But an American Christian must always be a Christian first and an
    American second.

    Perfectly stated, Norman!  This needs to be driven home REPEATEDLY in American churches today.  Unfortunately, I’m afraid the odds of anyone successfully doing so are miniscule.

  • Liberranter

     But an American Christian must always be a Christian first and an
    American second.

    Perfectly stated, Norman!  This needs to be driven home REPEATEDLY in American churches today.  Unfortunately, I’m afraid the odds of anyone successfully doing so are miniscule.

  • Anonymous

    You talk right here about the biggest diseases of the world… RELIGION AND NATIONALISM

  • I’m not even sure what this means.

  • Bill Weavers

    What a terrible article. The article is pretty much saying that foreigners are Christians and how dare Whites defend their borders! This article is downright scandalous!

    In Australia, like other Western countries, the immigrants are VERY nationalistic: Russian Orthodox only for Russians, Chinese evangelical churches only for Chinese and of course it’s like that with Islam with their Arabic/Turkish speaking mosques! Why won’t you criticize these groups! What about these Japanese that you briefly mentioned? They don’t have Whites going to their churches over there, do they! So does that mean they are not “Christian?” Of course not, so leave us Whites alone and Norm… wake up… your White. Stop promoting extreme left wing points of view!

  • I think you missed the point of the article.

  • disqus_o5sx8y08vJ

    Damn you God for selecting the jews as a people and Israel as a nation. Right? Nations are one of the oldest philosophies we have. Defending Israel and making it sovereign is one of the major themes in the Bible. Christians should be nationalist – that doesn’t mean they are racist, it is just a solution to friction that stirs up when different peoples live together.

  • Umm, I’m going to let the silliness of this statement stand on its own.

  • RD44

    So you can’t be Christian & love your country? The first two commandments Love God with your whole mind, body & soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. I don’t see any commandment that you can’t love your country. Would make the point that people the author might call nationalistic Like Washington, Jefferson And TR others were Christians and installed in Constitution the freedom of worship & religion. Preaching against nationalism now, with Islamic terrorists growing around the world. Is rather stupid.

  • RD44

    Advocating illegal immigration is not biblical. Romans talks about obeying authority of government. Illegal immigration is lawlessness. Advocating liberal public policies by saying its scriptural is practicing deception.

  • Trey

    I agree with RD44. Why can’t Christians have pride for their country and still put God above all else?

  • Jonathan James Rychart

    All followers of God are citizens of Israel, and those who reject Him are not. Supporting Israel is fine, but the idea of expecting the US government to do so is absurd.

  • Jonathan James Rychart

    Nationalism is a specific term with a specific meaning. It isn’t just pride in one’s country, but an extreme form, that basically says “my country, wrong or right.” When America ceases to be good, which sadly it has in many ways, it ceases to be great. I love America, and this is why it saddens me to see it turn away from God. Pride will not solve America’s problems, only renewal and refocusing on Christ. As it is right now, America is built on a spiritual house of cards.

  • Jonathan James Rychart

    It’s not “defending” illegal immigration. It’s saying, for one, that it shouldn’t BE illegal, and for another, that people suffering under tyrannical regimes is worse.

  • Jonathan James Rychart

    You misread the article and are confusing patriotism and nationalism.

  • RD44

    I think the author is subtly promoting socialism.

  • You must be confused. There’s hardly any site with Christians on the internet that opposes socialism more than we do.

  • Terri Knoll

    The land belongs to all the people. Just because some converted to Islam and Christianity does not make their claim to the land any less. Most of the Palestinians can trace their heritage back to the Biblical characters. As a matter of fact, most Palestinians are more Semitic than most of the Jews in Israel who are converts from Europe. Until we get it out of our heads that it only belongs to the Jews, the ethnic cleansing will continue (including Palestinian Christians that live under horrible occupation policies too) and the anti-Christ state arises. Thankfully most of the world has woken up and I think we’ll see in my lifetime ONE state with equal rights for ALL people, right of return and reparations for the Palestinians with no walls and back to peace like it was for hundreds of years before the Nakba. blessings and peace.

  • Terri Knoll

    Not a Libertarian but I truly enjoyed this article. My grandfather was a staunch denier of nationalism and even staunchier (is that a word) about Christian icons in churches and houses (idolatry). My father was exactly the opposite and I was raised in a very racist nationalistic religion. It didn’t drive me away from Jesus but it sure drove me away from being a conservative. I’m ashamed of our colonialist Zionist country but I don’t try to tear her down as much as try to change what I can. However I am still leaving. When I retire, I’ll be moving to Bethlehem to work with Christian NGO’s and the International Solidarity Movement. praying for change in both America and Palestine.

  • Samuel Chamberlin
  • Robert Leber

    “Socialism”, “Libertarianism”, “Conservative”, “Liberal”, these are flags we carry to display our allegiances, just as the stars and stripes or the stars and bars. Ironically, very few carry the flags “Love” and “Truth”. Regarding the substance of your comment, Jesus advocated for the welfare of the poor, and over the past two millennia, Christian charity has not stepped up to the task He presented. It appears that many Christians would rather see the poor starve than be required themselves to contribute to the welfare of others.

  • Marcus Casavant

    what don’t you get about “their is neither Greek nor Jew?” seems VERY clear to me. Not to mention that we are to “obey God rather then men” The bible is full of verses about taking in and caring for the “alien” which by definition means “foreign citizen”

  • MAGA

    Nationalism has absolutely nothing to do with your country being better than other. It’s just a sense of unity and belief in in independence for your country. Nationalism started in the 19th century as a response to imperialism. The term was stolen by

    people like Hitler, who wasn’t even a nationalist in the original definition.

  • Stephen Phillips

    Nice meme. Galatians also says there is no male or female. By your logic I sssume you support the trans and gay agendas.