Imagine the following statement being made from the pulpit of your church by a guest speaker: “Our mission is to make this nation a Christian nation.”
What is your reflexive reaction in this hypothetical situation?
Perhaps you have noticed the lack of context in this thought experiment. Regardless of what context you may have added in your imagination, now consider if your visceral response is any different if our fictional guest speaker is:
- A political officeholder sharing his agenda for the upcoming legislative session.
- A Chinese missionary explaining his exploits in Asia.
- An urban evangelist summarizing his recent ministry in your city.
Each of these scenarios that what the phrase “Christian nation” denotes can vary widely from what it connotes.
If this thought experiment teaches us anything, it is that context matters. Such is always the case in matters of theology in general, and this is nowhere truer than in matters of political theology, and specifically, the conversation on Christian nationalism.
In terms of the latter, Andy Naselli has attempted a helpful taxonomy of the various species of this movement—making clear the great deal of overlap between various camps of principled, biblical conservatism regardless of whether one willingly wears the Christian nationalist moniker. Naselli has done commendable work, with all the necessary nuance and carefulness in his definitions. Yet in the emotion-laden discourses that prevail in the negative world, Christians do not always have the opportunity to offer such clarifications. Sometimes, we are best off attempting to steer the connotations in a positive direction.
But, returning to our hypothetical scenario, we can easily imagine how the connotations of terms like Christian nation or Christian nationalism can vary widely, even among ostensibly conservative evangelicals. In political discussions, such shibboleths often arouse suspicion, thanks to progressive rhetoric linking them with colonialism, racism, or other aberrations. But in the context of global missions, to long for the flourishing of Christian nations is simply to echo the refrain of Scripture’s great missionary texts:
- “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.” (Psalm 67:4)
- “All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord and shall glorify your name.” (Psalm 86:9)
- “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
- “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands[.]” (Revelation 7:9)
My simple contention is that as the debate over Christian nation boils, we must keep these texts close at hand for the sake of our brothers and sisters who have yet to work out their theology of political engagement. The missionary spirit of the Christian faith, expressed in these and similar passages, contains all the resources we need to awaken (some might say “radicalize”) our fellow evangelicals to the monumental task of subjecting our civil life to the lordship of Christ. If our fellow Christians who are indifferent to the civil sphere, or who have imbibed the secularist fantasy, would but consider what Scripture says about discipling the nations, they’d soon be our allies in discipling ours.
By way of illustration: recently, I was privileged to spend nearly two hours with a pastor from the Indian state of Manipur—now a war zone. My pastor friend described in detail the conflict between the Hindu-majority valley tribes and the predominantly Christian hill tribes, along with the persecution and internal displacement happening to Christians as a result.
“The conflict between the two tribes flared up on [May 3rd], 2023,” he explained, “when the students from Kuki-Zo community namely All Tribal Student Union of Manipur called for a Tribal Solidarity march to oppose the High Court’s recommendation for inclusion of Meiteis in Schedule Tribe list. The Kuki-Zo were against this inclusion because it would help the Meiteis to monopolize all privileges and resources such as jobs, lands, and property which would be a threat to their very existence.”
He continued, “Thousands of tribal students participated in this rally which was held peacefully. In retaliation, the valley-based Meitei organizations organized counter-blockades, beat a pastor to death, and started burning houses belonging to Kuki-Zo community. From then on, the situation spread like wildfire with the burning of over 300 churches, hundreds of villages, 150 deaths, 60,000 displaced with ongoing kidnappings and arsons.”
At the heart of these tensions lies a complex interplay of ethnicity, religion, and political maneuvering—most notably a broader Indian political context in which radical Hindu groups, leveraging the Meitei tribe, have expanded their influence. Despite these barriers, the pastor to whom I spoke, together with his church, is ministering to displaced Christians who have lost everything and preaching Christ to those they encounter from the valley tribe. Sacrificially, they have devoted themselves to frontlines ministry including orphanage work, education, evangelism, and more.
Hearing such accounts overwhelms comfortable suburban ears such as mine. Yet impressed as I was with the faith and endurance of this community of believers, what struck me most was the pastor’s analysis of the situation in general and its potential answer: “The only solution to end this ongoing conflict is to grant Total Separate Administration to the Hill Tribals who are under the governance of Valley State government.” This amounts to the division of Manipur into two states: one with a Christian government, the other under Hindu rule.
At this point, I questioned my friend. Surely this is not possible, I reasoned, given the Hindu character of India as a whole. But he then proceeded to list several Indian states in which Christianity, in his characterization, is a “dominant cultural force”: Kerala (18.4% Christian), Nagaland (80%), Mizoram (80%), and Meghalaya (70%).
He shared as well, of course, the way in which the current Hindu regime would resist the addition of a new Christian state in India. “India is still a Hindu majority country,” he explained. “There has been propaganda to make India an entirely Hindu nation, with many pro-Hindu parties and government calling for everyone to return to Hinduism.”
Still, from his standpoint, the notion of organizing the hill tribes into a Christian state was at least plausible—especially since the hill and valley tribes currently cannot coexist peacefully. For him, this “Christianized” hill tribe government would simply entail freedom from persecution, freedom to consume foods such as beef, and freedom from anti-conversion laws which impede Christians throughout the country—benefits, he noted, which other predominantly-Christian parts of India do enjoy.
Throughout the entire conversation, I was struck by the straightforwardness of this pastor’s reasoning. Here was a Christian pastor—hailing from a corner of the world marked by idolatry, spiritual warfare, violent persecution, high concentrations of unreached people groups, and Hindu nationalism—unironically advocating for Christian self-governance. Yes, he was completely aware of the negatives of a nominal Christianity. (He shared that calling nominal hill tribes Christians to true discipleship forms a major part of his ministry.) Still, he saw no conflict between his evangelistic aims and the parallel goal of aligning their civil polity with the aim of Christ’s kingdom. And why should he?
Put another way: it apparently did not occur to this faithful minister that statements such as those found in John 18:36 (“My kingdom is not of this world”) and 1 Peter 2:13 (“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution”) preclude the formation of Christian states or nations. This shepherd was willing to “dirty” his hands with political concerns because of his overriding concern for the peace of his people and the welfare of his sheep. His desire for the conversion of the nominal Christians of his tribe and the ultimate evangelization of the enemy tribe cannot be fulfilled if his own tribesmen are all dead. Christian self-rule in Manipur, thus it seems, is the logical implication of missionary zeal and love for one’s neighbor.
Reasoning according to a biblical worldview demands we employ just weights and measures (Leviticus 19:35-36). This means employing the same standards evenhandedly upon others’ ideas as we would use in measuring our own. Thus, when we hear talk of Christian nations or even Christian nationalism, ought we not afford such persons the benefit of the doubt—given that their aims for our body politic are those same aims we pursue in missions for all nations? And if this is the case, could we not win more and more of our brothers to the cause of godly Christian political engagement by emphasizing these biblical realities—that Christ has received authority over all the nations (Revelation 11:15), and that we are to labor in the public square in light of that authority ourselves?
Brothers: let us recognize that if we truly believe in global missions, then we necessarily confess the imperative of striving for Christian nations—and inversely, if we believe in shaping Christian nations, then we must joyfully commit ourselves to doing so not only at home but also abroad. And in this way, may the Lord establish the work of our hands.