Against the heresies of nationalism, “traditionalism,” and racism
To my great grief, I’ve come to the knowledge that there are those in the world who proclaim Christ with their lips but worship race and tradition in their hearts. There are those that make idols of their own races while wearing the sheepskin of Christianity, and there are those who cling to vain human traditions over the saving mercies of God. Lest any encounter such people and be driven away from Christ by their heresy, or, worse still, be drawn into their false worship, I feel compelled to demonstrate that the human theories of nationalism, “traditionalism,” and racism are irreconcilable with Christianity. If the words herein may persuade those who cling to the ideologies of nationalism and “traditionalism” to repent and embrace the one true God, so much the better, for there will be more rejoicing in Heaven for the salvation of one lost sheep than for the entire flock of the righteous (Luke 15:3-7).
Let their hearts be hardened no longer,
Free them from their hateful passions
And impure ways
And guide them in Your Light,
Cleansing them of false doctrines
With your ever-merciful love.
It is true that many cultures throughout history have practiced various forms of ethnic separatism and that such practices have persisted into our present time. But should we elevate the traditions of our ancestors and contemporaries to an ideology? That depends. If the tradition comes from Christ, we must uphold it. If the tradition is a mere remnant of historical practice, but does not contradict Christian teaching, then it may be continued as a personal preference, but should never be treated as an ideology. But if a tradition is rooted in the fallenness of humanity, in the multitude of sins we have perpetuated from Adam and Eve, then it is a sin that must be uprooted, for every plant not planted by the Father will be pulled up by the roots (Matthew 15:13).
Christ abolished ethnic seperatism
So, how should we approach the ethnic separatism enshrined in the human wisdom of nationalism and “traditionalism”? While we could certainly cite many passages of the Old Testament and God’s choosing of the Hebrews as His chosen people as proving that nationalism is not only acceptable but even required by God. But such a position becomes far less tenable when we interpret the Bible through the lens of Christ, which as Christians is the only way we should approach the Bible. When we look to the teachings and actions of the God of Abraham and Moses incarnate in our Lord Jesus Christ, we see that Christ did not come to reinforce the tribalism and ethnic separatism that characterized fallen humanity. He came to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:35-37).
If Christ had come to reinforce the tribalism that characterized the behavior of the Godly, He would not have declared that He came to divide families, the foundations of tribal identity, between those who professed Him and those who did not. He proclaimed the love of God to be greater than the love of one’s relations.
But this alone may not be enough to show that in Christ there ought to be no distinction between ethnic groups, so let us explore the subject further. Christ, by His example, shows us that we are to minister to all people without distinction, not just those who look like we look. When a Roman centurion asked the Lord to heal his servant, He did not tell him “return to your own kind, I came only for the tribes of Judah and Israel.” He said, “I will come and heal him” (Matthew 8:7) and then declared “many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). Nor is this the only example of Christ crossing traditional ethnic boundaries.
When a Canaanite woman comes to beg His help, Christ rebukes her saying “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26). In this, He echoes the traditionalist and the nationalist; He echoes the Pharisees who viewed interactions with those outside of their own ethnicity as unclean. But the woman persists. She turns away from the traditions of her own people, who did not worship the one, true God, and embraced faith in Christ, a Jew, and she answers Him “Yes it is, Lord.” He proves the truth of her statement and the foolishness of the traditionalists He echoed by healing the foreign woman’s daughter and proclaiming “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted” (Matthew 15:27-28).
In the Gospel of John, Jesus does more than allow foreigners to come to Him, He Himself goes up to a Samaritan woman and asks for water (John 4:7). She is taken aback, because this is a clear violation of the ethnic separatism that both Jews and Samaritans practiced. She responds, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” and St. John, to ensure that we do not misinterpret her shock tells us “Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (John 4:9). Here then, Jesus is Himself transgressing the racial boundaries that some still uphold. He is not only willing to preach His gospel to her, but to drink from her vessel, to demonstrate that His ethnic identity and her ethnic identity have no relevance to God.
Perhaps no passage emphasizes the unimportance of nationality to God than Christ’s parable of the good Samaritan. Jesus tells this story to make clear what it means to love one’s neighbor. In answering the question of a Jewish lawyer, Jesus tells the story of a man left for dead by thieves. He tells the lawyer that a Jewish priest, passed by the poor man. This was a person who was of the lawyer would identify as being of his own blood, yet Jesus shows the man as acting unrighteously. Next, a Levite, another righteous Jew, ignores the beaten man. Finally, a Samaritan, a traditional enemy of the Jews, takes the nearly dead Jew out of the ditch, cleanses his wounds with wine and oil, binds the man’s wounds, and cares for him at an inn, and leaves money with the innkeeper to make sure that the man’s every need is tended to, promising to pay any extra that might be needed (Luke 10:25-37). Here Jesus subverts the self-righteousness of His own ethnic kin by holding up a Samaritan, viewed as a heretic and a foreigner, as the moral ideal for Christians. Christ told the lawyer to go and do like the Samaritan, to not let his righteousness and love be confined to his own people, but to be willing to serve and love all people regardless of their ethnicity, traditions, or situation. For if we greet only our own people, what are we doing more than others? Do not even the pagans do that? (Matthew 5:36).
The apostles taught integration, not separation
We may see further evidence of the unimportance of nationality if we look to the practices of the earliest Christians after Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven. On the day of Pentecost, we see the Holy Spirit granting the followers of Christ the ability to preach to all the people around them in their own tongues, whether they were Jews who dwelt in various distant lands or if they were Romans, Cretans, or Arabs (Acts 2:4-12) this miracle is repeated for a Gentile audience when St. Peter preached to them and the Holy Spirit allowed each to hear St. Peter’s words in his own language (10:44-46). All, regardless of their ethnicity, were able to hear the Word together. And from these early multicultural moment, Christ’s disciples spread out across the nations, establishing a Church in Samaria, another among the Gentiles of Caesarea, another among the Gentiles of Antioch, and many others elsewhere. St. Philip preached to an Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39). The Gentile Christians of Antioch raised aid for the Jewish Christians of Judea (Acts 11:27-30). In Pisidia and Iconia, Paul and Barnabas preached to Jews and Gentiles alike (Acts 13:44-14:1). Paul also preached to both Jews and Gentiles in Thessalonica (Acts 17:14) and Berea (Acts 17:10-12). In Athens, St. Paul preached in the synagogue to an audience of “Jews with Gentile worshipers” (Acts 17:16-17). Likewise in Corinth, St. Paul “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4). Thus St. Paul did not try to set up a separate church for each nation, but he taught the nations together, in one synagogue, without distinction. All this is a fulfillment of St. Peter’s vision in Acts 10:11-16. In his vision, St. Peter sees all kinds of animals descend from heaven bound by one sheet. These animals are all intermingled. As he wonders what this vision could mean, St. Peter is called to preach to a Gentile audience, which he does without delay for the animals on the sheet, the birds, wild beasts, and creeping things, were all the nations of the Earth, and the sheet was the Word of the Lord. When the Gentiles came seeking him, St. Peter knew that Christianity was for all people without distinction, and he, a Jew, went among the Gentiles without hesitation, telling them “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean” and “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:28,34-35).
The multicultural, integrationist witness of St. Paul and the rest of the early Church is further supported by St. Paul’s epistles. In Romans, St. Paul writes that in God’s grace and redemption, there is no difference between Jew or Gentile and challenges those who doubt this by asking “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too” (Romans 3:22,29). In Galatians 3:28, St. Paul tells us their is no distinction between Jew nor Greek because we are all one in Christ Jesus. In Colassians, St. Paul instructs us to “Put to death” whatever belongs to our earthly natures because Christ is in all of us, whether we are a Jew, a Gentile, a barbarian, or a Scythian (Colossians 3:1-11). In Ephesians 2, St. Paul states:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
St. Paul elaborates further on the lack of ethnic distinctions within the Church in 1 Corinthians 12. While addressing concerns about spiritual gifts, St. Paul takes time to emphasize the importance of unity within the Church. And lest we think he is only talking about unity between those that have the gift of prophecy or of speaking in tongues and those who lack the gifts, he reminds us that baptism washes away not only our sins, but also our ethnic identities and past traditions:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.
We are of one body and share one spirit, whether we are Greek or Jew. If we do not live as one body, but declare that only hands should worship with hands, only feet with feet, and so on, we dismember the Body of Christ.
St. Justin Martyr and St. Maximus the Confessor reject ethnic distinction
The Church’s emphasis against the tradition of ethnic separation does not disappear after St. Paul’s martyrdom. The second century apologist St. Justin Martyr and Philosopher, makes clear that early Christians understood Paul’s teachings not as some separate-but-equal doctrine, but as a call to treat all nationalities as there own. He wrote in his First Apology “we who hated and killed one another and would not associate with men of different tribes because of their different customs, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them and pray for our enemies”. St. Justin does not tell us that Christians encouraged new converts from separate ethnicities to form their own separate Christian communities, but that people from different tribes, people who had different customs and traditions lived familiarly with one another. Moreover, immediately before he says this, St. Justin declares that his multicultural Christian community “bring what we have into a common stock, and communicate to every one in need.” Thus, the Christians of St. Justin’s community worshiped together, regardless of nationality or past traditions. Their worship was not limited to attending the same church or Bible study, but was immersive. People of different nationalities lived familiarly together, treating their possessions as common stock. This deep intimacy across national identities, St. Justin presents as the antithesis of the tradition of ethnic separation which he identifies with strife and violence.
St. Maximus the Confessor, a seventh century monk, wrote in his 400 Texts on Love that
Perfect love does not split up the single human nature, common to all…but, fixing attention always on this single nature, it loves all men equally (1, 71)
For him who is perfect in love, and has reached the summit of dispassion there is no difference between his own or another’s, or between Christian and unbelievers, or between slave and free, or even between male and female. But because he has risen above the tyranny of the passions and has fixed his attention on the single nature of man, he looks on all in the same way and shows the same disposition to all. For in him there is neither Greek nor Jew, male nor female, bond nor free, but Christ who ‘is all, and in all’ (Col. 3:11). (2, 30)
St. Maximus understood Christianity as we should, as a religion of universal love that does not have room for the old pagan separatism of our ancestors. We must love all humanity equally, for we all share one nature, but how can we claim to love all equally when we draw sharp distinctions between different ethnic groups?
Old Testament nationalism is insupportable
And when we look back at the Old Testament, knowing that Christ and his disciples did not preach the ethnic separatism that for so long characterized the Hebrews, we begin to see how the ideas of nationalism and “traditionalism” are not even supportable in the Old Testament. We see that the Hebrews over and over again sinned against God. They worshiped false idols and chose their own human traditions over God’s. If virtue and righteousness was so scarce even among God’s chosen people, how can those of us who are not descended from His chosen race possibly claim that our racial traits and our cultural traditions as points of pride to be defended and cherished? Were not our ancestors even less righteous than God’s chosen?
Furthermore, we see again and again points in the Old Testament that undermine the importance of Hebriac nationalism and thus further undermine any attempts to promote modern nationalism from a Christian point of view. There is the story of the righteous Moabite woman Ruth who married an Israelite. The Book of Ruth makes not mention of any sin in this marriage, but it does show Ruth and her Israelite mother-in-law loving each other as equals. When Ruth, after her husband’s death, marries Boaz, another Israelite, the Israelites who bear witness do not decry this interracial union, but bless it, saying “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah” (Ruth 4:11-12). Solomon took many foreign wives, and though he sinned by worshiping their gods, there was no sin in his marriage to foreigners (1 Kings 11). In 2 Chronicles 2:17, we are told that 153,600 foreigners lived in the tiny kingdom of Israel, but there is no mention that there is anything wrong with these other nations living side-by-side with Israelites. In fact, Solomon recruits them all to help build the Temple of the Lord (2 Chronicles 2:18). The stones of the Temple where there Israelites worshiped, down to the Holy of Holies, were quarried, shaped, and carried by the hands of many nations. Jonah was called to preach to the Assyrians in Nineveh, to preach to the pagan enemies of Israel, and was repeatedly punished by God for his refusal to do so. God was willing to inflict suffering on one of his chosen people so that He might show mercy to countless heathens. Deuteronomy 24 teaches mercy to foreigners, instructing that foreign workers should not be taken advantage of, that foreigners should not be denied justice, and that foreigners should be allowed to gather food from the farms of the Israelites. Leviticus 19:9-10 echoes this last point and Leviticus 19:33-34 instructs, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” If even the Israelites, who were set apart by God as His chosen people, were commanded to love and welcome other nationalities with foreign traditions as they loved themselves, how much more so should we Christians love all people, of all nationalities, wherever they may reside, as we love ourselves and our own nationalities.
We must love all people if we love Christ
Christ also taught us that whatever we do to the poor and oppressed, we do to Him (Matthew 25:31-46). When we declare that immigrants should not come to our country in search of better lives, we tell Christ He is not welcome where we live. When we encourage and enforce racial segregation through the myriad ways, both overt and subtle, that we have at our disposal, we tell Christ He is not our neighbor. When we support economic systems where high status, high paying jobs are occupied primarily by people of one ethnic group, while low paying, low status jobs are occupied primarily by people of another ethnic group, we tell Christ He’s only suited for menial labor. When we support a legal system that targets and incarcerates certain ethnic populations while practicing leniency toward the majority group, we tell Christ He is not entitled to the same rights we ourselves may have.
If we love those who share our national identity or our traditions more than those who do not, we fall short of God’s command. Of course, this is bound to happen. Everyone, myself most of all, falls short of what God calls us to do each day. It is only by His grace that we can be saved and cleansed of sin, and no matter how often we stumble, so long as we repent and renew our effort, we can have faith in God’s forgiveness and mercy. So loving one’s nationality more than others, while a sin, is no greater one than the many others we might commit each day. But it becomes a grave sin when we enshrine it as a belief, when it becomes something not done in passing, but an ideology to be proclaimed proudly and to be acted on intentionally. Then it becomes a rejection of Christ’s command to love our neighbors, without any distinction between them, as we love ourselves. It is a lifting up of our own fallenness as Godliness.
Against Hitler, Evola, and anti-Semites
To profess a relatively mild form of nationalist or “traditionalist” ideology that seeks to reinforce ethnic divisions but does not defend ethnic oppression is no great thing and should not be done, but it pales in comparison to the sinfulness of more extremist forms of nationalism and “traditionalism.”
There are some of those who profess nationalism especially, but also among those who don the armor of “traditionalism,” who do not hide an admiration of Hitler and the Nazi Party. Whether Hitler considered himself Christian or not is an ambiguous matter. Publicly, Hitler made many favorable statements about Christianity. Privately, he also made some positive statements that have been recorded including identifying as a Christian and a Catholic, but he also made statements that opposed Christianity, including those published in Hitler’s Table Talks, a publication whose content seems much disputed among Hitler’s supporters, but seems to be otherwise accepted as legitimate. But let us assume that Hitler truly believed himself a Christian and assume, even if we have no reason to, that the quotations in Hitler’s Table Talks are spurious. Even if we accept that Hitler believed himself a devout Christian, that the Nazis saw themselves as a Christian movement, and that those who admire Hitler and the Nazis consider themselves true Christians, this alone does not make them Christians. If they do not live the faith Christ taught, they have no right to the name Christian and we need not consider them as such. They are like those who call “Lord, Lord,” but to whom He replies, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” because they do not do the will of our Father (cf. Matthew 7:21-23). If we look at the violence of the Nazis, at their torture, enslavement, and murder of millions of European Jews, at their violence against Slavs, Poles, Roma, blacks, the mentally ill, the mentally handicapped, the physically disabled, homosexuals, Soviet prisoners of war, and political dissidents, which resulted in hundreds of thousands, if not millions of more deaths, it becomes clear that Hitler and his followers, no matter how fervent their Christian rhetoric, were in no way followers of Christ. Neither are those who continue to uphold Hitler in any positive manner. Further, participation in or support of groups that continue to promote ideology that is in keeping with that of the Nazi Party is a grave sin, whether these groups draw their inspiration from the Nazi movement or from independent sources.
There are also those “Christian traditionalists” who draw parts of the socio-political philosophy from the works of Giulio Cesare Andrea Evola, commonly known as Julius Evola. This again shows how much their beliefs are at odds with Christianity. Evola sought to to revive classical paganism, wrote in favor of the cult of Mithras, expounded on all sorts of bizarre and ridiculous ideas, and declared: “Christianity is at the root of the evil that has corrupted the West. This is the truth, and it does not admit uncertainty.” Evola was opposed to Christianity and Christians ought to be opposed to him. To follow any of the the teachings of Evola while simultaneously claiming the identity of a Christian is to declare oneself at once to be a heretic and an apostate. This is the truth, and it does not admit uncertainty.
Following Hitler and Evola, or coming to the belief independently, there are also those among the nationalists and “traditionalists” that seem to express a special dislike for Jewish peoples. If God wanted his followers to be anti-Semetic, why did he choose the Hebrews as His chosen people and why did He choose to become incarnate as a Jew? If God held the Aryan ideal these people profess, why weren’t the Swedes God’s chosen people? I know there will be nationalists, “traditionalists,” fascists, and the like that will claim silly things like British Israelism/British Identity, or otherwise claim that the Hebrews of the Bible were somehow Aryans or at least of no relation to the Jewish peoples that exist today. Others will claim that Christ was somehow not a Jew. Such claims are so astoundingly foolish and baseless, we may dismiss them without even bothering about refutation. God walked among us in the flesh of a Jew and brought salvation to all people. How can we rightfully claim to hate those descended from God’s chosen?
There’s nothing wrong with having pride in one’s heritage. There’s nothing wrong with wanting marry someone from one’s own background. There’s not even anything wrong, necessarily, with associating primarily with people that share one’s skin-tone and cultural touchstones. But when we begin to believe that all people must marry only within their own ethnicity or that one should only socialize with one’s own race, we began to wander dangerously close to idolatry. When we attempt to enforce ethnic separation or treat others with less love than we give those of our own race or tradition, we abandon Christ. When we act in such a way, though we may still honor Christ with our lips, our hearts are far from Him because we are like the blind leading the blind into the pit of Hell (cf. Matthew 15:8,14).
Ultimately, we will know these preachers of nationalism and “traditionalism” by the fruits of their teachings and actions (Matthew 7:15-20) and their fruits will be, as they always have been, rooted in racial prejudice, a concept foreign to Christ and His followers. We are all descended from Adam and Eve through Noah and reunited as one people in our Lord, Jesus Christ, Whose Body is the Church. When we profess nationalism, “traditionalism,” or other forms of ethnic and cultural separatism, we reject Christ. Our Lord called us to take up our crosses and follow Him even as He went to be crucified on behalf of all people regardless of their race or traditions. Instead we proclaim pride above all in our fallen flesh and proclaim ourselves nationalists and “traditionalists.” Let us acknowledge that there is no separate Heaven for the German and Arab, nor a separate Heaven for the Greek and the Roma, nor a separate heaven for the European American and the African American. We all go to meet the same God and face the same Judgement. Should not we then live as God wills on earth as He wills in Heaven (Matthew 6:10)?