A Christian Power Grab

Is Christian nationalism the solution to a world in crisis?

Stephen Allred
A Christian Power Grab
Photo by Dawid Małecki on Unsplash

Advocates of Christian nationalism are often dismissed as a fringe group, but their views may be gaining traction globally. A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that in the United States alone, 64 percent of White evangelical Protestants either adhered to the views of Christian nationalism (29 percent) or sympathized with those views (35 percent).1 What views, exactly? For example, 97 percent of adherents and 78 percent of sympathizers either completely or mostly agreed that “being Christian is an important part of being truly American,” and a similarly large percentage agreed, or mostly agreed, with the following statement: “The U.S. government should declare America a Christian nation.”  While this article focuses on the growth of Christian nationalism in the United States, the principles discussed here can be applied anywhere.

Some American politicians have made news by embracing the Christian nationalism label, and others by disparaging the separation of church and state. Recently one lawmaker expressed her belief that Christian nationalism will “solve the problem of crime, school shootings, and sexual immorality in America.”2 At least one Supreme Court justice believes that the Constitution does not prohibit states from establishing a religion—and he may not be alone in his views.3

Seventh-day Adventists have historically supported the separation of church and state. Our support for this idea stems from the belief that God, whose character is one of love, allows freedom of choice in matters of faith, and so should we. After all, “if the Lord himself chose not to force obedience from those he created, then who are men to try?”4 The Adventist understanding of end-time Bible prophecy and our experience with religious discrimination as seventh-day Sabbathkeepers has also motivated our defense of religious liberty and freedom of conscience.


But is America a Christian nation? At its root, Christian nationalism assumes that it is. The answer, however, is more complicated.

Historically, the vast majority of Americans have claimed Christianity as their faith. In that limited sense, America could be called a Christian nation. Most of the original European immigrants who crossed the Atlantic to settle in the “New World” brought some version of Christianity with them, and many of the founders, although not necessarily evangelical by today’s standards, were at least nominally religious. The signers of the Declaration of Independence even acknowledged that human rights are necessarily derived from “Nature’s God,” the Creator—references to a deity that were, however, vague enough to be interpreted “however one liked.”5

But was the government of the United States founded as a Christian government? Many voices throughout American history have declared that it was. America’s founders, however, chose to follow in the footsteps of Roger Williams, whose Rhode Island colony was the “first government in the world which broke church and state apart.”6 Ultimately the concept of church-state separation was enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. The First Amendment begins with these words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” While the founders recognized God as the source of human rights, they wisely separated the business of government from matters of faith, also declaring in Article VI of the Constitution that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office.” In essence, America should be a land where believers can practice their faith, without government interference. Those who don’t believe are also protected as they are free from legislative imperatives to follow the church’s dictates.7


But all of this leads to an obvious question: Does God want our government to be “Christian”?

Jesus Himself has given us some answers. When the religious leaders asked Him whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, Jesus answered: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17, ESV). Not all that concerns Caesar concerns God, and Jesus declined to opine on how Caesar ran his kingdom—at least when the issue had no bearing on God’s kingdom. When asked by the Roman governor whether He was a king, Jesus declared that His kingdom was not of this world, and if it were, His servants would be fighting. Some of His disciples seemed ready to use coercion to advance God’s kingdom. But when they wanted to call down fire on the heathens for spurning Jesus, He reminded them that His mission was not “to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Luke 9:56). Forced allegiance or mere outward conformity has never been God’s goal.

Ellen White noted that government’s duty is to “protect liberty of conscience,” and “this is the limit of its authority in matters of religion.”8 Echoing Roger Williams, White wrote that “the union of the church with the state, be the degree . . . [ever] so slight, while it may appear to bring the world nearer to the church, does in reality but bring the church nearer to the world.”9 She observed that at the root of all “religious laws” was a spiritually dead church, bankrupt of the power of God’s love.

“Finding herself destitute of the power of love, [the church] has reached out for the strong arm of the state to enforce her dogmas and execute her decrees. Here is the secret of all religious laws that have ever been enacted, and the secret of all persecution from the days of Abel to our own time.”10

The history of the Puritans in Colonial America illustrates how even well-meaning Christians can justify persecution in the name of Christ. In fact, Jesus predicted that professed followers of God would persecute prior to His return, telling the disciples that “the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God” (John 16:2, NIV). White similarly saw the prophecies of Revelation 13 being fulfilled by “Protestant churches” controlling the government. She wrote:

“When Protestant churches shall unite with the secular power to sustain a false religion,” “when the state shall use its power to enforce the decrees and sustain the institutions of the church—then will Protestant America have formed an image to the papacy [a church-state union].”11


Most Christians share the concerns that Christian nationalism seeks to address, even if they don’t agree with the solutions offered. The destruction of innocent life, the rampant and ever-increasing mass shootings, and the normalization of sexual immorality are all indicators that our world needs Jesus. Other symptoms of a world in trouble include the self-centeredness, preoccupation with money, and forms of godliness that “deny the power” of God to change people’s lives—even among professed Christians (see 2 Tim. 3:1-5).

The Bible says that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people” (Prov. 14:34, NIV), and this is as true for America as for any nation. White wrote that “if the teachings of God’s Word were made the controlling influence in the life of every man and woman, if mind and heart were brought under its restraining power, the evils that now exist in national and in social life would find no place. From every home would go forth an influence that would make men and women strong in spiritual insight and in moral power, and thus nations and individuals would be placed on vantage ground.”12

Jesus, then, calls us to be salt and light in a world that is in trouble. Yes, Christians should have a voice in the public square. But more important, Jesus calls each of us to “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12, NIV), and to be living witnesses of God’s love and truth to our family, neighbors, and coworkers.

Joseph was an example of integrity and excellence in both public and private. As a result, he was used by God to save the world from starvation. Esther, a woman of faith, tact, and courage, was instrumental in preventing a genocide of God’s people in her role as queen. Daniel, obedient to God and showing respect even to his enemies, played a part in a heathen king’s conversion. More recently the early Adventists preached separation of church and state while simultaneously working to make the world a better place by helping the oppressed and advocating for social change on issues of public morality. They fought for the abolishment of American slavery and drew a line in the sand that excluded slaveowners and their sympathizers from church membership. They later argued against the enforcement of religion in the form of Sunday rest laws, while simultaneously advocating for public morality in the form of laws prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcohol.13 Ellen White even noted that voting was a moral duty when such issues were at stake.

But unlike the goal of Christian nationalism, God does not call His followers to create a secular version of the kingdom of God on earth. We aren’t here “to build up the church by the aid of the state” or appeal “to the secular power in support of the gospel.”14 We do not believe in using coercion in matters of faith or private morality that should be left between an individual and God. We do, however, seek to manifest the kingdom of God in this world “by the implanting of Christ’s nature in humanity through the work of the Holy Spirit.”15 Seventh-day Adventists have a special work to do. We have been entrusted with a message to take to every “nation, tribe, language and people” (Rev. 14:6, NIV). “The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love.”16 Our message is not an American gospel, but the everlasting gospel for all nations and peoples. We’re not here to establish an earthly government, but to welcome God’s heavenly kingdom at the second coming of Jesus. Our success won’t be in using the power of the state to convince others that we have the truth; our success will be in living out God’s other-centered love to all within our sphere of influence. What will be the result? “When those who profess the name of Christ shall practice the principles of the golden rule, the same power will attend the gospel as in apostolic times.”17 And that power can change not only America but the entire world.

 1 https://www.prri.org/research/a-christian-nation-understanding-the-threat-of-​christian-nationalism-to-american-democracy-and-culture

 2 https://bjconline.org/bjc-condemns-congresswomans-embrace-

 3 https://news.bloomberglaw.com/us-law-week/clarence-thomas-waited-30-years-for-court-that-thinks-like-him

 4 Jon Meacham, American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation” (Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2007), p. 5.

 5 Ibid., p. 82.

 6 John M. Barry, Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty (New York: Penguin Books, 2012), p. 389.

 7 Ted N. C. Wilson, “Keeping Church at Arm’s Length From State,” HuffPost, Nov. 6, 2013, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/keeping-church-

 8 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911),p. 201.

 9 Ibid., p. 297.

10 Ellen G. White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 127.

11 Ellen G. White, Last Day Events (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1992), p. 134. (Italics supplied.)

12 Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1917), p. 192.

13 Francis D. Nichol articulated a useful standard when advocating for public morality: “I cannot see how we, as champions of religious liberty, can safely enter into the discussion of laws at all unless we ever hold to the clear-cut principle that civil statutes must be built upon and defended by civil reasons. This, of course, does not say for a moment that various civil prohibitory laws, such as those against murder, robbery, and so forth, are not also found in the Good Book. It means that if we are going to avoid confusing the realm of the religious and the civil, we must find a sufficient justification on civil grounds for these various statutes, altogether apart from any Biblical arguments” (Answers to Objections [Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1952], p. 858).

14 E. G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 297.

15 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898, 1940), p. 509.

16 Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1900, 1941), p. 415.

17 E. G. White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 137.

Stephen Allred

Stephen Allred, an attorney and ordained minister, writes from Auburn, California.