Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn caused a firestorm with his recent comments on Nov. 13 at the “ReAwaken America Tour” in San Antonio.
“If we are going to have one nation under God – which we must – we have to have one religion,” said Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and was pardoned by then-President Donald Trump last November.
The tour, organized by Clay Clark, whom The Guardian calls a “media figure and Christian entrepreneur” from Tulsa, Oklahoma, has included stops in Florida, Michigan, California and Texas. Flynn followed the pattern of Christian nationalism by taking a biblical passage aimed at Christ’s disciples and applying it to the United States.
“You have to believe this, that God Almighty is, like, involved in this country, because this is it. …This is the shining city on the hill,” Flynn said.
Hint: It’s not.
‘The Great Sort’ Demonstrated
That the response to Flynn has been both swift and polarized is indicative of what I see as the “Great Sort” in American Christianity. For the past decade, we have begun to see a transition in the rationale for how many self-identifying Christians make decisions about their local church membership, relationships and serving.
While politics and culture have always played a significant role, in recent years we are beginning to see religious identity being primarily driven by broader political debates. Now, instead of Scripture, doctrine or worship providing a central role in church association and participation, political identity is squarely in the driver’s seat.
As I explained in Outreach Magazine, Christians are increasingly sorting themselves into churches that reflect their ideology.
Politics has always played a major role in religious identification, but now Christians are more actively disassociating and associating with churches based upon their political affiliations. This is primarily why once-fringe voices like Flynn, Stella Immanuel, Mike Lindell, Charlie Kirk and Lin Wood have been able to find significant followings in churches around the country.
As opposing or moderate voices leave and new members are attracted by a political alignment, churches are becoming less politically diverse and more vocally partisan.
Critically, this is not a sort between patriotism versus Christianity. Often maligned, patriotism can be good and noble. Rather, this sort pits Christianity against Christian nationalism, a perversion of the faith that subverts its mission.
The rhetoric of the ReAwaken tour reeks of such Christian nationalism. It utilizes Christian ideas, language and spaces but submits these to nationalistic ends. By identifying America as God’s chosen nation and calling for a religious establishment, Flynn and others offer a gospel mission that is a distorted caricature of the one to which Christians are called.
The Genius of Religious Liberty
As we look for ways to respond to the Great Sort, Christians and non-Christians alike should reflect on the genius of our political tradition of religious liberty. Beginning with the Founders and proven consistently throughout our history, providing people with freedom to believe and practice their faith strengthens our democracy, our communities and our institutions.
This is, in part, why the Baptist John Leland is a personal hero. Standing for religious liberty in America’s early years when few others would, Leland argued, “All should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”