Trump, Nationalism and The Salvation Army

29 Jan

2016 was an an emotionally historic year, wasn’t it? Brexit, the election of Trump, and the tragedy of Syria – left abandoned to its suffering.

Globalisation has become a slur and nationalism has flourished. The economic interconnectedness of our world post 1945 was supposed to make the new intertwined world stronger, more stable and better off. But amid growing inequality the masses have looked at the establishment – who were marvelling at their own brilliance – and said enough is enough. The neo-liberal global religion of the world now faces a monumental backlash. An unpredictable nationalist and populist wave looks set to convert yet more countries, indeed France, the Netherlands and Philippines are brewing testimonies to that.

As a Salvation Army leader, here is the important question I have been thinking about: How should Christians view nationalism*?

When I read the Bible, I read about a nation chosen to be a light to all nations (who are themselves chosen!). I read about how this one nation went through exile, slavery, occupation and thus at times had to take measures to secure their existence, such as banning inter-marriage (see Ezra 10:10/Nehemiah 13:25).

Then when Jesus comes along, he explains the big story of creation until now, and emphatically re-emphasizes how this news is for all nations not just something confined to one nation. Into that context then the role of nationalism should be views as development within the big story of the Bible.

The big story is that humanity is one, but along the way humankind has been suitably differentiated into nations, which should be orientated to move beyond themselves to realise universal communion with God.

That means that ultimately they need to move beyond those barriers to seek God by pursuing global, national and local justice. It means they need to make sure everyone has enough food and are not browbeaten by those who seek money and power.

As a Salvationist, it is great that we belong to an international movement. Our global membership means that we are larger than many small nation-states which is an interesting thought.

The founder, William Booth, marched ahead of his day by banning the word ‘foreigner’. His son, Bramwell, who took over the running of the exploding international movement followed suit and wrote, “Every land is my fatherland, for all lands are my Father’s”. Of course, he knew there were German Salvationists caught up in the fighting in the Great War.

The Salvation Army’s positional statement on The State brings wisdom to the conversation stating: “While Christians should actively seek opportunities to influence positively and thereby promote the well-being of the State (Jeremiah 29:7), [but] that obligation is subsidiary to a Christian’s primary allegiance to God (Exodus 5:1, Acts 4:18-31)”.

How we work this out is another crucial challenge for our generation.

I do not think God wants us first and foremost to be baptized in boundaries but in an experience of him that transcends the walls that divide us. That understanding should lead to an inner knowing of what the apostle Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

As many spiritually wise things seem to be in the end maybe it is a ‘both/and’ answer. Nationalism can be good but we must not be so loyal that we forget to first seek his Kingdom.

What do you think?

*(I’m thinking primarily about nationalism linked to nation states but this blog does not preclude that of nations that are found within other nations (e.g. Scottish/English), or indeed those that transcend national boundaries, Jewish/Kurdish).

NB These are my views not official views of The Salvation Army.


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