A Christian Case for America First
We should love our nation and treat it like it matters.
This essay was adapted from a speech delivered at the 2022 National Conservatism Conference.
G.K. Chesterton once said that “We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with the news that grass is green.”
That world has come to pass, brought about by postmodernism and the woke mind virus (to which Christians are not immune). In this world, common sense can sound crazy; given this, common sense often needs a defense.
So, what is this maddening news? This forgotten common sense? It is that American Christians should wholeheartedly support an America First government. In fact, Christians shouldn’t just support it, they should demand it.
Many other great men in history have shared these sentiments about their own nation. The English Baptist pastor and theologian Andrew Fuller, whom Charles Spurgeon said was the “greatest theologian of his century,” once delivered an entire sermon defending the love of his nation and a concern for its future. The sermon, entitled “Christian Patriotism,” was delivered in 1803, as the British feared an imminent invasion from Napoleon.
Fuller preached his sermon from the text of Jeremiah 29:7, where the Lord commands the Israelite exiles in Babylon to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” As he considered the relationship between his British congregation facing an invasion and the Israelites in Babylonian captivity, he said:
I do not suppose that the case of these people corresponds exactly with ours; but the difference is of such a nature as to heighten our obligations. They were in a foreign land; a land where there was nothing to excite their attachment, but everything to provoke their dislike.
Now if such was the duty of men in their circumstances, can there be any doubt with respect to ours? Ought we not to seek the good of our native land; the land of our fathers' graves; a land where we are protected by mild and wholesome laws, administered under a paternal prince; a land where civil and religious freedom are enjoyed in a higher degree than in any other country in Europe; a land where God has been known for many centuries as a refuge; a land, in fine, where there are greater opportunities for propagating the gospel, both at home and abroad, than in any other nation under heaven?
What’s the answer? Clearly, it’s “yes.” Fuller rallied his fellow countrymen—his Christian compatriots—to be willing and ready to take up arms to fight the French (and he didn’t mean David).
Contrast Fuller’s admonition with Christian pastors and evangelical “leaders” today. Not too long ago, a prominent Presbyterian pastor, Scott Sauls, said, “worldly power is of course anathema.” Southern Baptists have been repeatedly harangued by the likes of men such as Russell Moore, arguing it's better when Christians (or at least Baptists) don’t have power. He argued that “Baptists—whether globally or locally—always tend to be at their worst when in control of some earthly power and always at their best when speaking from the margins.” Moore would rather that we content ourselves to having a “prophetic witness”—that is, standing outside the halls of power and shouting some true things, hoping it pricks the conscience of the global elites running this country into the ground, but never rolling up our sleeves and getting to work.
This is the Christian equivalent of America Last. We shouldn’t buy so much as a pencil out of that cup. What should we do instead? How can we defend America First governance from a theological foundation? Here are two main points to that end.
First, we reject national gnosticism. Second, we embrace the ordo amoris—rightly ordered love. These two pillars provide the theological, philosophical, and moral foundation for demanding that the American government puts America first in order to ensure our security and prosperity, defend our sovereignty, advance the common good, and help our nation flourish—all so that our children might have a bright future in this nation.
There is an ancient heresy presently preying upon many modern Christians. It’s dragging many down to the underworld, and few return to the sunlit lands. What is this insidious ideology? Gnosticism.
Gnosticism is one of the oldest Christian heresies. Emerging in the first century, gnostics taught a radical duality between the spiritual and physical world. They believed that a lower, malevolent deity created the physical world—not the good, Creator God. For gnostics, salvation from the fallen physical world came through acquiring a secret knowledge that set them free.
One can see why this particular heresy would impact a Christian’s view of our country, our physical homeland. Salvation from sin and the hope of heaven are, at present, immaterial realities in many respects. Christians are regularly reminded that we are pilgrims, strangers, and aliens in this life.
Yes, creation is indeed corrupted by sin, and we long for a better future. But that doesn’t mean this world, and our government, doesn’t matter. Yet far too many Christians act like this is what they believe when it comes to nation-states and government.
Fuller took this objection head-on in his sermon mentioned above, saying:
Though, as Christians, we are not of the world, and ought not to be conformed to it; yet, being in it, we are under various obligations to those about us. As husbands, wives, parents, children, masters, servants, etc., we cannot be insensible that others have a claim upon us, as well as we upon them; and it is the same as members of a community united under one civil government.
Christians today need to reject the notion that just because we have a spiritual faith and are bound for the Celestial City, it doesn’t matter what happens in our physical lives and in our hometowns today.
In Acts 17, we read that “[God] is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.”
What does this verse teach us? It teaches us that Christians in America shouldn’t be national gnostics because God is not a national gnostic. God made the nations! He “marked the boundaries” of their land.
Borders are a good thing, and God has given them to humanity. Within those borders, we find the rooted nature of community, identity, and home. As Chesterton says, “a man’s reasons for not wanting his country to be ruled by foreigners are very like his reasons for not wanting his house to be burned down; because he could not even begin to enumerate all the things he would miss.”
Against national gnosticism stands the principles being put forward here—principles of nationalism. While it may have fallen on hard times in our modern discourse due to the foolishness of the postwar consensus, the reality is that nationalism as a political system is natural. It is organic, humble, and profitable for all nations in the developed world.
Free people rightly demand to be represented locally and nationally by an accountable governing body that reflects their unique heritage, history, cultural makeup, traditions, beliefs, and language. Christians should be more than willing to embrace this political ideology as a proper outworking of the embodied and physical order we inhabit. God is the God of the spiritual and the physical. But to reject nationalism is to ultimately embrace political and national gnosticism.
C.S. Lewis argues in his Four Loves that "those who do not love the fellow-villagers or fellow-townsmen whom they have seen are not likely to have got very far towards loving ‘Man’ whom they have not. All natural affections, including this, can become rivals to spiritual love: but they can also be preparatory imitations of it, training (so to speak) of the spiritual muscles which Grace may later put to a higher service.” In other words, the way we show we truly love “humanity” in general is by demonstrating a prioritized love for the people and place we presently occupy in the real world.
Aquinas agrees. In his Commentary on Galatians, he writes: “It is not necessary that we love all equally because since the intensity of an act results from the principle of the action, and the principle of the action is union and similarity, we ought to love in a higher degree and more intensely those who are more like us and more closely united to us.”
Often in response to a defense of nationalism, Christians will bring up the parable of the Good Samaritan. This backfires on them. The Good Samaritan was good because he loved and cared for the hurt person right there in front of him. The Pharisees who crossed to the other side are far more representative of our current leaders, who would walk over to the other side of the open border, leaving our nation hurt and wounded, all while on their way to send another hundred billion dollars to Ukraine.
Do you want to be a Good Samaritan? You should love the hurting person right in front of you. You should love your nation and treat it like it matters.
Rejecting national gnosticism is a strong start. But don’t just curse the darkness; light a candle as well.
To construct a positive vision, we can learn from what Augustine called the ordo amoris, a “right ordering of love.” This begins by putting God above all else. He is our ultimate priority. We fix our full affections, our heart, soul, mind, and strength, on Him and give Him our last full measure of devotion and discipleship.
If we are to order our lives rightly, we begin with God and then love everything else in its proper relation and according to how God has commanded us. Everything, however, certainly includes our nation.
If you ever cross-examine a Christian who disagrees about the biblical imperative to demand that our government put our nation first, you can start by asking a few questions. “Do you love your family?” If they say no, you are in trouble. A different conversation is about to be had. But if they say “yes,” as almost all do, ask a few more. “Do you not love your family more than you love a stranger? Do you not owe certain responsibilities to your family that you don’t owe to others? Do you lock your doors when you go to sleep at night?”
If so, congratulations, they’re a nationalist! All of these actions demonstrate an ordering of love and affection both natural and hierarchical. If you are a parent, and your children saw you caring for other children at their own expense, would they not have a right to be angry? Should they not demand that you stop expending time, money, affection, and resources meant for them on other families?
It really is this basic: If you love your family—as God has called you to—and you love your neighbor—which God has commanded you to—you should love your nation—which God has placed you in.
Putting your nation and your neighbor citizens first is a natural outworking of the command to “Honor your father and mother,” found in Exodus 20. And God gives a reason: “So that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”
The Apostle Paul picks this up in his Epistle to the Ephesians, writing, “Honor your father and mother”—the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
Furthermore, 1 Timothy 5 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” There it is, right from the pages of Scripture—the command to order our loves rightly.
Lewis, again, provides helpful clarity here. He writes: “We all know ‘this love’ (that is, the love of country) becomes a demon when it becomes a god. But some begin to suspect that it is never anything but a demon. Then they have to reject half the high poetry and half the heroic action our race has achieved. We cannot keep even Christ’s lament over Jerusalem. He too exhibits love for His country.”
This is where incorporating the Augustinian framework of ordered loves is crucial in making the Christian case for America First. For Christians to embrace this in the United States in such a way as to not idolize the country nor vitiate the Gospel, they must maintain an eternally higher commitment to the Kingdom of God.
In The City of God, Augustine explains how Christians should love things in their proper order. And he does this while reflecting on “beauty” in particular. He writes:
And thus beauty, which is indeed God’s handiwork, but only a temporal, carnal, and lower kind of good, is not fitly loved in preference to God, the eternal, spiritual, and unchangeable good…For though it be good, it may be loved with an evil as well as with a good love: it is loved rightly when it is loved ordinately; evilly, when inordinately…But if the Creator is truly loved, that is, if He Himself is loved and not another thing in His stead, He cannot be evilly loved; for love itself is to be ordinately loved, because we do well to love that which, when we love it, makes us live well and virtuously. So that it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love.
What Augustine means here is that virtue is not merely loving the right objects but loving them in the right order. This applies whether the item in question is beauty, food, books, or a nation. This is a critical rubric, then, for Christians to apply to America First.
We put our nation first over other nations because that is the right order in which to love our fellow citizens. But we do not put our nation first over God, family, or the truth. Honoring our nation over other nations often includes paying particular attention to our collective moral shortcomings, working to correct them, and calling our nation to repentance when need be.
This is the ordo amoris. And this “conscience check” is needed because there are some real temptations for “Christian nationalists,” are there not? There certainly have been real temptations for many political movements that sought to put their nation first, relatively speaking, in the past. The well-known pastor Douglas Wilson puts it like this:
Suppose a man goes to the Hallmark store to buy his mom a Mother’s Day card. While browsing in that aisle, he notices another man selecting a card that (impudently) says, “To the Best Mother in the World.” Does he have the right to knock the card out of the other man’s hand and start a fistfight with him there in the store because that twerp falsely claimed that his mother was the best one in the world? This is not a trick question. No, that would not happen. A man who honors his mother rightly knows exactly why another man would honor his mother, even though—and follow me closely here—she is a different mother. A sane patriot who loves his country understands better than anyone else why another sane patriot could love a completely different country. And a jingoist is the guy who starts fights in Hallmark stores.
This is a very important warning from Wilson. Christians should recognize that other nations should love their country more than they love ours—and that's a good thing. Nationalism celebrates global diversity.
The point here is that America First is not necessarily, or always, America Best, America Only, or America Forever. Instead, it’s the right posture for us as American Christians now; it is the right ordering of our affections.
Herein lies the crux of this case and the question at hand—how does a Christian defend America First but ensure that he does not have, as Augustine also put it, a “greater love for what is to be loved less?” First and foremost, by loving God with all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deuteronomy 6, Matthew 22).
In A Patriotism for Today: Dialogue with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Keith Clements writes that “a Christian perspective, then, will qualify the ideal of national loyalty today. But to qualify is not to abolish. Because the nation is regarded as a provisional structure, it is not thereby to be discarded. There is loyalty and love proper to it, precisely because of its provisionality.” By avoiding the pitfall of America Forever, Christians can embrace the provisionality of America First.
Nationalism should not be eschewed because the cosmopolitan elites prefer globalism. Instead, as Yoram Hazony argues, nationalism is the best and most biblical way to guard national self-determination, protect human rights, and ensure national flourishing over and against global competitors, be they imperialism, the Chinese Communist Party, or a resurgent Islam.
Christians should unapologetically desire for the Christian heritage of our nation to endure and even be rekindled for the future. Further, Christians should happily play a role in weaving Christian principles into the fabric of our society by supporting policies that put our national well-being first, and by loving the real, embodied, physical neighbor next door more than the imagined global citizen.
Consider the words of Cecil Spring Rice, a British diplomat and ambassador to the U.S. during World War I. He penned a poem about love for country and for Christ entitled “Urbs Dei,” which was later put to music as “I Vow to Thee My Country.”
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The poem charts a path for us to follow today. It is a beautiful and haunting call, a challenge, and a question we must answer. How can we simultaneously love our earthly country and yet long for an eternal, higher, heavenly home? Like so:
I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above, Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love; The love that asks no questions, the love that stands the test, That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best; The love that never falters, the love that pays the price, The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice. And there's another country, I've heard of long ago, Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know; We may not count her armies, we may not see her King; Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering; And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase, And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.
That is the country we are headed to, finally and forever. But until we reach those Golden Shores, this is the country—America—that American Christians demand our government puts first. Anything less is an abandonment of our American heritage and Christian duty.