I was recently made aware that a blogger by the name of Robert Harder had taken notice of my article, A Biblical Defense of Ethno-Nationalism. The response can be found here. I should first begin by stating how much I appreciate the author’s intellectual honesty and kind spirit when he poses questions. Too often questions concerning race or ethnicity generate nothing but unneeded anger, hatred, or bitterness. I appreciate Robert’s spirit of charity that is evident throughout his blog post and it is in this same spirit that I seek to reply.
Robert begins by pointing out to his readers that he was unfamiliar with the term “ethno-nationalism” before reading my article on Faith and Heritage. This doesn’t surprise me. For the past several decades, white Christians have diligently tried to avoid discussing issues of race or ethnicity. Whenever these issues are discussed, discussion typically comes in the form of another apology for Negro slavery or some other kind of posturing to the post-modern standards of white guilt. You almost never hear white Christians stand up for their identity specifically as white or European. I can imagine that this would meet with skepticism to say the least on the part of someone who is trying to learn about the issue. In many cases the idea of ethno-nationalism leads to outright rejection because it runs so contrary to what we are accustomed to hearing preached to us.
Robert stated that he was uncomfortable with what he expected ethno-nationalism to mean but read the article with an open mind. He provides a paraphrase of the position that I espouse: “Nations based on common ancestry are the biblical model, therefore we should embrace nationalism based on common ancestry; America was founded by white Europeans, so we should maintain America as a white European nation.” This paraphrase seems fine to me. I would add that my main objective in the article, “A Biblical Defense of Ethno-nationalism” was to defend the principle of ethno-nationalism generally for all races and ethnicities. I outlined the white and European character of the American identity more completely in the article, “Who Does America Belong To?”.
Robert provides some good definitions of nations and countries and demonstrates how these are distinct concepts. He is correct that nations properly refer to a group of people with a discrete ancestry, while a country traditionally was understood as a group of people living in a given geographic area and sharing a common civil government. A large part of the reason that these two concepts are so conflated today is that, historically, there has been so much overlap between them. Too often people seem to think that the American nation or any other nation is defined by the people who are currently residing within a set of geographic or political boundaries. This is because England was a country that was comprised of people who we could readily recognize as English, and the country of Germany was comprised of people who we could easily recognize as German nationals, etc. Still, the distinction is an important one, and it is good to see that Robert clearly understands it.
Robert didn’t realize until reading my article that it wasn’t until recently—I would suggest post-1950s for the most part—that Americans considered America to be a propositional nation. This is, again, understandable. Propaganda in government schools and, sadly, in many churches has effectively convinced people that Americans always desired to found a nation based upon ridiculous platitudes like “equality,” “freedom,” or “tolerance.” Even “conservative” pundits are prone to repeating the myth that America was founded upon an idea rather than a common identity rooted in common ancestry and culture. Sadly, for many Christians this propositional American identity is tied up in a misunderstanding of Jefferson’s statement in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.”1 I’m glad to see Robert keep an open mind in approaching the question of a biblical basis for national identity, and at least question the universally-attested status quo.
Is Ethno-Nationalism Merely Described in the Bible, or is it Prescribed as a Model to be Emulated?
Robert states that “what we observe about history is that countries have mostly been identified with a single nation.” I agree, but the issue comes in when Robert states that he “cannot quite make the logical leap that because countries have been tied to nations throughout history, and because Israel was both a country and nation, that somehow that is the ‘proper’ order of things.” This is where we get down to brass tacks. Many intellectually honest readers like Robert may very easily be able to see that ethno-nationalism is a historical reality, and that this is even how the people of Israel are described in the Bible. What Robert is drawing attention to is the “is/ought” distinction. Not everything that is a certain way necessarily should be that way. Robert doesn’t seem to have a problem acknowledging that ethno-nationalism has been historically practiced, which is a step in the right direction to be sure. What I’d like to do is to help persuade readers like Robert not only that is ethno-nationalism described in the Bible and observed throughout history, but that ethno-nationalism is also prescribed as what is indeed proper.
The propriety of ethno-nationalism is found in the very bedrock of national identity itself. Genesis 10 delineates the identity of the nations that descended from Noah and his sons after the biblical flood and is called The Table of Nations. These nations are uniformly identified by their families (Genesis 10:5, 20, 32). Not surprisingly, the Table of Nations reads as a genealogical record. This is important because it demonstrates that nations rooted in common ancestry existed before the nation of Israel. This clearly shows that Israel’s pattern of identifying themselves in groups called tribes, and in smaller groups called clans, was not unique and was not a transient property of their being God’s covenant people in the Old Testament. Instead, we can see that ethno-nationalism was something that applied to all nations, not just ancient Israel.
Some could argue that this still doesn’t show that ethno-nationalism is what ought to be, but only that ethno-nationalism wasn’t unique to the nation of Israel. This may be the case, but we can also see that God reaffirmed this fact both by his actions at the Tower of Babel and in the laws that were given to the Israelites. At the Tower of Babel many representatives of various nations and ethnicities set out to build a tower to create a common identity so that they would not be separated and spread out (Genesis 11:4). God takes notice of this, and comments that if this contrived cosmopolitan society is allowed to continue, then evil will continue unhindered (Genesis 11:6).
Indeed, this is perhaps the quintessence of cosmopolitan societies. The problem with cosmopolitan societies is not that outsiders aren’t able to assimilate to the host culture; the problem is that they do assimilate to what the host people and culture become. Cosmopolitan societies ultimately destroy the nation and people who set out to create a social paradigm based on pluralism. The multiculturalism that inherently emerges from this situation undermines any set of shared values, and forces the host nation to accept any and all foreign mores under an all-conquering principle of tolerance. Foreign populations will migrate to cosmopolitan societies, whether to acquire materialistic gain or to flee from repressive regimes, but they too will ultimately suffer the same fate as the natives. Many people who migrate to cosmopolitan societies do so with innocent intentions, and most likely might not realize the unintended consequences of their actions. Foreign migrants might believe they can work and live in a first-world economy without the ill social effects that plague the modern cosmopolitan West, but they eventually discover that their children wind up becoming insubordinate, in addition to becoming mass consumers of pop culture. Most will likely believe that they will be able to pass on their traditional values to their children and grandchildren the same way that they were taught to them by their parents and grandparents.
Sadly, many well-meaning immigrants to the West are finding out that they were wrong after it is already too late. Traditional morals and values decline, as everything must be accepted to maintain a cosmopolitan society. These societies also suffer due to internal social upheaval, caused by elements who seek to exploit the weakening of the host identity towards their own ends. A good example of this today would be Muslims who move to European countries and exploit Western cosmopolitan values of tolerance and multiculturalism with the goal of imposing Islamic Sharia law in the cradle of Christendom. Cosmopolitan societies cannot point to some intrinsic good that they produce, so they defend their own existence as an end in itself. Thus we see the message that diversity for diversity’s sake is a positive good to strive for that ought to be achieved at all costs.
God’s actions at Babel were an act of mercy as well as judgment. By demolishing the tower and forcibly re-separating the nations gathered at Babel, He was sparing them from the long-term ill effects of cosmopolitan society. Some might argue that people of multiple ethnic and racial backgrounds can dwell together without devolving into multiculturalism, so long as they are all committed to maintaining a genuine common culture rather than a multicultural paradigm. The problem with this perspective, however, is that it lacks any historical foundation, and there is no reason why any people with attachments to traditional society would need to migrate en masse as is common in cosmopolitan society. Massive mingling of various races and ethnic groups has always produced the same result, and I am not aware of any historical outliers to speak of.
Granted, people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds can dwell together without degenerating into a cosmopolitan or multicultural society, but this only happens under rare circumstances and only with well-defined social boundaries in place. These boundaries are outlined by God in His law as well. God acknowledged that people might want or need to sojourn with the people of Israel. When this happened God established definite ground rules to facilitate this peacefully. These are the rules that I attempted to outline in the original article on ethno-nationalism. Here are a few of the highlights.
God guaranteed all peaceful inhabitants with Israel certain rights and protections under the law. Resident sojourners were entitled to equal justice: the equity of the Ten Commandments applied to them as well. However, the Israelite commonwealth was not predicated upon equal civil rights. God clearly reserves the civil government in nations to actual ethnic members of those nations. The primary texts for this position are Deuteronomy 1:13-16 and 17:15. God states that the Israelites should only allow fellow Israelites to rule over them, and this is confirmed specifically in the anointing of the house of David as rulers over the Israelites (2 Samuel 5:1 and 1 Chronicles 11:1). Land was the principle commodity that families owned, and these were divided up amongst the tribes; even marriage was not allowed to displace tribal inheritance (Numbers 27 and 36). The Israelites were also given economic privileges over resident aliens (Leviticus 25).
That nations coincide with ethnic groups is not merely descriptive in the Bible, but prescriptive as well, can clearly be ascertained by the fact that God arranged societies this way intentionally. The Apostle Paul states that God divided the nations (ethnicities) so that they would seek after God and find him (Acts 17:26-27). Moses states that it was God who divided the nations their inheritance (Deuteronomy 32:8), and passing on an inheritance was a divine precept (Numbers 34:18). The Bible also makes it clear that passing on an inheritance to our children and grandchildren is a mark of righteousness (Proverbs 13:22, 17:2, 19:14). Clearly the distinctions that have led to nations taking on a distinct ethnic identity show that ethno-nationalism is the proper paradigm for society.
Family and Racial Loyalty
Robert continues, “The author of the post writes, ‘Today many people do not believe in family responsibilities or obligations’ and connects that to the issue at hand. This strikes a chord, but I find it hard to swallow that not being loyal to one’s race is the same as not being loyal to one’s family, and yet it seems that it only differs by degrees.”
Unfortunately, many white people today see any loyalty to our race or ethnicity that implies responsibility or duty as something beyond comprehension. Family loyalty will tend to resonate with white Christians such as Robert more, but they have been programmed not to extrapolate this out to include extended family, clans, tribes, or ethnicity. This seems to contradict what Paul is communicating in 1 Timothy 5:8. In this verse, Paul states that we ought to provide for our own, especially those of our own household. It is clear that “our own household” refers to our immediate family, including our parents, spouse, siblings and children. However, Paul doesn’t simply stop at immediate families. He extends this to our own people. Some have argued that Paul wishes to indicate Christians, regardless of racial identity, as our own people. But this is not how Paul himself identified his own people. In Romans 9:3-4, Paul indicates that he has the strongest attachments to “my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites.” This is where Paul’s identity diverges significantly from those who wish to argue that our only identity is our religious identity. Clearly, Paul’s conversion didn’t dissolve his natural relationship to his kinsmen according to the flesh. Instead it strengthened it, and solidified his resolve for their well-being.
Robert continues, “Ultimately this all is a wash for me, because my identity is not in nationality or country or family. My identity is in Christ.” As you can see, this was not a dilemma for the Apostle Paul, and there is no reason to believe that this should be a dilemma for anyone today. Paul’s identity as a Christian did not remove his identity as an Israelite. Robert then concludes by citing three passages of Scripture that he believes confirm his thesis that his identity is not in nationality or country or family, but rather in Christ. He first cites Galatians 3:26-29. The passage states,
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
It is important that we interpret this in accordance with the context in which it is given. Paul is speaking of our spiritual identity that we have in Christ. All Christians are the spiritual descendants of Abraham by faith, in the same way that all Christian women who are godly and submissive are the spiritual descendants of Sarah (1 Peter 3:1-7). There is no reason to believe that other physical aspects of our identity disappear after conversion. Robert could have just as easily stated “because my identity is not in my gender. My identity is in Christ.” We retain our gender identity just as strongly as we did before conversion, in fact our gender identity is sanctified in our life as a Christian.
Next, Robert quotes Luke 8:21, “[Jesus] said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.” The same explanation can easily be applied here. Those who do the will of God are members of His family and fellow heirs with Christ. This truth does not alter or erase the physical reality of families. Only utopian societies have tried to dispense with the notion of physical nuclear and extended families. If Jesus’s statement here eliminates all other definitions of family, then the utopian socialistic view is the only alternative and the 5th commandment is nullified. Clearly physical families are upheld and maintained as passages like 1 Timothy 5:8 indicate.
Finally, Robert quotes Luke 14:26, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” This is clearly a case of hyperbole being used to communicate the importance of loyalty to Christ and his precepts that are necessary to obey in order to be his disciple. Here Jesus uses “hate” to mean “to have comparative disregard for.” It was in this sense that Jacob loved Rachel but hated Leah. If Jacob had a positive and passionate hatred for Leah he likely would have divorced her. It is in this sense that we are to hate even the members of our immediate household. There are obvious scriptures that teach us to love our families, so we shouldn’t misinterpret what Jesus is saying here. No serious Christian should think that they have to hate their family. Furthermore, if this passage teaches hatred for our loved ones then it really proves too much. Many people who quote this verse to the effect that race doesn’t matter don’t desire to apply this to their own immediate families. Most white people don’t have a problem seeing race as irrelevant, but would stop short of saying that family is irrelevant. But it is clear that you can’t have it both ways with this verse. If this verse makes race irrelevant in every way, it also makes immediate family irrelevant for the same reason. Almost no one would take this verse to its logical conclusion if it was meant to communicate the ultimate irrelevance of race.
Robert says that the verses above and the idea that our identity isn’t in nationality or race seem “to trump all other arguments.” But the issue of ethno-nationalism doesn’t relate to soteriology. In other words, verses that prove that race or other physical factors don’t influence salvation cannot be marshaled to demonstrate that race is irrelevant altogether. My original premise was that race is relevant in answering the question of how nations are to be organized, and that mine is the biblical position. I believe that Robert’s premise that our identity has nothing to do with race or nationality prompts a question.
The big question is how nations are supposed to be organized, if not by ethnicity? Would Robert’s conclusion lead us to accept a one-world government? If Robert rejects a one-world government, as he should, the question becomes how national identity should be distributed? If you reject ethno-nationalism, you must come up with an alternate paradigm that is biblically based and explains how we can prevent the emergence of a one-world cosmopolitan government (a new Babel). Such an alternative does not exist.
I’m glad that Robert took time to read and digest my original article on ethno-nationalism. Robert clearly has a desire to learn and a spirit of Christian kindness. I am encouraged that Christians can discuss issues such as this without degenerating into meaningless name-calling and false accusations, and for that I owe Robert gratitude.