In a recent interview with the Gospel Coalition, pastor Tim Keller advocated for a biblical warning against nationalism. Citing the book of Jonah, Keller warned that primary identification with country above Jesus can blind us to the love and compassion Christians are meant to display.

“There’s nothing wrong with saying we need to have secure borders,” Keller said, alluding to the rhetoric that has emerged among right-wing Americans amid the immigration debate. “But there’s another part of us that says we need to be kind to the immigrant. There’s got to be a balance here, and I don’t see a balance.”

The pastor was discussing the themes of his new book, The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy. In the interview Keller cited Jonah as a key area where the Bible talks about the core of our identity.

“I’m a Christian first, I’m an American second,” he said. “I’m a Christian first, and I’m white second. If that’s not true, then you need to read the book of Jonah because that’s part of what it’s trying to say. Every time Jonah is near the pagans, the pagans look better than Jonah does. Jonah is sneering at these people, but actually, there’s a lot of admirable things about these people. Jonah was putting his national interest over the spiritual good of the people of Ninevah. God cares about all races and all people, and in the end, His church will consist of people from every tribe, people and nation. We can’t lift up one nation over other nations.”

Though you can make a moral argument for some nations behaving better than other nations, Keller conceded, commitment to Christ “relativizes” that fact.

“I do think most thoughtful, balanced Christians should feel somewhat uncomfortable in either political party. Christians need to recognize the danger of what they call xenophobia. I’m afraid of Christians getting too radicalized on either side.”

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