Is an America-First Doctrine Actually Biblical?
Where does nationalism end and Christianity begin?
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in January, but in light of the president’s recent international tour and recent “America-first” comments, we are reposting.
If you tuned in to the news over the last few weeks, you may have a bleak assessment of our country and the world right now.
According to our new president, the rest of the globe has mooched and manhandled the United States, garnering power while “the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon.” The way out can be found in an utter and unrelenting nationalism. “We assembled here today,” President Trump said in his inauguration speech, “are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power … From this day forward, it’s going to be only America First.”
This is a dangerous call.
Whatever we think about the state of our nation or our president, as Christians we must always be cautious around fix-it ideologies that are not rooted in Christ. When the president says “the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America,” we must ask ourselves if such a proclamation aligns with the Gospel.
What the Bible says about nationalism.
The Bible tells us clearly that our “total allegiance” belongs to God alone.
We cannot split our loyalties. We cannot serve two masters. (Matthew 6:24). To be sure, Christians are commanded and privileged to seek the welfare of our cities, to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to serve people and respect government. But none of that justifies putting the interests of our own country above all others. Like Paul, we are not out for personal gain. We seek “the good of many” (1 Corinthians 10:33).
When Jesus summed up the law, He told us to love God. He also told us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31).
Christian neighborliness stretches far beyond national borders and ethnic, political or even religious distinctions. The Church in the United States can joyfully love and serve Mexicans and Syrians, Muslims and atheists, immigrants and refugees because all people, created in the image of God, are our neighbors.
Followers of Christ have orders to be humble, sacrificial and self-denying. We must look to the interests of people everywhere, in all countries and in all walks of life. “In humility consider others better than yourselves,” wrote Paul in his letter to the Philippians. He specifically opposed nationalism when he called Jewish Christians to recognize their oneness with Gentiles, to stop thinking of themselves as superior.
For Christians, “there is neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28). Likewise, there is neither American nor foreigner in the Kingdom of God.
The Dangers of “America First”
Quite simply, granting total allegiance to our country (or any country) and putting our own interests above those of everyone not born on American soil is not biblical.
God doesn’t favor one country or one ethnicity over others. Neither should we. “America First” is a perilous policy because it is rooted in self and selfish egoism. It is built on the premise that our needs are more important than your needs, that we’re right to value our own lives more than yours.
Ban Muslims. Build a wall. Penalize businesses that move overseas. Duck out of trade deals. Back away from our commitments to alliances and international organizations. There is nothing neighborly or humble in such policies. The logic of protectionist nationalism might lift them up as ultimate goods, but the Gospel tells a different story.
The “America First” doctrine is not only dangerous socially and politically; it is dangerous spiritually.
Adhering to such an inward-looking brand of American nationalism, for Christians, would betray the multinational and ecumenical character of the Body of Christ.
If Jesus wants us to imitate the Good Samaritan, who sacrificed for a suffering stranger, we cannot ignore the suffering strangers of our own world. Just as “America First” steals from the grandeur and scope of the Church and the Kingdom, it also robs us of our witness. What credibility can American Christians have with the rest of the world if we say we love them with the love of Christ, but put ourselves first?
The greatest witness to our faith did not come preaching nationalism. He came preaching mercy, justice, peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Jesus put the needs of alien sinners above his own glory, laying down equality with God and humbling himself to save those who were far off (Philippians 2:5-8).
By the power of the Spirit, the American Church can follow his example.
The Way Forward
Scripture is clear that we should not put our trust in chariots or congressmen, but in God. We are to be humble, servant-hearted, and loving toward both neighbors and enemies.
In light of that reality, and acknowledging the dangers of the “America First” creed, how do we proceed?
First, we can be patriots. Even though we cannot give in to the temptation of nationalism, we can and should support our nation (Jeremiah 29:7). There is nothing wrong with loving our country and wanting great things for it, as long as that desire does not come at the expense of other needy people. We should absolutely work for the prosperity of the United States by electing leaders we can respect, empowering minorities and welcoming foreigners. Just remember that loving our country well does not mean loving others less.
Second, we can be globally-minded. Every person around the globe bears the image of God. The governments of all countries rest on Jesus’ shoulders (Isaiah 9:6). Americans are not better or more valuable than anyone else in God’s eyes. Christians should have the same vision. Let us look beyond our own communities and the borders and oceans that divide us. Let us see people of all cultures and countries as neighbors and friends. Let us seek their good and be compassionate toward them.
Third, we can be Kingdom citizens. Christians are strangers in the world. Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Just as prophets and politicians must not be turned into idols, the country itself must never take precedence over God and his Kingdom. Resting in our ultimate citizenship frees us from both the cold chains of nationalism and the postmodern vagueness of globalism. We can love our country and the world, but neither is our true home.
Our home is a supranational kingdom that knows no classes or borders. Let’s live like it.