Fear, Faith, and Nationalism in the Era of Terrorism – Part 1


Fear and dread are a ruthless duo. They take no prisoners. They respect no boundaries. They eat faith, hope, and love for lunch. They make us forget who we are, and more importantly, who God is. I remember what it was like to be under their spell when I went through a prolonged period of tribulation a little over a year ago. They engulfed me like a toxic fog for several days and threatened to suffocate me.

Entire populations can fall under their spell too. The attacks in Paris a few days ago have triggered our collective PTSD from 9/11. Thirty-one U.S. governors have now declared opposition to settling Syrian refugees in their states, and many are applauding this sentiment. [1] Fear and dread have driven away the empathy we felt just 2 months ago when we saw the photos of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee boy who drowned in the Aegean Sea (along with his mother and 5-year-old brother) and washed up on a beach in Turkey. [2] His father’s anguish has disappeared into the sea of irrelevance. And now we speak of Trojan horses.

This reaction is not unexpected.

Since 2001, the year that the U.S. declared war on terror, 5,379 Americans have lost their lives in combat and 52,385 Americans have been wounded on foreign soil, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan. [3] Many of us have been impacted in some way. One of the elders of my church in San Antonio, a former Green Beret who taught my husband and me how to operate a handgun, lost his son on May 1, 2013 when he died of wounds sustained in Afghanistan from an improvised explosive device. A friend of mine who works for the State Department lost several friends during her 2-year stint in Afghanistan. Her Navy Corpsman husband lost 11 friends in a single year. And my best friend, who worked as a chaplain in a VA Hospital psychiatry ward last year, is still recovering from compassion fatigue after working with traumatized veterans. We have paid a hefty price for the War on Terror.

We’ve paid for it in currency consisting of dollars, limbs, lifeblood, mental integrity, and family bonds. We’ve deemed the investment and sacrifice as necessary to keep us safe from acts of terrorism at home. “Never again,” we say. It’s a given that it would be downright intolerable to allow anything to threaten the sacredness of what we have expended.

Unless we have an allegiance to a more sacred obligation, a higher cause.

As Christians, we do. We are primarily citizens of the kingdom of God – a kingdom independent and distinct from any earthly empire, including the United States of America. “My kingdom is not of this world… it is from another place,” said Jesus. [4] It’s a kingdom whose citizens’ way of life is characterized by a commitment to feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting the incarcerated, preaching a message of reconciliation, and seeking the salvation of all people. [5] Its citizens, therefore, can never identify as full citizens of an earthly empire that prioritizes and pursues its national security, interests, and power above everything else. To attempt to identify with both is to encounter endless conflicts of interest. There is no such thing as dual citizenship for the subjects of God’s kingdom.

The duty of the nationalist is to secure the interests of the state by subduing and destroying its enemies. He is willing to employ military force, propaganda, deception, manipulation, racial and religious discrimination, denial of entry, and torture to achieve this end. He is governed by fear, dread, liability, and the need for control. In contrast, the duty of the kingdom citizen is to love, pray for, and forgive his enemies, and to hold steadfast to the reality of their imago dei. [6] It is also to welcome and care for immigrants and refugees seeking asylum from violence and destitution. [7] He is governed by love and mercy.

Nationalism, unfortunately, has insinuated itself into the landscape of American Christianity in a similar fashion to the way it wove itself into the fabric of German Christianity in the decades preceding World War II. The latter had devastating consequences. [8] As God’s people, we have an obligation to divorce ourselves from the priorities of earthly empires in order to pursue, unencumbered, the priorities of the kingdom of heaven. It’s a matter of allowing the double-edged sword of God’s Word to separate within us soul and spirit, joints and marrow, [9] and of waking up to the reality that God has been in the business of opposing the anti-kingdom spirit of nationalism in his people for several millennia now — even that of Israel. I will explore this idea more in Part 2.


Click here to read Part 2.



[1] Blaine, Kyle. Geidner, Chris. “More Than Half of U.S. Governors Say Syrian Refugees Not Welcome Now.” Buzz Feed News, November 16, 2015. Accessed at http://www.buzzfeed.com/kyleblaine/texas-governor-says-his-state-will-not-accept-syrian-refugee#.ulP8r9Gjy.

[2] Smith, Helena. Shocking images of drowned Syrian boy show tragic plight of refugees. TheGuardian.com. September 2, 2015. Accessed at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/02/shocking-image-of-drowned-syrian-boy-shows-tragic-plight-of-refugees.

[3] Casualties. Department of Defense. November 17, 2015. Accessed at http://www.defense.gov/casualty.pdf

[4] John 18:36

[5] Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Corinthians 5:11-21; 2 Peter 3:9

[6] Matthew 5:43-48

[7] Matthew 25:31-46, 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

[8] “The German Churches and the Nazi State.” Holocaust Encyclopedia. Last updated August 18, 2015. Accessed at http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005206

[9] Hebrews 4:12

Categories: Church/Ecclesiology, Culture/Social issues, Race/Ethnicity, Spiritual Formation

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