I think every Christian will agree that idolatry is bad. The Bible keeps saying it’s bad! But the trick is identifying idols in our present state if they’re not totem poles and things from an ancient culture. They’re any good created thing that God has given us, that we give too much hope to, we put too much credence in.
Nationalism is in great danger of being that. I distinguished nationalism for patriotism. I consider myself a patriot. I love my country. I really do. I am so thankful to God for having put me in this country, for giving me the freedoms that I have in this country. But nationalism is patriotism taken too far. It’s patriotism taken to the point where America is my essential identity and the triumph of America is my central goal. That, to me, is idolatrous.
There are a lot of problems associated with that particular form of idolatry:
One of the things it does is it obscures the gospel. God has exalted Jesus to his right hand as the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. He is not to be identified with any particular nation or political group. Well, when I, as a Christian, make America too important, I run the tremendous risk of denying the fact that Jesus is the Lord of all the nations, not just my nation. My American exceptionalism is not biblical. America is not exceptional. America has been blessed in ways, but we’re not the place where King Jesus resides in a special way which makes America deserving of God’s attention in a special way. We’re declaring that Jesus is the King of everybody.
So that’s one problem with nationalism.
Another is, it can lead us to blindness about America’s sins. If America is our deepest identity and our deepest hope, we’re not going to want to face up to the things about America’s past and America’s present which are wrong. We’ll be interested in America being great, but not in America being good. That would be really wrong. We, we need to be citizens who are loving enough that we acknowledge, face, deal with, and address the things about America which are displeasing to God. We must do that. Otherwise we’re idolaters!
Another problem with nationalism is it can lead us to care less than we should for the needs of people who are not Americans. That shows up in immigration policy, for example. It shows up in foreign policy of all sorts. It shows up in treaties, and the way our nation relates to other nations, and what we advocate for as Christians as we seek to fulfill our responsibilities towards those who are in charge of foreign policy and immigration policy.
It’s right to love our own folks, but it’s wrong to love our own folks exclusively.