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God and Country

By March 20, 2024 11 Comments

God and Country

Dan Partland
Published by Rob Reiner in 2024

Ten minutes into watching the documentary God and Country, the muscles and tendons in my body began to tighten and tense up because it was all sounding too familiar. I have had experiences with Christian Nationalism in my community. You know the vibe: it’s where Donald Trump is God’s chosen one sent to make the nation Christian, while Democrats are demons out to destroy everything that is good and holy. Anyone who doesn’t hop on the toxic Trump train is somehow out of God’s grace.

God & Country is based primarily on Katherine Stewart’s book The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. Drawing from the wisdom of constitutional scholars, religious historians, pastors and biblical scholars, we’re given a picture of the dangerous nature of the rise of Christian Nationalism and its well-organized and highly funded goal to make the United States a “Christian” nation.

In the film, a constitutional scholar reminds us that America has never been a Christian nation, and in fact, was intentionally designed to be a democratic republic separate from any one religion and open to all religions. The founding fathers had been there, done that, and it had been a disaster. Historians recalled the emergence of the Religious Right, which happened primarily as a response to government bans of racial segregation and integration mandates. 

The film shows how history plainly reveals this irony: when societies try to force one set of religious beliefs on everyone, the heart and public witness of that religion itself gets destroyed. Christian Nationalism is bad for the nation and even worse for Christianity. 

The film makes a limited effort to distinguish between Christians who are politically conservative and the extremism of Christian Nationalists, which is important. Some suggest the film didn’t spend enough time on this, but I don’t think that was the focus of the film. The focus is to raise legitimate concerns about the alarming growth of Christian Nationalism.

At one point, footage of the January 6th insurrection fills the screen. Extremists in red caps wield crosses, wave “Jesus saves” signs, erect gallows to hang Mike Pence, bludgeon Capitol police officers – killing one and injuring 174 others, smash windows, break down doors, shit on memorial statues and the speaker’s desk, all in an attempt to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power. The violence that glowed on the movie screen in a dark room is a stark reminder of the horror of that day. 

The film provides a clear picture of how problematic political extremism is, and how much more problematic it is when carried out in the name of Jesus. It also peels back the curtain of how much trouble our country is in for its wide embrace of Donald Trump, a compulsive liar and autocrat who rewards those who serve him and punishes those who question him, who inspires his followers to violence and who has normalized using words as weapons in his daily demonization and dehumanization of all those who don’t get in line behind him.

Consistent dehumanizing rhetoric precedes the justification of violence. It precedes genocide and holocausts and slavery and oppression. It has the power to destroy and divide. It is a slanderous and manipulative tactic intended to stir hatred in the hearts of people towards other people. Dehumanizing rhetoric is morally wrong and dangerous.

Sadly, this isn’t just happening at the movies. Last week I was settled on the sofa, quilt across my lap, cat curled up beside me, hands wrapped around a steaming mug of turmeric tea. Our family was watching President Biden deliver the State of the Union address. “Sleepy Joe” he was not.

At some point I flicked on my phone and scrolled Facebook. I wasn’t surprised to see a local pastor posting about the speech: “the howl of demons!” he wrote, referring to President Biden and one side of the House chamber. After dozens of likes and some “Amen!” comments, someone cut in with an alternative perspective and was immediately jumped on.

It reminded me of a previous Facebook post in which I invited folks into respectful dialogue about a contentious issue. A thoughtful online conversation went on and on with a variety of people and perspectives contributing. It was an increasingly rare social media experience, and people openly expressed gratitude to each other for their willingness to engage civilly, despite disagreement, around a tough issue.

Out of the blue, a local evangelist well-known for his loud, often brash, uncritical support of Donald Trump, cut in and said, “ANYONE WHO VOTES FOR A DEMOCRAT IS NOT A CHRISTIAN!!!” This was only the beginning of a whole string of random, short, ALL CAPS statements from him that indicated he had not even attempted to hear what any of these brothers and sisters in Christ were saying in the conversation – including his fellow Republicans. He never addressed anything specific about the issue being discussed. It was as if he grabbed a megaphone and blindly jumped into the middle of a sacred dialogue and began screaming obscenities.

As I sat in my comfortable theater seat watching God & Country, stress-binging a bucket of buttery popcorn, the thought formed in my mind that Christian Nationalism really isn’t about Christianity at all. It certainly bears little resemblance to how Jesus lived and how he taught us to live. Christian Nationalism is a religion that seeks to be served on golden thrones and golden toilet bowls, not one that seeks to bend down in back alleys washing filthy feet or dressing the infected wounds of exhausted migrants who have crossed deserts. 

Christian Nationalism is ultimately about powerful people desperate for more worldly power, using religion to manipulate the masses. Or maybe it’s about wanting to rewrite the Good Friday story to a version where Jesus, carrying the cross through the streets of Jerusalem, diverts the Via Dolorosa to a new destination- away from Calvary and straight to the throne where he gets to bludgeon Caesar to a bloody death and command the power of the Roman Empire in full Constantinian style. 

God & Country is an important film for the moment we’re in. It helps us better understand what Christian Nationalism is, where it came from, why it’s growing, and where it wants to go. It’s a hard film to view alone. I would encourage you to watch it with a group of friends so you can process it together. It’s been playing in limited theaters around the country and will be available on streaming services soon.

Christy Berghoef

Christy Berghoef is a contemplative photographer, worship leader, writer, speaker, civil discourse consultant, mother of four, and gardener. She lives in Holland Michigan where she and her husband are church planters. She’s the author of the spiritual memoir Cracking the Pot: Releasing God from the Theologies that Bind Him.


  • Alicia Mannes says:

    Thank you Christy. It was a difficult and important movie to see.

  • Tony Vis says:

    Thank you, Christy. Deanna and I went to see it last evening. It was sobering and frightening, but also helpful and enlightening. Your “review” here is very much on point. I’ll be sharing it once it hits Facebook. The cynic in me says that many who most need to read your piece and most need to watch the documentary have already had their hearts sufficiently hardened. They will not be tuning in. My hope—and there is hope here—is that there are still many moving toward that cliff who can yet be reached with a gospel that is not just about Jesus, but a gospel that is fully, completely, and only Jesus.

  • Dave Timmer says:

    Thanks for this, Christy. I just saw the film last night in Des Moines. For me, the most impactful segment explored the closed epistemic world characteristic of much of American evangelicalism, where contradictory ideas are boxed out entirely or (as your experience suggests) must be shouted down in ALL CAPS. When this “sectarian” mental world is combined with a “Constantinian” sense of entitlement to rule, the consequences are appalling. Witness Sen. Tuberville’s recent claim that “we are losing our kids to a Satanic cult” (i.e., Democrats, public education, etc.).

  • Ken Kuipers says:

    It is interesting to note that even our own home town of Holland, MI was founded by christians running away from a church-state union that became way too autocratic. Thanks for your call to vigilance against this intolerant movement in our country which was founded on separation of church and state for good reasons.
    Ken Kuipers

  • paul f. nulton says:

    Thanks Christy. Perhaps terms need to be reversed and Christian Nationalism be seen as demonic and hell-bound. What it really seeks is power to determine how others live their lives. When has one religion in power over a nation ever been a blessing to its citizens, either Protestant or Catholic? When has it respected other forms of religion or variants of itself? Theocracy doesn’t believe in religious freedom. We are learning in today’s issues it doesn’t believe in freedom itself, except for it’s own. When did Jesus seek political power to force others to do his will. His gospel is an appeal to seek a heavenly citizenship that transforms human lives to seek to walk and believe as Jesus did on this earth as servants of God’s love to all. Behind all the pushing for Christian Nationalism lies the specter of racism so foreign to Jesus’s command to take his Gospel into all the world. It means that believers of every nation, tongue, tribe and etc. are our brothers and sisters, a bond greater than father, mother, brother and sister. Ever since Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy we have witnessed the increasingly Republican hostility towards racial justice as it’s power came more from Confederate states and their white racist bias and religious bigotries that tuned into Donald Trump’s exploitation of it. When did Jesus ever say “there will be blood” if he is not the chosen leader of this world? There was blood sprinkled from his cross to create peace between humans and his Father and humans with humans. The language of hate and judgment upon those different from us is the language of hell!

  • Ruth E. Stubbs says:

    Christian Nationalism needs a new, accurate name as there is nothing Christian about it.

  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    Hello Christy,

    Fellow non-Trump voter, non-Christian Nationalist here. Bear with me, if you will, as I have a lengthy comment. As a Christian opposed to true Christian Nationalism, I think there are elements of your post here that do a disservice to the cause. I happen to be a friend of the “local pastor” whom you use as a sad example of Christian Nationalism that you have encountered. I offer the following points for your consideration.

    1. The partisan progressive group that you have been affiliated with (Vote Common Good) regularly advocates for Christian values in public policy. What makes your version good and his version bad?

    From a recent article: “…Vote Common Good is encouraging faith voters to filter candidates through the prism of Christian values…” From that same article, less than two paragraphs away, Christian Nationalism is defined in part as believing that America’s “laws and policies should reflect evangelical values”. It seems as though substituting a different judgment of what makes for virtuous (the Christian type) public policy makes one person’s advocacy suspect or extreme and the other person’s advocacy righteous and admirable.

    2. The local pastor was posting about a very specific portion of the SOTU speech, as is made clear in the resultant discussion. The pastor was reacting to the President’s comments regarding abortion and the celebratory response. Is it now beyond the pale for Christians to hold the position that abortion is immoral? The pastor goes on to clarify his original brief post, saying:

    “[My comment] was a specific reference to statements on abortion made by the president and rousing applause and celebration that followed. You know I’m pro life – which includes all life. We would take in any unwanted child. This is rooted in a deeply held belief that all humans are created in the image of God – whether Christian or not, there is intrinsic value in life. I hope you’ve seen that in us (me), even if distorted too often. That segment of the SOTU was heartbreaking to me. A couple days later, my heart is still in the same spot – I’m saddened… saddened for the children… for the women caught in situations where it seems like the only or even best option… for the men who don’t take responsibility… Abortion, in my opinion, should never be something we celebrate, even if someone thinks it is a necessity.

    “I should clarify. I wasn’t calling our President or any of those who celebrated with him “demons.” It’s a recognition that there is a spiritual battle going on. We see the veil lifted in the Revelation at the end of the Bible. While there is chaos in this world, there is a corresponding fight happening we cannot see. But there, it is known fully that Jesus Christ has secured the victory – not with hate or vitriol, but love and sacrifice of Himself for us.”

    Now, you may find his originally phraseology unhelpful without further explanation, but that does not make him an extremist or a Christian Nationalist by any stretch of the terms.

    3. The commenter was not told he was hell-bound. Rather, was told he was lost. Now, lost can mean hell-bound, it can also mean that one is seriously in error and has lost one’s way. What is euphemistically called “reproductive freedom” refers to the alleged right to end the life of children in the womb. Mainstream Christian thought believes that someone is lost if they advocate for the right to terminate the lives of unborn children. A total of 7 “likes” of this comment makes up your “pack of hyenas ravaging a fresh kill”.

    4. Speaking of hyenas and unborn children, is it “dehumanizing” to liken people to wild dogs and consider unborn children disposable? Trump certainly would be called on the carpet (and has) for likening people to animals. Your language sounds Trumpian. Is it ok for you because you have aimed your rhetoric at the type of Christian that is convenient for Reformed Journal readers to despise?

    It is easy for us to become that which we despise, and I would offer that you are showing signs of that phenomenon in your writing here. Your post leads to polarization, not enlightenment. Your valid points (and there are valid points) get lost in your partisan fervor, which leads to falling into the same traps as those whom the movie features. I would offer that you have made serious public accusations against a pastor in purposely labeling him a Christian Nationalist, bearing false witness against him. He is not a Christian Nationalist by any reasonable definition and his post in no way justifies how you have used him as an example of the type of extremist Christian Nationalism in the movie. It seems to me that what Christians do when confronted with their public bearing of false witness is repent and apologize. Could you model that?

    • Christy Berghoef says:

      Thanks for your perspective and pushback. I appreciate it. Of course I am in no way above apologizing. Nor would I ever suggest that I always get things right. You are good to point out a few things to me. Here are some thoughts in response.

      I’m not sure which article you read about Vote Common Good, but sometimes it’s clarifying to go directly to the source. Vote Common good is made up of folks who identify as Republican, Democrat and independent, but who find the current state of politics and wide christian embrace of Donald Trump a detriment to the common good and a detriment to the public witness of Christianity, and who has become, given his current rhetoric, a clear danger to democracy itself.

      From the VCG website: “Good-hearted Christians, Jews, Muslims, and people of all traditions cannot simply vote for what is best for themselves as individuals or even what is best for their religion, party, race, or nation alone, but must be concerned for the common good. Or to put it differently, selfish people of every religion and tradition vote for self-interest or partisan interest alone, but good people of every religion vote for the common good.”

      When I was involved with Vote Common Good, folks from a variety of faith traditions were involved. I believe this is still the case. We were not pushing to christianize the nation as Christian Nationalists are. Rather, inspired by faith, we were pushing for inclusion of all faiths and an elevation of truth and good governance amid the chaos.

      VCG does hold the foundational belief that Jesus was concerned with the common good and that people of faith should similarly seek to be concerned with the common good of all. In my view, the moral values that are derived from religion (all religions) can and should influence public policy. But having to submit to the laws of any one religion should never be the law. There’s a significant difference.

      Regarding the local pastor’s post “the howling of demons,” it’s helpful for me to hear that there was a clarifying moment later in the conversation that followed. And it looks like it went on for quite some time long after I came across the post. While I find the rhetoric of his initial post alarming (as did many others based on the many messages from upset people I received), I apologize if he later clarified that he was not referencing the President and democrats as demonic. As of the time I read the post, his clarifying response to someone who asked was simply that he was referring to the State of the Union address.

      I want to briefly address abortion because it seems to be at the heart of all this. As most folks who know me or have read anything I have written on abortion or have heard me speak on abortion (including with VCG) know, my views on that issue are complicated. Perhaps I’m over sensitive to religious folks who take a black and white judgmental stance on what in reality is a very complicated issue. Without going into great detail here, my view is that the notion of “my body my choice” is flawed. A pregnant woman has a separate life growing inside her womb. Separate heartbeat, separate DNA. She carries an individual being. However, it’s also true that there are medical situations in which a woman and her doctor have to make the difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy for the mothers safety. Politicians should not be making health care decisions for women, because they are not doctors. It’s also true that there are other complicated situations where abortion is warranted. I support that. I have several friends who have been in heart-wrenching medical situations. Sadly, most have left Christianity because of the loud unsympathetic condemning Christian voices that failed to consider the complexities she was in the midst of and the deep pain around this issue.

      It’s also the case that making abortion illegal does not make abortion go away or even significantly reduce it. Statistics bear this out. The things that do lead to more significant reductions in abortion rates are things like access to comprehensive health care, child care, living wages and educational opportunities. These are the things I see Democrats working more passionately towards than Republicans. So ironically, despite all the pro-life talk and the “my body my choice” rhetoric, despite all the shallow sound bites spewed from both political parties around this issue, it seems when it comes down to it, Democratic policies would actually lead to reduced abortions. It turns out when we value and provide well rounded communal care for all people, the abortion rates naturally drop as a result (as do many other struggles and realities most of us can’t comprehend), and those that may have initially been “unwanted” now have a real chance at life. If the pastor who sensed the demons howling over the President’s abortion comments had tuned into the rest of that talk, he might have come away with a much more hopeful spirit— including on the impact such things could have on unborn children.

      I have a lot of thoughts on why we push the anti-abortion narrative. I believe people genuinely want to protect life, and within the walls of their tribal narrative the simple rhetoric seems to make sense on its face. These good intentions are fed by consistent political messaging. But sometimes I wonder if in the end it comes down to this; that it’s simply easier for us to throw blame at the woman and the politicians who support her- to point fingers, cast blame and demonize them because the alternative is too hard to swallow- that maybe we as a community are actually the guilty ones, that perhaps we have failed miserably at communal care in our support and pursuit of rugged individualism.

      Given the wider context of this pastor’s remarks, which you have so graciously pointed out, I regret using him as an example, even if I find his pro-life views limited. I stand by the other pastor I noted as an example.

      Regarding dehumanizing rhetoric, there is a difference between saying someone is a dog (Trump) or that immigrants are deplorable (Hillary Clinton) and suggesting that someones behavior is “like” an animal. In literary terms we call this a “simile.” But maybe it takes a certain literary sensibility to understand the difference, so I apologize to anyone who read my words and assumed I was actually calling them a hyena. I wasn’t. And that wasn’t my intent.

      Thanks again for the pushback. It sharpens me.

      • Eric Van Dyken says:

        Hi Christy,

        Thanks for responding. Consider this a placeholder response as I find time to further ponder and engage in conversation. Thanks for your patience.


      • Eric Van Dyken says:

        Hi again, Christy. Thanks for your patience with me as I pondered your response. I am thankful that you are willing to reflect further on your reference to and characterization of the “local pastor” and to pull back from your initial characterization. I’ll make a couple quick notes on that and then let that rest. First, it is worth noting that this local pastor is no stranger to you, as is evidenced partly by his post popping up in your feed. This makes me wonder a bit how you could have come to such an unflattering conclusion and be so quick to share this conclusion. I think that question is worth pondering. How do we “guard and advance” our neighbor’s good name, as the Heidelberg Catechism explains is part of our duty under the ninth commandment? I certainly don’t just pose that question to you, but take this opportunity to reflect on in it personally. The cycle of polarization is fed by and the leads to further practice of assuming the worst in others. We won’t trust our neighbor to vote for the common good if we wire ourselves to believe that they are incapable of doing that. Second, it seems to me that it would be entirely appropriate for you to either amend your post or add an author’s footnote or header in order to correct the false characterization that still stands.

        As for the quote about VCG, I took it from an article posted/linked on the VCG website and it was a quote of Doug Pagitt, so I think it is a fair quote to include and one that can reasonably to taken as a true sentiment of the organization. I don’t know that I could get any closer to the source than what I did. While you may note that VCG has Republicans in its ranks, that number must surely be diminishingly small, as VCG is inescapably partisan in its efforts. All denunciations on its site are denunciations of Republicans. It affirmatively posts article after article describing the organization and its members as progressive. Pretty much all of its approved candidates are Democrats, with the rare exceptions that I was able to find of one Independent and one Democratic Socialist. Now, being partisan is fine (to a degree), but it should be embraced and not hidden or mischaracterized. When one’s conclusion is that only one side of the political aisle conveniently lines up with all things that are “Common Good” then one can safely conclude that they have arrived at a partisan conclusion.

        My point in contrasting the VCG language about Christian values and the language they don’t like about Christian values is that many mainstream Christians are being smeared as Christian Nationalists for simply bringing their Christian values into their politics, just like VCG advocates. The article in question had a nice juxtaposition of VCG both advocating and decrying the importation of Christian values and virtue into the political realm. I remain opposed, with you, to those who confuse the Kingdom of God as an earthly kingdom that ought to be realized in the United States as a theocratic institution. What won’t help us in pushing back against that stream of thought is the lumping of mainstream Christians in that group. In fact, that will backfire, as it will serve to deepen polarization and hasten potential radicalization.

        I don’t think that we will get far here with a protracted back-and-forth on abortion, so I will only say a couple things in response to that section of your reply. Any government serving its core function has to protect a right to life. Simply put, without a right to live, no other rights matter. Without that base, everything else is academic. No government that allows the lives of the most tender and innocent under their care to be discarded can be said to be operating in the common good. Beyond that we can debate the merits and demerits of any number of social programs and policy positions, and I suspect that we would find areas of significant agreement as well as diverging opinions. But without a fundamental right to live, a person has no rights at all.

        I am quite familiar with similes as a literary tool. I am also familiar with rhetoric and rhetorical impact. You are making a bit of a rhetorical distinction without much rhetorical difference. Allow me to illustrate, and forgive me in advance for using a word and a situation with significant rhetorical weight for effect.

        Imagine I get into an argument with my wife and in a moment of unkindness and sinful anger I blurt out “You’re acting like a wench!” Now, it will only deepen the pit I have begun to dig if I attempt to explain to her that I didn’t call her a wench, I simply used a simile to liken her to a wench. I think we can expect my wife to be less than impressed with my literary lesson and no less offended by the likening. In like manner, your “I didn’t call them dogs, I just likened them to dogs” protestation sounds weak. Perhaps instead you might imagine yourself on the receiving end of an unflattering and, yes, dehumanizing similitude and ask yourself if you are only too quick to excuse your tendency to dehumanize others while casting very convenient stones at others.

        I’m glad to have been able to engage with you and am sincerely grateful for your reply. If the conversation should or can continue I remain willing. May God bless you and keep you.


  • Keith Mannes says:

    Thanks, Scott, for giving such a beautiful gift to us all.