Belgium’s elections are fast-approaching. Dries Van Langenhove is heading the list for the Flemish nationalist party, Vlaams Belang (“Flemish Interest”), as an independent candidate in one of the provinces.
That in itself is scary. Last year, Van Langenhove and his organisation Schild & Vrienden – “Shield & Friends”, a reference to a slogan of Flanders’ independence struggle from France in the early 14th century – were exposed as misogynist, Islamophobic, racist, elitist, fat-shaming, and so on. You can basically apply pretty much any adjective that refers to some form of discrimination to their organisation. They didn’t just have those opinions; they deliberately tried to infiltrate key bodies to influence politics with their mindset – the best known example was their sneaky plan to gradually take over the Youth Council in Flanders.
However, what’s even more scary to me as a Christian, is the notion that other Christians would even consider voting for Van Langenhove, or for Vlaams Belang for that matter. The arguments I’ve heard the most frequent are similar to those I’ve heard from Evangelicals voting for Trump: the pro-life one. I just cannot fathom that “pro-life” can be reduced to anti-abortion without even considering a much wider question of life: how do these political parties view already-born lives?
In the case of these political groups, they clearly view lives that are white with the same nationality as them as more important than others. However, Nationalism and Christianity are incompatible philosophies. I believe this is the case on two levels: (1) within Christian community and (2) across humanity.
(1) Within Christian community
First, Nationalism and Christianity are incompatible within the Church. By that, I mean that you cannot consider yourself to be part of a global Church – a group of people following Jesus – and give preference to compatriots (people that are citizens of the same nation as you are) over members of that global church. It’s appalling that Christians would even consider voting for a political system that will benefit other Belgians over the members of African refugee churches in Brussels. There’s just no argument to be made from the Bible to do this.
On the contrary, the Bible is extremely clear on that; Christian identity overrules any other aspect of identity. Jesus for example discards his own family in favour of his newly-assigned Christian family (Mark 3:31-35). If Christianity trumps family, it definitely trumps nationality. Peter in his first letter does something similar, as he contrasts the “holy nation” of Christians (2:9) with us being “sojourners” and “exiles” in our respective nations (v. 11).
Even in the Hebrew Bible where nationalism does seem to be the goal, the decay of the people of Israel is very much influenced by its tribal struggles; they are a divided nation. God’s people is internally divided and it’s not a good thing. Further, this nationalist goal is an incorrect understanding of salvation history – the overarching narrative of Scripture. I touch on this a little bit more further on.
Through both symbols (or sacraments, depending on your denomination) of baptism and Eucharist, as Christians, we are connected to each other above anything else. Going against this and favouring compatriots over fellow Christians is nothing short of an affront of Christianity.
The above argument has two huge (and connected) dangers. The first one is that you could argue that our treatment of Christians should be better than those who do not identify as such. A logical conclusion of this and a second danger is that you’d believe that a Christian nation is the ideal political goal. This thinking is also incompatible with Scripture. If anything, what we learn through living in Christian community should reflect in our general behaviour towards people.
In sum, being part of the Church implies that you shouldn’t be favouring compatriots above fellow Christians. However, this does not mean that we should do the opposite and favour Christians above other human beings. Why is that?
(2) Across humanity
As human beings who follow Christ, we should not show favouritism at all because Nationalism and Christianity are ontologically and teleologically incompatible with trying to show the love that we’ve learnt within the Church to all humanity equally.
Ontology (from the Greek ontos) focuses on our origin and teleology (from telos) on our destination. If we believe that God plays a role in our coming to existence, then the core of the (symbolic) language in Genesis makes one thing very clear: humans are made in God’s image. This imago Dei is non-discriminating; it doesn’t favour one type of human over the other. If we as Christians do favour one human over the next, we dishonour this imago Dei. In other words, we disrespect the image of God embedded in our fellow human by treating them as less.
The same goes for our destination; if we as Christians believe that the purpose of humanity is to be reconciled with God, then treating some people differently according to the colour of their skin, their sexual orientation, their nationality, etc. is hindering this purpose in life. There is no gradation in being human.
When Jesus explains to his disciples that their love for one another will show the world that they are his followers (John 13:34), the purpose is not to create a jealous feeling within those that aren’t following Jesus. The church is a place where love is practiced so it can be applied beyond it. As Church, our mission is to bring this love to people around us.
Similarly, Israel’s decay as God’s people didn’t just stem from its internal division. At its foundation, God already made it clear that through Israel all people would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). In its egoism and self-centeredness, Israel lost sight of this task; its meaning for existence. The theocratic nation-state failed because it only focused on itself.
Rwanda as a case
In Mirror to the Church, easily one of the best books I’ve read in the last decade, Emmanuel Katongole asks this question: How could the country that was seen as the most Christian in Africa have been the breeding ground for the 1994 genocide? His conclusion is very clear: because in the conflict between Nationalism and Christianity, nationalist feelings won. (If you haven’t, read his book.)
When Vlaams Belang maybe promotes a pro-life stance, they are doing it while simultaneously disregarding already-born lives just because the place of birth was not in Belgium and/or within a white family. Their slogan “own people first” is an atrocity in light of Scripture. You cannot claim to be a Christian and vote for a party that at its core slogan and identity spits on the image of God embedded in every single human being.
As for the other nationalist parties … I’ll let you be the judge of that. Ask yourself this question however: who benefits from this party’s points? Is it you and your likes? Or is it the African refugee woman who took enormous risks in hope of a better future and was likely assaulted or even raped in her journey to Europe.* Is it the security feeling of the white Belgians? Or our compatriots of Moroccan decent who are living in constant fear because of the much worse violence where they live in Antwerp? Is it that the party makes sure we (the “true” Belgians) benefit over Syrian refugees? Or is it compassion for those same people who’ve literally lost everything besides their life in fleeing the atrocities of war?
And does it really matter whether this African woman is Christian or not? Does it matter whether that’s the case for the Moroccan immigrant? And for the Syrian refugee? (In case that wasn’t clear, these were rhetorical questions because it clearly doesn’t matter.)
If the political party of your choice favours one human being over another, you deny your commitment to following Jesus and loving others. The choice to choose your national identify above your identity in Christ, however, is yours.
I gave a sermon at a church in Belgium on this topic earlier this year, and in the sermon at the church we attend, our pastor, Alan Storey, touched on a very similar topic.
You can listen to his sermon (in English) here:
Here’s the transcript of my sermon (in Dutch) with a download link below it:
*See page 30 of this report. The risk of being raped during their journey is very high for women refugees and migrants. To that degree that they take contraceptives before embarking on it.