In the first section we defined what the term “nationalism” means in general. We can further divide nationalism into “civic nationalism” and “ethno-nationalism.” Civic nationalism defines membership in a nation by language, geography, culture and political beliefs. For example, an American civic nationalist would define an American as someone who speaks English, who either was born in America or immigrated to America, and who respects the Constitution. Ethno-nationalism defines membership in a nation by all of the above criteria as well as race or ancestry. For example, an American ethno-nationalist would say that only someone with white European ancestors can be an actual American, while someone with ancestors from Africa or Asia cannot.
The idea of ethno-nationalism is quite objectionable to many Christians today, but that is only because the Church has strayed so far from the Biblical understanding of nationhood. As we saw in the previous section the Bible always assumes that ancestry is one of the defining features of a nation. The Israelites are literally understood as the children (descendants) of Jacob.
Someone might object that although ancient Israel was defined by ancestry, it was also possible for non-Israelites to join the commonwealth of God. This is true to an extent, but there are two important qualifications. First, racial Israelites (that is, those who were born to Israelite parents) had an automatic right to membership in the nation. There was a clear, God-ordained “Israelite privilege” at work in the old covenant nation. Non-Israelites who wished to participate in the nation had extra hurdles to overcome that racial Israelites did not. Second, we see that God’s law clearly discriminated between different types of immigrants on racial or national grounds.
3 An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever: 4 Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee. 5 Nevertheless the Lord thy God would not hearken unto Balaam; but the Lord thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the Lord thy God loved thee. 6 Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever. 7 Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother: thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian; because thou wast a stranger in his land. 8 The children that are begotten of them shall enter into the congregation of the Lord in their third generation.
Even after ten generations an Ammonite remains an Ammonite, that is a son of Benammi.
Someone might object that ancient Israel was unique because God directly wrote the civil legislation of that nation, and that we cannot apply that legislation to our situation today. It certainly is true that God uniquely revealed His will to the Israelites, but it does not follow that we therefore cannot use ancient Israel as an example. After all, ancient Israel had special, direct commandments from God about which nations they should go to war with. We do not have such commandments from God today, but that does not mean that we cannot go to war. We use general Biblical principles as well as our own judgment to decide which nations to declare war against. Similarly we can use general Biblical principles as well as our own judgment to decide which nations to discriminate against in our immigration law.
We also point out that American immigration and citizenship laws were ethno-nationalist up until the cultural revolutions of the 1960s. The first American immigration law was the Naturalization Act of 1790. This law said that only a “free white person” should be eligible for citizenship. American immigration law continued this trend of favoring white European immigrants well into the 20th century. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 specifically excluded one racial group from being allowed to immigrate to the United States. American immigration policy was completely redefined during the 1960s, the same era that saw the subversion and denigration of everything that made America great. The 60s radicals attacked Christianity, sexual morality, the patriarchal family, capitalism, patriotism and ethno-nationalism. These radicals saw all these things as part of one evil system. Why do so many contemporary Christians agree with the 60s radicals about ethno-nationalism?
Anyone today who defends the ancient Israelite understanding of nationhood, immigration and ancestry is decried as an evil “racist” and ethno-nationalist. The same is true for anyone who wishes to return American immigration and citizenship laws to what they were prior to the 1960s.