A Response To The Alt-Right Understanding Of The Nations

Guest post from Ph.D student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary: Matthew Hirt (Twitter @matthewhirt)

Hijacking the HUP

The homogeneous unit principle (HUP) has been used by missionaries and church planters in thinking about how Christianity might spread quickly among a population in a given area. Properly understood, this principle is descriptive rather than prescriptive. The HUP is not an end in itself. This principle does not mean churches would be permanently monoethnic. In fact, they cannot be permanently separated racially or socially in light of the diverse kingdom of God to come. However, the limitations of the HUP accepted by missiologists have not prevented the “Alt-Right movement” from attempting to usurp the truths behind the principle for their own evil purposes. Many in the alt-right make great efforts to appear within the bounds of historical Christian orthodoxy. However,leaders of the alt-right uphold and affirm the superiority of “white identity” and call for the establishment of a white “ethno-state.” The alt-right attempts to hijack the biblical notion of tribe and nation for their own Anglo-centered racist agenda.

Nationhood in the Bible is complex. The concept of modern nation-states did not exist until at least the seventeenth century. Biblical references to nations and tribes have neither an exclusive geopolitical nor ethnic sense. The Greek and Hebrew terms for “nations” are complicated and cannot be reduced to a single category. The alt-right infers that the terms “nation” and “tribe” refers to something that the biblical text simply does not mean. The terms in no way condone an indefinite division of people on the basis of race, color, or ethnicity. Nonetheless, the alt-right’s attempt to hijack these terms for their own wicked purposes is nothing new. Bruno Gutmann, a German anthropologist and missionary in the early twentieth century, made observations that are very similar to the HUP and shows how this type of usage of religious concepts has been done before.

Guttmann drew upon  the German terms Blut und Broden (“land and soil”). This phrase was intended to describe the advance of the gospel to all ethnic groups, all nations and tribes. However, the German National Socialists ripped these terms out of their missiological context and hijacked them for their own racist agenda.  Guttmann observed that “For the Nazis the word ‘blood’ alluded to their identification of ‘nation’ with ‘pure race (descent)’, and ‘soil’ implied their claim that the stronger race or nation, the Herrenvolk, had a right to the soil possessed by any inferior race….”[1] The alt-right movement, similarly, has taken the terms “nation” and “tribe” to refer to a pure race, while the writers of  the Bible in both testaments speak strongly against such attitudes and division.

The Alt-Right Movement is anti-God and anti-God’s mission

The first reason to reject this movement is the common origin of humanity in Genesis 1–2 and humanity bearing God’s image. All people are worthy of respect, honor, and dignity as fellow equal human beings. Second, criticism of division upon racial differences is especially clear throughout the New Testament. Jesus says, in perhaps the most famous verse in all the Bible John 3:16, that God loves “the world,” and for that reason, He gave His only Son. The world  in this verse clearly includes people of different colors, ethnicities, languages, and geographies, therefore Jesus leaves no room for the racism and the hatred exhibited by the alt-right.

The Apostle Paul spends a considerable amount of time addressing issues of racism and ethnic division within the church. Paul states explicitly what the gospel means for racism in stating, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14). Paul also rebuked Peter when Peter slipped back into attitudes of racial division Gal 2:11–14. With this said, that same rebuke must be leveraged by the American Church today against those who espouse racial superiority and division. Racism simply cannot stand under the weight of evidence against it in the Bible. Its presence in the church and in society must be firmly, forcefully, and unequivocally rebuked and condemned. The church must actively break down these divisions. It cannot be done passively or believed that the divisions will gradually break down on their own in time. Many of the walls built by the Romans still stand and unfortunately so do the racial divisions that Paul denounced.

The HUP may be helpful in thinking about how the gospel might spread within a given people group, but the gospel must spread beyond ethnic, racial, linguistic, social, and economic boundaries. The Great Commission demands that this be done. In fact, if this did not happen in the past, there would not even be any white Christians.

[1] J. C. Winter, Bruno Gutmann: 1876–1966: A German Approach to Social Anthropology, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979), 39.

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