Sign up for newsletter >>
Review: God & Country
Photo by Robert Linder / Unsplash

Review: God & Country

Rob Reiner's documentary on Christian Nationalism completely misses the mark

When the trailer for God & Country was released late last year, it reignited an ongoing online debate surrounding the topic of “Christian Nationalism” which has been hotly discussed since the events of the January 6 Capital Riot. The Rob Reiner-produced documentary was going to bring numerous prominent liberal evangelical voices to the table to blast Conservative Christians as ignorant fascists, with help from Nashville’s own Russell Moore and David French, to expose the dangers of a growing ideology among Americans.  

This festered into a normal toxic partisan discourse, with leftists writing long threads on the emergent and growing threat of “Christo-Fascism,” and rightists arguing that any form of Christian expression in the public square was being bashed as immoral—with even minor infractions like the Mt. Juliet Pro-Life protestors being treated as domestic terrorists. As Daily Wire contributor Megan Basham argued, the movie’s “deluded” take was simply to define Christian Nationalism as “normal Christians exercising their faith in the public sphere in normal ways.” 

Having now been released in theaters, the film only serves as a benchmark of how badly mainstream media presents the case against the concept. 

God & Country amounts to little more than a paranoid scare presentation; an insipid, annoying, incoherent rambling work of paranoia, conspiratorial thinking, and Trump derangement that marches out a series of Progressive Christians and religious scholars to excoriate their fellow brothers and sisters for allowing their conservative politics to drive their ideas and threaten democracy—arguing that mainstream white evangelicals and pro-life marchers are an insurgent theocratic threat being propped up by right-wing think tanks, televangelists, and greedy Republican capitalists.

Any meaningful discussion of Christian Nationalism thus needs to start from the reality that the term is nebulous, vague, and malleable. American Christianity has an incestuous relationship with American politics, and there are nuanced arguments to be made about both, but the term must be meaningful to be useful. Thus, an entire industry of works have emerged in recent years like Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne and Katherine Stewart’s The Power Worshippers to elucidate the concept. 

The only major mainstream attempt to defend the concept has come from Stephen Wolf’s controversial The Case For Christian Nationalism, which attempts to embrace the term as a valid form of social organization—defining it as, “a totality of national action, consisting of civil laws and social customs, conducted by a Christian nation as a Christian nation, in order to procure for itself both earthly and heavenly good in heaven.” 

God & Country’s definition is not too far off from Wolfe’s, as it suggests that Christian Nationalism is best understood as the idea that America is a Christian nation that must be driven by biblical principles that create deep ties between faith and the church. It believes that God has a special purpose for America in history. This movement is not limited to evangelicals but to conservative Catholics and atheists who see religious importance in America’s values, primarily functioning as a partisan political movement marching under the banner of Christianity. 

This isn’t a terrible definition, but it ultimately serves a narrative that evangelicals and their backers are nothing but machiavellian power worshippers and Neo-Nazis, who are intentionally or unintentionally attempting to convince ignorant White Americans to establish an authoritarian theocracy—driven by anti-democracy, anti-feminism, anti-abortion, anti-public schools, anti-LGBT, anti-CRT, pro-book burning, pro-greed, pro-injustice, pro-gun, pro-segregation, and pro-genocide sentiments and institutions.  

The movie’s entire argument rests on the hope that the evangelical voices it brings to bear to make these arguments are valid and credible; that folks like French and Moore speak for enough Christians that the movie can posit itself as pro-moderate Christianity as it attempts to arrest control of American Evangelism back from this ignorant hateful cult. It needs credible Christian voices who can stand in front of the camera and say “As a white evangelical I find that a scary thing” to make its arguments stick. 

This is hard to square though with the film being produced by Rob Reiner, whose Twitter feed in recent years has been amongst the most deranged and uncharitable of mainstream Hollywood filmmakers in their views against average Americans and their values. Instead of just packing the film with liberal evangelicals, he brings in voices who are far more hostile to conservative Christianity who make the frustration felt by non-conservative Christians feel comparatively nuanced. 

Andrew Seidel, a Constitutional attorney from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, is repeatedly marched out to argue that America’s founding is primarily secular and that attempts to define it otherwise are cherry-picking history. Muslim scholar Reza Aslan appears and declares Donald Trump the human embodiment of the seven deadly sins, before claiming that Christians are only reading their values into scriptures rather than embracing orthodox ancient beliefs. Progressive Catholic activist Simone Campbell is marched out to claim unironically that the Bible has nothing to say about the morality of abortion.  

It is hard to ignore the presence of these folks. Regardless of the motivations of the people involved though, the ideas presented in the film itself are bad enough. It’s all too cheap. It is easy to March out scary videos of Pastors like Greg Locke or Kenneth Copeland—who are already somewhat fringe figures in American Christianity—ranting about Democrats and play it with unsettling music over January 6 riot footage to tie into some notion that they are at the forefront of a fundamentalist coup.

The frustrating reality of God & Country is that there are meaningful arguments and debates to be had about the philosophies and beliefs surrounding Christian Nationalism, and yet the film bungles them hard enough to make them useless. There is a degree to which these ideas are sincerely dangerous and harmful if taken too far, but any meaningful indictment of Christian Nationalism would have to start with the reality that the biggest problem with the movement is that it is too secular. 

Donald Trump is not a sincere Christian. He merely gestures positively toward Christianity while indulging in a multitude of dangerous sins. The cult of personality surrounding him has festered an incestuous relationship between Christianity and Republican politics, where the former is often subordinate to the latter. This has unfortunate side effects in that Republican talking points are all-too-often mistaken for Christian traditions, and at the extreme ends it creates deranged schizophrenic works like Helgard Müller’s President Donald J. Trump, The Son of Man - The Christ, wherein the author argues that Trump is the prophesied coming of the Messiah of this age. 

However, it is telling though that this isn’t the argument the film focuses on. God & Country doesn’t argue that Christian Nationalism is bad because it is too secular but because it is too conservative. It wants to argue that authentic Christianity is pluralistic, inclusive, and accepting of issues like abortion, immigration, and LGBT rights—and that the folks who think otherwise are insincere, dangerous insurgents and power-mongering liars. 

Historic Christian orthodoxy isn’t progressive. It cuts against both rightist and leftist thought. It is post-liberal, monarchical, collectivist, and objective. It is pro-woman, pro-man, and radically pro-life. It is (partially) anti-capitalist and anti-communist. It doesn’t teach acceptance or tolerance. It doesn’t align with either party. And yet these filmmakers would have us believe the radical inverse of Christian Nationalism—that conservatives are distinctly guilty of bastardizing the name of Christ. 

God & Country does not represent a sincere attempt to correct a real heresy but a catty hypocritical work of political propaganda, created by partisans frustrated that the body of believers is moving away from their preferred values.