E Pluribus unum, NOT Christian Nationalism

E Pluribus unum, NOT Christian Nationalism

E Pluribus Unum, NOT Christian Nationalism.

Before anyone knew him as a bullfrog, people knew Jeremiah as the gloomy Old Testament prophet who occasionally brightened up to offer a word of hope. Our passage today from Jeremiah 17:7-8 is one of those occasions. His nation was in crisis. The capital city Jerusalem had fallen in a crushing military defeat, and the people were being transported into Babylonian exile.

That’s when Jeremiah turned away from gloom to encourage his fellow citizens to keep the faith. Be like a tree planted by the steam that sends its roots out deep and wide so that it will get the nourishment it needs when the winds blow, and the droughts come. The key to survival and hope could be found in the lesson from the tree. Even when life is hard, symbolized by drought, the tree is not anxious, it still bears fruit.

A while back, I heard a sermon by Episcopal bishop, Rev. Michael Curry (Festival of Homiletics May 16, 2023) where he suggested that right now our country needs to learn the lesson of the tree that sends its roots out deep and wide into the living water. If we are to survive the harsh vicissitudes of what is happening on the surface with all the division, violence, corruption, and distrust of each other, we need to get down to the roots and shoot them out deep, wide, and strong.

E Pluribus Unum

One of those roots, our tap root, is our original national motto. Curry said he learned from his childhood teacher that a motto reflects the character of who you are and what you aspire to be; it’s your soul. A three-man committee of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson proposed our first national motto. Franklin put forth “Annuit Coeptis,” which means “He approves our undertakings.” However, it was ultimately rejected because it was considered too religious.

They decided on the slogan you find on your money, E Pluribus Unum. In Latin, it translates, “Out of many, one.” It’s part of the Great Seal of our country, finding its way onto every official government document. The slogan originally came from the ancient poet Virgil in the Aeneid, where the phrase refers to the unification of the Roman people under the leadership of Aeneas. In Book VII, Aeneas speaks to the Trojans who have been shipwrecked on the coast of Italy. He tells them that they must unite and work together to build a new home for themselves in Italy. He says:

Let us unite our forces and work together to build a new home for ourselves in Italy. We are all Trojans, and we are all brothers. We must come together as one people and one nation.”

The phrase “E Pluribus Unum” also appears in a poem called Moretum, which is attributed to Virgil. In this poem, “E Pluribus Unum” describes how the different ingredients are blended together to create a single, unified dish, pesto.

They one by one do lose
Their proper powers, and out of many comes one.”

It turns out pesto is as American as the hot dog. Maybe it’s a good garnish for hot dogs.

According to the government’s website about the national seal, the committee was inspired by a magazine cover that had a bouquet of 13 different flowers—out of many, one.

The phrase “E Pluribus Unum” has come to represent the diversity and unity of the United States. It has always been a reminder that we are a nation of immigrants who have come together to create a new and better life. The motto also reminds us that, despite our differences, we are all Americans.

Maybe Bishop Curry is right. If we go deep into this root, we can sustain the vicissitudes of what is happening on the surface. If we nourish our roots, our e pluribus unum mindset, we might have a chance at recapturing our soul.

Christian Nationalism

This is quite a bit different from all of the forces seeking division and turning everything into an “us” versus “them” plank in the culture wars. Lately, we’ve been hearing the term Christian Nationalism on the news. It’s coming into the mainstream, and politicians proclaim they are proud to be Christian nationalists.

It’s hard to define Christian Nationalism, as it means different things to different people. It has its roots in KKK leaders who wanted to define us as a white Christian Nation and as such the US should adopt policies that favor Christians. Many who espouse Christian Nationalism today invoke it to mean they love their faith and their country. There is nothing wrong with that.

But that’s not what true Christian Nationalism is about. Basically, it is a mindset that believes God set us apart as a country to be a Christian country, run by Christians, to promote Christian values. One would hope that the principles they care about are the ones that Jesus talked about compassion for the less fortunate, standing up for the marginalized, and making sure that everyone is included. But instead, they present a narrow and reactionary view that treats women as subservient, the LGBTQ community as an abomination, and immigrants as an existential threat.

Authoritarian and Violent

Christian Nationalists see us as a nation in decline and blame secularism for anything that goes wrong in the country. They believe their values are constantly under attack and divide the world into “us” against “them.” Therefore, they believe they are to acquire power in government by any means necessary, even if it erodes our democratic norms. Even violence is justified. We saw this on January 6th, when people with “Jesus Saves” flags used the flag poles to assault others.

They don’t believe that people of other faiths should have any seats of power, including being elected to Congress.

Christian Nationalism: The Biggest Threat to Democracy

There is an organization called Christians Against Christian Nationalism led by a Baptist minister—so you know it’s not some reactionary leftist group. They call Christian Nationalism the greatest threat to our democracy.

One of the problems of Christian Nationalism is the way people define Christianity. What they are putting out doesn’t seem to have much to do with the Christianity that I know and believe should shape our public life. You know, the kind of Christianity that believes the greatest good is loving neighbors as one’s self and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I’d love to see my ideas of Christianity be the guiding values of our county. Jesus welcomed everybody. In the Magnificat, Mary envisioned a time when the haughty would be removed from their elite thrones, and the lowly would be lifted up and be filled with good things. I like the idea of applying the biblical principal of helping those in need and treating immigrants with dignity and respect. I’d love it if we took the command to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind to mean that we’d respect science. We would have a live and let live approach where we see the inherit good in everyone and affirm the LGBTQ community. I’d love it if we promoted peace and eschewed violence. If we never tried to impose our will on someone else and legislate their behavior.

You’re against abortion, fine, don’t have one. Your against gay marriage, fine, don’t marry someone of your gender. You don’t want your children to read certain books, fine. But when you try to impose those beliefs on everyone else, you aren’t acting like Jesus. Remember the story of the rich ruler who rejected Jesus? He didn’t impose himself on him. Instead the text says he loved the man and let him walk away.

The thing that is so unnerving about the form of Christianity that Christian Nationalists take is that it’s an extremist approach that the vast majority of Christians want nothing to do with. They pretend to speak for all of us.

In the iterations of Christian nationalism that we see emerging we find that they believe that only people who think like them and are of the same religion as they are should sit in the seats of power. It’s dangerous and runs contrary to what Jesus embodied. Instead of e pluribus unum they are saying, out of many one group should be on top. They talk openly about Christians should exercise dominion over everyone else. (Diana Butler Bass stuff on dominion including Duggar family—get Xn babies to dominate. Men dominate women… https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/FMfcgzGsmrGgJwdVGXXgwqwjwTsMfJnF )

Can we get back to the root of what we aspire to, e pluribus unum, instead of domination? There are lots of mega-church pastors advocating this stuff. Who will be the voices that say there is a completely different way to see how our faith can interact with society? Who will stand up and advocate for freedom and not try to impose beliefs on others?


It is time to get back to the taproot of e pluribus unum instead of the politics of division. It can return us to a vision that is hopeful and can help us bear fruit again in this anxious season.

It can help us get back to our soul, our essence, the things we aspire to. I think of the great speech given by a character in the series, The Newsroom. Where he invokes images of working together again.

Where we fought wars against poverty, not against the poor. Where we worked together, caring about our neighbors. Put our money where our mouths were. Where we built great things and didn’t thump our chests. Worked together to make greatest technological advances, where intelligence and science were valued so we could transcend the boundaries of this world and cure diseases. Where we didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in last election. Didn’t scare easy and recongnized the first step of any solution is recognizing there is a problem.