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Review of ‘God & Country’ Documentary

It stunk to be an Ephraimite in the days of Jephthah the Judge. In the biblical book of Judges, we read about how one tribe, the Ephraimites, insulted the Gileadites, who in turn fought against the Ephraimites and captured the entrances back into their territory. One thing to keep in mind about the Ephraimites was their speech impediment; apparently, they had trouble making the SH sound. So, each time an Ephraimite survivor tried to return home, a Gileadite would say, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If they said no, the Gileadite made them prove it by saying the word “Shibboleth.” If it came out “sibboleth,” then the Ephraimite was found out and killed.

In recent years, “Christian Nationalist” has become something of a “shibboleth”—a phrase meant to quickly determine whether you’re in or out. It’s true that some Christians have claimed the term and given it a distinctive shape (e.g., Stephen Wolfe’s The Case for Christian Nationalism). But whether or not you are a Christian Nationalist, if you’re outed as one, that’s meant to be an instant dismissal from the table.

God & Country by Dan Partland (director) and Rob Reiner (producer) is a documentary about what it calls Christian Nationalism and its influence on American politics. They assemble a cast of influential Christians and American commentators to make the case that Christian Nationalism perverts Christian faith and threatens American democracy.

How strong is their case?

Why This Review

I felt it was important to watch the documentary because of the weight of the questions it tries to answer. What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to be an American? Is there a connection between America and Christianity? The documentary was a 90-minute education in how a coalition of Never Trumpers, the evangelical left, and American secularists answer these questions.

Overview of God and Country

January 6 bookends the documentary. In between, we delve into what the documentary says fueled the fanaticism: Christian Nationalism. Phil Vischer, creator of VeggieTales, explains the logic: If America is a Christian nation which plays a special role in God’s plan, and democracy gets in the way, then democracy has to go. Footage to back this connection shows preachers yelling statements such as, “We are going to impose Christian rule!” and “America is a Christian nation!” and “The Bible says we’ll take it by force!”

At one point, we see an arena filled with thousands saying the “Watchman Decree” in unison, which includes declarations such as, “We decree that our judicial system will issue rulings that are biblical and constitutional” and “We declare that we take back and permanently control positions of influence and leadership” and “We declare that America is strong spiritually, financially, militarily and technologically.”[1] Although such declarations seem bizarre to many of us, name-it-claim-it pronouncements are par for the course in the brand of Pentecostalism that promotes the “Watchman Decree” (e.g., FlashPoint).

Firebrand politicians Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Green join the chorus, with a clip of Boebert saying she’s tired “of this separation of church and state junk” and a clip of Green calling herself a “proud Christian Nationalist.”


“. . . preachers yelling statements such as ‘We are going to impose Christian rule!’ and ‘America is a Christian nation!’ and ‘The Bible says we’ll take it by force!’


Christian Nationalism, the documentary goes on to narrate, is based in historical ignorance. The stories of Washington kneeling to pray in the snow at Valley Forge and prayer at the Constitutional Convention are legends. Early settlers’ attempts at theocratic rule, for example, by the Puritans and Pilgrims, were failed experiments. Freedom From Religion attorney Andrew Seidel describes how America’s government is necessarily secular, explaining that “there is no freedom of religion without a government that is free from religion.” We are told it’s a myth that American government and laws were founded on Judeo-Christian principles.

With reclaiming their heritage perpetually on the horizon, Christian Nationalists often find themselves frustrated by cultural losses and overpromising politicians. In the Falwell years, they discovered a winning issue in abortion. The documentary heavily implies that saving unborn lives was secondary at best to the goal of coalescing conservatives and winning elections. Apparently, the real impetus in forming a “Moral Majority” lay in maintaining private, segregated schools, such Bob Jones University, which battled through the 1970s to hold onto both anti-black policies and tax-exempt status. Although Christian Nationalists amassed some wins along the way, such as having a two-term evangelical president in George W. Bush, the vision of a truly Christian America remains unrealized.

Which brings us to Trump.

Although the “incarnation of the seven deadly sins” (the words of Iranian-American sociologist Reza Aslan), Trump became for Christian Nationalists an unlikely “Cyrus the Great,” a reference to the Persian emperor that God raised up to allow the Jews to return from exile and rebuild. Trump began using Christian Nationalist rhetoric, echoing the Christianity-is-under-siege messaging of alarmist televangelists. This was their man—God’s man.


“Trump became for Christian Nationalists an unlikely ‘Cyrus the Great,’ a reference to the Persian emperor God raised up to allow the Jews to return from exile and rebuild.”


So, when it appeared that Trump was going to lose his second election, it was literally unthinkable, as it mismatched God’s plan and contradicted prophetic pronouncements (e.g., Kenneth Copeland’s “The media says Joe Biden is President? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!”). Busloads of church groups descended on DC, for events such as January 5’s “Rally to Revival” in Freedom Plaza and January 6’s “Save America” rally.

Strengths of God & Country

First, early on, Russell Moore notes that there’s a distinction between pro-life, traditional-marriage conservatives and Christian Nationalists. It’s true that the rest of the documentary muddles these categories considerably. But it was good that, at least theoretically, the film says you can be a conservative Christian and not culpable for the nastiness attributed to Christian Nationalism.

Second, God & Country paints a depressingly accurate depiction of some politically engaged Christians—terrified of the nation’s trajectory, vicious toward the political opposition. Cue the clip of preacher Greg Locke sneering, “If you vote Democrat, I don’t even want you around this church. You can get out. You can get out, you demon!” or of a conference speaker punctuating his talk on Exodus and the U.S. government by shouting, “Let’s go, Brandon!”


“It was good that, at least theoretically, the film says you can be a conservative Christian and not culpable for the nastiness attributed to Christian Nationalism.”


Weaknesses of God & Country

The two main weaknesses of God & Country are 1) what it fails to mention and 2) what it mentions so subtly that you might miss the point of the documentary.

What’s Missing

One of the clearest impressions the film gave was that we’ve never seen a more villainous American leader than Trump or a darker day than January 6. What the film never depicts is the seriousness of the concerns Trump voters have.

For example, the film asks, now that Roe v. Wade is over, will pro-lifers use their millions of dollars to help the women whose lives they’ve drastically complicated through overturning Roe? The implication is that the abortion conflict is basically over, although in reality it has only intensified at the state level. Another strong implication is that, if you resonated with Trump’s call to build the wall, you’re clearly a racist—what’s missing is time given to any legitimate concerns over a border crisis.

New York Times columnist David French chides Christians for fearing that they’ll lose religious freedom, noting that “first amendment jurisprudence has never been stronger.” Perhaps he’s right, but would that have been the case if Trump had lost to Clinton in 2016, and Clinton had nominated three Supreme Court Justices? All the while, LGBTQ activists continue to be unsatisfied with their gains, the Equality Act continues to lurk in the shadows, and Canada hovers over us as a constant reminder that being the “West” no longer guarantees robust religious freedom.

Legitimate concerns either go unmentioned, dismissed, or inverted to make the conservative viewer feel villainous for having them. Yet you simply can’t understand the people the film claims to be exposing without delving into these concerns—which tells me the filmmakers wanted to vilify far more than to understand.


“Legitimate concerns either go unmentioned, dismissed, or inverted to make the conservative viewer feel villainous for having them.”


What’s There (But Under the Radar)

It’s true that, on the one hand, there is a movement that exaggerates the Christianness of America’s heritage (just as the Freedom From Religion lawyer on film exaggerates the secularity of our heritage; for more on this, see Os Guinness’s Last Call for Liberty and its contrast of the French and American Revolutions). It’s also true that this movement is chomping at the bit to win back America for God—whether by prophetic declaration or political alliance. If the January 6 connection made in this film is as accurate as the filmmakers portray, then it seems that some in the Christian Nationalist movement resort to force.

On the other hand, I don’t think the overarching purpose of the documentary is to expose the danger of this movement. Sure, that’s a large part of the argument, but the larger, more subtle argument goes like this (my summary):

“See how dangerous Christian Nationalism is? How it’s taking us to the precipice of fascism? If you want to be part of the solution, you’ve got to reevaluate what real Christianity is. What you have to do is start centering your faith on what really matters to God: inclusivity for the marginalized, compassion for the poor, and welcome for the migrant. Those ethics are the core of Christianity. You need to stop caring so much about abortion and same-sex marriage. Jesus didn’t talk about those anyway!”


“I don’t think the overarching purpose of the documentary is to expose the danger of this movement.”


I shared earlier that January 6 bookended the documentary. But there’s a postscript of sorts which gives an invitation to reevaluate your convictions and reframe your faith in terms of inclusivity and compassion. The final scenes show us real Christianity: the Catholic sister who discovered how nuanced the abortion issue really is; the Muslim sociologist who reminds us of the beauty of America’s true core: multiculturalism and pluralism; the Disciples of Christ minister/social activist to whom true Christianity is about inclusion and protection of everybody, regardless of creed, race, and sexuality.

So, in the end, God & Country is playing the same game as what it calls “Christian Nationalism,” but with an opposite jersey: alarmism to make the viewer angry and fearful so that they will let loose of convictions (e.g., about marriage and human life) and let their faith be reframed into its own left-leaning version of the gospel. That’s real Christianity, we are told.

Of course, no political documentary these days is complete without playing foreboding music while comparing the other side to the Nazis. God & Country compares Christian Nationalists to 1930s German pastors in league with Hitler, just as Eric Metaxas’s Letter to the American Church documentary compares conservative Christians who don’t preach politics to the pastors in 1930s Germany who did nothing to stop Hitler. God & Country models the easy path of calling people names instead of sitting down with them for conversations of curiosity and understanding.


[1] “Watchman Decree.” https://flashpoint.govictory.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2022/06/WatchmanDecree.pdf.

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