Christians must not put their religion ahead of their patriotism!

There’s this fundamentalist preacher down in Florida, Guillermo Maldonado, who just defended his decision to host Trump at his megachurch despite Trump’s repeated insults of minorities. He told his parishioners to put their religion, Christianity, over their allegiance to America and its values. And if the two are in conflict, guess which one wins?

Yes, Christianity first. America a distant second.

Maldonado came under heavy fire for coddling a president who has called Mexicans “criminals and rapists” and who has played to the whitest of white-supremacist elements in disparaging brown-skinned people. Some of Pastor Maldonado’s churchgoers apparently had the lese majesté to claim that Trump’s jailing of children is un-Christian.

Not so, says the Gospel According to Pastor Maldonado. The key phrase in his message to his people—the really shocking one, that makes you wonder if he’s an American—is this howler: “Don’t put your race or nationality over being a Christian.”

What does this mean? Maldonado’s parishioners who are morally and ethically bothered by this president had threatened not to come to the Trump rally. But Maldonado told them to put aside their doubts and come anyway. “That’s a way of supporting me.”

How’s that again? “Don’t put your race or nationality over being a Christian”? Well, let’s set aside “race” for the time being and focus on the second qualifier, “nationality.” Maldonado’s flock, or a majority of it, are presumably Americans. But Maldonado, the Republican preacher, is telling them to pledge allegiance to their Christian religion, which in this case means: Donald J. Trump, and not to the U.S.A.

Fact: religion in America does not take precedence over citizenship. The two are not co-equal. As President Kennedy promised, he would not allow his Roman Catholic faith to outweigh his Oath to the Constitution. (See the First Amendment.) And so it should be with every American: we are citizens first. After that, we can declare our religion, our race, our ethnicity, our sexual orientation, our astrological sign, our whatever. But our obligation to our country must take precedence over everything else. If not, then what is America, beyond a polyglot collection of competing interests?

You’d think that Maldonado would have been heavily criticized throughout the non-evangelical Christian and civil liberties communities for his unpatriotic statement, but if he has been, I haven’t seen it. So I’m doing it here. No, Pastor Maldonado, Americans are not Christians, or Jews, or Muslims, or Wiccans first. We are Americans first and foremost. Nobody should put their religion over their patriotism, and no responsible clergymen should tell them otherwise. To suggest that people are Christians before they are Americans is, frankly, treasonous. It’s certainly to wander into the thick, unwanted and dangerous weeds of theocracy: a system of government in which priests rule, dictatorially, in the name of “God.”

The Taliban has such a system. So does Iran. We don’t. The Founders did their best to avoid allowing religion in governance, and wrote into the Constitution such protections as they imagined would prevent America from sinking into an intolerable theocracy. Radical, rightwing Christian zealots have been attempting, since the Republic was formed, to undermine this separation of church and state. Maldonado is merely the latest in a string of misguided, unbalanced religious extremists to argue this unAmerican trope.

But that’s where we find ourselves in Trump’s America, where a man, Trump, who has clearly been an atheist or agnostic all his life has made an unnatural bedding with a class of people he always considered vulgar slobs: evangelicals. It should not be surprising that Trump, an opportunistic liar, would do something in his own self-interest and not that of the nation. What is surprising—although by this time it…

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