I am beginning with this post because a conversation at Thanksgiving is really what prompted me to take this blog series more seriously than I was planning. A group of BVG members and I got together after Thanksgiving and we were going around saying what we were thankful for. One of my friends said she was thankful that citizens of the USA were under special protection from Jesus Christ, and shared a story illustrating her belief.
In her childhood her parents were missionaries in Hungary. While they lived there a war was ravaging a nearby country (the issues in Bosnia/Herzegovina/Yugoslavia?) and if that war heated up Marines in helicopters would come and extract them to safety. She suggested that the fact that they would be extracted from danger if things got too bad was a sign of God’s special protection unique to US citizens. She also, more sheepishly, related the fact that she had secretly hoped they would need to be extracted; getting a ride in a helicopter with a bunch of Marines would have been quite the experience.
First, let me suggest that the reason her family would have been extracted is a direct consequence of the overall U.S. defense strategy and our foreign policy. We spend billions of tax dollars in the military-industrial complex and have set up military bases all over the world through various agreements with foreign countries. As a result we can project our power, including the ability to evacuate U.S. citizens from dangerous places, over much of the globe. This story illustrates the benefits (for U.S. citizens at least) of decisions made by our government and the spending of our tax dollars. Furthermore, I cannot think of any country that would not extract their citizens from harm given the opportunity. I am sure the government of the belligerents in the war near to Hungary would happily have extracted their non-combatants to somewhere safe if they had somewhere safe to send them to. I am sure many countries would have extracted their citizens from parts of the U.S. to avoid hate-crimes after 9/11 if they had army bases and helicopters on U.S. soil.
Second, while I want to be fair to my friend, who was only a young girl at the time, I think I should be blunt. Only an U.S. citizen could be so pampered and insulated from the realities of this world to actively wish that a war, a war in which people are getting killed and atrocities were being committed, would get worse so that they could get a helicopter ride with U.S. Marines.
My friend is not alone in having this belief; I have heard it and variations of it espoused numerous times and it is this belief, not my friend or her story, that I want to focus on. I have heard this in sermons, news statements and general talk among Christians.
Let me continue to be blunt: the United States of America has never been and is not a Christian nation, we do not have a special relationship with Jesus Christ, nor are we under any special protection or blessing from God. There is no biblical evidence for any of these beliefs.
While I have never heard anyone claim a chapter of verse proves this special relationship between the USA and Jesus Christ most often proponents of this belief have suggested parts of our history have in some way earned or initiated such a relationship. So for the sake of argument, let us consider the history of the U.S. and see if we have done anything that would initiate, earn or maintain a special relationship with Christ.
Our colonial days: Some might suggest that, harkening back to grade-school plays regarding the pilgrims and Native Americans, that we were founded by Christians seeking religious freedom. While some Christians did flee to America to escape religious persecution in Europe (from other “Christians” *eyeroll*), economic gain and the exploitation of the New World was far more central to the initial colonization of the Americas. Colonies were initially high risk-investments and business ventures taken by governments in Europe. As colonization continued and stabilized the promise of new resources up for grabs (such as trees, fish, etc.) that were being rapidly depleted in Europe drove governments to begin seriously investing and protecting their colonial projects.
The early economy in which the colonies were based off of was a triangle of trade that centered around the production of an addictive substance (alcohol) and slavery. Slaves in West Africa were bought and brought to the West Indies and used to harvest cane sugar and produce molasses. Molasses was in turn taken to the colonies and turned into rum. This was sold on the market and used back in West Africa to buy more slaves. Sherman Edwards, a lyricists once wrote, “Shall we dance to the sound of the profitable pound of molasses and rum and slaves” in 1776. In this the colonies were more similar to narco-trafficing states with much more in common with the poor farmers in Afghanistan who farm and sell opium to make it by than the quaint settlements of Christians enjoying religious liberty.
Our Founding: I distinctly remember one Christian man suggesting that it was his sincere belief that God had blessed the USA for decisions our founders made in founding this as a Christian nation. This is not an accurate depiction of our founding. We were founded by deistic slave owners who based our governing documents Secular Humanism, not Christianity. Three basic tenants of Secular Humanism are Naturalism, Rationalism, and Humanism and all are in direct contradiction basic tenants of the Christian faith. Naturalism is the belief that everything in this world is a result of natural forces interacting; the supernatural (such as God, Christ, the incarnation, and the spiritual realm) is completely denied and essentially relegated to the status of superstition where acknowledged at all. Rationalism is the belief that everything has a rational explanation and a logical explanation; this is why reason trumps faith in all workings of our government. Humanism is the belief that humanity is the be all and end all of this world and that human ingenuity and progress will solve the problems of this world; man’s potential, not God, is the hope of this world. Secular Humanisn is the religion-that-is-not-a-religion that is at the core of our government, our culture and the Western world, not Christianity.
Furthermore, how can we even suggest we are a Christian nation when the USA explicitly states and protects freedom of religion? Would not a “Christian nation” have Christianity as our state religion and exclude all others? “Freedom of religion” was not code for “Christian theocracy,” it was code for “freedom from religion.” If all religions are equal in the eyes of the state, no religion is relevant to state business. This desire to escape the confines of religion is clearly evident in Thomas Jefferson’s last letter, where he wrote the following:
May it [the Declaration of Independence] be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.
These are not exactly the words of someone concerned with establishing a religions nation of any sort, let alone a Christian one.
Our conquest of the American continent: Then there was Manifest Destiny and the expansion of the USA across the continent. We (meaning Caucasian US citizens from select countries in Western Europe) had a destiny to civilize the American continent. Religious overtones were often added to this as some preachers suggested that America was the new Promised Land, we the new Israelites, and the Native Americans the new Caananites whose land we were under a divine mandate to take. And take we did. We took the land of the Native Americans and in the process destroyed their cultures, broke several treaties, committed genocide and put the survivors on permanent prisoner of war camps we now call reservations. This video is worth a watch to anyone who wants to see the carnage we left in our wake as we murdered several cultures to take this land and the injustice that still happens today.
I am tempted to go on but I think I have made my point clear. The list of our sins and non-Christian beliefs and practices as a nation is not a short one. We were founded in blood and exploitation and not much has changed. Be it slavery, the treatment of the Native Americans, our current foreign policy, the exploitation of the poor (at home and abroad – of any race or nationality, i.e. the Irish at the turn of the century or Latin American illegals today), the destruction of the environment, the consumption of perishable resources, the use of drugs, our prison system (which incarcerates at five times the rate of any other developed world), the pornography industry, the compromising of the Gospel to secularizing forces from our culture, the massive stockpile of nuclear weapons we have (and the fact that we are the only nation in the world to have used them), or the staggering kill count that we have incurred over the years as the direct result of our wars and “collateral damage,” I do not see much to have earned a relationship with Jesus Christ or His blessing and protection. I see a lot of reasons why the USA should be considered one of the most apostate groups of people on the planet.
We look like a nation that worships Molek, Baal and Ashera, not Jesus Christ.
To be fair, we have done positive things that have contributed to the state of this world but this isn’t a balance sheet and even if it did I am not sure we would come close to breaking even. We cannot exploit thirty developing nation and then send monetary relief (possibly gained through exploitation?) to the most recent earthquake victims and claim that this puts us once again in a position to claim Christ’s name.
The notion itself is also rather ridiculous. If US citizens were under special protection or blessing, that would mean that our borders and our citizenship policies, as defined by human governments, would dictate to God whom He should especially protect and who is just a regular human being. Was God not concerned about Hawaiians or Alaskans until the land they lived on became states? This would put human governments above Jesus. This is the opposite of Christian orthodoxy where human governments are a servant of God (Romans 13). Furthermore, I hope it can be seen how such a belief is inherently prideful, ethnocentric, exclusive, demeaning towards other nations, and ignorant on a number of levels.
Finally, let us suggest, again for the sake of argument, that somehow it could be proved that the USA is the “New Israel” and has some special relationship with God. If this were true we have much to fear. From a recent paper I wrote on Amos, I would argue that the closest time in Israel’s history to the present situation in the U.S.A is during the writing of Amos in the 8th century BCE. In that day Israel was culture marked by affluence, high religious practice (with low religious understanding), confidence in its military strength (as they were fresh from military victories no less), increasing urbanization, and an increasing divide between the poor and rich. I hope it is plan how this could easily describe Israel in the 8th century the USA.
It did not end well for the Israelites. Their religious practice, evidenced by their high attendance at shrines and religious sites, was ultimately deemed empty because of the state of their hearts. The new rich in the cities were exploiting the weak and denying them justice. As a result God sent Amos to proclaim a message of judgment over Israel and lead them into exile.
If the USA is a Christian nation, we are a nation ripe for judgment and exile. And this is not a judgment that was earned by and for non-Christians or those other Christians in that church/denomination down the street, this will be a judgment earned by our nation for our nation.
So please, stop acting, thinking, and speaking as if the USA has a special relationship with Jesus Christ and the benefits we enjoy from living in this nation are something we have earned through our behavior or His favor. It is true that we enjoy many freedoms that we take for granted and have it so good compared to everyone else in the world (trust me, this is hitting home as I write from the Philippine Islands). Francis Chan has an amazing sermon on how, even the poorest citizen in the USA is filthy stinking rich. And this wealth and these privileges came from somewhere.
We should seriously question where our vast amounts of wealth and our protection come from and who has really paid (and is paying) for the extravagant and insulated lifestyles we live.
I think your description for the founding is black and white. Based on the stuff I’ve been listening to on the Thomas Jefferson hour, there was a lot more nuance than “Naturalism, Rationalism, and Humanism” versus “Christianity.” Also, I don’t think anyone argues that there is “Biblical” evidence for the whole “God Loves the USA” thing. They usually argue from events in history -however exaggerated their interpretations may be.
Overall I agree with the rest of the points. The first time I thought my old high-school church was going wrong, was when I saw that stupid cut-out of George W. Bush in the church sanctuary circa 1999. The whole Christian nation mentality got even more annoying around 2001.
I should also add that if people want to know what a “Christian Nation” looks like they should look to the pre-reformation Holy Roman Empire (aka “Germany”) or Protestant England during the Tudor era.
It’s also worth pointing out that John Wesley opposed the “Rebellion of the Colonies” because of Romans 13.
Kevin, you’re a nice guy and I like you, but let me be frank and blunt.
You are obviously judging the USA and all of the founders based on Marxist (all things boil down to a power struggle, classism and the relationship between producers and suppliers, not communism), postcolonial, modernist arguments which acts as though the Pilgrims and the founding fathers had modern-day knowledge and chose to do evil. Although your conclusion is correct that there is no special, symbiotic relationship between God and the USA, the USA was founded on Christian principles, at least the ones held in the 18th century. What we know now is that their interpretations were a little off and we should correct them, but to act as though they cared little to nothing about God, Christianity or being righteous in God’s sight is simplistic, shallow and arrogant.
Your arguments are too numerous to refute, since the refutation would become tedious and eventually longer than the posting itself. Let me summarize by saying they sound like the normal, run-of-the-mill, guilt-ridden arguments made by the rich that anyone who is well-off or blessed by God obviously got there by oppressing the poor. How can we teach God will bless the righteous if we demonize those who seem to be blessed by him? Although some receive money through unfair weights and oppress the poor, that does not mean every rich person is the same.
I don’t mean to completely reject what you wrote, but it was not very researched and has no grace. Is the USA perfect? No. Should we worship our (founding fathers/Republicans/Democrats/insert political star here)? No. Are we everything we claim to be? No. But that doesn’t make us evil hypocrites either. We’re just wrong. Just like you. You’re wrong, not evil.
I appreciate you pushing back on my post.
I am by no means a Marxist or someone who has studied or advocates for Liberation theology. Some of what you allude to (especially in regards to “producers and suppliers”) actually comes from my Recovery Ministry and Local Church class with Dr. Dale Ryan.
That being said I am thoroughly convinced that God has always called His followers to take care of the outsiders and the downtrodden in their society (the poor, the orphan, the widow and the alien for example). God’s concern for the marginalized runs throughout the entire Bible. It is not Marxist to agree with this.
I do not think it is postcolonial or modernist to hold Christians to Christian morality and ethics. While Christian morality and ethics has changed over the centuries there were people back in the time of our founding who were against slavery and people who, before the U.S. was founded, were treating indigenous peoples with respect and love. In other words, I would argue that I am not holding them to modern standardds or ethics, but ethics that were present, if not widely believed, in their day.
As for our founders faith I should acknowledge that I do not know the hearts of men today, let alone several hundred years ago. Maybe many of our Founding Fathers were sincere Christians seeking to produce a nation based on Christian principles, but I highly doubt this from the literature, such as the one I provided, that exists from many of their writings.
While God does bless people, even financially, I sincerely doubt the vast majority of wealth in America comes from blessings from God earned through obedience to God. The rain falls on the just and the unjust though so I do not think everyone who has money has directly exploited the poor, just as I do not think everyone who has money has been blessed by Jesus for their faithfulness. That being said, one cannot look at our history and our present world and bury our head in our sand and pretend that the world is not as integrated as it is. Can we continue to consume resources and commodities and not wonder where they came from and what the human cost was to produce them?
While I do not think this video will convince anyone of anything I think it highlights what I am talking about, and things we should consider: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdrCalO5BDs
Graham, for the sake of not getting overly broad, maybe you can expound on this:
“the USA was founded on Christian principles, at least the ones held in the 18th century.”
Keep in mind, that there’s probably an important difference between what we think is a “Christian Principle” and want many people in the 18th century thought was a Christian Principle.
I’ve already mentioned one 18th century Christian who believed that the Revolution itself violated the Bible.
You seem to have confused labeling something as Marxist with providing evidence against whatever you labeled. Are you denying slavery occured, and the horrors perpetrated by these supposedly stalwart Christians towards not only Africans but Native Americans? Are you denying the treaties broken by Lincoln with his one hand even as he freed slaves with the other? I see you labeling and dismissing a lot out of hand, but not much real contribution to the discussion.
American founders had “Christian” values insofar as their culture adopted values in line with God’s own, be this because of some overlap in the practical applications of humanist ideals or by true infusion of the Christian faith, by those who had actually come to America to escape religious persecution (or other Christians who had somehow made their way over). While it may not be as black and white as it appears in this blog post, the truth is that even supposedly holding these Christian values, the founders and their descendants STILL perpetrated the horrors above. And if you don’t account for them in terms of a struggle between a dominating culture and a subjugated culture, it is THEN that you are calling them evil, rather than wrong. You can’t have it both ways — either the Marxist explanation fits and they were just wrong, or they acted against what they knew to be right and were knowingly perpetrating evil, as sinful human beings do every day.
@Kev Great post, look forward to the next ones!
I really enjoyed reading this post. Do you believe there can be a Christian nation? I find the ideals of Christianity and nationhood (as its been demonstrated) to be incompatible.
I’m late to this argument as I just learned about your blog. I grew up in a very conservative church that used II Chron 7:14 to suggest that America had been a Christian nation and needed to get back on track. Of course, this is hogwash as Israel is the topic of II Chron 7:14. America was barely inhabited by the Native Americans at that point, much less a Christian influence. Oh wait…there were no Christians when the writers of Chronicles were doing their thing. Anyway, that’s the verse many use, at least where I came from.
It’s ludicrous to think that America was a Christian nation, or even could become one. There is no such thing. Jesus never wanted one. The Kingdom of God is at hand, not the New Israel.
Instead, I would argue that the New Israel is Revelation chapter 21…again…not America.
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