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.