Is Americanism the Fourth Biblical World Religion? (Partial Review of Peter Leithart’s Between Babel and the Beast)

Is Americanism the Fourth Biblical World Religion? (Partial Review of Peter Leithart’s Between Babel and the Beast)

Some time ago I posted two reviews of Peter Leithart’s Defending Constantine. At the end of the second one I suggested that he publish a sequel explaining his view of empire and especially Christianity and empire.

Well, perhaps that book has been published. This year (2012) Cascade Books (imprint of Wipf & Stock) has published Leithart’s contribution to its Theopolitical Visions series. Its title is Between Babel and the Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective.

I’m not sure yet (I’ve read all but the last part of the book) whether this book answers the questions I raised about Leithart’s vision of Christianity and empire in relation to Defending Constantine, but right now that’s not my interest.

I cannot recommend highly enough especially Part II of Between Babel and the Beast (henceforth BBB): “Americanism.” It’s an incisive critique of what David Gelernter has identified as the “fourth biblical world religion.” Leithart agrees with Gelernter and goes so far as to label America “a heretic nation.” (71)

Before saying more about BBB (and here I’m going to restrict myself to Part II), let me give a little background. A few months ago a local newspaper published a column by business guru and writer Mark Stevens. Here’s its original publication (on line edition): http://www.msco.com/blog/i-spell-god-with-stars-and-stripes/. (I’m typing this in Word and it’s hyperlinked; if that doesn’t show up when I copy and paste this into my blog, please hyperlink it yourself or cut and paste it into the address box of a web browser.)

Stevens’ theme was that his religion is America. If you peruse the web using key words like “Americanism” you’ll see that he’s not alone.

But Leithart’s message is not about people who explicitly affirm that their religion is America; it’s about how America has come to regard itself as “God’s New Israel.” But it’s even worse than just that. Here is one quote that will give you a sense of what Leithart is saying about America and Americanism: “America became an agent not of God’s kingdom but an instrument for the spread of American institutions and American culture, and there was a tendency to see America ‘basking in [God’s] permanent favor.’ … Throughout American history, orthodoxy has been strong enough to check the danger of deifying America itself—check, but not eliminate. But the intellectual structure is in place for Americanists to think those who worship America are offering service to God.” (72)

In a relatively short space and with comparatively few words, Leithart goes through American history, quoting American leaders and retelling the stories of America’s treatment of people considered a threat to its prosperity, with the result that one cannot deny the reality, throughout its history, of American exceptionalism. Leithart affirms that America is exceptional, but it has inflated its self-image and pride to monstrous proportions so that today, as at some times in the past, “American exceptionalism” means whatever America does is automatically right.

Now, lest anyone think Leithart (or I) is anti-American; he’s not and he makes that clear. He is decidedly for America and the best think a person can do for someone or something he/she is for is point out their flaws. (Remember the line of the patriotic song America the Beautiful that says “God mend thy every flaw?”) Leithart talks also about the great and wonderful American ideals and services to humanity. But those do not justify ignoring the heresy of Americanism.

Leithart says “We [America] are not the new Israel, nor the last best hope of mankind, nor the novus ordo saeclorum. Insofar as Americans have believed and acted on those convictions, we have been quite literally a heretic nation.” (82)

Sometimes Leithart’s rhetoric can be off putting even when his intention is exhilarating. Here’s a typical example: “Americanism is the monstrous Nephilim that people the earth when the sons of God intermarry the daughters of men. Americanist Christians are Joktanites who uncritically join Nimrod in building Babel. Americanism is ideology with the mythical power to bewitch a Babel into thinking it is Persia, a distorting mirror that might fool a predator into believing he sees the reflection of a cherub.” (82-83) Huh?

Now, I’m sure you have questions about Leithart’s message. I can do no better than strongly recommend that you get the book and read it—especially Part II. It’s prophetic, convicting, challenging, worth considering even if you don’t agree with everything the author says.

One thing I want to clarify for Leithart, lest anyone misunderstand, is that his main target of criticism is not America per se but American Christians, American churches, that have not only allowed this situation to develop but have actually contributed to it. He gives many examples. He doesn’t mention this, but one cannot help but think of the absolutely over-the-top church services of worship of America that take place all across the country on the Sunday before July 4.

I think I have met many Christians over the years whose real religion is America, not Jesus Christ. And that is the case not because they replace Jesus with America but because they insert America into Jesus. That is, they confuse the two so that Jesus becomes for them the American Lord—not Lord over America, but Lord who especially favors and sanctions America in everything it is and does.

Whenever the cross and the flag are merged, the heresy of Americanism is symbolized.

Some time ago I went to the web site of a major evangelical drug treatment program. The first thing I saw at their welcome page was just that—the cross and the American flag merged. That’s a symbol of the heresy Leithart is condemning.

So far Leithart hasn’t really talked about the solution, but the first step is obvious—Christians and churches must step away from American exceptionalism and even speak out against it insofar as it implies that America is always right and stands above basic principles of ethics such as just war and humane treatment of captives.

Next I will talk about Leithart’s own view of Christian empire, insofar as I am able to discern what that may be.

 

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  • http://antiitchmeditation.wordpress.com jeff weddle

    Another great book along these lines, although longer and denser, is Andrew Preston’s Sword of the Spirit; Shield of Faith. Goes into detail about how Christian thought has shaped America’s foreign policy and our inherent belief that we are always defending liberty, virtue and righteousness as God’s chosen people. Also of note was how often he pointed to the Calvinism of many of our leaders that gave them the idea that they, being God’s chosen, could kill others.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Hi Roger,

    Concerning Mark Stevens article, I was astounded – I had never heard anyone articulate that before and I would never believe that about someone unless they were able to articulate it in a similar manner.

    Cotton Mather once wrote that “Religion begat prosperity , but the daughter has consumed the mother”. If we use that as a template to say that “religion begat America (and all its blessings of freedom and opportunity) . . .”, then it would be fair to say that in Steven’s world that “the daughter has indeed consumed the mother”. Stevens is self-condemned for having forgotten or ignored the fount of the blessing of America. I hope he is among only a handful so reckless as to live and believe this way.

    • rogereolson

      I fear he’s not (among only a handful).

  • John Metz

    Roger, your comments have piqued my interest in Leithart’s book–one I might not have looked at otherwise. Some very good points! Thanks again.

  • JamesT

    Of course Leithart and you are correct. The flag is not the cross; the constitution is not the Bible; and the Pentagon is not Almighty God.

    I’m reminded of a trip to Nashville’s Opryland I took many years ago. I was browsing through one of the many gift shops. Hanging on the wall in one of these stores was a large picture titled, “The King”. It was one of those pictures where if you looked at it from one angle it pictured one image and if you change your position, it changed to a different image. On that picture if you looked at it one way it was Elvis Presley; a change in angle, and you saw Jesus. Would someone really hang that in their house? Apparently so.

  • http://existingbetween.wordpress.com/ Joy F

    Interesting and insightful Roger. From extensive travel outside the United States over the past ten years, I have been struck by this very thing on many levels. Many of the ideals that American Christians hold up to be Christianity are considered heresy in most other parts of the world. (Capitalistic greed, opulent waste, violence, guns, extreme individualism to name a few).

    I have seen similar displays of nationalism; (this may offend some, yet it is my observation) in China and in Vietnam – both which are still under communist rule, and government sponsored communism IS the religion of the masses. In fact it has been slightly disturbing that those are the countries that I have seen it so closely mirrored – which incidentally was one of the reasons I began to question the theological premise of Americanism in the first place.

    It has been to the detriment of missions work overseas that America has “wrapped itself” in God’s blessing, as many have trouble disassociating Americanism and colonialism with Christianity. There has been a lot of the ways that Ghandhi has been paraphrased; “I like your Christ, but his Americans…….” and the questions “Does your God condone such greed?”

    From the outside looking back in, there is also the sinking realization that the spirit has moved on and that America hasn’t noticed – that true growth in Christianity is happening in Africa and South America and Asia – why would America continue to assume it has God’s blessing? Is it because we equate power with that blessing?

  • Steve Rogers

    Thanks for keeping this issue front and center. I agree with your comment that many Christians have inserted America into Christ. If pressed to choose between Christ and America, they would choose America and not even notice the absence of Jesus. But the worse part of this heresy is that it worships not all of America, but a particular America that is overwhelmingly white, conservative, evangelical and middle class. Any description of America that does not fit this vanilla ideal is regarded as a work of the devil.

  • http://www.debatingobama.blogspot.com greg metzger

    Roger, this sounds vital and helpful. Watching the national conventions of both parties gives plenty of contemporary examples of this “religion” at work. I was struck by Paul Ryan saying that America is “the greatest force for human freedom and liberty in the history of the world”. This kind of stuff is commonplace and deeply ingrained. I think there was a recent neocon book that made much the same aergument as Stevens in term of Americanism as a fourth biblical religion. I think it is very important that we critique these notions with the language of idolatry.

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Hi Greg.

      Concerning Ryan’s line that you quoted, can you think of another country that has been a greater force for human freedom and liberty? If not, then why are you critical?

      (In my own mind, I said “God and the Church” are greater – but Ryan is talking about countries and politics, so they are outside this particular consideration.)

      -Tim

      • rogereolson

        Not speaking for Greg, but only for myself, America has been a great force for human freedom and liberty but it has also been a great force for injustice, totalitarianism and murder. America has invaded Latin American countries numerous times–often to overthrow democratically elected governments that America feared would undermine its economic interests. America hosted and supported The School of the Americas that trained death squads that went back to El Salvador and other countries and murdered their own people (e.g., Oscar Romero) for nothing more than criticizing the government. Etc., etc. And, of course, we could talk about America’s treatment of its own native population. The point is simply that America, like every human entity, is not God and should not be worshiped or held above standards of decency and justice (as many Americans think it should).

        • Tim Reisdorf

          Roger,

          You curiously avoided my question. You had no other nation to offer up. I take your criticisms of America’s actions seriously, and there are probably far more that are not even public! Yet, the core of its principles – the founding documents and many after – have led America on the path of much good. That part is to be celebrated. That part is to be repeated again and again – and often is by politicians trying to get people to feel good about their country (and the politicians at the voting booth).

          You are correct that America ought not be worshiped, and American should be held to standards of right and wrong. But why not celebrate the good?

          And I can’t believe so many people (commenters) are lumping those who are conservative politically in with this group! They do not accept America uncritically. In fact, their appeal is to God’s Law (versus American’s Law) on any array of issues – Abortion being tops on the list. Maybe I’m just naive or sheltered, but people are throwing around condemning words like “heresy” and “idolatry” unfairly about people and groups that I know and care for and have some affiliations with – people who are Godly and have their priorities straight. Makes me sad for the unity of the Church.

          • rogereolson

            Tim, you’ve been coming here a long time, so you know that I have loudly distinguished between patriotism (which I affirm) and nationalism (which I reject). Americanism, as we are talking about it here (and as Leithart means it) is an extreme form of nationalism, not patriotism.

      • John Inglis

        I would posit the British Commonwealth (U.K., Canada, Australia, India, etc.) as a far greater force, even still, especially since it is greater in moral force than America (Commonwealth got rid of slavery first–and without a war; Magna Carta; peacefully gave up colonies for the most part, no invasions in 20th century; no overthrows of governments; national health care; better care of the poor, etc.). Plus only America has publicy killed its own citizens without a trial–in the 21st century no less–how barbaric is that? What nation has America ever liberated that it did not invade and kill thousands of innocent civilians? America even invaded Canada for Pete’s sake (though it was soundly beaten).

        • Tim Reisdorf

          John,
          I will grant you that the British Commonwealth has been a net good, like the US, for freedom and liberty. I admire what the British did with the Magna Carta, and with the Wilberforce-led emancipation, and just their overall sense of lifting people. However, don’t ask the Irish about Barbados, and don’t ask the kidnapped children/prisoners forcibly sent to the Tobacco/sugar plantations in the colonies. Every country has skeletons, and the British have no less than Americans.
          But back to the question, who does Poland look to for protection against power-hungry neighbors? South Korea? Colombia? Tiawan? Israel? The US stands up for these millions of people to protect their freedom, sovereignty, and dignity. Furthermore, they have worked with countless others inside countries dominated by repressive governments to promote liberty and individual freedom. I didn’t bring this up to be a contest among various nations. It was said that Paul Ryan ought not to have said what he said about America – that it was the most consequential nation in promoting freedom and liberty. He’s not saying something outlandish, nor is he making his religion subservient to his citizenship (which is more to the topic of Roger’s post). It seems to me like he’s being made an example of because of politics (and the example doesn’t fit).

          National health care is no good – much better is a free society where individuals are in charge of themselves. The invasions/liberations of Granada and Panama were relatively bloodless. (Ugh, I hate war.) But even if the other liberations cost thousands of lives, was it worth it? It seems debatable with fair arguments on both sides. Has Canada ever led the liberation a people? New Zealand? India? Australia? Maybe leaving the liberation of people to more consequential nations – consequential for good/evil – like the US is their MO.

  • Bob Brown

    One person in my church is more committed and zealous for ‘the tea party’ than for the church, but in her mind the tea party is an extention of the church. Christians are called to be royal intercessions and ambassadors for the kingdom of God, not for secular nations. We are called to be salt and light speaking prophetically from without since His kingdom is not of this world or else we would fight. We are called to pray for the welfare of our nation (Jer. 29:7) and for our nation’s leaders for the purpose of God’s mission and purposes be realized.

  • James Petticrew

    I have to stay that the year I spent living in the States I was utterly amazed by the extent to which nationalism / patriotism / right wing politics / evangelical christianity were intertwined. Attended one 4th of July Church service and I think God got a passing mention in a rendition of God Bless America.

    I have seen it argued that American Exceptionalism may have in part stemmed from the National Covenant of 16th century Scotland where the Presbyterians believed that they had covenanted with God to create a special nature which would be under his blessing for ordering its national life according to his will (which of course was a Presbyterian church controlling the nation)

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    If America is not “exceptional,” please explain to me why millions of people from many other nations are so anxious to find a way of entrance into this country. They will endanger their lives to climb the highest obstructive fences, float the seas on inflated inner tubes, stowaway on leaky boats, cram into sealed semi-trailers in stifling heat, risk being shot or arrested, dig tunnels miles long, pay exorbitant prices to human traffickers, and upon arrival live in a 3-room safe-house with 30 other people; all rejoicing and praising God that they have finally arrived in the “Promised Land.”

    • rogereolson

      You must not have read my post carefully, Ivan. I said that Leithart says (and I agree) that America IS exceptional. “American Exceptionalism” is the belief that America is more than just exceptional; it is THE EXCEPTION to international laws and standards of justice–America can rightly do whatever it decides to do so long as the goal is spreading Americanism to the rest of the world.

    • John Inglis

      Uh, millions go other places, too: France, Italy, Germany, Australia, Canada, etc.

      Also, American exceptionalism is related to things like the Monroe Doctrine.

  • http://Iwouldpointoutthefactthatmany,many,ChurcheshereintheU.S.displaytheAmericanflagintheirsanctuaries.InfactIcanrememberasachild,atVBS,childrenwerechosentoparadetheBible,theChristianflag,alongwithth Jack Hanley

    I would point out the fact that many, many Churches, here in the U.S. display the American flag in their sanctuaries. In fact I can recall as a child at Vacation Bible School parading the Bible, Christian flag, along with the American flag, to the front of the sanctuary, in order for all, to give a pledge to each. As an American citizen, I will pledge to the flag, however, I would never attend a Church, as a member, that feels the need to display the flag any where in, or around the Church. I would also never pledge to the American flag in a church setting. The two are different Kingdoms, and we as Christians, are citizens of both, however I do not think we should combine, or confuse the two. I would also point out that, I would never pledge to the Christian flag, for any reason, or in any setting. The Christian flag was raised in order to spread the Christian faith by the weapons of the world, rather than by the sword of the Spirit.

    • David Rogers

      Of course there is no requirement for pledging allegiance to the Christian flag, but I am totally unaware, and not quite convinced that “the Christian flag was raised in order to spread the Christian faith by the weapons of the world, rather than by the sword of the Spirit.” The Wikipedia article on the Christian flag does not mention any militaristic usage of it, but I would be interested in the documentation you have which would show its raising “to spread the Christian faith by the weapons of the world.”

      We don’t regularly do pledges at my church, but when we do I always lead with the pledge to the Christian flag to represent first allegiance to Christ, then with the Bible to represent allegiance to the guidance of the Bible, and I close with statements which speak of appreciation for the nation we’ve been blessed with. I am unaware of ever leading pledges in a service where non-Americans were present but if they were I would make some sort of statement which reminded all of us that the national pledge is only for citizens. I have instructed at other times that these acts of pledging are according to conscience and not a spiritual requirement.

      • rogereolson

        I had a colleague (years ago) from Canada. He and his American wife both taught at our evangelical liberal arts college. They attended a Christian Reformed Church. One summer both he and his wife helped prepare Vacation Bible School. After the first day of VBS the church told him not to come back (to VBS) because he wouldn’t say the pledge of allegiance to the American flag with everyone else. He explained that he is a Canadian citizen, expecting that to make a difference. They told him not to come back anyway. But, like good CRC folks, they didn’t leave the church! I probably would have. (There wasn’t another CRC church anywhere near.)

        • Tim Reisdorf

          Shoot, I’m an American, and I have a hard time saying the Pledge of Allegiance (and often don’t when others are). What the VBS leaders did to your friends was completely wrong. That’s embarrassing.

          • rogereolson

            You know him. He and his wife taught Christianity and Western Culture (different sections).

    • John Inglis

      Does any other country regularly have its flag in the sanctuary? I cannot think of one.

  • Andrew T.

    I have no issue (as a non-American) seeing manifestations of patriotism as a form of idolatry, be it Americanism or others. However, it concerns me when I see folks criticizing Christian’s for seeing themselves as God’s New Israel. It’s possible we’re understanding this expression differently so I’ll elaborate.

    Jesus used the expression ‘Kingdom of God’. This suggests he intended for his believers to see themselves as a Kingdom [John 18:36]. Israel was a Kingdom [Heb 8:8-12]. Jesus is portrayed as a King (of the line of David, no less), which is the head of state for a kingdom [Matt 18:23; 21:5 etc].

    Certainly prophecy treats Jesus and the establishment of ‘the body’ as the shepherd king of a ‘New Israel’ saying in [Jer 30:7-9] “And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the LORD of hosts, that I shall break his yoke from off your neck, and I shall burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I shall raise up for them.” This Jesus tied to the destruction of Jerusalem with [Matt 24:21] citing [Jer 30:7] directly.

    So to criticize this seems to be at cross-purposes (pardon the pun) to Jesus’ own efforts. If we are the Kingdom of God we ARE the NEW Israel, the OLD Israel and everything in between. Why say otherwise?

    • rogereolson

      Uh, Leithart doesn’t criticize the CHURCH for seeing itself as the new Israel, he criticizes AMERICA for thinking it is the new Israel. I thought that was clear.

      • Andrew T.

        Well I agree, the American church is only PART of the new Israel.

    • John Inglis

      Also, America sees itself as the “light upon a hill”.

  • K Gray

    Ross Douthit also noted “the heresy of American nationalism” in one chapter of his book “Bad Religion: How we became a nation of heretics.” Other ‘heresies’ he identifies in our society are: rewriting the gospels (to make Christ more palatable or appealing to various causes), the prosperity gospel, and ‘the god within.’

  • Bev Mitchell

    As a brother to the north, I won’t comment on the politics of the matter. However, one theme that appears to fall by the wayside in the general discussion (or perhaps it’s obvious to everyone but me) is “the end justifies the means.”

    The idea that God can do bad things because he really intends them for good -and has the power to make it turn out that way – is grossly misleading if not outright insidious. If we think that God acts like this, then we feel we can act this way too – as long as our intentions are good. Of course, we do not have the power to make things conform to our intentions, good or otherwise, and we know it. It seems this is only a minor glitch to some. God does it that way, we should too. 

    So, double trouble: incorrect view of God and failure to realize our own limitations should we act in the way this imagined god to acts.

    Just thinking out loud. Ignore me if this is all well understood in the sub-text.

    • John Inglis

      I’ve thot that, too.

  • http://www.samochstein.blogspot.com Sam Ochstein

    American Christians (particularly American Evangelical Christians–of which I am one) need to come to terms with the fact that no matter how comparitively good the United States may be to other kingdoms of the world, it is not the kingdom of God. Indeed, the Republican party (or Democrat or Tea or whatever other party there may be) are not the kingdom of God. As this article noted and others have commented, America is not the new Israel or the savior of the rest of the world, somehow specially favored and privileged by God over against other nations such that whatever American does is right and just. Scripture shows that God’s cosmic redemptive purposes and plans have been for the nations from the beginning. It’s a theme one can trace from Genesis through Revelation. If we would focus more on being like Jesus and less like being “American” we might just become a genuine blessing to the nations.

    • John Inglis

      Right, and we can’t forget that the powers of this world, the ones given dominion over nations, are demons, not angels. So America as a political nation is just as demonic as any other nation.

  • Andy

    1. Greg Boyd mentions this in “Myth of a Christian Nation”.

    2. In many ways this is idolatry or self-worship.
    Jesus looks like me, and likes the things that I like. So for some subset of Christians, for example, God hates worldly music except if it’s country music.

    • John Inglis

      Yes, the Will Farrell “Ricky Bobby” view of Jesus (recalling the scene where he gives grace).

      • rogereolson

        When I first saw that I thought it was blasphemous. Then I realized I was the one who was satire-challenged (at that point). It was great satire.

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  • http://highroadkokko.blogspot.com Bruce Kokko

    Dr. Olson, I know as a rule you don’t read other blogs, so I’m bringing my recent post to you because it is relevant to this conversation. You only need put my address here if you want; I don’t mean to clog your comments, but I wanted to share my thoughts with you. I won’t make a habit of this :).

    What do you confess? Are you a patriot? Perhaps you proudly state that you’re an American, and insist that all your fellow Americans remember, if nothing else, that they are Americans. So you are actually making two confessions. The first is a simple statement of national origin, and the second is a statement of national pride.

    In order to pin you down more, I will restate my question this way. What or whom do you confess as the final arbiter of your raison d’etre, the thing by which you judge everything else?

    If you think about it, you’ll discover the picture quickly grows murky for anyone seriously asking the question. For example, being an American deepens to Americanism being the only sane national alternative, which further intensifies into the American national imperative. “I confess I am a Democrat!” you might finally assert. “I’m a Republican!” the person next to you might then shout. Both of you hail American nationalism with equal fervor. So what differentiates you from him/her? What’s the beef?

    It might surprise you, but the difference is not what you each perceive as the correct national imperative. No, I propose that you and your neighbor are still not confessing what you truly confess. Now, there are a zillion factors to be considered, but I will cut to the critical chase as I see it.

    You, the Democrat, might explain, “I know where you’re going with this. Let me tell you, I am a Christian. I confess Jesus Christ! And Jesus taught us to care for the poor and repudiate the rich.”

    “And how do you live by this confession?” I ask.

    “I support leaders and government systems that mandate fair distribution of wealth, and who promote peace through tolerance. After all, this is what our founding fathers advocated. It is the glory of Americanism, and why all other nations pale.”

    Your Republican neighbor quickly chimes in before I can say anything. “I confess Jesus Christ who demands moral purity and everyone working for their bread, which means they must take care of themselves. This is what it means to be American. This is the national ethos that shines above the rest because it demands free opportunity under the strict rule of Judeo-Christian ethics. Our founding fathers would be appalled by the moral laxity and entitlements being leveled on the American public, today.”

    “How do you live by your confession?” I ask.

    “I live it by supporting leaders and government systems who limit their own authority, advocate Christian principles and traditions in the public sector, and insist that everyone carry his own weight.”

    I step back to watch the two of you–both red-faced–glaring at each other.

    The rest of you watching this drama playing out in my mind’s eye will perhaps accuse me of creating caricatures. I disagree. The two patriots clearly read from the same music in their heads; the rest, as Wolfie in Amadeus said, non plus, is just quibbling and bibbling, bibbling and quibbling. The point is neither person has yet to honestly admit his/her true confession; indeed, they might not even know what it is.

    I submit that despite the fact each sees the other as hopeless and–no overstatement, here–evil, they both actually confess the same thing. Both really only want a society where they can be left to themselves and feel good about it. Their truest confession is self-satisfaction–pure and simple.

    If any caricature has been painted, it is their caricature of Jesus.

    May I remind us that simply asserting Jesus is the son of God doesn’t save us or our particular worldview. Frequently in the Gospels we find the demons whom Jesus cast out of people confessing Jesus as the son of God. But their true confession didn’t change them; they only cowered.

    If we are to confess Jesus in a way that effects a change in us and in the world around us, then we must confess Him as King. If Jesus is our King, we will seek to obey Him according to His standards and not our own or those of the corrupt world. We will obey Him by promoting His kingdom through individual initiative (i.e., not foisting the responsibility on someone else) in our sphere of influence–regardless of who might be in office, or what might be in vogue. We promote his kingdom by caring for the poor, the infirmed, and the marginalized (isn’t this what our Democrat friend claims he/she wants?) by freely distributing the wealth God has placed in our possession, fully confident of God’s faithfulness. And at the same time, bringing justice (isn’t this what our Republican friend claims he/she wants?) by acting mercifully towards everyone including our enemies–yes, especially our enemies. And at the same time willingly dying each and every moment both to and for this corrupt world as Jesus died for all of us.

    No doubt this is a hard teaching. Our king makes the most uncomfortable demands on us. God’s kingdom completely contradicts this dark world and its ways. So, naturally there will be conflicts, and there won’t be peace–at least not yet. But if we truly confess Jesus as our King and Lord, the unrest and conflict we encounter will be a response and not our actions. In other words, we won’t be seeking sanctuary from the opposition, nor will we attempt to muzzle the opposition using the world’s methods and tactics. Indeed, if we truly trust our King Jesus, we won’t feel threatened, at all. We will understand that the justice will only come through the power of love acting in holiness.

    Jesus doesn’t want us, as our two friends above are doing, to hide behind other men or women, or ideologies. He calls us to boldly come out of hiding and invest ourselves as representatives of His kingdom to a dark, fearful, and angry world.

    We would all do well to assess what we honestly confess.

  • John C. Gardner

    Civil religion, which gained prominence in the 19th century was dangerous(think Manifest Destiny and the Mexican and Spanish American Wars). We also have placed nationalism, Americanism in place of Christ in our churches. I believe that America is an exceptional place but we are not God’s instrument to bring Americanism around the world by either physical coercion or economic force.

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  • Bev Mitchell

    OK. I said I would not, as a Canadian, enter into the political fray, but, as a hint, I do read Noam Chomsky. 

    However, when Americanism, or America is used to mean something exclusive to the USA, I do gently object. Making this objection, of course, always reminds me of a book wonderfully entitled “Good English and Other Lost Causes”. Nevertheless, it remains important to point out from time to time that we Canadians, my wonderful Mexican friends and acquaintances, and everyone else from Ellesmere  Island to Tierra del Fuego are, in fact also Americans. 

    In Castellano there is even a way to get around this awkwardness that English fails to provide. Citizens of the great United States of America are referred to, quite politely and properly, as Los Estadounidenses. 

    Canadians easily overlook this quirk and we don’t often bother to comment. Mexicans, however, feel it more strongly, though I don’t think they comment much either. Probably for other reasons. In Europe, “American” can as easily refer to someone from Buenos Aires as from New York.

    Just a note for the record.

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  • Dan Smith

    Here is an accurate picture of the USA’s history as concerning the relationship between God’s kingdom and itself:
    http://www.amazon.com/Redeemer-Nation-Americas-Millennial-Reprint/dp/0226819213/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1347332670&sr=8-1&keywords=redeemer+nation

    Ernest Tuveson here shows that the idea of the redemptive mission which has motivated so much of the United States foreign policy is as old as the Republic itself. He traces the development of this element of the American heritage from its beginning as a literal interpretation of biblical prophecies. Pointing to the application of the millenarian ideal to successive stages of American history, notably apocalyptic events like the Civil War, Tuveson illustrates its pervasive cultural influences with examples from the writings of Jonathan Edwards, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Timothy Dwight, and Julia Ward Howe, among others.


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