A worry is abroad that we will Americanize our Christianity, but people should stop worrying. If you are an American, you’d better Americanize your Christianity or you will find it impossible to live your Christianity. Work hard to live out your Christianity in your culture: change what must be changed, adapt what can be adapted, and rejoice in what God showed our forefathers and mothers that was good, true, and beautiful. In doing so, Christianity will not change, an American Christian will, but Christianity will be enriched with new ways of doing things and new ways of living out the Faith.
American culture is not exceptional, but it is mine. I don’t fly the flag in the sanctuary of the church, but at my h0me, proudly. It is true, sadly true, that some American Christians confuse America and Christianity (though thankfully this error is dying), but the best way to help them is not to attack American culture. Americans should worship God as Americans, just not make God out to be an American.
There is much I love more about England than America, but I am not English, despite my DNA. There is much I loved about Mongolia more than America, but I am not a Mongol. I was born an American, educated as an American, and as an American I will die. I worship God as an American knowing He is not an American and much of my Americanism must be changed in the light of reality.
This distinction is not so hard that we must make the vain attempt to purge the Americanism out of the American. Instead, let Americans delight in their Americanism while learning to repent of the evils of our culture. The best way to cure jingoism is to confront in with wholesome patriotism.
No culture or ideology justifies changing the truths or manner of living revealed by God to the Church, but it does mean putting those truths and ethics in a cultural context that makes sense. Christianity is unchanging at her orthodox core, but needs to be made real to men and women from many tribes, nations, and peoples. What is obvious to academics when they face a non-American culture is forgotten when an American culture is present.
One example will suffice. American culture, at least our intellectualist leadership, seems intent on denying both orthodoxy and Christian ethics in American life. We will have to reject those parts of culture. God created men and women. Sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is sin. Chastity is the highest calling. We will hold to those truths if all of America rejects them, but we will hold to them with an American accent because we are American.
Castle follows this new American moral pattern: first comes sex, then love, then marriage. Christians reject this pattern and we must take modern American courtship mores and transform them. First comes love, and then, for some, marriage and for some, sometimes, sex. We are going to have to tell that story in a way Americans can understand and desire.
Just as a culture that worships many gods will have to give it up to embrace the truth, so we will have to reject parts of the “American Dream” if it is expressed with the false gods of materialism or consumerism. The Church of Jesus Christ has allowed her prayers, her services, and her truths to be translated into the language we learned from our mothers. A Russian prays in Russian and Russian saints have a commonality with American saints, but Petersburg, Russia produces a delightfully different sound of sanctity than Petersburg, Florida.
It is utterly offensive and wrong for me to go abroad and force my American culture on somebody who doesn’t want it. It is foolish and wrong to make a sinner of another nation accept my culture with my faith. He or she will need to make orthodoxy part of the natural culture of that people. Oddly, however, I have sat in Christian college meetings where it was suggested by Christian (American!) academics that visiting students to this nation were offended that we expressed Christianity as Americans in an American way.
Some of my friends have learned the good lesson not to force their culture on others, but have forgotten that this does not mean getting rid of their own culture. Some Christians have called into question cultural pride. This pride fears America is so attractive (or seductive) that nobody else in any other culture can be trusted not to be culturally colonized if an American is merely an American at home or abroad.
And yet if another nation voluntarily adopts our customs, why isn’t that delightful? We often have adopted the customs of other nations! Ah, but the intellectualist can call our adopting a culture “appropriation” and the free choice of other nations to like a culture “cultural colonialism.” America cannot win. And of course, colonialism existed: it was bad. And of course, unfair business practices exist and they are bad.
Americans have had colonies and we have used unfair business practices, but not every Americanism (the use of “ok”) was the result of our wickedness. People admire our civil liberties (for example) not because we make them do so, but because they are (to a global Christian) admirable. I fear that the intellectualists have taken global university culture and are trying to colonize the rest of us with it, but I am not a creature of the rootless, nationless elites that deny the mother that bore them.
I am an American.
American culture is not more holy than other cultures, but it is not less so and it is eternal. We end up bringing our American distinctive to the common worship of Heaven. The diversity of the choir there will be glorious, so let’s tune up!
Blessed John put it this way:
9After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Someday I will stand before God recognizably still an American and worship Him eternally as an American.