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Whose Nation Is It?

Whose Nation Is It?


Before the year started, fissures in American life and culture were inescapably obvious. Now, less than a month into an election year, the crevices of society are rapidly becoming chasms. My first reaction is that this arrangement is exhausting. Being angry at others, especially those we’ve never met, is fruitless, but we are all inclined to think poorly of those who disagree with us. The problem isn’t that we think poorly of one another, though. The problem is that we’ve reached an impasse in which everything is at stake: the winner takes all. How did we reach this point?


Some will point to education, and that is not without merit. The last sixty years, especially, have pushed national thought and understanding further from the Christian religious beliefs that shaped America’s founding, but the last sixty years of education did not arise from nothing. Moreover, Christianity was not the sole influence in the nation’s founding. The Founders of the United States were predominantly men of faith, with a lesser presence of women visible alongside them, but they were also men of the European Enlightenment.


At first glance, this is obvious to us all, and we think, ‘yes, and what’s your point?’ My point is that, as the prestigious New Testament scholar N. T. Wright has observed, the Enlightenment was a distinctly and intentionally anti-Christian intellectual endeavor. The Enlightenment ushered in the “Age of Reason” in contrast to ostensibly unreasonable religious beliefs. Thomas Jefferson’s “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth” – most widely known as the Jefferson Bible – was a cut and paste version of Scripture in which all reference to the miraculous and/or supernatural was removed. The book exemplifies the division between faith and reason as it was commonly called beginning in the early twentieth century.


So much more could be said, but what I want us to recognize is the fundamental contradiction embedded in America’s founding. Thomas Jefferson truly believed a man of reason would want to hold Judeo/Christian values, and some of Jefferson’s personal writings exhibit greater depth of faith in the Christian God than many of us exhibit today. Any fair reading of the Founders reveals the majority held deeply Christian beliefs, Jefferson and Franklin being the most notable exception. What we have to understand though is that when we hear people argue that this is not a Christian nation, they are correct. Equally, when we see people with posters claiming America is Christian, they also are correct.


This dichotomy, this internal contradiction in the nation’s founding, is the underlying basis of the socio-political differences today. On the one side, there are the people who believe there is nothing beyond this life on this day, and on the other side are the people who believe America is supposed to reflect the values and morality of the Christian faith. The challenge is that the last 1700 years of western civilization were shaped by Judeo-Christian values. If we are not going to use those as our standard for law, morality, and social order, what are we going to use?


Even a cursory glance at the social and political issues of today makes clear that there isn’t going to be a standard for law or morality, at least not in the foreseeable future. The hardest thing to understand is that one side cannot win and the other side agree to go along with the outcome. Rather, the challenge is that there are opposing ways of viewing the world with opposing definitions of what is valuable, moral, and right. We can pick any topic of contention today and eventually conclude there is no way to reach a consensus. Let’s take global warming or climate change. Since I’m not a climatologist, I see no point in arguing the merits of the facts (or the lack thereof – again, depending upon which scientist one trusts). For some people, the climate is life or death serious. For me, everybody dies eventually, and I am not signing on to eat bugs to save the planet.


Far more significantly, however, I do not think human beings possess the capacity to destroy the planet. Destroy one another? Yes, we can do that. But we didn’t bring any planets into being, and we are not going to take any planets out. Ruin the atmosphere? We can do that, but only temporarily. As the atmosphere incapacitates us, we die, which we were going to do anyway. Am I for abusing the planet? Not at all! We are the stewards of creation, but that refers us back to Christian faith and values again, which are not allowed to be the bases of any public decision. In the absence of true religion, the climate change movement is now an alternative and opposing religion demanding allegiance to Mother Earth rather than to Father God, which is allowed as a basis for public policy.  


We are wading into treacherous waters, and those who are misled by ideas of progress are going to pay a high price for supporting utopian visions that will inevitably destroy our nation. Earlier this week, a woman asked me how I (a white female Christian) answer accusations like that of Joy Reid who attributed Donald Trump’s Iowa primary win to “white Christians”? Honestly, I didn’t really realize that Iowa was an outpost of white Christendom, but live and learn. Because the circumstances didn’t invite prolonged discussion, I answered something to the effect of ‘Christians need to understand that she’s angry at white people and do everything in our power not to live down to her expectations, but rather to love her as Christ loves.’


The far more crucial issue around race is the teaching of young people to hate singularly, as in, all the troubles of the world are attributable to white people. That makes an entire generation of people – or more – wholly unprepared to recognize evil in any other form. Encouragement to ‘go, be filled with hate for all white people, especially white Christians’ is diabolical. How can anyone who encourages hate be anything else? Hatred has never helped any situation or circumstance in the history of humanity. Its cultivation serves no one, least of all the one who hates the most. Don’t mistake me. I’ve known some awful people who were both white and claimed to be Christian. The problem is that they’re not the only awful people I’ve known. Awful and hatred are problems of human nature, not racial problems, and those who think otherwise are being set up for terrible disappointment and deep wounds.


Any mention of a place for Christianity at the table of public policy and morality is answered with charges of Christian nationalism and white oppression. Neither ideology has much merit, but at the same time, neither accusation has much substance. Rather, these are diversionary incriminations that redirect toward the demand for self-rule, a dream that lacks the knowledge, self-awareness, and wisdom required for human liberty.


What are we to conclude then? Whose nation is it? At its deepest foundation, the nation belongs to God not to us. He created the world, and He has saved His creation and creatures. His providence determines the rise and fall of nations, and He establishes rule and authority to ends we cannot imagine much less attain by our own design. That is true irrespective of what one believes about God, gods, or the absence thereof.


If we want to have a Christian nation, then we must be a Christian people. Nations do not save us from human nature nor does any form of government possess that capacity. Jesus saves people. Throughout the history of the Church, Christians lived faithfully under more or less – or not at all – Christian governments. Nations form, morph, absorb, and collapse, but our Lord does not falter or fail. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.


Before we get sanctimonious about our nation and government, we are well-reminded that the only people with whom Jesus ever exhibited anger were religious people. Therefore, if we hope to change the course of our nation, if we aspire to be a light shining the darkness, we must aspire to be like Christ Himself Who sacrificed all that the human race might be saved.


“Render unto Caesar…” Cast your vote for the one you believe will least inhibit your ability to live as Christ’s disciple. Then strive to live the faith you confess. Take on the humility of Christ and accept the majesty of being the creation of the unfathomably good and rich Creator, a child of the Most High God.


In Christ –


Rev. Elizabeth Moreau

© 2024

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