Halden has a pretty good quote on Patriotism and Idolatry, it prompted me to post this. This quote comes from The Search For Christian America by Mark A. Noll • Nathan O. Hatch • George M. Marsden. In this quote they speak to the unhealthy level of patriotism associated with some of our early ‘fathers’. What’s more troubling is that this is the attitude we see exemplified by many Christians today, about America; to be thankful to be an American is one thing, to believe that we have ‘special nation status’ with God (vs. the other nations of the world), is another thing and just not Christian. This quote speaks to this, and provides some quotes from early ‘fathers’ that exemplify the idea that America has a special divine origin, and thus sanction in the world . . . again, this is just wrong:
American Christians were also especially susceptible to the lure of legend-building because they inherited a heightened religious interpretation of the nation’s founding. As we have seen in Chapter 2, early New Englanders had determined that they were God’s chosen people because they had such pure religion. By the time of the American Revolution, however, many throughout the colonies were making statements that America was elect because of the heights of civil liberty that it had achieved. This is a significant shift, for it made it possible to express secular purposes in religious terms, as Alan Heimert has indicated:
In the years between the Stamp Act and the Revolution the evangelical ministry often spoke in the phrases of Sam Adams — who in 1772 explained that the religion and public liberty of a people are so intimately connected, their interests are interwoven and cannot exist separately. Not the least of the conseqeunces of such a blending of interests and issues was that elements of the Calvinist populace were allowed to think that they were defending religion when in fact they were doing battle for civil liberties.
The following apocalyptic interpretation of the American Revolution by Samuel Sherwood, whose flaming rhetoric we have sampled before, was not atypical:
God almighty, with all the powers of heaven, is on our side, Great numbers of angels, no doubt, are encamping round our coast for our defense and protection. Michael stands ready, with all the artillery of heaven, to encounter the dragon, and to vanquish this black host. . . . It will soon be said and acknowledged that the kingdom of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ.
Sherwood went on to attack the British as “one of the last efforts and dying struggles of the Man of Sin”; he threatened those hesitant to join the Revolution that the vials of God’s wrath would be poured out on anyone who did not oppose the anti-Christian tyranny of the British.
In this context, where sin became tyranny and righteousness the realization of liberty, it is not hard to understand the heightened millenial expectations that appeared after the Revolution. In earlier chapters we have seen how Christians worked with these visions. But they showed up as well in even the most secular minds in America. The often profane Benjamin Franklin proposed that the seal of the new republic be a picture of Moses with his rod held over the Red Sea. At the time of the Revolution, the vision of America’s sacred destiny remained intense but with an altered foundation. Instead of motivating men to create a Christian society, it encouraged them to bring about a revolution that would ensure the reign of civil liberty. (Noll, Hatch, Marsden, “The Search For Christian America,” 112-13)
I am afraid that too often this mentality has captured the psyche of ‘Christian America’ today. Often times, we hear Glenn Beck (Fox News commentator) appealing to much of this same kind of rhetoric. For him it makes more sense, since he is LDS/Mormon; and his conception of the ‘Republic’ is very horizontal in orientation (i.e. LDSism is very much so an American religion). But this should not have been the case for the Christians mentioned in the quote above, nor should it be the case for Christians now. We are not God’s final instantiation or His kingdom on earth (this is a very post-millennial perspective) — as a ‘nation’ that is — we instead are His ‘city on a hill’; which means that we are advancing a kingdom that transcends national boundaries and any notions of exceptionalism. It’s one thing to be thankful to be an American, it’s another thing to imbue that with divine sanction. Our citizenship is in heaven (cf. Phil. 3:21), we claim the ‘kingdom’ by proclaiming and living the Gospel; and we don’t do that by national identity, but by walking by the ‘Spirit’!