Sep  2017 19
The Church of America First

In the mid-20th century, theologians in Europe and North America sought to make theological sense of two world wars, the first of which was supposed to have been “the war that ends all wars.” They reflected on the causes of the wars and feared new wars, both the reality of the Cold War and the possibility of nuclear annihilation.

These theologians frequently equated nationalism with idolatry. Over 20 nations, led by the Western Allies, created the United Nations, 1942-45. Protestant church leaders mirrored their secular counterparts and began to work through 500 years of differences to form the World Council of Churches (1947). Fear of nationalism and the threat of nuclear war strengthened the centripetal forces.

Seventy years later, centrifugal power outpulls the centripetal. Can you imagine creating either the UN or the WCC today? Unthinkable. Ludicrous. And national, ethnic, and religious supremacy are once again surging.

Here in the U.S., one expression of nationalistic surging is America First.

I’ve not heard of religious leaders, other than a version of Christian, who have given their blessing to America First. So, let’s imagine an extreme version of America First in which Christianity is subsumed in nationalism, which in fact turns the nation into God. How far-fetched is the “extreme”?

Attributes of the Church of America First:

  • Its creed: America is God, the President is His Prophet, and the military is God’s right hand.
  • The house of the Church looks like either a federal building or a consumer mecca; both are symbols of power and wealth. Or, the church building IS a federal building or a mall.
  • Churches are decorated with American flag-draped crosses (federal law mandates that crosses must be made from two crossed swords, because this cross represents battle and not execution as the cross of Jesus was). There is no greater sacrifice for any higher cause than to die for the nation in war.
  • Each president, other than misguided UN-loving “America is one nation among the nations of the earth” heretics, have their own saint days.
  • Righteous prayers are raised for the protection of America and Americans and the destruction of America’s enemies, foreign and domestic.
  • Theologians debate who is a true American—which ethnicities, cultures, skin colors, political viewpoints.
  • Every church building is surrounded by a big, beautiful wall and guarded by two armed citizens in uniform, symbolic of the need for constant vigilance against endemic threats at the nation’s borders.
  • Only people who love the president may attend church.
  • There is no First Amendment. The Constitution of America First starts with today’s Second Amendment.
  • There is a holiday to commemorate each victory in war, and historians must report that America, which is God, has never lost a war. With each holiday, there are sales on appliances and bedding (because spending money, rather than cleanliness or thrift, is next to godliness).
  • Since “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24), all the resources of the world belong to America.
  • Cults such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism are tolerated to the extent they display the American flag in the position of prominence in their holy spaces, sing patriotic hymns at least twice a year, don’t hold services that compete with national past-times such as youth soccer, and support the president unreservedly when the country is at war. Which, these days, is always.
  • Federal law requires that guns, the ultimate symbol of freedom, must adorn the entrance to every sanctuary. Open carry is both welcome and encouraged in worship.
  • The Church’s leadership skews hard toward white straight males, but as long as patriarchy is maintained (and patriarchy is an essential attribute of America First), persons of other races, genders, and sexual orientations can become leaders, too.
  • The Church reads from a Jefferson-inspired cut-and-paste Bible. But rather than a Bible that deletes references to miracles and “priestcraft” as Jefferson did, this one substitutes America for every reference to God, portrays Jesus as the paradigmatic American, and deletes passages and verses that could not be properly understood within the framework of America First. There are other changes. For example, Genesis begins with a Manifest Destiny story of how America, personified by one man and one woman, woke up one day in a beautiful garden and felt entitled to “till the grounds, conquer any peoples you find in the land, and exploit every resource for your monetary benefit.” It is America, not Israel, that God liberated from Egypt, which somehow was a bastion of liberal values.

Extreme? As I read what is going on in the U.S. today, there is too little of what I wrote above that is completely fiction.

The mid-20th century theologians were onto something. Nationalism easily and powerfully pulls toward making a god of the nation. Religious leaders need to be vigilant for the undertow and resist the pull.

Never, never should we champion or undergird the idolatry of America First.

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips Faculty
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