Jul  2017 04
July Fourth: Two Christian Visions of the U.S.

EDITOR'S NOTE: We offer this reflection originally presented in 2016.

In the course of U.S. history, there have been competing Christian visions of what the United States is and should be. Around the Fourth of July each year, it is a good time to reflect on what your vision of the U.S. is, and what is the gap between is and ought: where the nation is at, and where the nation ought to go.  

In a blog post, one can’t do justice to the numerous competing Christian religious visions. For example, much more could be said about:  

  • White European religious refugees seeking a “city set on a hill” version of the Promised Land, adopting and adapting the Chosen Nation language of ancient Israel.
  • African-Americans who, when they heard the Gospel, identified not with the Promised Land language but with the Hebrews in Egypt in desiring freedom and an Exodus event.
  • Native Americans who, if anything in the conquerers’ narrative made sense, might have identified with the conquered Canaanites.
  • Christians who believe Christians should focus exclusively on being “called out” from the world and who do not find the topic of “Christian visions of the U.S.” meaningful or helpful.
  • Dominionist Christians who believe a secular constitution was a mistake and who pray and work, via influencers in branches of the military and in law school training, to rectify the “mistake.” 

For today, I’m going to juxtapose two broad versions, composite sketches, of Christian-informed visions for what the U.S. should be. I think you’ll see how the visions also express competing judgments about where the U.S. is and needs to go. 

Chosen America Version.  

God—understood as revealed in the Bible, especially the life of Jesus Christ, and as the One who will someday bring history to a close and judge every person and the actions of nations—rules the world and delegates authority to the rulers of nations.

  • God is the source of human dignity, a value that every nation must recognize and protect and no nation may grant.
  • God is the source of all value, and God’s chief attributes are love and holiness understood as righteousness.
  • The USA is a special nation, specially blessed and utilized by God in executing God’s plans in the world. America is Great because God makes it so.
  • It was God’s will that white Europeans founded the nation and conquered and cultivated the Howling Wilderness. This understanding is often coupled with the belief that the U.S. is God’s basecamp for a world-wide evangelism movement.
  • The U.S. enjoys a greater share of God’s blessings than other nations, if our actions are righteous. If we fail in our calling, we are punished by God. If America is ever not great, it is because our leaders have failed us.
  • The values of a strong work ethic (work is a godly way to be human) and capitalism are closely aligned. Hard work is a cardinal virtue and creates opportunity. Problems tend to be understood as individual rather than systemic (there is not much that hard work and charity cannot fix).  
  • Sin is understood as predominantly an individual infraction of God’s law and is often related to a sexual matter, with heterosexuality being the only God-sanctioned form of sexual orientation and behavior.
  • When the U.S. goes to war, the differentiation between the Will of God and the Will of the Nation is blurred, if not erased (except when the president is disliked). God has established the U.S. as an instrument to execute the divine will in the world.
  • As a Chosen People of God, the will of the U.S. should be of highest consideration in world events.
  • While mercy and grace may be extended to religious leaders when they fall from their pedestals, an “eye for an eye,” or “if you do the crime, you do the time” mentality rules in relation to the incarceration system.  
  • While religious freedom is appreciated, there are limitations, with observances, actions, and behaviors consistent with the above statements being more free than contrary observances, actions, and behaviors.
  • America, at its best, is a nation grateful for the special blessings God bestowed on the land and the people. America is a Christian nation that acts righteously at home and abroad. Because of God’s special relationship with the U.S., the U.S. has a special responsibility in the world to promote Christian values around the globe.
  • In the U.S., persons should be free to pursue their economic interests; if they achieve wealth, they should be charitable with those in need. The Protestant work ethic, which has affinity with work ethics from other cultures, must be protected and promoted.
  • All persons should be fairly treated by the justice system. Religion, or at least a “Judeo-Christian” variety of religion, should be integrated into public schools. It would be best if America were really a melting pot and if past injustices, such as slavery and forced removal of indigenous peoples, were forgiven, so that everyone just got along. In this Christian vision of America, G.K. Chesterton’s quip about the U..S rings true: America is “a nation with the soul of a church.” 

A Nation Among the Nations Version. 

  • God—understood through the study of scripture, especially the accounts of the life of Jesus Christ, but also through the study of history, all the physical and social sciences, and being attentive to experience, especially the experience of those who suffer—is the source of value, and chief amongst those values are love and its social expression, justice. Holiness is understood as purity of love and compassion rather than righteousness. The message of Jesus is understood to express a politics of compassion and inclusion, rather than a politics of purity and exclusion.
  • God is the source of human dignity, a value that every nation must recognize and protect and no nation may grant.
  • The U..S is no more the Chosen People than any nation is. God has no higher or different standards for the U.S. than any other nation. The standards of justice and equity championed by the Hebrew prophets apply to all nations.
  • As is the case with every other nation, the U.S. acts in its own interests; elected leaders often cloak these interests in religious terms, and the job of religious leaders at times is to declare “the emperor has no clothes.” Therefore, when the nation is ramping up to go to war, Christians may challenge or strip away “will of God” language.
  • Justice is defined by the plumb line of the ancient Hebrew prophets: How does a society treat its most vulnerable members (the poor, the sojourner, children and families without adequate support)?
  • Sin can be individual or corporate and systemic. Therefore, addressing sin at times means addressing systemic issues. Economic and social injustices expand sin far beyond the narrow confines of sexuality. Sexual sin is term applied in reference to exploitation, dehumanization, broken relationships, and a heterosexist understanding of sexuality.
  • Telling America’s history without telling, confessing, and repenting of the sin of racism is narrating a lie.  
  • Hard work is a value, but so is the insight that the attributed (rather than earned) privileges of class, education, race, health, and other demographic factors create a systemically unequal starting line for individuals. Programs to promote systemic equity are positively valued.
  • Religious freedom is never an absolute. That freedom is always limited and sometimes in competition with other values, such as civil and human rights.  
  • Justice understood as righting individual and systemic social wrongs is a chief public value.
  • The working out of justice should be joined with compassion and efforts to restore and repair broken lives and communities, rather than implementing retributive punishment alone. 
  • America, at its best, is a nation that recognizes and protects the God-given dignity of every person, fulfills the promises of a land of opportunity, where some people need more help than others to achieve an equitable starting point, where no demographic factor is a barrier to full participation in society, where there is equal justice under the law, where religious persons can practice their faiths without fear of persecution, where people are educated enough to participate in the global economy and in democratic processes of local communities, where health care is a right, and where the nation is a responsible leader and co-citizen in the global community of nations. 

What do you think? 

Happy Fourth. May the U.S. become more of what it should be.


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