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The Myth of a Christian Nation
9 September 2010
first article (about Obama winning the election) nearly two years ago, I mentioned that I wanted to read The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest For Political Power Is Destroying the Church by Gregory Boyd. Well, I have read it twice since then, and now I'm finally ready to tell you all about it.
There is A LOT to say about this excellent, thought-provoking, life-changing book. In fact, there is so much to say that I've dedicated SEVEN articles on my Your Islamic Future Web site to covering many of the important themes in the book. And even then I can only quote a small part of the great material Pastor Boyd shares. Before you continue on with the article on this page, I would strongly encourage you to read all seven articles, starting with The "Power Over" Kingdom.
For today's article, I'm going to quote a section of the book that deals with Christianity and politics, which is a continuation of the topic of my first Brian's Bits article. I did not quote this material in my seven articles mentioned above.
The evangelical church in America has, to a large extent, been co-opted by an American, religious version of the kingdom of the world. We have come to trust the power of the sword more than the power of the cross. We have become intoxicated with the Constantinian, nationalistic, violent mindset of imperialistic Christendom.Wow! These are very profound and transforming ideas that Pastor Boyd is communicating. And I can share so little of it here on this page. This book has effected a dramatic change in how I view and practice my life as a Christian, therefore I can't recommend it highly enough. Out of the hundreds of books I have read in my lifetime, I don't remember ever reading one that so clearly explains what it really means to be a follower of Yeshua (Jesus). I think it is vital for every Christian to read. Buy your copy today!
The evidence of this is all around but nowhere clearer than in the simple, oft-repeated slogan that we Christians are going to "take America back for God." The thinking is that America was founded as a Christian nation but has simply veered off track. If we can just get the power of Caesar again, however, we can take it back. If we can just get more Christians into office, pass more Christian laws, support more Christian policies, we can restore this nation to its "one nation under God" status. If we can just protect the sanctity of marriage, make it difficult, if not impossible, to live a gay lifestyle, and overturn Roe vs. Wade, we will be getting closer.
If we can just get prayer (Christian prayer, of course) back into our schools along with the Ten Commandments and creationist teaching, we will be restoring our country's Christian heritage. If we can just keep "one nation under God" in our Pledge of Allegiance, protect the rights of Christians to speak their minds, get more control of the liberal media, clean up the trash that's coming out of the movie and record industry, while marginalizing, if not eradicating, liberal groups such as the ACLU, we will have won this nation back for Jesus Christ.
Yes, the thinking goes, if only we can get Christian people and Christian ideas to dominate the political landscape, we will have won the culture war and God will be glorified. It will be good for God and good for all Americans (indeed, for the world). For we, being the true people of God, know God's will better than others and, thus, know better than pagans what is good for a nation. Few things can get a typical conservative Christian gathering as fired up as a message that hammers on topics such as these.
This position is exceedingly popular, but as people whose ultimate allegiance is to the Kingdom of God and not to any version of the kingdom of the world, we have to ask ourselves several very sobering questions.
First, since we are called to mimic Jesus in all we do as citizens of the Kingdom of God, we have to ask: When did Jesus ever act or talk like this? If Jesus wasn't concerned about "taking Israel back for God" by political means, why would any who align themselves with His Kingdom aspire to "take America back for God" by these means?
Did Jesus spend any time and energy trying to improve, let alone dominate, the reigning government of His day? Did He ever work to pass laws against the sinners He hung out with and ministered to? Did He worry at all about ensuring that His rights and the religious rights of His followers were protected? Does ANY author in the New Testament remotely hint that engaging in this sort of activity has anything to do with the Kingdom of God?
We must never forget that the only way we individually and collectively represent the Kingdom of God is through loving, Christlike, sacrificial acts of service to others. Anything and everything else, however good and noble, lies outside the Kingdom of God.... Our unique Kingdom-of-God authority resides exclusively in our ability and willingness to come under people in sacrificial love, a unique authority that cannot be given by Caesar and cannot be taken by Caesar.
Second ... if we look at historical reality rather than pious verbiage, it's obvious that America never really "belonged to God." America as a nation has clearly never looked remotely like Jesus.... To the contrary, the way this nation was "discovered," conquered, and governed was a rather typical, barbaric, violent, kingdom-of-the-world affair.
The European conquering of America was simply another all-too-typical version of this kingdom-of-the-world behavior. From the Kingdom-of-God perspective, the fact that Christ happened to be the national warrior deity invoked to carry out whites' "manifest destiny" — inspiring them to kill, cheat, marginalize, and enslave native Americans and Africans (as well as other nonwhite groups) — simply means that this particular kingdom-of-the-world episode was more damaging to the cause of the Kingdom of God than others.... Slaughtering, enslaving, cheating, conquering, and dominating are not the sort of activities Jesus engaged in!
It's significant that the Declaration of Independence proclaims truths that the founding fathers thought to be "self-evident" to NATURAL REASON (a very deistic idea), not truths that are SCRIPTURAL. Also, our country's Constitution is based on reason, not the Bible.... But the issue of what various founding fathers personally believed is really irrelevant to the issue at hand. For even if they believed they were in some sense establishing a Christian nation, as some maintain, it remains perfectly clear that it never has actually looked like Christ. We have only to listen to the voices of nonwhites throughout our history to appreciate this fact.
Just listen to Frederick Douglass, a nineteenth-century slave who taught himself how to read and write, as he expresses his view of how Christian America was:
Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference — so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt and wicked.... I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.When we suggest that this nation was once Christian, we participate in the racist and demonic deceit that Douglass poignantly exposes.... The list of ways that early America didn't remotely look like the domain in which God is King — indeed, the ways America has often looked the opposite — could be expanded indefinitely.
As much as God wants governments to operate justly, Jesus didn't come to establish a perfect worldly government. He came to establish the Kingdom of God as a radical alternative to all versions of the kingdom of the world, whether they declare themselves to be "under God" or not.
When we misguidedly loop Christian talk into American kingdom-of-the-world talk, we do great harm to the work of the Kingdom of God. Among other things, we leverage the credibility of God's Kingdom on someone believing that it was God's will — "manifest destiny" — for whites to carry out the barbarism they carried out toward Native Americans, Africans, and a host of other nonwhites in the course of American history. We compromise the purity and beauty — the HOLINESS — of the Kingdom of God by associating it with the typical "power over" injustices that this country has largely been built on. And we encourage the sort of "power over" behavior among religious people that we see today as they attempt to "take America back for God" by political means. Allegiance to the Kingdom of God is confused with allegiance to America, and lives that are called to be spent serving others are spent trying to gain power over others.
To love enemies, forgive transgressors, bless persecutors, serve sinners, accept social rejects, abolish racist walls, share resources with the poor, bear the burden of neighbors, suffer with the oppressed — all the while making no claims to promote oneself — THIS is beautiful; THIS is Christlike. Only this, therefore, is distinct Kingdom-of-God activity.
When the church sets itself up as the moral police of the culture, we earn the reputation of being self-righteous judgers rather than loving, self-sacrificial servants — the one reputation we are called to have. While tax collectors and prostitutes gravitated to Jesus because of His magnetic Kingdom love, these sorts of sinners steer clear of the church, just as they did the Pharisees, and for the exact same reason: they do not experience unconditional love and acceptance in our midst — they experience judgment.
The brutal fact is that we Christians are not generally known for our love — for the simple reason that we, like the Pharisees of old, generally judge more than we love. Ask any random sampling of pagans in America what first comes to their mind when you say the words evangelical or born again Christian, and chances are close to zero that anything like "outrageous, sacrificial love" will be the first thing out of their mouths. Ask them to list the first ten that come into their mind, and chances are still close to zero that "outrageous, sacrificial love" will be on any of their lists.
More than a few have noticed the comic irony in the fact that the group most vocal about "the sanctity of marriage," namely evangelical Christians, happens to be the group with the highest number of divorces in the United States, which itself has the highest divorce rate in the world! Outsiders legitimately wonder... "why don't they stop worrying about laws to regulate OTHERS' behavior and spend their time and energy sanctifying their OWN marriages?"
We evangelicals may be divorced and remarried several times; we may be as greedy and as unconcerned about the poor and as gluttonous as others in our culture; we may be as prone to gossip and slander and as blindly prejudiced as others in our culture; we may be more self-righteous and as rude as others in our culture — we may even lack love more than others in the culture. These sins are among the most frequently mentioned sins in the Bible. But at least we're not GAY!
While the church was supposed to be the central means by which people became convinced that Jesus is for real, this has made the church into the central reason many are convinced He's NOT for real.... There's nothing beautiful or attractive about this sort of self-serving, hypocritical behavior. The beauty of the cross and the magnetic quality of Calvary-quality love has been smothered in a blanket of self-righteous, self-serving, moralistic posturing.... Christians should stick to replicating Calvary toward gay people (as toward all people), and trust that their loving service will do more to transform people than laws ever could.
The distinctly Kingdom question is not, How should we VOTE? The distinctly Kingdom question is, How should we LIVE? Voting and picketing costs us little. The Kingdom approach costs us much. But it is precisely the costliness of the Kingdom approach — which looks like Jesus dying on Calvary for those who crucified Him — that makes it a unique KINGDOM approach. And because it manifests the beauty of Jesus, it glorifies God and has a power to change the world in a way that kingdom-of-the-world strategies never could.... The distinct Kingdom question is not, How do you VOTE? The distinct Kingdom question is, How do you BLEED?
This article is 4th a series of articles on this Web site related to Modern Christianity and the Church which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
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