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Unhappy Fourth of July
4 July 2011
The Fourth of July. Today is the day when most Americans patriotically worship at the altar of democracy and freedom. When we reverentially sing "God bless America." When we solemnly recite that we are "one nation under God." When evangelical Christians renew their vow to "take America back for God," and rededicate their efforts to turn America back to its "Christian roots." The Fourth of July — a very august and hallowed day, to be sure!
Last year I wrote an article on this Web site which reviewed the book, The Myth of a Christian Nation by Pastor Gregory Boyd. This book has had a profound impact on the way I view the United States, and even on how I regard our national birthday. Before continuing with this article, I HIGHLY recommend that you read The Myth of a Christian Nation article first.
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. I would strongly encourage you to read all seven articles, starting with The "Power Over" Kingdom, in addition to the above-mentioned article on this Web site.
Better yet, buy yourself a copy of The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest For Political Power Is Destroying the Church today, and read the whole book as soon as possible! It's THAT awesome! But for now, I'll just share a small extract from the book:
OK — now that you've read all of The Myth of a Christian Nation background materials, let's continue on with today's Fourth of July reflections.
"Nothing has been more damaging to the advancement of the Beautiful Kingdom in America, and to a significant degree around the globe, than this myth that America is a Christian nation.
"Since the time of Constantine, Christianity has largely been the obedient servant of the kingdom of the world, while the cross has often been reduced to the pole upon which a national flag waves. When leaders of so-called Christian nations felt the need to go to war to protect or expand the interests of their nation, they could often count on the church to call on God to bless its violent campaign and use its authority to motivate warriors to fight for their cause 'in Jesus' name.' However much leaders were driven by power or economic concerns, their cause could be made 'holy' by convincing Christian subjects that God was involved. Hence, when any group had to be vanquished in the interest of the Christian nation, it has often been carried out under the banner of Christ — even when the enemy was other professing Christians. 'For God and country' has been the battle cry of Christians, as it has in one form or another for almost every other army, whatever the particular religion or nation."
The Light and the Glory by Peter Marshall and David Manuel. In this book, the authors proudly document the fact that a major source of inspiration for the eventual rebellion against English rule came from the pulpits of Colonial churches, with the pastors often using texts and imagery from the Old Testament. Just a few short extracts will have to suffice:
"[British King] Charles II's advisors warned him that 'the ministers were preaching freedom,' ... the Crown recognized that the resistance had begun with their religion ... American opinion was strongly shaped by the ministers, who were nearly unanimous in their support of resistance ... resistance to oppression had been a favorite topic in Yankee pulpits for more than a century ..."That is an interesting statement: "resistance has begun with their religion." Yes, but WHICH religion? Which GOD? Definitely NOT the God of the New Testament!
Yeshua (Jesus) was unquestionably anti-violence, as I discuss in-depth in my article Yeshua and Violence. So were the early followers of Yeshua, as documented in the New Testament. So was the early Church for the first 300 years of its existence, until the time of Constantine (see my article The Militant Church). For the last 1,700 years, the militant church has corrupted itself with the power of the sword.
Yeshua, as well as the authors of the New Testament, NEVER taught believers to rebel against or oppose violently the malevolent Roman Empire, which was much more oppresive than the British Empire. Yeshua and His apostles NEVER instructed their followers to try to reform the Roman Empire into a democratic republic. And they NEVER exalted (or even mentioned) the concepts of democracy and political freedom — concepts which are worshiped in America as if they were Christian values!
The New Testament rarely concerns itself with human governments. It does tell us to pay our taxes (Matthew 22:15-22 and Romans 13:6-7). In the same chapter, the apostle Paul also writes:
"Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves." (Romans 13:1-2)The "governing authorities" Paul was referring to was the evil Roman Empire, which wasn't even pretending to be Christian, and not the British Empire (which was pretending to be Christian). It was easy for American preachers to get their congregations stirred up by comparing British rule to the oppression of the Israelites under the Egyptian Pharaoh, but they must have swept under the carpet the verse just quoted: "whoever rebels against the [governing] authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves."
In the end, how can we reasonably expect the American nation — which was born in rebellion against the governing authority — to prosper, when God states that such rebellion brings judgment on those who rebel? And how is it that Christians can say, with even a shred of credibility, that God WANTED the American Christians to rebel, that God LED them to rebel, and that it was God's WILL for them to rebel VIOLENTLY, when such statements are exactly the opposite of what the New Testament teaches is God's will for Christians?
I think that the New Testament's teaching on violence could be summed up in one simple statement (my own, not a quote from the Bible): "It's better to be killed than to kill." Was God at all glorified or honored by a bunch of rebellious American "Christians" going around and killing British soldiers? Is it not rather a shame and a disgrace, and a perversion of the Way of Yeshua?
I do think that America was destined to become an independent nation, but it did NOT have to happen through violence. If the American pastors of the day had applied themselves to preaching the New Testament values of patience, perseverance, longsuffering, forgiveness, turning the other cheek, loving your enemies, and other such virtues, rather than preaching the anti-Yeshua values of rebellion, rights, political freedom and violence, a totally different — and much better — path to independence would have been found.
Great nations like Canada, Australia and New Zealand each won their independence from Britain without resorting to rebellion and violence. India's struggle for independence, which was marked by non-violent resistance, not only brought freedom from British rule, but also brought worldwide fame to Mahatma Gandhi and his peaceful approach, which still inspires people today. The United States could have set the Christian example, and travelled down that high road too; unfortunately, Americans chose the quicker, pagan, low road which repudiated the nation's supposed Christian foundations.
There's no denying that it's wonderful, on a human level, to live in a democracy. There are good things about America and life in this country. But in the big, eternal picture, is that what life is all about? Vibrant Christianity thrived under Roman imperial oppression, just as it does today under Chinese Communist oppression. While in the "free", "democratic" West, Christianity is practically comatose! From the spiritual point of view, isn't it clear which circumstances are conducive to a living faith?
As previously mentioned, Americans, and even Christian Americans, have elevated the concepts of "freedom" and "democracy" to such a height that they have become the national religion. In the name of these "gods", the U.S. government has interfered with the internal affairs of many countries around the world, even resorting to military violence in order to impose this religion on these other peoples.
So much for democracy in the eternal scheme of things! From what I can see in the Bible, democracy is not even on God's agenda. But the Bible does say that He is very concerned about righteousness, holiness, justice, love, self-sacrifice, and many other virtues. And speaking of dearly-held American values that are not Biblical values, there is this most sacred text, which is so revered by Americans that it seems they feel it must have come straight from the throne of God:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Let's pause for a minute and consider these words. Are "life," "liberty," and "the pursuit of happiness" REALLY rights that come from GOD and which cannot be taken away? Are these three "rights" the highest values the Bible teaches? Are these the ultimate goals in life that every American has a divine right to, that every American should cling to, come hell or high water? Let's take a look at each one of the "rights" one by one.
"Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think." (Romans 12:2a)From the time of the founding of our nation until now, if you take a look at America's history of practically continuous military violence and bloodshed, you will see that almost NONE of these conflicts were defensive in nature. As I wrote in a previous article:
"For more than 200 years, U.S. military might has been used almost exclusively to further American expansionism and imperialism. Despite deceptive, virtuous-sounding rationalizations — 'The American flag has not been planted in foreign soil to acquire more territory but for humanity's sake.' (President McKinley) — the American government has been, and still is, guilty of warmongering, blood-lust, land-grabbing, global despotism, and more. Let's cut the sentimental, patriotic crap about being SO proud of our soldiers! Instead, we should be hanging our heads in shame for our unethical belligerence."
Up to this very day, the United States is still trying to bomb foreign countries into adopting our American religion of democracy and freedom! And a large number of American Christians actually SUPPORT this diabolical agenda! When will we finally wake up, open our eyes, and see this deception for what it really is?!
In light of these sober and tragic realities, on this Fourth of July I find no reason to rejoice. If we want to be true followers of Yeshua, can we, with a clear conscience, really celebrate the birthday of a nation that was born in rebellion and violence, and continues even now to inflict more violence upon others for the sake of our "glorious American values"? Isn't it rather a day to mourn, and repent for the perversion of Christianity we have spread around the world in the name of our twin gods, democracy and freedom?
America is NOT a Christian nation. It never WAS a Christian nation. An interesting and timely article to this effect was published on the CNN Web site today: Why U.S. is not a Christian nation — be sure to check it out and consider carefully the information presented.
The sooner we reject the erroneous idea of American being a Christian nation, the sooner we can start to undo the tremendous damage this falsehood has produced (see The Myth of a Christian Nation book for more details). We can start today by NOT celebrating American exceptionalism, nor the other prevalent American values which are opposite of what the New Testament teaches. We can start today by abandoning our misguided attempts to view American history through rose-colored evangelical lenses.
Why I don't sing the 'Star Spangled Banner'. Pastor Mark Schloneger writes:
"To Mennonites, a living faith in Jesus means faithfully living the way of Jesus. Jesus called his disciples to love their enemies and he loved his enemies all the way to the cross and beyond. Following Jesus and the martyrs before us, we testify with our lives that freedom is not a right that is granted or defended with rockets' red glare and bombs bursting in air. True freedom is given by God, and it is indeed not free. It comes with a cost, and it looks like a cross.Be sure to read the entire article. How we desperately, DESPERATELY need more American Christians like this — followers of Yeshua who will loudly and clearly proclaim these values by what they say AND by how they live!
"These convictions do not reflect ingratitude or hatred for our country. Rather, they reflect a deep love for the church and a passionate desire for the church to be the church. I love my country, but I sing my loyalty and pledge my allegiance to Jesus alone."
Unhappy Fourth of July to you too!
UPDATE 9 JULY 2013 — I ran across an interesting article on CNN recently — Mourn on the Fourth of July: Inside the Christian anti-patriot movement — now I don't feel so alone!
This article is 13th 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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