A presidential hopeful stumped in Central Texas yesterday (I refrain from mentioning the name to avoid any bias). He (or she?) said all the things most Texans want to hear: handguns, hunting, heterosexuality, and a bigger army. He/she was asked about the role of faith in the presidency, to which he/she responded thusly:
“[Americans] want a person of faith to lead the country, but they don’t particularly care what brand of faith that is, so long as the values that person has are American values . . . If people want to know more about my particular faith, they can contact my church.” (Austin American-Statesman, Wednesday, April 11, 2007, pA6)
Risking misinterpretation I understand him/her to say: “believe what you want about God/god/gods, but American values are non-negotiable. Defend America, but leave faith matters to Rome, Salt Lake City or Nashville.” Ameridoxy trumps orthodoxy.
One way to respond to this candidate’s claim is politically. Such has been the mainline church’s response. I can already hear my dad writing his congressman. “Christian values are American values!” he scribes. For many, the reverse is more true: American values are Christian values. In other words, to be American (whatever that is) is what it means to be Christian. To think otherwise is liberal and treasonous.
I recommend America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln by Mark Noll. In it, Dr. Noll masterfully traces the merging of Christian thought and patriotism. By the 19th century one often talked about God and country using the same language. And to defend one was to defend the other. Christian faith was described in terms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Unsuspectingly, the American dream shared the platform with Jesus as the savior of the world. Now presidential candidates say, “Faith in absolute terms is really irrelevant and unhelpful, the American way is the way of salvation.” Ameridoxy trumps orthodoxy.
Rather than responding politically we must respond biblically. We must maintain the peculiarity of the church (1 Pt 2.9). The church of Jesus Christ is God’s “nation” and Jesus her king. This was an apostolic mantra as even they had to confront salvation-through-nationalism, too. Israel couldn’t accept that there were other nations on God’s radar screen. If there were surely they had to become Israelites to be truly saved (Acts 15). Rome couldn’t believe anyone could be more powerful than Caesar. Yet, to a man the apostles maintained the priority of God’s kingdom over Caesar’s.
God is not saving America any more than he is saving Canada, Brazil or New Zealand. He is saving Americans, Canadians, Brazilians and New Zealanders. He is saving the church of the Lord Jesus, which outlast every world kingdom (Rev 21-22). And when he saves us we immediately become strangers and aliens no matter our home address (Heb 11.13; 1 Pt 1.1; 2.11). When God saves us in Jesus we are no longer Americans who will go to heaven “like all good Americans do.” We are citizens of heaven who are passing through this land as ambassadors (Eph 2.19). We cannot expect from any nation what only Jesus provides in heaven. Life, liberty, happiness and freedom are his to give, and when Jesus sets you free you will be free indeed (Jn 8.36).
Our primary allegiance is to Jesus. Love America by loving Jesus (not vice versa). Defend Christ’s name in the church more than God’s name in the Pledge. Pray with the church for souls as eagerly more than we campaign for votes. Proclaim the majesty of Christ in the church louder than we decry the politics of liberalism. Evangelize the lost more boldly than we trumpet candidates. Listen to God’s word in the church more than media pundits on the radio/TV. Seek help, support and comfort from the church more than the state. Care more about discipline in the church than at Gitmo. Care more about sin in the church than terrorism in the land. Care more about false teaching sneaking into the church more than immigrants sneaking past the border. Seek first God’s kingdom in Christ and his righteousness (Mt 6.33)!
Then America will look much different. Well, I guess it would be heaven. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.