March 21, 2018

Sin-Drenched Nations

Recently I had the pleasure of presenting a paper on “godly nationalism” at the annual meeting of the Wesleyan Theological Society. This gathering, with its many scholars and students committed to Methodist theology, is greatly encouraging. My paper compared John Wesley as loyal Englishman to Pope John Paul II, who equally loved his native Poland. Both understood that nations were divine gifts with providential purposes, but neither of course was naive about national sins. Wesley especially expressed his patriotic love by denouncing Britain’s many sins, even as he thought his country blessed and great.

Several questions I got afterwards from young people in the audience were revealing. One asked if Christians must love countries like America and Israel founded on “stolen” land. Another similarly asked if American Christians must love their country built on greed. Still another skeptically asked about loyalty to a racist nation like America. An older man, who identified as a chaplain in the National Guard, interjected he would die and kill in defense of the Constitution, provoking visible horror from the negative questioners.

All nations are drenched in sin, I responded, yet we are called to love and serve the community where God has placed us, just as Christ Himself did. And we should recall that, unlike Christ, we are ourselves sinful, each of us actively contributing to the faults of our own societies. So we should judge our nations, present or past tense, modestly and reluctantly. Smug contempt for our own people can be self-righteous.

Contempt specifically for America, including among many Christians, especially in academia, reflects partly the dominance of the Howard Zinn perspective, which chronicles American history as primarily a catalog of repressions. These recalled injustices are often very real, but the distortion is tagging America as uniquely perfidious, racist, sexist, greedy, militarist, etc. America is sinful, like all nations, but it never had a monopoly on sin. And more often than not, American ideals have provided a level of human justice unusual in world history.

The Christians who disdain America often suffer from particular theological confusion, believing humanity basically good, while America is the odious aberration. They are also, ironically, often themselves persons of privilege, attending or teaching at expensive and prestigious academic institutions even as they lament America’s exploitation of the marginalized. Their harsh critique contrasts vividly with less privileged persons, for example the many African immigrant taxi drivers, Christian and Muslim, with whom I often converse, who seem generally very favorable about America, having lived elsewhere where human justice is more diluted.

Anti-American Christians often are very myopic about USA sins while uninformed about gross inhumanity elsewhere. They might know about the Holocaust but are often clueless about tens of millions liquidated by the Soviet Union and communist China, about genocides from Pol Pot and Mengistu’s Ethiopia, or mass murder and cannibalism by Idi Amin and Emperor Bokassa, about the Rwandan genocide, or the torture chambers of Saddam Hussein, North Korea, the Assads, Kaddafi, or scores of other regimes whose crimes were vicious but tragically unexceptional.

The routine corruption, political oppression, racism, prejudice and casteism that plague most societies usually far more pervasively and destructively than in America are mostly unknown to the type of young Christians who asked me the negative questions at WTS. But these scoffers from the left side of the political spectrum are increasingly joined by some conservative Christians who imagine America, which previously was supposedly righteous, is now decadent, perhaps beyond redemption.

I don’t believe America is worse today than in the past. Every sin prevalent today was present in the past, often more pervasively and destructively, including assaults on family, marriage and vulnerable human life, unborn or otherwise. My own constant reading of history always reminds me both of America’s greatness and its shame.

Last weekend biographer Michael Burlingame gave a fascinating talk at Fords Theater on “Abraham Lincoln and African Americans.” (Watch here.) There’s a full-time Christian activist who speaks to major Evangelical groups about American racism as supposedly embodied in the Declaration of Independence and who recently has been denouncing Lincoln as a rabid racist. This uninformed activist should heed Burlingame, who describes Lincoln’s remarkable challenge to racism of his day, which stunned and irritated even his most supposedly enlightened anti-slavery allies. For example, when Lincoln welcomed blacks to the White House as equals, extending basic courtesies, onlookers commonly and openly seethed. That Lincoln was shot to death by Booth specifically because he advocated voting rights for blacks apparently counts for little with the contemptuous Christian activist who smugly lectures attentive Evangelicals.

We are a sin-drenched country, but we are by divine grace a much better country than then in almost every way. They who disdain our country by holding it to an inhuman or unparalleled standard are perhaps guilty of ingratitude as well as sanctimony. This derision, which comes from Christians left and right, now dangerously questions democracy itself, while offering no plausible alternative. The available alternatives to American democracy are actually quite hideous.

I offered my WTS proposal for “godly nationalism” as a summons to gratitude, realism, and constant societal reformation. Our attitude towards nation should be service and critique guided by love, not contempt.


 

17 Responses to Sin-Drenched Nations

  1. John Kenyon says:

    Interesting. I tend to agree, although an expanded appreciation of “nation” would include the many stateless nations.

    • Larry Collins says:

      By your inference a people group living as a minority within a country would constitute a nation. Is that true?

    • Mike Stewart says:

      Look at God’s command through the prophet Jeremiah in Jer. 29:5-7″ to the exiles whom I have sent Build houses and live in them;plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters…but seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare”. This was in the evil Babylonian nation where God commanded them to flourish. Does He not command the same for Christians everywhere?

  2. betsy says:

    Excellent article! Thank you! I always appreciate your deft blending of being a Christian in America.

  3. Dan says:

    You are seeing the fruits of what was our public education system and has now become, instead, our public political indoctrination system. It is no coincidence that this takeover has occurred coincident with the rise of the Department of Education and teachers’ unions. The education establishment is rife with those who push a leftist, anti-Christian agenda from kindergarten through university. Some private schools and most home schoolers are the only Americans left who are presenting an objective view of American history and society, both good and sinful

    • Rev. Dr. Randy Kanipe says:

      Dan you are so correct….our education system no longer teaches students HOW to think, but rather, WHAT they should think, and BETTER believe -or else. That it has become so widespread is disheartening at best and terrifying at worst. I fear for my yet unborn grandchildren, and pray that there is an “America” left for them to enjoy as I have.

  4. Kaye Ralene White-Hancock says:

    America: March4OurLives : Your children are calling you. Isaiah 32:1-8 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈπŸ™πŸ½πŸ™πŸ»πŸ™πŸΎπŸ™πŸΏ

  5. Excellent commentary, and I agree wholeheartedly.

  6. John McAdams says:

    The reason these people hate America is simple: they believe that they and people like them should rule. And they resent the fact that an egalitarian political system allows Americans to elect people like Donald Trump, and indeed like George Bush or Ronald Reagan. It is not any heightened moral sensibility that motivates them, but elitist resentment.

  7. Adam says:

    Mark,

    I appreciate this measured and generous response. R&D’s blog is not something I instinctively agree with, but I am trying to branch out. Thanks for setting the tone right (unlike some of the comments, eek!).

  8. Tony Heine says:

    Mark,
    Excellent post.
    Just one quibble regarding democracy.
    I believe that those on the right who question democracy are not doing so because they are looking for a better alternative (although watery tarts distributing swords does have an appeal), but because they have painfully learned that democracy does not equal freedom.
    In your study of history you must of know of countless examples of people voting themselves into slavery. This is the trajectory that many of those who share my worldview see our own country heading. We see the book “The Dictators Learning Curve” as the manual of modern American politics.
    There is no viable alternative to democracy as a method to elect leaders, but we must realize that a method of leader selection is not a method of guaranteeing freedom.
    Freedom requires a culture that values it.
    America once had a culture that valued freedom because it came from another culture that valued freedom, the English, who lived most of their history under a monarchy.
    I strongly believe that ultimately a freedom-valuing culture comes from a widespread acceptance of the Christian worldview.
    Keep up the good fight, Mark. I always enjoy reading your articles.
    -Tony Heine

  9. Eriberto Soto says:

    I love my country, the UDA, but as one who was an evangelical missionary in Latin America for 30 years, I became aware of how our nation became involved in the overthrow of governments that did not go with our interests. Also, I believe that some of the Scandinavian countries, such as Norway, offer opportunities which we are slow to accept because of profit (health, education, etc.).

  10. Eriberto Soto says:

    USA (sorry for the mistake in letters)

  11. Penny says:

    Those who criticize the early history of our country always act as if it is a new thing – “stolen land” – and you did point out many current or recent catastrophes around the world where there is no democracy. But have these people never studied history? Do they not know of the “stolen land” taken by the Egyptians, or the Romans, the Moors, or the Huns, and more recently by the Portuguese, the Italians, the French, the British? The nation of China used to consist of many smaller dynasties who were defeated and whose land was “stolen” by the Chinese Emperors. It is naΓ―ve to think only the USA was created by the takeover of land. I would like to add that I agree that the education of our citizens fell on hard times with the creation of the Department of Education which is a complete waste of taxpayer money ($68 billion in 2016). It is true that our government is full of corruption but it is still better than most countries of the world. Those that praise Denmark or Sweden or other countries who have large social programs forget that the world peace is held together by our military budget. Otherwise they would all be German subjects, or Russian subjects, or Chinese subjects. I am not proud of everything America has done, but I would choose it over any other.

    • Walt S. says:

      Adding to your comments, African wasn’t even black until the Bantu expansion which lasted 1500 years or so. There used to be tribes of Khoi or San peoples (pygmies and hottentots) who were all wiped out by the Bantus conquering southwards.

      Even North America was not empty before Asiatics crossed on the land bridge. Previously, Solutrean peoples crossed Atlantic ice to get here but were gradually wiped out or amalgamated with Eastern tribes of Asiatics.

      Sorry, but no land on earth is virgin. History is one of conquest after the Fall.

  12. Walt S. says:

    The comments in this post and from the people at the conference support Angelo Codevilla’s point that Americans see things very differently and the way for us to live peacefully with one another is with states’ rights and a smaller federal government where we are united for commerce and national defense. Right now, there are too many peoples in this country with vastly different worldviews trying to use the power of the State to enforce their worldviews. The way to maintain unity is to de-escalate and allow much more local control so that so much is not at stake during federal elections.

    As a leading edge millennial, I disagree that we are just as immoral now as we were in the past. When I went to high school, there was no celebration of homosexuality or transgenderism. We’ve seen God hand numerous nations – even the entire Earth in the days of Noah – judgments over the issue of marriage and sexuality. We are in good company with Calvin, Augustine, and Will Durant that nations largely commit suicide due to their decadence before they are conquered from without. Ours will be no different.

  13. Richard Hyde says:

    Good well-balanced observation, as usual. I just finished the article in the WSJ about David McCullough losing sleep because our nation is so angry and divided. Get a clue, people. Finish each day with gratitude.

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