It seems like another era, but in 2008 it was big news when old sermon videos emerged from former Obama pastor Jeremiah Wright, in which the Chicago preacher intoned: “Not God bless America, but God damn America!”
Shocking then, but damning America has since become more religiously conventional. A recent Sojourners post intones:
This is the state of our “Christian” nation: Our government isn’t working, and when it does it’s on behalf of behemoth corporations and influential lobbyists. Elected officials are openly racist, sexist, and xenophobic — without consequence. Police continue to kill people of color and jails have become a modernized form of slavery. The military is mired in endless violence throughout the world, participating in wars far beyond the interests of our citizenry, and defense contractors reap the profits. Teachers are underpaid, schools underfunded, and students underfed, but our president wants to spend billions on a wall he promised our country would never have to pay for.
American Christianity brought us to this point. It preached nationalism and sanctified American imperialism — promoting Manifest Destiny as ordained by God. The prosperity gospel baptized capitalistic greed, its preachers vilified the poor, and its theologians manipulated scripture to rationalize global colonialism.
If you can’t fight these forms of destructive “Christianity,” run. Flee from cross-laden buildings that excrete sexism, escape from cultish partisan rhetoric that spews racism and fosters xenophobia, and free yourself from bigoted communities that espouse hate. If Christianity would rather build a wall to exclude migrants and asylum seekers instead of lovingly accept them, ditch it and don’t look back. If Christian leaders would rather deport their neighbors rather than generously accept them, have nothing to do with them.
This point about welcoming immigrants is confusing. If America is truly this ongoing concentration camp of systemic injustice, then surely Christian duty calls for warning away all immigrants who head here under the delusion that America offers a better life. If America is so irredeemably corrupt, then faithful Christians should organize caravans and flotillas of escape out of America. Let’s look for that advocacy in a future Sojourners column!
Of course there is a right wing Christian version of this “God damn America” perspective. When I recently blogged about Russian Orthodoxy’s frequent historical deference to Russian tyranny, many pro-Russian tweeters deluged me with images of American decadence, with a strong focus on the current transgender fad. They left the impression that the average American is a drag queen, in contrast with holy Russia, where the regime, jails, tortures and murders its perceived enemies, while the state church is silent or supportive.
Other conservative Christians in America, while not pro-Russian, are convinced America is morally debauched. And America is. So are all earthly nations. It’s always been so. The Devil has from the beginning roamed about like a roaring lion. But God’s redemption also is at work, and it prevails. To highlight the evils of humanity while ignoring or minimizing far more powerful divine acts of goodness is itself grievously and myopically sinful.
Many Christians and others are rightly outraged by recent legislation in New York with similar efforts elsewhere to affirm late term abortions. Such dehumanization must be fought. But we should also be thankful that abortions rates are falling in America and globally, and that Northern America’s abortion rate is among the world’s lowest.
In a similar vein, there’s lots of focus on racism in America, including Virginia politicians who decades ago wore blackface or countenanced others who did. Tragically, racism and tribal prejudice have infected humanity for millennia. For all today’s problems, modern society, especially in America, is more obsessively egalitarian and anti-racist that any other society in history, which we should celebrate. This demand for racial equality is based on the Bible’s extraordinary affirmation that all equally bear God’s image.
This appreciation of humanity as God’s image bearers motivates immeasurable ongoing improvements in humanity’s global material well-being. Cardinal Dolan and pastor Samuel Rodriguez gratefully wrote Thursday:
We will rejoice because our nation is helping achieve remarkably good news. Over the last three decades, America has helped cut extreme poverty in half around the world. 2.6 billion people have been blessed with access to safer drinking water. Other interventions like vaccine programs and improved nutrition have helped reduce child death under age five around the world by more than half, an historic low. Disasters and crises may make the news, but behind the headlines lives the healthiest generation of children in recorded history.
Rejoice indeed, and thank God that millions of children who once routinely died now live. In our fallen world we must identify injustice and labor against it, while appreciating God’s ongoing work among us, which which will not be completed until a time known only to Him. He doesn’t desire to damn any nation, and we pray He blesses America and all peoples.