Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Christian Nation?

I just returned from a week at the Family Research Council's Watchmen on the Wall event. I had the opportunity to speak with a very well read Alliance Defense Fund volunteer about theologian/pastor Greg Boyd. We both agreed that Boyd is a decent preacher, a good theologian, a great apologist and a horrendous American historian/policy wonk.
Boyd is just one of many evangelicals these days who argue that America is not a "Christian nation", that no Church should post an American flag, etc. They point to slavery, our treatment of native Americans, etc. as proof that we are in fact a sinful nation and that our only true allegiance is to the Kingdom.
Now I have to admit that they have a point. The U.S. has a terrible record when it comes to race and has managed to slaughter tens of millions of unborn children over the last 35 years. Furthermore, many churches take things WAY too far to the point where it would be easy for an outsider to confuse a church's patriotism with rank idolatry.
Yet, Boyd and others are also overlooking a few important facts--first of all, if we declare something is Christian by whether or not it is "Christ-like" then the church too should be rejected and, in fact, so should all Christians. The only left would be...well...Christ. Second, the Apostle Paul often exhorts his readers to be good citizens, pay their taxes, respect the authorities, etc. and he was encouraging this in the face of an Empire that crucified his fellow Jews in mass just to send the signal that they were in charge. Paul saw no immediate conflict between patriotism and following Christ.
To label the U.S. as a sinful nation is an exercise in redundancy but every nation and every individual that has ever lived saved one has clearly been sinful. The church was formed by the Spirit, fed the hungry, etc. Yet it is clear from Acts, Galatians, etc. that it was also filled with bigots. The Apostles did not abandon it in a self-righteous tiff but instead tried to reform it. Thankfully committed followers of Jesus have done just that within this country--i.e., the civil rights movement, the women's suffrage movement, the abolitionist movement, etc.
If Martin Luther King, Jr. or Frederick Douglas had simply dismissed the U.S. as godless and focused on their own "communities" then slavery and government sanctioned racism would have tarried on for decades longer then they did.
Why did King, Douglas and so many others not just revert to sanctimonious personal piety? Because they read the prophets who declared that ALL NATIONS belong to God and are expected to be loyal to Him lest they fall under judgment.
I really think my Emergent friends need to stop smugly dispensing bumper sticker slogans stolen from a hypocrite like Jim Wallis and follow in the footsteps of great Christian patriots who saw no dichotomy in their paramount loyalty to the Kingdom and their service to this Country, because they simply follow the dictates of the prophets, like Jeremiah, who declared that all people, individually and collectively, are to seek after God.
May it be so.