Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Some follow-up thoughts on "false assumptions"

On question 1: That there are people who believe that God has a special "covenant" relationship with America. I agree that the origins of that idea are from a small subset of American theological history. Yet even though the doctrinal content certainly isn't intact anymore, the basic assumption is definitely still intact. We see it in official pronouncements and in speeches from our politicos all the time. Reagan's inaugural "Morning in America" speech qouted Winthrop's famous "city on a hill" phrase, adjusting it of course to the needs of the millenial reign of democratic capitalism. And of course, there's the erstwhile D. James Kennedy giving us his own special "history" of America. Now I know he's not as popular as Dobson or Falwell, but he's got the moolah and he's indoctrinating thousands (at least) with his version of "Christian America". I can't remember the last time he actually preached the gospel. A large segment of the home-school movement is being taught this version of American history. The SBC (not exactly high-church Calvinist friendly territory) has become one of the biggest cheerleaders of the modern manifest destiny chant (which is supremely ironic, considering baptist history). That, and they're the ones calling for Christian parents to lead the "exodus" from public schools towards homeschooling. And it's the homeschooling curricula that is promoting this syncretistic "Christian America" ideology. So while the original doctrinal content is certainly missing from the "Covenant Theology" of the early American context, the imagery and language has certainly proved very useful for those wanting to sway public opinion.

As to the second point, that the founders were largely "orthodox" Christians: Again, I refer to D. James Kennedy. Hardly a week goes by without him extolling the orthodox Christian beliefs and virtues of our "beloved" founders. It's actually amazing to watch. Well.. revolting is more like it. The half-truths and not-so-subtle misrepresentations abound in his revisionist early America. What's amazing is that Kennedy is supposedly a solid Calvinist. If anyone should know better, it should be a theologian and pastor of his stature. Yet he slips the anonymous god of America into the pulpit and into too many Christian's homes; all because he's a "trusted" teacher. How can anyone be called an "orthodox" Christian if they're deeply involved in freemasonry (as most of the founders were), which is inherently syncretistic? Oh, and by "orthodox" I don't mean a sectarian subset of a particular denomination; I simply mean the beliefs and practices that are coherent with the early creeds and confessions of the Church; catholic, orthodox, and protestant. I'm not so concerned with doctrinal debates here. They're important, but in this case, I'd be happy to find a majority of Trinitarians among the founders! There's a few, but not many. Not many at all.

On point 3, the writing of the Constitution and it's deistic influences: This point has as much to do with many in the American church confusing which document should rule their life. Again, this is directed towards those who would argue for a Christian gloss on all the legal and theoretical documents forming our country's rules and actions. I do think it's important to recall that most of the founders were deistic, since Deism and Christianity are totally incompatible. Thus it puts the lie to the founders' supposed Christian orthodoxy. To argue that the founders were orthodox Christians is to betray the gospel for a pot of political porridge. Point 4 is really just an extension of point 3. My point (I think) is that this whole type of argumentation (the "Christian America" one) is dishonest rhetoric to support America's militaristic policies of conquest, but with a "religious" gloss. To the degree that that rhetoric succeeds, it corrupts the church with a false gospel. And every member of the body of Christ must fight this abomination with every ounce of their being.

On point 5, there's a sociological study somewhere that points out that early American's were much less "churched" than today. That, and their behavior was just as base as today's supposedly "more" depraved bahavior. We seem to always give in to the tendency to glorify the "good old days." Human nature doesn't change.

Which leads seemlessly to my next several points: The premise the America has never had imperial ambitions, that our wars are always defensive, and that "our" people are basically "good," and the following prescriptions to reform our nation/church (interchangeable?). These several points all come from my own assumption of America being an essentially Pelagian country. But it's a limited Pelagianism. It only applies to us. As far as the rest of the world (or anyone we deem the "enemy") is concerned, we're hard-nosed Calvinists! They're depraved! It's so convenient. We always get to be the good guys that way and everyone we don't like is the source of all evil. It allows every crime to be committed, all in the name of freedom, democracy, etc. (the ideology de jour). And since our "sins" come from without, the answers will then come from setting up a new rule, a new law, a new social crusade. Or a new real crusade. All for the glory of the god of democratic capitalism. You'll forgive me if I don't say hallelujah.

This all comes from my Augustinian view of the human condition. I've been a political animal from early childhood, and I've always wanted to figure out the "best system" for organizing and balancing human interactions. I started out quite the idealist (and in some ways I still am, or else why would I be doing this?). I wanted to see a system that would give us the best balance of freedom and equality. I was willing to listen to the various theories, from the left or the right. Each has their strengths, but I was never satisfied. Neither side gave the full story of our impulses and our desires, both for the greater good or of selfish impulses. While I looked at several religious traditions in my own search, the one that most cohered with my personal experiences was Christianity. It wasn't the miracles. It was the honest description of the human condition that sold me on its truthfulness and accuracy to experienced reality. Thus my political search has traveled down a similar path. If we get the human part wrong, all the rest will necessarily be an ever-widening array of disconnections from reality (I'm not discounting the reality that our idolatry and disconnection from reality is originally based on our rejection of the true God. Our social and political confusion is certainly a subset of that). So, am I left? Am I right? No, I'm Christian. And if Scripture is accurate to the reality that exists beyond our personal experiences of it, then I have at my disposal the resources of the Sovereign God of the universe through His Holy Spirit, given to me through the work of His Son Jesus of Nazareth.

The church is the bride of Christ. And I fear she (or at least too large a part of her) is acting the part of the whore in my little neck of the woods. That's why I sub-titled my site "For the health of the church." She is my Jerusalem above. I am commanded to love her as Christ loves her. I'm joined to her whether I like it or not. It's just sad that I feel this way. Thankfully, Christ's victory is never dependent on how I or any other Christian feels. His victory is guarranteed by His overcoming work on the cross, and He, through His church, will prevail. But it will only be by His means. It will never come about through corruption. The sword of His eternal word is sufficient. We need fight with no other.

Friday, July 1, 2005

Ten False Assumptions Underlying the Idea of "Christian" America

Here are ten assumptions that I believe motivate many American Christians in their understanding of God's relationship to this nation:

1. That God has a special "covenant" relationship with America; thus causing America to be under the blessings/cursings dichotomy that God specified with OT Israel.

2. That the founders were largely orthodox Christians.

3. That even if some of the founders were deistic, they weren't influential in the writing of the Constitution.

4. That since most of the founders were "orthodox" in their Christianity, the founding documents are therefore refective of "Christian" concepts.

5. That the general population was more "godly" than we are today.

6. That America has never had imperial ambitions.

7. That all of our wars have been defensive.

8. That American's are basically a "good" people.

9. That getting "under God" recited nation-wide will bring America "back to God."

10. That putting the ten commandments in public buildings across America will do the same thing.

I'm sure there are more issues that I haven't hit on here, but these are what came to mind as I was considering what I hear from the usual "Christian Right" crowd. What are the assumptions underlying these beliefs? Is it in any way consistent with historic Christianity? Am I just being overly anabaptist in my assessment? Or is it appropriate to question the basic assumptions behind the relationship between the American church and the state? Are we just struggling with a post-Constantinian church/state relationship? Are we actually in a post-Constantinian environment? Anyway, these are too many questions to ask at once; so I'll just ask that if you so desire, please take one of the above statements and run with it. Open it up. Consider what it means to be the church in our current environment; both in terms of speaking to the church about its calling, and then to the larger culture.

And here's a big question for ya: How do we communicate all this to our friends and relatives and fellow church goers/Christians? How do we reclaim a proper ecclesiology? What does it really mean to be the church here and now?