Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Christian America?

As he so often has done, I came across some words from Philip Yancey (Finding God in Unexpected Places) that express feelings I have had over the last several years. People in Christian circles tend to assume that I am on the "religious right" bandwagon. For a while, I was. But my perspective has drastically changed. So let Yancey's words express for me better than I can myself:

I have often heard this verse quoted as a formula for national revival: "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7: 14). Yet that promise was given as part of God's covenant relationship with the ancient Hebrews . . . Have we any reason to assume God has a similar covenant arrangement with the USA?

The New Testament seems to introduce a major shift: God is now working not primarily through nations, but through an invisible kingdom that transcends nations. Jesus stressed "the kingdom of Heaven" as the central focus of God's activity on earth, a kingdom that permeates society so as to gradually affect the whole, like salt sprinkled on meat.

As I now reflect on Jesus' stories of the kingdom, I sense that much uneasiness among Christians today stems from a confusion of the two kingdoms, visible and invisible. Each time an election rolls around, Christians debate whether this or that candidate is "God's man" for the White House. Projecting myself back into Jesus' time, I have difficulty imagining him pondering whether Tiberius, Octavius, or Julius Caesar -- not to mention Nero or Caligula -- was "God's man" for the empire. What took place in Rome was on another plane entirely from the kingdom of God.

At various points in U. S. history (the 1850s, the time of Prohibition, and more recently during the Moral Majority movement of the 1980s), the Christian church has marked an ascendancy into politics. Now, it appears, the church and politics may be heading in different directions. The more I understand Jesus' message of the kingdom of God, the less alarm I feel over that trend. Our real challenge, the focus of our energy, should not be to Christianize the United States (always a losing battle) but rather to strive to be Christ's church in an increasingly hostile world. As Karl Barth said, "[The Church] exists . . . to set up in the world a new sign which is radically dissimilar to [the world's] own manner and which contradicts it in a way which is full of promise."

When we have attempted to tie Christianity to America, we have left the impression in the world that financial corruption, materialism and graphic sex are "Christian." Thus much of the reason for Islam's rejection of Jesus. This is sad.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

I can't add much to that other than I concur.