The Table Is Cleared, The Leftovers Are Devoured, And All Visitors Have Departed

. . . So I guess I’m ready to get back to the business of Prevailing Winds. I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and because I care — I really do — I’m going to suggest that you buckle your seatbelts until Election Day 2012, because I think it’s going to be a VERY bumpy ride . . .

In an effort to maintain a sense of perspective during the presidential campaign, I’ve begun Newsweek Managing Editor Jon Meacham’s “American Gospel: God, The Founding Fathers, And The Making Of A Nation,” an insightful look into the differences and confusion between the “public religion” of the United States, the Biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the starkly areligious, hyper-Enlightenment approach to civic engagement that denies the validity of the former and the veracity of the latter. I’ll periodically feature a point from the book. I mean, starting today.

But not before I add that I’m also re-reading Dr. Greg Boyd’s “The Myth Of A Christian Nation,” a book that both Doug Wilson and I read a couple of years ago with, not too surprisingly, entirely different reviews. He objected, in Blog and Mablog, to Boyd’s assertion that the United States hasn’t been, isn’t now, and never ought to be “a Christian nation,” and I applauded both Boyd’s perspective and his prescription for a more Biblical understanding of the reign of God in the affairs of humankind. I didn’t discuss it much in Prevailing Winds, but I imagine that “American Gospel” will prompt me to remember something in “The Myth . . . ” and vice-versa.

When the U.S. does something evil — like going to war with Iraq under the guise of a “War on Terror” in response to 9/11, blatantly ignoring the demonstrated, documented non-involvement of Iraq in the planning and execution of the attack — the profound dismay that Christians ought to feel is tempered, if only a little, by the realization that the nation of which we are citizens is not committing its evil as the corporate expression, the Body, of the One to whom we belong. The Religious Right’s insistence on inventing a historical, evangelical, Biblical and GOP prayer group-type convocation whence sprang the new Nation has brought untold shame on the Gospel, whose witness suffers enormously when it’s proffered as the calling card of a country that, at times, is a shameless aggressor acting in direct defiance of the Name proclaimed by the Gospel message.

As Meacham points out, people worship. Nations don’t. Further, a commonality of civic virtue is in no way a profound expression of individual devotion. The Founders’ 1979 declaration, in a treaty with the Muslim nation then known as Tripoli, is explicit: “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion . . .” (“American Gospel, p. 19), and an accurate assessment of the religious beliefs of those Founders, to a man, would hardly lead today’s Religious Right evangelicals to embrace their doctrines as Biblical, or extend to them the right hand of fellowship.

And yet the Founders insisted on the importance of a unifying public religion, Christian-ish in its understanding of “Nature’s God” and the moral character its only quasi-personal deity expects from those who worship him and who do so, or not, without State coercion. As Meacham says, “The wall Jefferson referred to is designed to divide church from state, not religion from politics,” and the Founders “consciously allowed a form of what Benjamin Franklin called ‘public religion’ to take root and flower at the same time they were creating a republic that valued private religious liberty.” (Meacham, ibid.)

In short, and despite what more than two centuries of Christian fundamentalists have disseminated as unvarnished, even “Biblical,” truth, the United States is not a Christian nation. And to the extent that it is so considered, its “God talk” exists merely as a familiar starting point for a beneficient, and beneficial, common morality whose practitioners may or may not accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is not to say that the Trinity of Lordship is not, in fact, Lord over our country. Indeed, Father, Son, and Spirit reign over all of creation; such has it been from the beginning, and so will it continue eternally.

Acknowledging Christ’s Lordship over the U.S.A. is a proclamation of truth, as is the assertion that many Americans worship him as Lord and Savior. Asserting, however, that the United States is an expression of either the Kingdom of God or of the Body of Christ — as the United States — is a proclamation that, while perhaps satisfying to the Enemy of our souls, nonetheless has blinded, offended, pacified, and confounded untold millions: Those who embrace “God” because they’re Americans and so why wouldn’t they, and those who reject Him because of those same Americans.

And, given what our “Christian nation” has often done, why wouldn’t they as well?

God forbid that any offense, any offense other than the Truth against a fallen world, be committed in the Name of the One who doesn’t just speak with veracity, but who embodies all that is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:26), and who lives in the hearts of women and men in every nation who worship him. No earthly government possesses the Kingdom, and no worldly institution or tradition can replace, diminish, or impede it.

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