The Unique American Experience and Christianity

Written by Dr. Rex M. Rogers on . Posted in Local

rexsat7Dr. Rex M. RogersAmerica has been called a Christian nation, though this description has been hotly debated.

America has been called “the first new nation ” by eminent sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset.

America has been called “The Great Experiment ” by no less than George Washington.

America has been said to be great because it is good, and that it would cease to be great if it ceased to be good .

This observation has been variously attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville and others, but whoever said it the phrase captures America’s sense of itself as the land of opportunity, the land of the free and the home of the brave, ideas rooted in the Judeo-Christian moral consensus that gave meaning and destiny to the American people their first two hundred years.

America’s experience with Christianity is an historic and storied one, not always consistent with biblical theology but one of depth, influence, and impact.

Several lines of scholarly consideration developed from America’s unique experience with religious liberty and the impact of Christianity:

·        American exceptionalism, the idea America developed from a set of values that became a creed affirming what the Founders considered self-evident truths, that human beings are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, equality before the law, justice, individual responsibility. It is an historical interpretation and cultural philosophy that bespoke America’s sense of itself as different, special, and “the last best hope of earth.”

·        American imperialism, in the late 19th and 20th Centuries an extension of American ideals and power across the world, some say to protect freedom, others say to dominate. It captures an American view of its purpose as special, different, or above.

·        Christian nationalism, the idea America was created by Christians and should be run by Christians without separation of church and state. It is a political ideology that conflates the cross and the flag, in essence looking upon the USA as a kind of theocracy. It distorts both the Gospel and democracy.

·        Civil religion, a sort of melding of a country’s dominant religious views and its political philosophy in everyday practical social life and rituals, e.g., displaying the US flag in churches, singing the National Anthem or “God Bless America” at sporting events, what sociologist Robert N. Bellah called, “an institutionalized collection of sacred beliefs about the American nation.”

These expressions of Christianity and culture in American history offered upsides and downsides. The upside of American exceptionalism, for example, is that it gave America a purpose, a moral destiny. The downside is that it worked itself out at times in movements like 19th Century Manifest Destiny, which in its best suit gave Americans a proactive, optimistic, forward-looking attitude, “Go West young man, Go West.” People strongly believed in the virtue and the right of the American political culture and system and that their progress was inevitable and justifiable. But in its worst suit Manifest Destiny destroyed the beaver, the buffalo, the rich prairie eventually resulting in the Dust Bowl, and the Native American population.

Historically, many indigenous, aboriginal, or other people-groups, including Native Americans, thought of themselves simply as “The People.” The Ancient Chinese referred to themselves, for example, as “the People of the Middle Kingdom,” meaning they considered themselves the center of civilization and all those around them and beyond were barbarians.

The point is, whether American exceptionalism, Manifest Destiny, American imperialism, Christian nationalism, or civil religion, it is fairly easy to demonstrate that Americans have, like other civilizations, tended to think of themselves as remarkable.

This in itself is not remarkable. It’s only an issue if that sense of oneself as remarkable morphs into better, above, special, entitled, etc. by which “the people” begin to judge and treat others. Or it becomes an issue that many in the political environment of the 21st Century think America is anything but remarkable, in fact they are attacking the values, the political system, and the spirit of what it has meant to be an American. This is remarkable.

In America’s past, Christianity was cited to justify slavery in the ante-bellum South and decimate the American Indian in the 1870s-90s, while Christianity was applied righteously in the abolition movement and the Civil War in the 1860s and eventually the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The record is mixed because American Christians are, like all human beings, finite and sinful creatures. We see through a glass darkly.

However, to the good, Christianity influenced the development of American law, education, politics, economics, culture, and progress toward liberty and justice for all. The impact of scriptural values can be seen in cultural mores regarding sexuality, marriage, family and child-rearing, work ethic, property, free enterprise, public morality, social cohesion, and politics.

E Pluribus Unum , Out of Many One, served as a de facto national motto from 1782 until “In God We Trust” was officially adopted in 1956. E Pluribus Unum is a Latin phrase rooted in a Christian conception of society. Significantly, it is not E Pluribus Tantum, Only Many. The “diversity” being marketed today, often absolutized as a value above all others with little or no concern for unity, is a recipe for social disaster.

I love my country, and I am blessed with many international friends who love their country, but it must be said, being “Christian” and being American or Lebanese or English or French or Chinese or Egyptian or any of the other 195 nations in the world is not the same thing.

This does not mean God does not care about nations. In fact, the Scripture is chock-full of references to the Lord’s work in the midst of, despite, and through nation states. But the will and Word of God are not the same, in fact are entirely distinct from, the presence, politics, and/or policies of nation states.

What then does all this have to do with the ease with which some who call themselves “Christian” equate their faith with ideology, partisanship, or demography?

It is this: if American “Christians” carry an attitude of superiority into their ideological, partisan, or personal identity they not only sacrifice the power of the faith to change the world, them, and others, they easily fall prey to a self-appointed moral righteousness. In other words, one’s viewpoint is not just a perspective to be evaluated and debated along with many others in the marketplace of ideas. No, one’s viewpoint is non-debatable, non-negotiable, unimpeachable, inviolable. One’s viewpoint can brook no challenge, give no quarter, take no prisoners. One’s viewpoint is sacrosanct. The other viewpoints are therefore by definition not worthy, not worth hearing, and possibly so dangerous they must be silenced.

No “Christian” who attempts to adhere to Scripture can justify such lack of humility and outright arrogance.

Scripture says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

The USA, God be praised, is still a land where religious liberty is honored. It is a place where all people, including Christians, can learn to discern how their faith can contribute to lives and culture. May this struggle, this Great Experiment, continue.

Dr. Rex M. Rogers, President SAT-7 USA, ,,

Author Information
Dr. Rex M. Rogers
Rex M. Rogers (born 1952[1]) serves as President of SAT-7 USA, the American promotion and fundraising arm of SAT-7, a Christian satellite television ministry by and for the people of the Middle East and North Africa. SAT-7 SAT-7, based in Nicosia, Cyprus, supports quality, indigenous-produced programming on four channels in three languages, Arabic, Persian, and Turkish.

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