- - Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Pastor and theologian Doug Wilson wrote a column last week that I found especially helpful in thinking through a Christian’s relationship to both the church and the nation. Wilson gave me permission to post it here at the Times.

“American Jesus” by Douglas Wilson

So I have written about American exceptionalism before, and so let me begin with a quick review of my take in the first paragraph. Taken one way, the notion is just ten more pounds of idolatrous silliness. Every great nation at the top of its game — and there have been lots — knows how to bask in Ozymandian conceits, and there is nothing whatever exceptional about that. This is as old as dirt, and twice as dumb. There was a time, however, early on, when the greatness of the United States was looming large on the horizon, when the Founders established a form of government built on the rock solid constitutional footing of a profound distrust of Americans. This is because Americanism is no different from all the other forms of mendacity, and the Founders knew we were no different. That kind of humility really is exceptional. Checks and balances, separation of powers, a doctrine of enumerated powers, were not established because they were anticipating a Klingon invasion. Above all else, the Founders sought to defend America from Americans. And looking at the band of miscreants running this goon show of ours now — most of whom were born within these borders, and educated far past their intelligence with your tax dollars — one is hard pressed to say the Founders were unduly suspicious.

Not what we are talking about.

I say all this to remind everybody that my thoughts on this subject are pure. I am no jingoist, no chauvinist, no nativist. I think that our immigration policies should be wide open. Let them all in — Scots, Irish, Englishmen, Swedes, the whole lot.

Important notice for those who like to hate-read my blog. The preceding was a joke.

I feel the need to remind people of my bona fides on this point because I am going to say a few things now that could be taken the other way. It is no contradiction; these things harmonize.

America is a nation, and no, it is not a nation built upon an idea. That notion is part and parcel of the wrong kind of American exceptionalism. That’s the kind of thing that turns citizenship into an ideology, and we need more nationalist ideology like a hole in the head.

Ideas factor into it, of course, but actual nations are made up of shared heritage, language, laws, customs, geography, history … and religious faith.

If America is an idea, then that idea is either right or wrong. If it is right, then everybody needs to buy into it. If it is wrong, then we should sell our stock. If America is an idea, then we are on a necessary collision course with those who may have other ideas.

But if America is a nation, blessed by God in a number of ways, but still simply a nation for all that, then there is no necessary reason for conflict with others. You love and honor your country for the same reason you love and honor your mom. She is yours. You don’t need reasons.

Nationalism is the result when you try to make your natural affection for your people into a god. It is a terrible, devouring god. If a couple of men got into a fist fight in the greeting card section of a store because one of them saw that the other guy was going to buy a “best mom in the world” card, when he did not in fact have the best mom in the world, because the fellow punching him had the best mom, what would we say? One would begin to suspect, would one not, that they were both missing the point?

But there is a mistake in the opposite direction. I have noticed an unsettling tendency among some young Christians, who know that they are not supposed to be nationalists, therefore thinking that they can or should zero out their Americanness. When the project of eradication is complete, we will have “just a Christian.” No, we will have nothing of the kind. We will have a translucent, shimmery thing that will look and act like a wisp of morning mist. Real Christianity lands. Real Christianity disciples nations.

Patriotism, rightly developed, is a duty that falls under the fifth commandment. I am to honor my father and mother, and this extends beyond them in such a way as to include my people, my tribe. Ordinary and ordered patriotism is not just okay; it is a duty, one that needs to be cultivated.

Special notice to other readers of my blog. Whites are not a tribe. Blacks are not a tribe. Americans are a tribe — and that, incidentally, is what currently is under assault. Trump is a demagogue who is playing off the fears created by the assault, but the reality of the demagoguery does not erase the reality underneath the fear. But demagogues can’t save. Only saviors save.

So America is a tribe, a nation, and, as such, the Church is commanded to disciple her. The end point we should have in view should be an obedient nation, not an erased nation.

When France is fully discipled, it will be more French, not less so. When China is fully discipled, it will be more Chinese, not less so. And when America is fully discipled, the same thing is true. The one who loses his life for Christ’s sake will find it again.

For those who say that they don’t want anyone to be “more American,” and especially not the proprietor of this blog, I have some difficult news for them. The Lamb is worthy because He purchased men and women from every tribe, language, and nation, and when His redemption is complete, they are all more themselves than when He started. If you don’t have room for that in your heart, it is likely because your heart is already filled up with bitterness — the anti-American kind.

There are those who don’t want to disciple the nations, but rather want to deracinate them. They call it ecumenical, but the end goal is not men and women from every nation, but rather ghostly ciphers to haunt the ledgers of the World Council of Churches. It is the genius of vibrant Christianity to produce men like Tyndale, who bring the faith once delivered into particular national cultures in order for the Spirit to see what happens. A lot of messy things happen, but that is the way we were told to do it. We were not told to recruit men and women from every nation in order to have them translated to a higher mystical order, a club with a secret handshake.

So those who want us to all speak an approved form of ecclesiastical Esperanto are not ecumenists, but rather cranks. Test yourself. The Sunday before the Lord’s return, how many worship services will be held around the world?

And how many languages will they be held in? And is this a good thing or a bad thing? The answer is thousands, and it is entirely a good thing. But note that the preservation of languages and accents means the preservation of national identities. This includes, I am afraid, the Americans.

When this process of world evangelization is done, there will be a true unity, but it will not be the unity of mindless conformity. Tolstoy once said, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” If you were to travel from place to place on that last  Sunday, looking at all the Christians being happy in “the same way,” their point of unity will not be in liturgy or language, but rather in the laughter.

***This piece originally appeared at Wilson’s site here.

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