Tag Archives: America

a great nation

“A great nation”… thoughts on inaugurals past and present

In a great nation, it once was said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Under the banner of making that nation great again, today it was said, “A nation exists to serve its citizens.”

In a book whose advice I value, it says, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant… just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

To “the greatest generation”, these promises were offered: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat,” and, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

To our generation, this promise today is offered: “From this moment on, it’s going to be America First. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”

In a book whose advice I value, it says, “Those who love their life in this world will lose it… for friendship with the world is enmity with God.”

The love and offensiveness in freedom

The love and offensiveness in freedom

Today, America celebrates our freedom, and rightly so: it’s worth celebrating. Yet on this day, we would do well to remember that freedom is more than speaking, assembling, worshiping, and bearing arms. It has a cost. It’s not a license. It’s offensive.

Freedom has a cost

Freedom is never free. When we think of the cost of our freedom, many of us think of those who have fought for it. My family lives in a community with a strong military presence, so the everyday price paid by those who defend our country is never far from our minds: families separated by thousands of miles; spouses and parents and siblings for whom gnawing dread is a permanent companion, scars both mental and physical that never fully heal.

Yet even so, many of us aren’t actually free, for there are other kinds of bondage than political. We are bound to past mistakes, to toxic relationships, to self-destructive behaviors, to addictions of every kind.

From these demons, too, there is a way to be free; there is also one who has paid the cost of that freedom:

Freedom isn’t license

True freedom is limited in all kinds of ways, from preventing infringement on the freedoms of others to the Janis Joplin lament that “freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose“. Those who make the daily sacrifices of marriage and parenthood know only too well how freedom, voluntarily surrendered in love, can be to our good. The self-sacrifice of our freedoms in love is very near to the heart of the Christian message:

Freedom is offensive

People like to mind the way that other people live. Always have. We want other people to act and think as we do; disagreement can cause interpersonal friction, so in one sense, it can seem easier if everyone is the same. Yet if we do not want to be told how to live and what to think, we must grant others that same grace. Scripture bears it out:

As Christians, we must not be offended when others exercise the same freedoms we enjoy. We must not confuse our national freedoms in the Constitution with our God-given freedoms in love. 

When we say destructive words that damage others, we must not take refuge in “freedom of speech”.

When we advocate violence against our enemies in defiance of scripture, we must not take refuge in “the right to bear arms”.

When we become the oppressors who would deny the freedoms of others, we must not take refuge in “freedom of religion”.

In all things, we must be more like Christ. We are not acting in his name when we insist on our own rights. We would do much better to seek ways we can sacrifice for the good of others, and especially those who offend us most.

9/11 cross and flag— a Christian nation?

This 9/11: We should be a Christian nation and shouldn’t

I am a Christian. I believe in Christ’s teaching to “love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

I am an American. I love my country.

Two separate things, or one and the same?

Every year, on the anniversary of the horrific September 11th attacks, I memorialize the lives lost in my own small way. I post the image you see above on my Facebook page.

It has a cross, which to me stands for hope and faith and God’s resurrection power over sin and death and destruction.

It has an American flag symbolizing my country.

One of the things I love about my country is that I am free to practice my faith in the way I live my life. The laws of my country protect my ability to do that.

In some parts of the world, there are religious extremists— some of them the spiritual successors of the 9/11 terrorists— who are fighting to establish “sharia law” in the countries where they live. Most Americans agree that this is wrong. But we differ as to our reasoning.

Some of us see America as a Christian nation, and so we oppose sharia law because we favor laws that reflect Christian values, not Muslim values.

Others make a careful distinction between our faith and our nation. We oppose sharia law because in our view, the establishment of religious beliefs— any religious beliefs— into society’s law is destructive both to the religion and the society.

Which view is right? It matters, because there are grave implications in how we stand against extremism. To the first group, it is by enacting laws, in our own country, reflecting our own values, taking a stand as Christians. To the second, it is by protecting our diversity of religious faith, taking a stand together as Americans, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or None Of The Above.

View #1: The case for a “Christian nation”

When it comes to separating religious views from secular laws, there is a fundamental problem: while easy to state in principle, it is nearly impossible in practice. This is because, for each and every one of us, our values are shaped by our “worldview” or our “set of beliefs” or our “religion” or whatever you want to call it, informing our decisions about right and wrong, which is inseparable from the creation of law.

Even in seemingly cut-and-dried areas, we cannot agree because our worldviews are different. Take, let’s say, murder, everyone’s favorite example of a moral absolute. We all believe murder is wrong, but! here’s the snag: we also believe that self-defense is OK. Which one is which? The polarizing debate over what killings are right and wrong is front page news every week.

Without some set of shared values, without some kind of moral compass, there can be no agreement as to law. Given our nation’s history, the closest thing we have to a shared barometer is Judeo-Christian values. Last February, a spate of editorials trumpeted atheist parenting skills, yet even there, the ever-present measure of good parenting was teachings central to Christianity: the sanctity of human life, the value of morality, the centrality of empathy.

When we come to the table to reason together, seeking the consensus which is indispensable to legitimacy in law, we could do a lot worse as a starting place than “do unto others as you would have done to you” and “love your neighbor as yourself”.

View #2: The case for separation of church and state

A recent issue of The Mission Society’s Unfinished magazine said it all. An article called “Living missionally in a post-Christian context” made the following point:

Christianity has certainly influenced American culture. But that is quite different than saying it is a “Christian culture.” If US missionaries believe their home culture to be Christian, the line between Christian faith and American culture can become indistinguishable.

When we imagine America as a Christian nation, here is the problem: we, the imaginers, are not perfect. Parts of what we imagine are biblically inspired, yes, but parts are shaped by our own personal and cultural biases. Those parts are, in fact, not God’s will at all. Putting it bluntly: we are fallen, we are sinful, so part of what we imagine is wrong. We just don’t know which parts.

There is a bigger problem with our efforts to enact Christian values into law: it badly distorts our notion of what Christ taught. Christ did not come to reveal a set of rules for all to obey. He did not. They had that already; that was what he came to change. To focus our efforts as Christians on making rules for everyone to obey… that is the very “yeast of the Pharisees” that Christ warned us against. The seeds of our own destruction, of the American Church’s destruction, are sown when we scatter to the chamber floors and the courthouses; instead, Christ would much rather see us at the homeless shelters, hospitals and prisons.

The genius of the “and”

Should America be a Christian nation or shouldn’t it? Both.

It should be, because to so many of our society’s ills, Christ has the answer. As it says in 1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” That is what we need to be putting into our society. If we could be a Church of self-sacrificing true Christians, I can’t imagine that all our other problems wouldn’t find their way to a solution.

It shouldn’t be, because if we think that our Christian faith needs to be about bearing the weight of law to make our society behave, we have missed the entire point.


Also recommended:

Letting go of America being a Christian Nation — JoryMicah.com