Kingdom Confusion 2: The danger of believing in a Christian America

When Gregory Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, preached about the danger of mingling the mission of the church with conservative politics he ignited passionate responses on both sides, and 1,000 people left the church. In part two of an excerpt from Boyd's new book, The Myth of a Christian Nation (Zondervan 2006), he says much of this passion is fueled by the false belief that America is a Christian nation and that the church's role is to reinforce that belief.

What gives the connection between Christianity and politics such strong emotional force in the U.S.? I believe it is the longstanding myth that America is a Christian nation.

From the start, we have tended to believe that God's will was manifested in the conquest and founding of our country - and that it is still manifested in our actions around the globe. Throughout our history, most Americans have assumed our nation's causes and wars were righteous and just, and that "God is on our side." In our minds - as so often in our sanctuaries - the cross and the American flag stand side by side. Our allegiance to God tends to go hand in hand with our allegiance to country. Consequently, many Christians who take their faith seriously see themselves as the religious guardians of a Christian homeland. America, they believe, is a holy city "set on a hill," and the church's job is to keep it shining.

The negative reaction to my sermons made it clear that this foundational myth is alive and well in the evangelical community - and not just in its fundamentalist fringes. That reaction leads me to suspect that this myth is being embraced more intensely and widely now than in the past precisely because evangelicals sense that it is being threatened. The truth is that the concept of America as a Christian nation, with all that accompanies that myth, is actually losing its grip on the collective national psyche, and as America becomes increasingly pluralistic and secularized, the civil religion of Christianity is losing its force. Understandably, this produces consternation among those who identify themselves as the nation's religious guardians.

So, when the shepherd of a flock of these religious guardians stands up - in the pulpit no less - and suggests that this foundational American myth is, in fact, untrue, that America is not now and never was a Christian nation, that God is not necessarily on America's side, and that the kingdom of God we are called to advance is not about "taking America back for God" - well, for some, that's tantamount to going AWOL.

March 31, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 42 comments

Stephen

April 14, 2006  9:09pm

Puh-leeze! In neither article does Pastor Boyd address those "issues" that many conservative Christians view as important political issues (abortion, homosexuality, etc.). He says that the purpose of the article (Part 1) is to not address whether any issue is right or wrong but to point out why we as Christians should be careful mixing politics and our Faith over the question of this country's foundation in Christ. I think I know where Pastor Boyd stands on each issue and why he lost 1000 members of his church. While I agree that Christians should never call themselves Republican or Democrat, there is nothing wrong with wanting a pastor to hold to a conservative view of scripture, especially if those verses relating to each social/politcal issue are truth. The theme of both articles purposely avoids the obvious to introduce yet another lame criticism of the much maligned "right wing Christian" by debating whether America is a Christian nation or not. It reads like a clever attempt to switch the focus off the issues, and avoid having to preach the truth in love and let God handle the results. Truth works in friendly and unfriendly governments because God seeks out those who worship him in "Spirit and Truth". Whether we are a nation founded by God or not doesn't matter if Truth isn't being discussed.

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sagar

April 11, 2006  10:57pm

The British went through this about 100 years ago, and the belief in a God-ordained British Empire was only smashed with the eclipse of the British nation following WWII. Now it's America's turn. Modern Christianity has become a foil under which Americans advance their empire. This process has been going on since at least the 1898 destruction of the USS Maine in Cuba, and America's subsequent actions during the Spanish-American war. The myth of a benign American power that is only reluctantly provoked into war when it has no remaining options is a cherished belief for many people. The harsh reality is that the United States is an interventionist power that has placed its armed forces in over 100 countries in order to influence events or control foreign resources. We had troops fighting for the Czar in Russia in 1917. We had forces supporting Chiang in China. We supported Pinochet's genocidal regime through tax dollars. We gave Saddam the gas distribution cannisters he later turned on his own citizens (and for which he is now on trial). We give Israel immense amounts of foreign aid which is used, in part, to harshly repress their indigenous Palestinian population (a significant part of which was Christian in 1948). We have militarily intervened in most of Central and South America, under the Monroe Doctrine, which held that the Western hemisphere was the sole stomping grounds for the US to play out its imperial agenda. We unilaterally invaded Panama in order to secure our use of the canal, despite prior treaty obligations. We invaded Hawaii under Wilson's ecstasy of bringing civilization and Christendom to the savage inhabitants there. Our adventurism in Africa during the Cold War knew no bounds. We have been in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq, have bombed Libya, and have constructed a startling shadow government of military bases strewn throughout the world in order to secure our access to foreign resources. As someone who is not a Christian, it strikes me that any attempt to disentagle faith from nationalism must start with an honest assessment of the fact that America is an expansionist, aggressive power, regardless of which political party happens to hold the reins. Only then can the exact role of faith within this framework be examined.

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Keith Harban

April 08, 2006  9:52pm

There is no agenda of fallen man that can supplant the truth of the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit. This being said, and thank God who made us each unique and to follow Him while serving, we cannot assume either prideful victory or the ceding of souls to wrong ideologies. Though we are not of the world; we are in it and in it not to be changed by it. I have of recent questioned the idea of being Conservative because, as in all venues human, there is that which is venomous. Still while the opportunity yet exists to preach the gospel openly, I will defend that right; not desiring to caus martyrdom by turning a blind eye, as was case with the Romanian church.Stand for life in Christ!

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Glenn Bennett

April 08, 2006  5:07pm

The argument that America is or isn't a Christian nation is moot. Christianity has ever been an identification reserved for those who follow the Savior, Christ- not just intellectually but in Spirit and Truth. Those who have bathed in the redemption provided to cleanse sin and guilt from the heart and soul. The whole of which is a process started with the prompting of God and continuing throught he planting of a seed and harvest and discipleship. Can we do that as a nation-through our political process? Is it possible to gain Spiritual ground through legal arbitration or constitutional semantics? Are we called to argue such points at all? We're called to: "take up our cross and follow." "To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength." "To go and make disciples(not conversions) of all nations" "as far as it dends on you, live at peace with one another." "Offer ourselves a living sacrifice.." Is my relationship in such a condition as to not be influenced by the secularism that pervades my community? Is yours? Is my heart so grateful as to be compelled to spread the Word of God to all those around who would listen? Is yours? Is my faith strong enough to trust my God to protect me in all my days and throw MY caution to the wind when it comes to sharing that faith? Should I vote to protect that which, in my heart I know is scriptural, yet will cause another to voilate his/her faith? (even though they are barking up the wrong tree) Should i become party to the political process of 'protecting' the rights of the christian. Incidently, what are my rights as Christian?

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Jill Stein

April 08, 2006  3:19pm

I wonder: did all 1,000 people leave, as the author suggests, solely because they were hanging onto a "myth" and thus disagreed with the message? If the tone of above excerpt is representative (i.e, "I'm right and anyone who disagrees is evil or stupid"), it occurs to me that a substantial portion of those who left did so because of the offensiveness of the messenger.

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Blake Kent

April 08, 2006  12:10am

One thing missing in this conversation is what God is doing in other parts of the world. In an earlier post someone stated that since post-modernism became en vogue in 1962 that "True Christianity" has been on the decline. Yes, Christianity is on the decline in the United States, but it is exploding in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Many times in the course of history God has seen fit to change the location of the "center" of Christianity. Palestine, Greece, Rome, Britain, the United States...now it will move South. The Kingdom of God will not live or die by the status of American Christianity. I suspect those who are inclined to bind the two together very tightly (the 1000 who left Pastor Boyd's church and others) are unaware of God's movement outside our borders. Philip Jenkins has said in his book, The Next Christendom, that by 2050 only 1 in 5 Christians will be white. Let's pray for America and serve our communities, but let's also pray for and praise God for his work among the nations.

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Roy Jackson

April 06, 2006  4:39pm

In Ezekiel 18, the LORD, with crystal clarity, taught that every individual will be judged by Him for their own behavior. The sins, or righteousness, of the fathers will neither harm, nor benefit, their descendants before Him. Whether previous generations have served God or not is irrelevant to Him. The entire debate is "much ado about nothing." The critical issue is: Are we loving and serving Him with all our hearts, minds, strength, etc? In recent years the conservative evangelical community has continuously proclaimed the tremendous value of our Judeo-Christian traditions in America and how we must fight for them with all our might. I have listened carefully to this often repeated battle cry. NOT ONCE have I heard anyone preaching this message refer to Jesus Christ crucified, Jesus as Lord of all, repentance, sins forgiven, or any central element of the true Gospel. It seems that our so-called Judeo-Christian traditions have nothing to do with the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! This fact exposes a little of the deception and confusion that is taking place in current American Christianity because we no longer discriminate between God's truth and our sentimentality. The absence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all this bluster is tacit admission BY ALL that preaching Jesus Christ in political and institutional America is NOT ACCEPTABLE and that this is not, in the true sense of the word, a "Christian" nation. That Christians, great and small, are behind promoting this Christ-less Christian tradition is deeply disturbing and very revealing about where our hearts really are. An objective outsider, an African Anglican bishop, recently stated that the American church has almost completely been taken captive by the American culture. Sadly, this appears to be a shamefully accurate appraisal.

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Sheerahkahn

April 06, 2006  3:24pm

I've been saying this for near 25 years...nice to see it has finally taken root. Furthermore, I think we will see further divisions in the churches while G-d is sorting this out. The American Church, which is how we are known is being purified, not through pain and suffering, but through doctrinal and spiritual purification. "The sheep know the voice of their master. The wolves fear the voice of the shepherd." What happens during the purification is that those whose heart is not right will reject any message that remotely involves anything Jesus commanded of his followers. G-d's love is not easy, nor is Jesus's message or commands because all of it runs contrary to the ways of the world. Where the World says, "peace through superior firepower," G-d says peace through obedience to Jesus who in turn commanded us to "love our enemies." The world says love the enemy, hate his designs, but in Jesus's words there is no such qualifier far worse for the world, because in Jesus's words we are to be "sheep for the slaughter." This runs contrary to the world, and as has been demonstrated here in these posts, for those whose heart is not right with G-d. There will be further "separations" with the church, and what will be left is a purified American Church, not one of grand numbers rather one of humble servants who know the voice of their shepherd. For those of us who have the patience to wait upon the Lord, a new day is coming...soon.

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chuck

April 06, 2006  12:54pm

Nate, I have never voted in an election. If I had voted last time, I would have voted for Peroutka. To be perfectly honest, I do agree with many of the views espoused by these so-called patriots. However, I think that the politcizing of the Gospel is dangerous ground, to say the very least. I hope you weren't implying that those who disagree with President Bush don't pray for him. As far as Clinton is concerned, when he was in office I was too young to be politically minded. In short, this is one ultra-conservative who thinks that the only way this country will be changed is when God the Father sends God the Holy Spirit to quicken the hearts of dead men by applying the Gospel to them and giving them ears to hear, so that God the Son will be praised and honored and glorified. Politics is not on my agenda here.

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Sherwood MacRae

April 06, 2006  8:50am

A Christian America??? I don't think so. If it were, from the very beginning we would have loved the Lord, our God, with all of our hearts, minds and souls (and proved it by our actions) while loving our neighbors as ourselves. As it is, we seem to be content to live out our lives, falling short of recognizing the "amazing" grace of God and never appropriating it.

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