Ronald Reagan time and time again called America a “city on a hill,” evoking the words of Jesus and making America the people of Jesus. A bold move. Yet, Reagan’s vision was not so Christian and was what Lee Camp (in Scandalous Witness) calls an expression of “conservative” liberalism, but still liberalism (and not therefore a kingdom vision of Jesus). Read on.

Here are Reagan’s words from two different speeches:

These visitors to that city on the Potomac do not come as white or black, red or yellow; they are not Jews or Christians;conservatives or liberals; or Democrats or Republicans. They are Americans awed by what has gone before, proud of what for them is still . . . a shining city on a hill.

I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if l ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it.But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with peo-ple of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still.

Reagan has usurped the church’s role and therefore it is idolatrous. If Trump were to say this today, the Left would jump up and down in protest; when Obama got too close to the Bible in terms like this, the Right did the same. It’s partisan complaint, not biblical insight.

While Reagan’s rhetoric is indeed brilliant, we must see it as idolatrous. … It is important as well to note here that this critique-this charge of idolatry-is not and must not be a partisan one. Reagan here provides but a poignant example of the rhetoric often employed by the American Left and the American Right.

Reagan vs. Paul, vs. Jesus, vs. John in Revelation:

Compare and contrast, then, the apostle Paul with President Reagan….For Paul, then, it was the “new humanity” created in Christ who embodied “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28 NIV)…. But for Reagan it is the “awed” citizens of the United States, who “do not come as white or black, red or yellow; they are not Jews or Christians; conservatives or liberals; or Democrats or Republicans.” No, transcending all these markers of division, the Great Communicator contends, is patently not the fact of a unity in Christ. Transcending all these markers of presumed hostility, he claims, is the fact that “they are Americans.”… Thus Reagan weaves Paul’s ministry of reconciliation into John’s vision of the new Jerusalem, and in a shameless coup de grace co-opts Jesus’s language from the Sermon on the Mount: the shining city on a hill.

Image: Cover Photo

Behind Reagan, behind Obama, behind Trump … all the same: it is liberalism of one sort of another. Many Christians today are battling over which is the most Christian and some saying only one can be Christian. Camp says No, no, no. Neither is: each is liberalism.

Liberalism is a politica ltheory and movement that focuses on the liberty of the individual over against various forms of authority or power. With the rise of the Enlightenment, old established forms of authority were challenged: that of the church, monarchies, and patriarchy.

Liberalism is not Christian though Christianity has shaped some important elements (freedoms of various sorts, for instance) of liberalism. Liberalism is vacuous at the level of ethics and morality.

Liberalism does not explicitly concern itself with a shared conception of the meaning of life, the purpose of life, or the end of history…. Liberalism may in fact, after all, concern itself with the “meaning of life” or the “end of history” but only by privatizing the question of what a good life entails…. But with the advent of liberalism, morality and rights are primarily seen as a restriction of human liberty, not the pathway to greater freedom. Morality becomes, under the purview of liberalism, a constraint to human freedom.

Not only is a particular kind of freedom running rampant, but it goes deeply private as well and thus can’t be a public morality.

Liberal liberals, for example, insist that a maximum amount of freedom should be afforded to an individual’s use of their bodies, that a great deal of freedom should be extended with regard to sexual mores, gender identity, and sexual preference. For a liberal liberal, restrictions of abortion are, put most crassly, the federal government intruding into a womans control over her own womb. But liberal liberals believe that the government should limit what individuals (and corporations) are allowed to do with their money and their guns.

Conservative liberals, on the other hand, insist that a maximum amount of freedom should be afforded to individuals and corporations in the use of their money and their guns, For a conservative liberal, restrictions of gun ownership are, painted in broad strokes, the beginning of the slippery slope of the federal government becoming a totalitarian state. But conservative liberals believe the government should limit what individuals are allowed to do with their bodies and sexual mores.

So which are you?

… when we reduce the political possibilities for the Christian church to being either a liberal liberal or a conservative liberal, we’ve bought hook, line, and sinker into the rhetoric that gives us a bastardized form of Christian hope.