March 31, 2006
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.
The myth of America as a Christian nation, with the church as its guardian, has been, and continues to be, damaging both to the church and to the advancement of God's kingdom. Among other things, this nationalistic myth blinds us to the way in which our most basic and most cherished cultural assumptions are diametrically opposed to the kingdom way of life taught by Jesus and his disciples.
Instead of living out the radically countercultural mandate of the kingdom of God, this myth has inclined us to Christianize many pagan aspects of our culture. Instead of providing the culture with a radically alternative way of life, we largely present it with a religious version of what it already is. The myth clouds our vision of God's distinctly beautiful kingdom and thereby undermines our motivation to live as set-apart (holy) disciples of this kingdom.
Even more fundamentally, because this myth links the kingdom of God with certain political stances within American politics, it has greatly compromised the holy beauty of the kingdom of God to non-Christians. This myth harms the church's primary mission.
For many in America and around the world, the American flag has smothered the glory of the cross, and the ugliness of our American version of Caesar has squelched the radiant love of Christ. Because the myth that America is a Christian nation has led many to associate America with Christ, many now hear the good news of Jesus only as American news, capitalistic news, imperialistic news, exploitive news, antigay news, or Republican news. And whether justified or not, many people want nothing to do with any of it.
The kingdom Jesus came to establish is "not from this world" (John 18:36), for it operates differently than the governments of the world do. While all the versions of the kingdom of the world acquire and exercise power over others, the kingdom of God, incarnated and modeled in the person of Jesus Christ, advances only by exercising power under others. It expands by manifesting the power of self-sacrificial, Calvary-like love.
To put it differently, the governments of the world seek to establish, protect, and advance their ideals and agendas. It's in the fallen nature of all those governments to want to "win." By contrast, the kingdom Jesus established and modeled with his life, death, and resurrection doesn't seek to "win" by any criteria the world would use. Rather, it seeks to be faithful. It demonstrates the reign of God by manifesting the sacrificial character of God, and in the process, it reveals the most beautiful, dynamic, and transformative power in the universe. It testifies that this power alone - the power to transform people from the inside out by coming under them - holds the hope of the world. Everything the church is about, I argue, hangs on preserving the radical uniqueness of this kingdom in contrast to the kingdom of the world.
[Taken from Myth of a Christian Nation by GREGORY A. BOYD. Copyright ? 2006 by Gregory A. Boyd. Used by permission of The Zondervan Corporation.]