I find myself fatigued in the struggle to identify what is Christian America. I had it all figured out in 1976 for the Bicentennial of the USA. It fell apart for me after that. The bell-ringing fun of the decentralized Bicentennial celebrations almost immediately faded. The impact of the 1968-1975 anti-war and anti-establishment movements finally hit. The issue expanded into, “What is really all that special about America?” And that was an unthinkable question.
Then America dreamed up new ways of keeping war going, and the whole concept of Christian America grew as grotesque as had been the war propaganda movies of the 1940s and the communist-threat TV shows of the 1950s.
All I know anymore is that somewhere, somehow the idea of “Christian America” and “Americans who are Christians” diverged so now we have virtually separated the two. Christian-America is an increasingly unified cultural entity comprised of individuals with a shared patriotic-religious mindset and an implied historical narrative that unifies the nation. Christians in America are individuals affiliated with Christian groups that are modeling their lifestyle requirements on selected religious narratives transformed by diverse historical influences that enrich the nation. The deeper into the 21st century we get the more incompatible unity and diversity, e pluribus unum, become.
The recurring issue of my early career as a pastor is no longer confined to, “Can the flag my grandfather gave his life for have a place of honor in the front of the sanctuary or not?” Concerns about separation of symbols for church and state have been eclipsed by the movement to eliminate the principle of separation of church and state. The essentially spiritual idea that “none are free as long as some are not free” that got me marching behind Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. singing “We Shall Overcome”, has morphed into the essentially political conviction that “America is not safe as long as _______ lives” (fill in the blank: Ho, Pinochet, Noriega, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden). America has grown used to the idea that people must continually be dying for America to be safe, safety is America’s highest value, and safety-freedom is a hyphenated concept for which individual lives, liberties and pursuits routinely will be suspended. So we send our sons and daughters to endless war in which they, of course, kill a great many others for a cause we have redefined as freedom.
Where I lost track of the logic of current events is when the idea shifted that what we were fighting to defend was the lives and freedoms of oppressed minorities, and it became the idea that these military actions around the world are in behalf of America’s security and freedom. It was also confusing that we were so selective, hurrying to Granada but ignoring Rwanda, targeting Saddam who was supposed to have weapons of mass destruction but did not while being so cautious about Kim in North Korea who is not supposed to have them but does. It is hard to connect the dots between most recent military interventions and America’s sustainability.
Meanwhile, Christian-America grows negative with expanding targets to vilify and bizarre targets to attack. This week’s skirmishes have included where to build the next wall and concentration camp to contain the threat of fleeing refugees, Alabama’s rejection of the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court, an Archbishop’s war on Girl Scout cookies, and a presidential candidate’s penis size. All this is somehow conflated with what it is all about to be Christian-America.
Somewhere the line was crossed between the sublime and the absurd.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.