I’ve heard it all my life. “We need to restore America to its former greatness.” “We need to take our nation back to what it once was.” “We need to get back to being the Christian nation we used to be.” I believed it and preached it. But I have come to believe that this is not something we should say. There are Christian brothers and sisters who hear something very different than we do when we talk about “going back” and out of honor to them, we ought to reexamine our thinking and our words.
Before I make you mad….
…I’d like to make these things absolutely clear!
1) I love this nation. I am patriotic to the core. I don’t even mind showing some level of patriotism at church. I have no problem with our church flying the American flag or with honoring our nation in thanksgiving to God as a church. That is not what this is about.
2) I think America is a uniquely great nation. In fact, America has had a unique greatness among the world. Some of you know history better than I do, but what other nation has treated its defeated enemies as we have? You can argue the wisdom and conduct of our wars, but when we defeat a nation, we then rebuild it. Who does that? Japan. Germany. Even Iraq and Afghanistan. They have been defeated by us in battle, but we have then sunk billions into restoring them. Does anyone remember the movie, “The Mouse that Roared”? A tiny European nation decides that the best way to get themselves out of bankruptcy is to declare war on America and lose. There is some historical basis for that, is there not?
3) I believe that our Constitution was genius. Whether America was ever a Christian nation or not, the founding principles of our nation, devised by men who saw themselves as holding a sacred trust from God, was brilliant. We have deviated from the Constitutional principles and have sacrificed some of the freedoms it recognized, and that is unfortunate. If we are going to go back to anything, it ought to be a stricter adherence to the Constitution.
There is nothing left wing or politically disinterested about me. I’m not one of those who believes that America is or has been a force of evil in this world. We have been an imperfect nation that has done as much good as any nation ever has (leaving Israel out for theological and covenant reasons). There has been much that was admirable and worthy of emulation in our nation’s history.
But, that is not the whole story. There is a dark side to American history that we often like to simply ignore. We need to honor that which is and has been great about our nation. But we also need to remember that which has been evil about our history. The idea that America has ever been an earthly utopia does not square with history. And it does not advance the cause of Christ when we ignore the pernicious effects of the sins of our past.
So, having said all that, here is my point.
We, white Evangelical Christian Americans, ought to stop talking about restoring America to its former greatness, because when we do, we exhibit an inexcusable insensitivity concerning the evil our nation has inflicted on some.
America has perpetrated unspeakable evil on some, seemingly without conscience, and while still describing ourselves as “Christian America”. We treated the Native Americans despicably. We invoked God’s name to justify brutalizing them, calling our nearly genocidal actions a “Manifest Destiny.” Our “great” nation did great evil. The Trail of Tears is an historical fact. And, of course, there is the centuries-long enslavement, oppression and dehumanization of blacks that stains the soul of this nation. During WWII, internment camps housed loyal Americans of Asian descent.
Have you ever stopped to wonder how Blacks or Native Americans feel when we talk about “returning America to its former greatness?”
Simply put, it wasn’t so great for them. I doubt you can find anyone among those ethnicities who long for the 50s!
And it is remarkably insensitive when we speak of days gone by as idyllic, even utopian, when during those times people were behaving as despicably as they did. You won’t hear many blacks longing for the good old days, will you?
When we see our nation embracing immorality and perversion, abandon any sense of responsibility to God in the process, there is a natural tendency for us to want to “go back.” But we cannot pretend that America’s history has been unbroken joy, peace and goodness, or a fitting representation of Christianity. When we talk about restoring what once was, we are being (unintentionally) insensitive to those for whom the past was not so glorious.
Our goal today ought to be to advance the kingdom and to proclaim the Lordship of Christ. We ought to vote biblical values and promote them. But we ought not put on rose-colored glasses and view our national past as some sort of utopian dream to which we must return. There were some great things about our past, but some shameful things as well. We must rebuild what was good, while excising every trace of racism and discrimination from our midst.
But I think, for the sake of our brethren from different ethnicities, and for the sake of our testimony in this world, we ought not talk about restoring America to what it was, as if the pain that perpetrated on Blacks, Native Americans and other ethnic groups was insignificant.