Lesson 7: American Exceptionalism

American ExceptionalismThe esteemed Pew Research Center reports 45% of Americans think we should be a Christian nation. Admittedly, there is a variety of ideas about what this means. However, it is especially significant against the background of American Exceptionalism.

This is the belief that the USA is superior to other nations and called to lead them to higher forms of human society. It has often been associated with the idea that God regards the USA as a chosen nation through which he is working to save the world.

I encountered this when I arrived at both of the congregations I served to find the American flag displayed prominently alongside the Christian flag in their worship areas. The idea was clearly that we gathered to pledge allegiance to God and country. I had to be very careful rearranging knowing a complete removal of the flag would be interpreted as unpatriotic.

This association goes back to colonial times. I had a professor who traced how many people through the years believed God called the USA to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. You sense some of that when the Pew Institute also reports 60% of us think our founders intended the US to be a Christian nation. Of course, that was not the case at all. The founders were a great assortment of characters and religious beliefs including atheists and deists. The constitution is clearly not about promoting religious beliefs but protecting minority ones.

Nonetheless, frequently throughout our history some politicians or religious leaders have blamed national misfortunes on failing to fulfill our God-given call to leadership. This has usually involved a call for revival. Recently however, it includes political action. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robinson famously claimed the terrorist attack on 9-11 demonstrated God had lowered the protective wall around the nation because of abortionists, pagans, feminists, and gays, as well as organizations trying to secularize America. They felt the Christian response was to oust these from government.

The Christian Nationalists are in many ways simply the logical development of this kind of thinking. If you believe those in power represent satanic forces, you must be ready to use violence if peaceful actions do not work.

The “America First” slogan we hear so often lately used to mean support your neighbors by buying products they produce. Nowadays it refers to believing Americans and American government are better than others and that this is by God’s design. That is a far cry from the Gospel message.

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