Taking America Back for God?
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Shortly after the Gulf War in 1992 I happened to visit a July Fourth worship service in a certain megachurch. At center stage stood a large cross next to an equally large American flag. The congregation sang some praise choruses mixed with such patriotic hymns as "God Bless America." The climax of the service centered on a video of a well-known Christian military general giving a patriotic speech about how God has blessed America as evidenced by the speedy and almost "casualty-free" victory "he gave us" in the Gulf War (Iraqi deaths apparently weren't counted as "casualties" worthy of notice).
The video closed with a scene of a silhouette of three crosses on a hill with an American flag waving in the background. Majestic, patriotic music now thundered. Suddenly, four fighter jets appeared on the horizon, flew over the crosses, and then split apart. As they roared over the camera, the words "God Bless America" appeared on the screen in front of the crosses.
The congregation responded with roaring applause, catcalls, and a standing ovation. I saw several people wiping tears from their eyes. Indeed, as I remained frozen in my seat, I grew teary-eyed as well--but for entirely different reasons. I was struck with horrified grief. Thoughts raced through my mind: How could the cross and the sword have been so thoroughly fused without anyone seeming to notice? How could Jesus' self-sacrificial death be linked with flying killing machines? How could the kingdom of God be reduced to this sort of violent, nationalistic tribalism? Has the church progressed at all since the Crusades?
The evangelical church in America has, to a large extent, become intoxicated with the Constantinian, nationalistic, violent mindset of imperialistic Christendom. The evidence is all around but nowhere clearer than in the simple, oft-repeated slogan that we Christians are going to "take America back for God." The thinking is that America was founded as a Christian nation but has simply veered off track. If we can just get the power of Caesar again, however, we can take it back. If we can just protect the sanctity of marriage, make it difficult, if not impossible, to live a gay lifestyle, and overturn Roe vs. Wade, we will be getting closer. If we can just get prayer (Christian prayer, of course) back into our schools along with the Ten Commandments and creationist teaching, we will be restoring our country's Christian heritage. If we can just keep "one nation under God" in our Pledge of Allegiance, protect the rights of Christians to speak their minds, get more control of the liberal media, clean up the trash that's coming out of the movie and record industry, while marginalizing, if not eradicating, liberal groups such as the ACLU, we will have won this nation back for Jesus Christ.
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 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 distinctively beautiful kingdom and 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. The 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.
Christians must reject any and every fusion of the kingdom of God with our political agendas, whether Republican or Democratic, liberal or conservative. 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.
About the Author
Gregory A. Boyd is the founder and senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, MN. He was a professor of theology at Bethel College (St. Paul, MN) for 16 years. Boyd has authored or co-authored 15 books, including Escaping the Matrix (with Al Larson), Seeing Is Believing, Repenting of Religion, and his international bestseller, Letters From a Skeptic.
Boyd, Gregory, A. "Taking America Back for God?" from The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church, pages 87f, 90f, 13f. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006.
Used by arrangement with Zondervan.
Copyright © Gregory A. Boyd.