The Conundrum of Wanting To Be a Christian Nation

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Bald Knob Cross, Southern Illinois. Photo by Nikonian Novice, via Flickr

Right after 9/11, a man I know shared a vision he had. His vision was of the people of the Middle East hearing American planes coming, except instead of dropping bombs, they dropped food and water and medical supplies. (He wrote it much more poetically than that, but that was the gist of it.)

At the time, I rolled my eyes. It seemed, in my infinite wisdom, hopelessly idealistic to think that giving help to people who already clearly hated us–as evidenced by what we’d just experienced–would do anything except provoke derision.

And yet, I’ve thought about it again and again and again over the years, because all our efforts to obliterate terrorism from the face of the earth via air strikes, drones, and military intervention seem to make things worse, not better. Take out Saddam and look what rises from the ashes. Cripple al Qaeda and you get ISIS. The more we sit in our ivory tower, trying to bomb bad guys out of existence, the more plentiful and more determined the bad guys seem to become.

Even the left doesn’t talk about taking my friend’s idealistic track very often. And I’ve never heard the right address it head on and say, “This is why that idea won’t work.” I really wish they would, because it’s getting harder for me to understand why we keep doing what we’re doing, when it seems all we’re doing is creating more people who don’t like us. It doesn’t make sense to me.

Periodically we get a lot of noise from certain quarters about being a Christian nation. But we don’t really act like one. The left says we can’t, because not everyone is Christian in this nation. The right says being a Christian (or at least, Judeo-Christian) nation is what made us great in the first place.

I’ve come to believe that the left is correct on this issue, even though I wish it were otherwise—because personally, I think being a Christian/Judeo-Christian nation would make us very great. The problem is, if you want to be a Christian nation, you have to embrace the whole package. The “care for the widow and orphan and alien” along with the “protect the unborn” and the “pray” thing. The example of the early Christians, who “held all things in common,” as yesterday’s Lectionary said, makes us squirm. For the first time this weekend, listening to that reading, I realized they weren’t setting up a commune, they were creating a family. To be a Christian nation, we would need to treat everyone in the country like family, and all the guests within our borders with the same level of hospitality as we would treat guests coming into our homes. (You can spin that out as far as you would like; I think the analogy holds a rational middle ground on immigration.)

But mostly, I look around the world, at all the places smoldering, needing nothing but a spark to ignite them. I think of the multitude of places where people are treating each other with horrifying disregard for human dignity—including in our own political system and on Facebook and Twitter—and I just wish we’d all stop and take a breath and think for a minute about what it really means to be a Christian, and where we personally are falling short in that regard.

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