God, Country, Family and the American Religion

What's missing?

In this time-honored trifecta of American values, we see priority given to religious faith, to patriotism, and to loved ones. It's meant to encapsulate the American life and rally our loyalties around the things that really matter. But it does more than that. It also suggests a sense of priority. It's a subtle reprogramming of our natural inclination to love others by making it dependent on duty: first to God and then to country.

But its understanding of God and country is not a Christian one. If anything, it conflates the two under the banner of Manifest Destiny. Because in saying that this country is a Christian nation or at least was founded as such, we've elevated country to the same level as God in our lives. We're, in effect, saying that God has ordained this country in a way that serving him comes through serving America. Since God's values are at the heart of this nation, we can be assured that protecting American interests is the highest form of piety.

Another term for this is religious syncretism. It's what happens when different religions, belief systems, or schools of thought are combined under a unified goal. In this case, that goal is American exceptionalism. We've seen this through things like the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Even though slavery is not supported by the God of the Bible, the Bible was used by Americans to defend their use of slaves for the sake of the nation. The same could be said about Europe's justification of bringing civilized society to the "savage" first peoples.

In this way, America is no different than any other country. Muslim nations secure loyalty by linking their interests to those of Allah. Kim Jong-un has the undivided support of North Koreans by actually claiming to be god. Even Scandinavian countries are beginning to unify through paganism in response to centuries of Christian influence spread by the sword. It's not a unique design but rather a historically successful one. And one that requires a careful redefinition of God.

The Christian God demands loyalty above any other--including country and family. So in order to achieve full patriotism, God had to be reduced to a set of moral principles. God has to become the metaphor for life, liberty, equality, etc. The abundant life becomes American life, freedom in Christ becomes American freedom, and no Jew nor Greek becomes American equality. By convincing the American public that the pursuit of these virtues is godly, they've not only convinced us that God has granted us special favor; they've convinced us that supporting our country is a crucial part of our faith.

So what's missing?

The church. If being a good American is supposed to work in conjunction with being a good Christian, it's odd that our value system leaves this one out. Sure, we've been apt to say in the past that good Americans go to church, but the language of submission is cleverly absent. Church today is just another part of American consumerism: we shop for the right one and discard it when it's no longer useful. But Scripture makes it clear that we're to submit to our spiritual leaders. In other words, our faith requires submission to more than just country, and that's dangerous.

Because the church holds to a different value system. The church has been codifying orthodoxy for centuries and it looks nothing like the Constitution. That abundant life Jesus spoke of is more like abundant death. That freedom in Christ is slavery to righteousness. And those Jews and Greeks weren't promoting an equality of uninhibited self-expression but of unlimited self-sacrifice.

Furthermore, the country that the church calls us to is not of this world:
Those who lived by faith did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. (Hebrews 11)
Christians don't live for this country. We submit to it because God established it, but this nation is not our country and certainly not our religion. Our religion cares for orphans and widows not because the government takes a cut of our paycheck but because God told us to give freely to the needy. This isn't done out of duty like American patriotism. We love others because of God's love for us. That's the difference between an American and a Christian: we don't love God by loving country; we love God by loving people.