As the United States moves toward possible default of its debt, many citizens and Christians from various angles with differing reasons are decrying the state of this nation. The debates will go on. But I think the problem with America lies at its heart, at its very foundation.
Yes, there is much to commend about America. People from Europe were fleeing the state churches to worship in the new land according to the dictates of conscience. And the United States from the beginning stated (if not lived by) the ideal for all humans of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
I would submit that for all the good in America, it’s problem goes back centuries before. All the way back to Constantine, when the church and the state were joined together as one. That is when the church not only was in the world, but was joined to it. In an unholy alliance. Which by and large continues in some degree to this day.
Historians to a significant extent, with interesting exceptions, agree that there were serious issues and problems with this new arrangement. Not the least of which was the church’s unquestioning loyalty to the state in the matter of taking up the sword. Enter “the Crusades”. That in itself with all sorts of complexities. But at its heart was a departure by the church to adhere to its true calling of following Christ as the people of God, the new (or renewed) Israel.
The problem with America from my perspective as an evangelical Christian with Anabaptist leanings is a problem of identity. We have so closely identified ourselves with our nation, indeed this is common practice by Christians in many nations, that the witness of the church as a viable alternative to the world is significantly lost.
Enter in the problem of just what our participation in the state, especially a state like America should be. America in some important ways was a step in a quite good direction. Laying a foundation for the church to be true to its calling, without participation in such state activities as the military. One could live out fully, by and by, or in the right place, the dictates of their conscience from their faith.
What does it mean to be a Christian in America, or in any nation, for that matter? What does it mean to be part of the new, renewed Israel, one in Christ, and scattered throughout the world? And how do we live that out in this democratic republic, this liberal democracy? Questions with answers Christians will see differently, even those who believe our lone identity is in Jesus as citizens of heaven.*
*Paul was a Roman citizen, but if Israel would have gone to war against Rome, and if Rome would have conscripted Paul for military service in the war, given Paul’s Jewishness, and what he believed the people of God are in this world, would he have gone? A good question. Surely any citizenship in this world is necessarily always secondary to our citizenship in heaven.