Sunday, August 5, 2012

City on a Hill or King of the Castle?

I was reading a funny article this morning about the country's leading expert on the vice-presidency.  I know, right?  And right there was this ad about Billy Graham, which said "I have hope for America because of Jesus Christ."
Now first of all, I thought he was already dead.  Nope.  At 94 he is still visiting presidents and preaching the gospel, planning one last stadium tour of the kind he used to be famous for.  I have to admit that, as evangelicals go, I kind of like Rev. Graham.  He is a lot less partisan and more politically moderate than many of his peers.  In fact, in one recent interview, he said that one of his chief regrets was getting too involved in politics. [Here] He is still an opponent of Gay Marriage, but how much can we really expect from a nonagenarian Southern Baptist?  He is also the same man who has openly asked his peers why homosexuality should be such a big deal: “There are other sins," he said in 1997, "Why do we jump on that sin as though it’s the greatest sin?”  Interestingly the look of the ad seemed to parallel the look of a lot of Obama-related material.
So anyway, all of this is by way of saying that I am not knee-jerk hostile to Billy Graham; if today's evangelical leaders were more like him, I think we would be better off.  But the phrase "I have hope for America because of Jesus Christ" really set me off.
Why?  Well unless you are a Mormon (or a member of some other faith where the United States actually has a role of sorts in your revelation) you have no business ascribing a particular interest in the USA to God.  You can believe in that. if you want, and it is clear that a lot of people do, especially politicians.  But no priest, minister, rabbi, imam, bonze, or other cleric has any business making that kind claim from the pulpit.  To do so is a kind of idolatry; it makes a fetish out of the nation, and places God's concerns and Human concerns on the same plane, perhaps even subordinating God to man. Anyone who makes such a claim—from within any faith—makes a claim that  degrades that person's co-religionists around the world.  This is the disturbing underbelly behind John Winthrop's famous (an oft-appropriated) "City on a Hill" quotation, the city that  Ronald Reagan always described as "Shining."  If we are shining on a hill then where is everyone else?  Dirty in a valley? Tarnished in a hole?
I can't have hope (or not have hope, for that matter) "for America because of Jesus Christ."  I can have hope for mankind, for salvation, for forgiveness, for healing because of Jesus Christ.  But for the USA, not as such, no.  
Rev. Graham is a subtle guy, a pretty ecumenical guy, and what I was looking at was an advertisement designed to appeal to people who don't normally think through the theological implications of their patriotic or political feelings.  I am sure part of his point is, in fact, that there is hope for America, because God offers hope for everyone. But, you know, it doesn't take much to get me going, and I haven't posted since March.

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