Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Why Love America?

[I wrote this for Moody Magazine not long after September 11, 2001. It continues the theme set forth in the review just posted of What's So Great About America.]

The horrifying and stunning events of September 11 have triggered a wave of patriotism across America. American flags fill the air. Many sing patriotic songs with renewed zeal. This is a healthy response for a nation attacked by evil zealots who aim to destroy it. But how should citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) respond to this outbreak of patriotism?

A recent discussion helped me answer this. Sergei wants to return to Russia and he asked me what kind of message he should bring to Russia, besides the gospel. I found myself speaking to him of American ideals. We have never perfectly lived up to them, but they distinguish us as a nation “under God”—under both his blessing and his audit. Abraham Lincoln said that America is “an almost chosen nation.” While America is not a nation specially chosen by God, it is unique and exceptional. It is a land of many blessings, opportunities—and great responsibilities (see Luke 12:48).

In the wake of the terrorist infernos of September 11, the American church and the entire nation must search out its status before an infinitely holy God. We need to repent at whatever points our lives and our national character have fallen out of alignment with God’s revelation in Scripture (Matthew 4:17; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

As Sergei spoke of the governmental corruption and powerful organized crime that plagues much of Russia, I considered that America—like every nation—is also a nation of sinners in need of reform (Romans 3). Our democratic institutions were framed with this in mind. The separation of powers in the federal government insures that no one group dominates political power. Our constitutional system of checks and balances between the judicial, congressional, and executive branches of government may be a messy system at times, but it is far better than anarchy, aristocracy, monarchy, or authoritarianism. Our system has allowed for greater freedoms for more people than anywhere else on the planet.

“Culture Watch” has offered constructive criticism of many areas of American life today, including that of our civil government (its pro-abortion laws) and the excesses of our culture. Yet I love this country because we can constructively criticize it without fearing censorship or reprisal. Our First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech. Citizens require a marketplace of ideas to advance their convictions and judge those of others.

The First Amendment further stipulates that the government shall not establish religion, nor prohibit its free exercise. We may evangelize freely and be evangelized by those with whom we disagree. This blessing is rare around the world. But have American Christians taken advantage of this liberty by spreading and defending the Gospel with all of our might (Matthew 28:18-20)?

The Constitution insures that America cannot be a theocracy, yet neither may it restrict religious citizens from attempting to shape its culture and its government. As Stephen Carter writes in God’s Name in Vain, the First Amendment was framed more out of concern to protect the church from the state than vice versa. Therefore, Christians have always had a decisive influence on our nation. Although this does not make America a “Christian nation,” a strong Christian presence has contributed to our national goodness. This birthright also heightens the responsibility for our failures and sharpens the charge to seek afresh God’s blessings on America.

America has also inherited a strong work ethic from its Christian influences, particularly the Puritans. Work is dignified before God and flows out of the creation mandate to develop the earth for God’s glory (Genesis 1:26; Psalm 8; 1 Corinthians 10:31). America is not the only nation that values hard work, but this heritage is not universal. We often overwork, overspend, and fail to give enough, but a strong sense of individual initiative and hope for betterment through individual industry is part of our legacy.

These factors have drawn a throng of internationals to the United States, including my grandparents. Our freedoms, our opportunities, and our blessings must not be taken lightly. Diligence in our citizenship and prayer for our leaders is crucial (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-3). If American ideals are to continue to be exemplary for other nations such as Russia, we must work to implement and perfect them. We must defend them against their avowed enemies—but only as we call out to Almighty God for mercy, character, and courage to meet the challenges ahead.

1 comment:

Ted Gossard said...

Dr. Groothuis,
I appreciate this post. I have noted our need to remember that we Christians are a holy nation, that our chief identity is not American, etc. At the same time, we are citizens of this country. And we need to realize and thank God for the freedoms we have here, that you so well note, and which we so routinely take for granted. Thanks.