Freedom from the myth of american exceptionalism

picture of old painting showing disgruntled Uncle Sam

Rats, I'm not as special as I thought I was!

There is a wonderful freedom, joy and empowerment that comes from letting go of the doctrine of American exceptionalism.  Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”  (NIV)  The near religious belief in american exceptionalism is a huge millstone hanging about the neck of many american christians.  Those on the political right wing are practically enslaved by it, but the belief also inhibits the liberal side as well.  It is high time the american church takes this unwritten tenet and myth to the back lot for an old-time camp-meetin’ trash-in-the-barrel burning.  Why?

Because after studying more than just the nice parts of American history, and after looking at the past and present through the lenses of Jesus and the New Testament, the follower of Jesus quickly realizes that America has rarely looked like Jesus or His Kingdom.  It continues to ignore and disregard God’s way in most domestic and international situations, and therefore it is not any different than any other earthly kingdom under the influence of Satan.  In fact, america, unlike some other more “secular” nations, has been exceptionally brutal, arrogant and selfish.  There is ample evidence that barbarism increased in the Americas after European colonization.  A wooden cross may have been planted on the surface, but under the guise of white ‘christian’ Europeans establishing a new “Jerusalem”; rampant stealing, killing, extorting, raping, enslaving, lusting and profiteering were taking place.  America has never been the champion of God’s kingdom, but rather the champion of extreme individualism, accumulation, corruption, bloodshed, hypocrisy, destruction and exploitation.

When one acknowledges these truths, realizes that they’ve have been duped by a lie and overcomes a healthy dose of shame and guilt, then freedom and inspiration can flood the soul. The follower of Jesus is now free to pursue and live only those values that He taught and lived rather than those cherished by past and present american culture.  The heart once proud of America’s place in the world can turn outward and find the hungry, the needy, the sick and the dying in order to offer Jesus’ hope and life to them.  Sacrifice, humility and surrender become the highest aspirations whilst nationalism and patriotism die a needful death at the cross.  The following ways of living/believing become glorious opportunities for the follower of Jesus who quits trying to serve both God and american exceptionalism.

  • Militant domination/coercion of other nations and cultures is renounced.  (And no longer needs to be supported or revered- freeing the follower of Jesus from the blatant inconsistency of supporting american institutions of violence/defense while claiming to love and worship the Prince of Peace.)
  • Reconciliation or loving coexistence between polarized entities becomes possible.
  • Compartmentalizing civil religion and personal religion is laid aside for a consistent kingdom ethic and morality that is applied to all situations and all peoples.
  • Using shady and underhanded means or compromising godly principles in order to gain a politically or culturally influential position is no longer necessary.
  • The good things that other nations and cultures live and practice can be embraced and celebrated.  (My personal belief is that missional cross-cultural outreach cannot be effective if one clings to an american-exceptionalist mindset.  I’ve personally witnessed its hindering effect.)
  • All ‘reforming’ or ‘renewal’ efforts can be focused towards the grassroots and fringes inhabited by real living people.  Money-guzzling, time wasting and ultimately ineffective cultural war campaigns and rallies like Reclaiming America for Christ, The Moral Majority or Restoring Honor, are easily discerned to be the distractions their true masters intend them to be.
  • Ethnic, cultural and national favoritism becomes useless and the american follower of Jesus can truly stand on equal footing with anyone from any cultural, ethnic or national background.  An open arms mindset can become a lifestyle without a regard for political/patriotic “correctness”.
  • It also helps free one from the economic, security, sovereignty, and status anxieties that trouble so many americans.  You can sincerely and fearlessly say things like, “I don’t worry about China invading someday or right-wing militias carrying out a coup…God’s way will triumph and I will trust only Him…any possible tarnishing of america’s supposed exceptionalism has no impact on the follower of Jesus.
  • american “values” can be seen for what they really are — many of which are in blatant opposition to the values of the Kingdom of God.

I can personally attest that renouncing the doctrine of American exceptionalism can be spiritually transforming because the focus turns from trying to prop up a human, ungodly institution/nation state – to the only Kingdom that matters.  An excitement floods the spirit as you realize you no longer are obligated to give any allegiance to something as trivial or beastly as the american empire.  Instead, your only allegiance is to the universe encompassing Kingdom of God and its loving, just and perfect king Jesus.

Finally, I leave you with this statement in an article published in “Christianity Today” magazine.  I think James Davidson Hunter expresses some wisdom when he says:

“It may be that the amount of rhetoric is inversely related to our actual ability or capacity to change the world. Most American Christians believe America owes its greatness to Christianity, which is now being uprooted. Uprootedness brings sadness and nostalgia. The problem here is not just the historical question—was America ever a Christian nation?—but the theological question, should America be a Christian nation? If you don’t believe that America was ever or should ever be a Christian nation, you will evaluate cultural changes from a different vantage point. Some changes might be destructive, but you will not feel obliged to save America or to save the West. That’s not the burden of faithful presence in the world” (James Davidson Hunter:  Christianity Today magazine interview article “Faithful Presence”)

A number of resources have helped me in my renunciation of american exceptionalism.  Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States,  Greg Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation and more recently, these two David Bercot lectures at Shippensburg Christian Fellowship’s website entitled “American and Kingdom Christianity 1 & 2”

Image is a slightly altered picture of a painting done by famed American turn-of-the-century illustrator, James Montgomery Flagg.

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About Andrew Zook

Artist dad husband writer progressive post-evangelical emergent Anabaptist graphic designer web designer reader video editor
This entry was posted in american churchianity, american empire. Bookmark the permalink.

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