Rambling Thoughts on Confronting an Idol

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I called my mom before the election with one specific question:

“Mom, when did American politics get mixed up with Christianity?”

I really wanted to know. I didn’t grow up in the United States and throughout my childhood, my parents voted via absentee ballots. I remember political discussions about the U.S. taking place every four years, where my mom and dad would have at least one heated discussion about “their” candidate. 95% of the time, their votes cancelled each other. Never do I remember either one of them talking about which was the better “Christian” choice.

“I’m not sure,” she replied. “I have read that it was when the Moral Majority became a thing. Jerry Falwell and others connected their politics and their faith.”

This was something I escaped during childhood and beyond into my college years. I was far more concerned about the Iranian revolution and the war in Lebanon than I was about U.S. politics, although I would come to learn that U.S foreign policy was critically important when it came to parts of the world that I loved.

But the point is: I never got caught up in the melding of Christianity with the earthly kingdom of the United States of America.

I think its time to confront the idol. America and American exceptionalism have become idols and when we make anything into an idol we need to confess and repent.

“….Nothing is more alien to the Old and New Testaments than to sacralize the unholy, or divinize material things. To regard secular America as some kind of Messiah nation, or geo-political golden calf, is sheer idolatry.”*

When rationalizing America as a “nation blessed by God’ the arguments given are generally material and military and use the book of Deuteronomy as a guide.

Material: America is ‘blessed’ by God because we have more wealth than other countries, because we have houses and bank accounts and cars and college price tags of $160,000 and a plethora of other things unknown to much of the world. How often have you heard someone talk about being “Blessed” with a house? That’s wonderful – but if they had an apartment would they be less blessed? Does the blessing include cathedral ceilings, designer paint, and a pool in the back yard? Is the family of four living in 3000 square feet more blessed than the family of six living in 1000? Or the refugee family living in a tent? We’re on shaky ground when we use material goods as our litmus test for blessing.

Military: America is blessed by God because we have a strong military. Really? Are we using “Blessing” in the correct way?

The book of Matthew speaks a lot about blessing in a chapter called “The Beatitudes” literally meaning “blessings”. As I read it I realize yet again that Jesus again excels at turning things upside down, challenging the crowd who is familiar with an Old Testament view of blessing.  Not once is a strong military or material wealth mentioned. Rather we have a dire list of adjectives that include poor in spirit, meek, mourning, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, pure in heart, peace makers, and persecuted for the sake of righteousness, insulted….At this point I begin to feel uncomfortable. Are we through yet? No, there’s more – we end the ‘blessings’ portion with more persecution and false accusation.

The list of blessings is long, and drones, bombs, military intelligence, American exceptionalism, Wall Street, bonds, bank accounts, investments are not included.

But the blessings do include peacemaking.

They include seeking righteousness.

They include mourning.

And so I come to this conclusion: America is not blessed. In fact, we are in need of deep, deep healing. 

One of the ways we heal is by confronting the idol of Christian America and American exceptionalism. It has already begun to crumble before us and yet we aren’t paying attention. 

Nations will come and go. Party affiliations will change. Politics will swing from right to left and back again. This is not the Kingdom of God. Every political system on earth was designed by imperfect people who were all about politics on earth and not about treasure in Heaven.

They are not, and never were, designed to reflect Jesus or the Kingdom of God. And if you see any of these as more then systems designed by imperfect people, then I pray that God would heal your eyesight.

My allegiance is to a citizenship far stronger and greater than any nation. My loyalty and world view are defined less by a country and more by a faith. I am called to a higher calling and a far greater identity than that which is indicated by my passport. 

If I ever confuse my identity as an ‘American’ with that of being a ‘Christian’ may I be called out and challenged by those around me. Believing that a national identity is greater than a spiritual identity is quite simply idolatry.

Maybe you voted for Trump. Maybe you voted for Hillary. Maybe you found either choice untenable. Regardless, if you believe in a kingdom that is not of this world then I challenge you that your job is to build bridges with those with whom you disagree. Your job is not to ridicule, to withold grace, to tell people to stop having thin skin, to condemn, to gloat, to despair, to withdraw, to be disgusted. Your job, your mandate is to build bridges and seek the kingdom. 

There will be a day when the Kingdom of Heaven will come, and on that day I know this- all political systems will dissolve into nothing in the light of the Glory of God Himself.

Until then may God heal our eyesight. May he show us his beloved ones of every tribe and every nation. May we not dismiss stories or perspectives. May we be ones who listen and learn, who are willing to admit we are wrong. May we not justify our wrongs or rationalize our sins. May we be people who see beyond the crisis of the day and beyond our own inadequacies. May we comfort the hurting, give grace to the angry, hear the other side, build bridges of peace, and always fight for the persecuted. May we see the world through the Creator’s eyes of love and grace.

*First Things – “Is America Blessed by God”

Blogger’s note: You may recognize some of these posts – I took from a couple different blogs that I have done in the past.

7 thoughts on “Rambling Thoughts on Confronting an Idol

  1. There is an historic evangelical church in a suburb of New York City which experienced a fire 27 years ago when I was living there. In renovating the church, old photos from previous years were researched, showing the interior of the church. One photo was very old. I believe it was from the late 19th century. It showed American flags hanging from every window and the words “God and Country” on banners.

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  2. I’ve thought about these things for a long time. Yes, definitely, politics has become an idol for many in the Evangelical community. During this election cycle, I’ve thought that if any good has come from the mud slinging it might be that Christians will begin to trust God more than government.

    As a third culture kid, I’ve struggled with understanding the culture in which I live, but I’ve gotten a little insight these days. I’ve understood a little of what has fueled the “Trump phenomena.” My adopted people here in the rural Midwest feel left out, left behind, misunderstood by the media, by politicians, by academia. I myself have bristled with the stereotypes–the uneducated rural whites. . .as our current administration once referred to us–“clinging to guns and religion.” This, together with the feeling that the culture is in a death spiral, as Washington and the courts hand down edicts such as bathroom laws without regard for the individual states (some of which had adequately dealt with the needs of transgender students beforehand) has been like a bacterial breeding ground for vitriol against anything smacking of the elite. Ironically, of course, some of those at the heart of this “culture war” such as Gingrich, Guiliani, and Trump himself have morally nebulous pasts too.

    Still, the godly people I know voted for Trump only because they believed the alternative was worse. Maybe the idolatry is on the decline.

    These are my thoughts. (For what it’s worth) As for me, I’m longing for the days, when “the crooked places will be made straight, and the rough places plain. . .” Waiting for “the glory of the Lord to be revealed.”

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  3. I think this raises some of the same idolatry issues I have been seeing in American evangelicalism growing up between cultures. I have good friends on all sides of the issue, though for sanity I have had to let go of several people who no longer behave as friends. I would disagree that it is possible to treat friends and enemies the same. When people refuse to acknowledge your experience, you can be the better person and listen to them, you can acknowledge them, but the friendship is not mutual, and I’m not sure that’s friendship anymore. It’s about loving enemies for me lately, because certain former friends have hurt me so severely, rejecting my other friendships and life experiences that form my identity. Unfortunately I cannot say peace, peace where there is no peace. I can’t tolerate hatred in anger, just as I shouldn’t tolerate it in myself. This year is beyond politics to harmful abusive sin against fellow human beings. How far that could go is as yet unknown, but to identify with hatred of others is impossible for children of God. To empathize with the reasons for fears and anger is possible, but for me, closeness is not possible with people living in a hateful delusion that scapegoats others. So truth in love is more important now, in my view, than necessarily keeping all those friends who are angry and want to be heard. If they won, the only reason I can see why they are still angry is that they know deep down the level of evil with which they were playing. Gently, humbly, and firmly, it must be exposed. I hope Christians can be salt and light even to their Christian enemies at this time. Otherwise the idolatry will continue, and the beliefs will be thought political-religious, when in fact, they might just be plain abusive wrong.

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  4. American politics did start to get mixed up with religion in the late 1980’s with Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority. It continued into the ’90’s with Newt Gingrich and the Religious Right. I think that although it had already started, the time we really noticed it the most was in the election of 1994- not a presidential election, but one for members of Congress. We were living in Pakistan where Ed was pastoring the Protestant International Church in Islamabad. We were at some “function” and realized that many of our USA friends, who attended the church, were coming in totally elated. What had happened was that although Bill Clinton was president, the Congress had flipped from Democrat majority to a Republican one. This was a HUGE victory for the Republicans, and it was our friends who considered themselves evangelicals who were the most elated about it. What was scary was that not too many years before that, we had good Republican friends in the USA who just hated openly Catholic politicians. In fact, I was 6 years old during the Kennedy/Nixon election, and we had just arrived in the USA for a home leave. I won’t say where we lived for those first months, but I will NEVER forget the deep, deep hatred and even fear of J.F.Kennedy because he was Catholic. You would not even consider, as Protestants, voting for him. So- dear sister in law: there has been some level of politics and religion mingling for much of my life time. But, I would say that it has been in the lifetimes of our children that it has taken its present form. May we truly get on our knees and ask God to give us and the Church HIS values, and to separate us from the Idols in our lives.

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