There is a difference between being an American and being a Christian
Named by Time magazine as “the best Theologian in America,” Stanley Hauerwas, at a conference at Azusa Pacific, said that he represents the Tonto Principle in Christian ethics. Tonto was the Lone Ranger’s best friend. The faithful Indian found the Texas Ranger shot and left for dead, after trying to catch the Desperado band. Tonto helped him and nursed him back to health. However, one day the duo found themselves in quite the crisis, surrounded by 20,000 hostile Sioux.
“This looks pretty tough Tonto. What do you think we ought to do?” Tonto asked the Long Ranger.
“What do you mean we, white man?” Tonto replied.
From the first day we clumsily put our hands over our hearts in preschool, until we are old enough to proudly sing the national anthem, we Christians are taught to serve God first and then country. Wrinkled dollars in our wallets and rusting pennies in our pockets all remind us that it is “in God we trust.” But I think that we, the Church, really need to start questioning this assumption. It is time for Christians ask the first-order question to America: What do you mean, we?
The New Testament teaches us that God has become king in and through Jesus the Christ. Therefore, Christians should always be skeptical of any human projects that claim authority belongs anywhere else, including “the people.” According to leading New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, in his book “How God Became King,” democracy sprung from the soil of the Enlightenment, which had an innately Deistic bent.
“At the heart of ‘the Enlightenment’ was a resolute determination that ‘God’— whoever ‘God’ might be — should no longer be allowed to interfere, either directly or through those who claimed to be his spokesmen, in the affairs of this world,” according to Wright.
Silence the authoritative voice of Jesus Christ, the world’s one true Emperor, and you get a democracy — as Wright succinctly describes a “society ordering itself according to its own internal wishes and whims, fears and fancies.”
Now I know that I have already probably raised some eyebrows. I’m sure some would ask: Are you trying to destroy the separation between church and state? I would answer, yes and no. Yes, because in post-Enlightenment thinking, Americans think of the world in separate and damaging categories. Pre-Enlightenment, the world was never divided by church and state. Furthermore, it is impossible to divide politics from any sort of religion. Any government will have a worldview that will necessarily be religious in nature.
Nevertheless, church and state should recognize we are divided. Christians should recognize that ours is a story separate from America’s. Americans want a democratic republic that stands for liberty and justice for all — whatever that means. Christians say that this world is being ruled under a benevolent divine king and awaits the final consummation when the earth will be full of the knowledge and love of God. Therefore, we should always keep watch that we are not deceived by any political system that claims, “I am he.”
America has done great things for the world, but it has also done unspeakable atrocity to those abroad and its own citizens. This country, like all of fallen humanity, has given us great pictures of the divine image, yet at the same time has shown how deeply marred that image is. I don’t hate America; I love this country. However, as a Christian, loving this country takes on a rather odd form. Perhaps if we as a church start to recognize how different we are, we can start loving this country more than it loves itself.
We are Christians, which means that we stand in loving dissent to any government that would deny our Messiah’s sovereignty over heaven and earth. So the next time those around us raise their right hands to their hearts to pledge allegiance to a republic founded on glorified man, studied in science, raised in reason and taught to tolerate everyone and everything; the next time the horns, lyres, flutes and all kinds of instruments in our national anthem play, and stadiums stand to sing about freedom as the perfect bond of unity and not love, Christians should have the courage and fierce love in their hearts in those moments to ask, “What do you mean, we?”