In the known history of the world, the United States of America is a unique and matchless phenomenon. There has never been and, I daresay, will never be another nation like ours. The freedom and prosperity we enjoy as a whole is unparalleled, even in the developed world. This week we will celebrate the first steps toward the creation of our country in the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and rightly so. Something very significant happened in 1776, something of which I'm not sure the leaders of our proto-nation were fully aware. As the country celebrates, I will be enjoying fellowship with my church family at a picnic, with food, games, and a fireworks show at the end. I'm sure it will be a wonderful time.
As we memorialize our Independence Day, I would like to offer a humble word of caution. It has become commonplace in evangelical circles, particularly around times of intense patriotism such as these, to speak of the need for America to "get back" to the "Christian principles" upon which this nation was founded. Certainly, I am not going to argue the fact that our country was conceived with Judeo-Christian values as a foundation, nor will I debate that the majority of our founding fathers and mothers were Christians (mostly Protestants). That said, I must quibble with the belief that our nation must "get back" to a supposed pristine Christian state from times past.
Most of our early mothers and fathers participated in, or allowed for systematic violence, both physical and spiritual, against indigenous people groups ("Native Americans") whose land they conquered and then against black Africans who were in their care. Surely God was neither honored nor pleased with the mass enslavement of one race and the almost total annihilation of another, while the women and children of both were routinely abducted, raped, and mistreated. This is, of course, apart from the way Anglo women were treated as inferior and unintelligent creatures, incapable of any real contributions to society. Whatever else is right about America, claims to a "Christian heritage" cannot cover over or erase these original sins.
A further illustration of the bigotry of our founding fathers is found in the Constitution itself, in which black African slaves were to be considered only three-fifths of a person. (Yes, its really in there. I’ve read it myself.) This infamous blot on an otherwise ingenious founding document (nicely called the “constitutional compromise” by many historians) is an embarrassment and a shameful reality for patriotic Christians everywhere. I think that it is an affront to black Americans—not to mention our black brothers and sisters in Christ—for us to speak about the Christian principles we need to "get back" to, when these same principles commited such gross examples of oppression.
In conclusion, then, I would like to propose that we put aside all language of "getting back" to our Christian heritage, which unwittingly implies that the things I detail above don't matter. It seems to me that the blessings of God upon us then may have been despite our many egregious sins and failures, not because of our consistent faithfulness to God’s standards. Instead, I think we should be challenged to seek after a better, more God-honoring America in the future. There's no need to "get back" to anything for this, only to press on toward the future, praying and working in the power of the Holy Spirit to see more and more citizens of the United States become citizens of the Kingdom of God.