Van Ens: Is the United States God’s favorite nation? (column)
Receiving an unexpected compliment or a verbal hug makes a lasting impact.
When Oprah hosted a daily show, she interviewed poet and novelist Maya Angelou, who celebrated her 70th birthday. Oprah’s warm welcome for her guest felt like a massage.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel,” responded Ms. Angelou.
President Trump keeps white evangelicals’ loyalty because they are convinced his policies preserve our nation’s Christian roots. The destiny God has carved out for America shows His affection for our nation.
Is the United States becoming great again because God has bestowed favor on the land of the free and home of the brave? God has conferred special status on the United States, superseding that of any nation on earth, say many Trump supporters.
Throughout history, this belief in God’s preferential treatment for the United States has been expressed in different ways. Sounding like Puritans who settled Boston, some evangelicals superimpose on themselves promises made to biblical Israel.
God inquires, “Ask of me, and I shall give you the heathen for your inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession” (Psalm 2:8). Some evangelicals believe, as inheritors of this legacy, they are the chosen few God has elected as His prized people.
Other evangelicals speak of “manifest destiny” as the virtue that makes the United States great again. In the 1840s, our nation invaded Mexico and confiscated a huge chunk of the Southwest reaching to California.
In the summer of 1845, John O’Sullivan, who edited the Democratic Review, coined a phrase justifying this territorial take-over. “Our manifest destiny (is) to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions,” wrote O’Sullivan, revealing what today’s evangelicals refer to as “Christian nationalism.”
President Donald Trump, whose Christian faith appears thin and moral character shoddy, appeals to Christian nationalism — this conviction that God has invested in a uniquely Christian purpose for the United States.
This is the prime reason evangelicals, whose numbers are shrinking, aren’t abandoning Trump. Their “primary cultured creation — Christian nationalism — will continue influencing U.S. politics and society for decades to come, particularly in response to waning demographic and social dominance. It’s a worldview that can’t be undermined, even by porn starts and Playboy models,” reports The Washington Post.
This haughty opinion is faulty that God has placed the United States on a pedestal and plays favorites with white evangelicals. The Bible records how God chose ancient Israel and the early Christian Church to serve others’ needs, a decision not based on their superiority. God’s people were selected for special responsibilities to care for the poor, house widows and orphans and economically raise up the down-trodden. This purpose was their manifest destiny.
Abraham Lincoln rejected religious quackery about the United States enjoying favored divine status. New York Times commentator Ross Douthat writes, “… even the greatest nation can hope only to be an almost-chosen people.” Abraham Lincoln used this qualifying phrase when he spoke in 1861 to the Trenton, New Jersey, legislature. “In that single word, ‘almost,’ a healthy patriotism is defended, while the heresy of (Christian) nationalism stands rebuked,” warns Douthat (“Bad Religion,” Free Press, 2012, p.254).
No. 1 status doesn’t make America great again. Rather, national strength arises when Americans accept their role as a servant — not superior — people. Then they serve the needs of others, whom God choses from every nation.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.