Some time ago on a post a friend with whom I disagree on more or less everything recommended a book to me. I don’t remember what the post was about, but it was probably something to do with America’s violent history, exploitative foreign policy or the need for Christians to refuse to pledge allegiance to the flag. Perhaps all three. She recommended a history textbook called The Light and the Glory: Does God Have a Plan for America?, which she described as a “non-revisionist history of the United States.”
She also warned me that there was a children’s version of the text, mainly used for homeschooling. Of course I summarily ignored that warning and purchased the cheapest edition I could find on Amazon, and two weeks later my copy of The Light and the Glory – For Children! arrived. It was a silly thing that read more like a storybook, but I at least I enjoyed the illustrations.
I thought that was the end of it till a couple of days ago when I happened across a copy of the textbook proper at my university library. So I checked it out and began reading. And I was actually astonished by the claims the authors were making. It may not be quite accurate to label them as idolatrous, but the word won’t leave my mind.
- God had put a specific call on this country and the people who were to inhabit it. According to the authors, “In the virgin wilderness of America, God was making His most significant attempt since ancient Israel to create a new Israel of people living in obedience to the laws of God, through faith in Jesus Christ.” (For the moment, we’ll let slide the mischaracterization of America as a “virgin wilderness” when millions of people were already living here.) What is particularly disturbing here is that the authors have borrowed New Testament language about the church and applied it the United States as a nation. They go on to call America “a new Jerusalem, a model of the Kingdom on earth… we Americans were intended to be living proof to the rest of the world that it was possible to live a life together which reflected the Two Great Commandments and put God and others ahead of self.” This is exactly the theology of the church community, applied to a nation.
- This call was to be worked out in terms’ of the settlers’ covenant with God, and with each other. The authors write that the first settlers “saw themseves as being called into a direct continuation of the covenant relationship established between God and Abraham.” So not only does America have a unique relationship with God, that relationship is the same one Abraham had, which includes the promise to “curse those nations who curse you.” Perhaps our wars are holy wars after all. The authors go on to claim that American Democracy “owes its inception to the covenants of the first churches on her shores.”
- God did keep His end of the bargain, and He did so on both an individual and a corporate basis. The authors here describe the way God interacted with individuals and communities throughout American history, in a way that looks suspiciously Old Testament. As long as the American people were living godly lives, their crop flourished and enemies fell before them. But when they turned away from God, “He would be forced to lift the grace which lay upon their land, just enough to cause them to turn back to Him. A drought, or an epidemic of smallpox, or an Indian uprising would come, and the wisest among them would remember… Like the prophets of old, they would call the people to repentence.” This view seems strongly in line with Jerry Falwell’s claim that 9/11 was God’s wake up call to the nation, to stop tolerating the abortionists and the homosexuals and the ACLU.
In one sense, the authors are guilty of nothing worse than reading historical documents uncritically. It’s certainly true that many of the original American settlers thought of themselves in these terms, and preached in their churches that the Natives were Canaanites, occupying the Promised Land. But in another sense, these foundational beliefs about America are deeply disturbing.
Is this what people mean when they say America is a “Christian nation”? If not, what else can they mean? Can anyone who says America is a Christian nation simultaneously reject these claims?