Listening to the radio last night, I caught most of a piece about a study called: “The Old and New Politics of Faith: Religion and the 2010 Election.” Here’s the full transcript: www.npr.org/2010/11/17/131393356/faith-politics-and-the-2010-election
What really grabbed my attention in this piece was this particular exchange:
SIEGEL: But when you speak of American exceptionalism in these terms, what are you speaking of?
Mr. GALSTON: Well, the idea that America is a chosen nation that has been singled out by God for a distinctive mission in the world, we put a very strong version of that proposition on the table in this survey and 6 in 10 Americans affirmed it. Indeed, 30 percent of people who probably don’t believe in God at all affirmed it. So, this is a remarkably persistent part of America’s cultural and political DNA that I think our political leaders ignore at their peril.
On the surface, the idea that America is “divinely inspired” sounds very nice. As a member of the clergy, wouldn’t you think I’d want believe that? And yet, the way that this concept has shaped our history and present as a nation troubles me in the extreme. When my European ancestors came to the “new world”, for instance, they brought with them the ideology of “manifest destiny”. They truly believed that God had ordained them to rule over this entire continent: to cut down the forests and plow the prairies, to subdue the indigenous people with guns and alcohol and diseases, and convert them, not only to Christianity, but to European cultural ways. I believe that God, far from being pleased with America, to this day weeps over our acts of genocide, and our failure to repair their harm or learn their lessons. A majority of Americans still seem to believe that God calls us to impose our “way of life” (whether they define that as democracy, or Christianity, or capitalism) on others around the world. It seems to me that this imperialistic attitude helps fuel war and sustain death-dealing global environmental and economic policy.
I can’t accept the traditional notion that God has anointed America to be exceptional, if that boils down to forming others into a particular image of what it means to be an American by any means necessary. But I do still believe that God has desires and hopes for us as a nation. Perhaps God is calling us to be exceptional in humility and sorrow, self-reflection and real, life-giving change.
Yesterday, I attended a planning session for a Thanksgiving Eve service. Several congregations (including ours) have a history of gathering for thanksgiving worship in partnership with All Nations Indian Church. We come together not only to give thanks, but also to seek healing, reconciliation and reparation, as best we can. I’ll be there — November 24, at 7 pm, at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 2315 Chicago Avenue, South Minneapolis. Will you join us?