America: Hope Of The Earth?

Culture, Foreign Affairs, Politics, Religion — By on October 25, 2012 at 7:00 am

During election season you can count on candidates to vie for the “loves America most” moniker.  Being perceived as down on America, at home or abroad, is a path to a lost election.  We saw this in 2004, when the release of John Kerry’s testimony on the supposed atrocities committed by his fellow soldiers in Vietnam hurt him significantly in the polls.  We are seeing it again now.  In Monday night’s debate, Mitt Romney again accused President Obama of going on an “apology tour”, where the President supposedly took it upon himself to apologize for most of America’s foreign policy over the past decade (while slighting our closest ally, Israel).  The telling aspect of this exchange was not Governor Romney’s accusation, but President Obama’s response.  Rather than explaining his opposition to an American foreign policy that “dictates to other nations”, or talking about the evils of unjustified foreign wars or neo-colonialism, President Obama denied that he apologized for anything and affirmed his belief that America is absolutely indispensible as a force for good in the world.  Mr. Romney, for his part, said that America is the hope of the earth.

The rhetoric on both sides is strong here, and conservatives need to accept most of the blame for how indiscriminate and apparently inevitable this rhetoric is. We are fond of pointing out the “anti-American” rhetoric of many on the Left, yet we often seem unwilling to acknowledge that there is an opposite extreme.  I am certainly guilty of this.  

John Piper and Doug Wilson have already pointed out that this language amounts to a kind of soft idolatry, ascribing to American military and political power a role that once belonged to the Gospel.  Now instead of sending missionaries into foreign lands to convert the “heathen” to Christ, we send political pressure in its many forms to ensure that the heathen (whose own religious beliefs we refuse to interfere with in the name of pluralism) does what is in the American state’s best interests.

Now of course I have to clarify.  I am not speaking about the use of government per se.  America is no Theocracy, and the role of the state is not to spread the Gospel.  I am speaking to individual Conservative Christians and the policies they support most vocally.  Favoring a strong military to help ensure international harmony (or “peace through strength”) is not bad in itself.  But we need to be measured in our rhetoric.  We should push back when a Presidential candidate talks about America in unmistakably Christological terms.  At the risk of sounding utopian, our hope of world peace and universal redemption should be grounded in the preaching of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  This means we should be more concerned with saving souls under condemnation, not creating societies where “moderate” Muslims and Hindus will build McDonald’s and Starbucks.  Energies and resources should be spent putting a Bible in every hand, not an iPhone.

Lest I sound down on America, let me add an encouraging caveat.  First, it must be admitted that both candidates were only speaking in political terms, and there is no doubt that America has been, on the whole, a force for good in the world.  I only want to caution how we speak about America’s role in the world and what aspects of our foreign influence we choose to emphasize.  Our nation was once the greatest launching pad for missionaries before it was the greatest launching pad for F-22 fighters.

Second, the increase of America’s military and economic influence, while not the primary “hope of the earth”, should not be totally disparaged toward that end.  A strong American military presence throughout the world would aid the church’s missionary work, not to force conversions, but to protect missionaries from the retaliation and violence of intolerant states.  Moreover, the spread of some non-religious aspects of American society and influence is not all bad.  Putting an iPhone in the hand of every non-Westerner should not be confused with cultural salvation, but an iPhone would connect a new believer in Pakistan or China with a entire world’s worth of evangelistic and educational resources. 

In short, America can indeed be one hope of the earth in a very limited sense, only insofar as its influence is used to protect and aid those who go forth and proclaim the true hope of the earth.


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  • Julie

    Please explain to me how a Christian, who follows the Gospel of Jesus and believes Jesus Christ died on the cross for our salvation can vote for a leader who does not believe in the Grace of our Lord. Isn’t our Christianity and spreading the Gospel more important then anything even politics? What kind of example are we showing if out of one side of our mouths we spread the Gospel then we vote a leader who does not believe in Salvation through Grace. Personally I think God must be really sad!

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.nilsen David Nilsen

    Hi Julie. One answer is that we are not voting for a Pastor. The sad reality is that America is no longer a “Christian nation” in any meaningful sense. Neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama is a good, Gospel embracing, orthodox Christian. But Garry Johnson, the Libertarian candidate on the ballot in some states, is not a traditional orthodox Christian either. If Christians can only vote for a candidate who shares their faith, then unfortunately Christians cannot vote. But that doesn’t seem to be a good option either, because then we are leaving the fate of our country in the hands of non-Christians.

    You said, “Isn’t our Christianity and spreading the Gospel more important then anything even politics?” Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean we have to ignore politics completely. We simply need to support the candidates who will uphold religious liberty and allow us to continue the work of the Gospel (even if the candidate does not personally share our beliefs).

  • http://www.facebook.com/nathanthebennett Nathan Bennett

    You wrote:
    “A strong American military presence throughout the world would aid the church’s missionary work, not to force conversions, but to protect
    missionaries from the retaliation and violence of intolerant states.”

    Not necessarily. One thing that actually hurts mission in general is too close of an association with political power. If missionaries keep running to an army base for help whenever somebody pulls a gun, it’s like Wormtongue running to Saruman: the missionary looks slimy if he comes back and people figure they know what side he’s REALLY on. Just look where he ran when everybody got mad! Clearly, he doesn’t TRUST us! Missionaries, by virtue of their calling, have to push further and further into regions where they have to give up reasonable expectations of help from their national government. And again, if they are associated with foreign political and military power, they might get persecuted as spies rather than as Christians. Even if American soldiers were able to help, what do missionaries do that time that they are not able to help? What if God calls them to a region beyond the cover of American guns?

    You also wrote:
    “Putting an iPhone in the hand of every non-Westerner should not be confused with cultural salvation, but an iPhone would connect a new believer in Pakistan or China with a entire world’s worth of evangelistic and educational resources.”

    Here I am more in agreement with you. Nevertheless, I just want to give Satan a good character reference for a moment here. What if the exposure to American resources introduced American heresy and American denominational squabbles? What if theological education subverts local thinkers and makes them appendages of Western theological frameworks? The big problem isn’t information and education, it’s more along the lines of power and control. Who gets to have a free iPhone? Who gets to have theirs replaced when it breaks? I’ll cauterize my tangents with just one more tangent: the world is a place that America can launch ideas and technology into, but people keep running after America hands those things off. Globalization is done by people handing things off to MORE people who handle those things with a fresh perspective and hand them off to yet MORE people. As a tool to advance the gospel, America is a tool so powerful that only God could wield it. His people can do things with America, but we conform to our tools if we hold them tightly enough. By God, be from America, but you have to give it up if you ever want to have it again and do missions right.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_YFP4PZNQCX2MNRODSXY773RWKA Jake T

    “because then we are leaving the fate of our country in the hands of non-Christians.” Remind me again who is Sovereign over all? That’s who we should be leaving “the fate of our country” in.

  • jamesfarnold

    God is Sovereign over all, but He also gives us responsibilities, and government is one of those responsibilities. It’s clear God sets up earthly authorities, even ones we don’t agree with or understand, and if such an authority is one based on the voting of the people, it is our responsibility as the people to make informed decisions that will result in the greatest amount of good for everyone.