Another rant on church & state, or at least Christianity and government.
The presumption on the part of those who advocate the notion that America is a Christian nation seems to be that living up to this foundational ideal will make of us a nation of moral people, blessed by God and respected in the world. I want to talk again about what it would take for this nation, or any nation, to be Christian; and what that would imply for foreign policy first of all.
Let’s by-pass for the moment the legalistic theocratic ideal of the far right wing – the ones who would like to reinstitute certain select portions of Deuteronomy and Leviticus as the foundation for our national life (minus, no doubt, the prohibition against shutting the poor and foreigners out of your property and a few other such inconveniences) ¬– and go to the one espoused by the 43rd president of the United States, who talked in a debate about the value of the commandment that we should “love our neighbors like we would like to be loved ourselves.” Never mind that he mangled the quote (“Love Your Neighbor As Yourself” or perhaps its corollary, “whatever you want others to do for you, do that for them”). We know what he was referring to.
Both of these— the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, taken from Leviticus 19:18, and what is called the Golden Rule, cited by Jesus, are said by him to summarize “the Law and the Prophets.” He certainly cites them approvingly, as succinct summaries of all the ethical teaching that precedes him. But it should be noted that these are, in fact, not specifically Christian ethical rules. They belong first to Hebrew religion, and in various forms of words have been identified as springing up in many different places. I have called this the highest pre-Christian, or if you will, non-Christian ethic.
We could get into quite a discussion about how and whether this ethic can and should be applied to nations. What would happen if a nation valued the welfare of all other nations equally with that of itself? What if it extended treaties, trade agreements, etc., on the basis of how it would want such agreements made with itself, by other powers? Surely this would be a fruitful area of study for major think tanks, or a future Department of Peace. And since neither Love Your Neighbor nor Do Unto Others specifically invokes or even mentions God or any religious faith or practice, such a basis for international relations would not violate any principle involving separation of church and state.
But we have not yet got to a Christian nation. A Christian nation would be one which follows Jesus, and especially one which pays attention to anything that is specified as directed by him to those who are his followers. Anything that is introduced with “But I say to you” would cause the leaders of such a nation to sit up and take notice. And Jesus does introduce a specifically Christian ethical principle. “Love Your Enemies.”
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you. If someone hits you, give them a chance to hit you again. Do good, and lend, not expecting to be repaid. Give to everyone who asks. If someone wants what is yours, give them even more than they tried to take. Deny yourself.
How would all that look as foreign policy?
Let me be extremely clear. A Christian nation would do as Jesus did, and as he instructed his disciples to do, and as those disciples, in their writings, instructed other followers of his to do. Namely: It would be manifestly willing to give up its life — its national life— for the life of the world. It would do so, no doubt, trusting in a God who can raise the dead; but it would clearly and intentionally do good and not harm to those who sought its harm. It would, in fact, be a nation which would prefer to suffer rather than to inflict suffering on others. It would be a forgiving nation, forgiving seventy times seven the wrongs done to it by other nations. It would pay its debts.
In short, a Christian nation such as I have outlined has scarcely ever been envisioned, let alone attempted. So let me say one more thing:
Anyone who claims to want a nation to be Christian, without desiring that it follow Jesus in ways such as briefly outlined above, commits blasphemy against Christ, and preaches a fantasy, not the Christ of the Bible.
A nation that seeks to preserve its national life (by, for example, fixating on “security” and on seeking to destroy, rather than love, its enemies) is being like all the nations of the world have ever been, and as such will one day lose its life. It is most decidedly no more “Christian” than was the Roman Empire in the days of Vespasian.
I am almost at the point where I will be convinced that in order to follow Jesus truly, I’m going to have to give up the label “Christian” altogether, so corrupt has it become by association with so much that is contrary to Christ himself.
Still unanswered is how a follower of Jesus should behave in a secular democracy. I like the idea of promoting the public policy implications of the pre-or non-Christian ethic of love for neighbor, and the Golden Rule; though the principles of Machiavelli get a lot more respect, in these days.