Sometimes it seems that American Christians all read the exact same Bible—a truly “American Standard Version,” where every verse, account, story, and parable within Scripture is interpreted through the lens of being an American. God originally authored this Scripture with the intention of blessing America, protecting America, supporting her interests—and generally ignoring the rest of the world.
Therefore, our wars were the most righteous, our founding fathers were the most holy, our government is the most favored by God, and our land is the most Divinely blessed and protected.
The collateral damage of this type of thinking comes in the form of dehumanizing others. We completely disregard original context in order to carry out our selfish agendas. Anyone apart from our national identity is viewed as a stranger, foreigner, illegal immigrant, and enemy.
We hardly flinch when our country’s policies hurt, damage, and kill others. Patriotism shapes our theology, and nationalism obstructs our view of the Gospel.
Instead of recognizing people around the world as brothers and sisters in Christ, or even acknowledging that individuals beyond our nation’s borders are made in the image of God, we only see outsiders.
Our motivations are driven by fear, and our laws constructed by power-hungry politicians. Churches, faith leaders, spiritual communities, and religious organizations are quick to adopt this brand of ethnocentricity, reaping the benefits of being distinctly American: power, control, popularity, luxury, wealth, prestige, entertainment, and comfort.
Unfortunately, American values are often completely in conflict with the Gospel of Jesus.
So how do we react? Rationalization.
We point to the Bible and use verses like Romans 13:1-7 to show that it’s actually God-ordained to submit to our governmental authorities and pay taxes, support our military, and proudly back our country’s actions.
We obviously don’t think these same verses apply to other governments, other authorities, and especially not to our enemies’ empires. Surely Romans 13 wasn’t meant for dictatorships, communist regimes, and states that are unfriendly and uncooperative with the U.S. Citizens of those nations should revolt, rebel, and join our cause—that Biblical text is only applicable to an American government, in an American society, benefitting American citizens.
Imagine how we would react if our faith in God superseded our national identity? What if we valued being ‘Christian’ more than being ‘American?’
If we really viewed everyone as made in the image of God, and seriously recognized fellow believers around the world as brothers and sister in Christ, would we be quicker to offer aid, help, and resources to others? Would we try harder to avoid unnecessary violence and war? Would we care more? Would we love our neighbor as ourselves?
Christians talk a lot about the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s very real—but shockingly for many believers, it looks nothing like America.
Stephen Mattson blogs at stephenjmattson.com. He's contributed for Relevant Magazine, Redletterchristians.org , and studied Youth Ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. He is now on staff at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.