The Heresy of Exceptionalism

A Facebook friend recently posted a link to an article/newsletter by David Barton. Normally I am loath to read anything by Barton (the self-proclaimed “renowned historian” without even an undergraduate history degree or any clue about historical methodology), but since this had to do with Texas politics and particularly the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, I thought it might be worthwhile to give it a look. Barton’s contention is that Speaker Joe Straus isn’t really a conservative and not much of a Republican. Fair enough.

But what really caught my eye was an attack Barton made on one of Straus’ allies. After commenting on a piece of pro-life legislation that State Affairs Committee Chariman Burt Solomons prevented from reaching the floor of the House, he says, “Incidentally, as a reflection of Solomons’ philosophy, he had previously even objected to teaching that America is a blessed and unique nation – i.e., American Exceptionalism…” There’s no indication as to whether Solomons currently objects to this teaching, and the comment is a bit of the cheap ad hominem that is sadly found pervasively in conservative circles.

In my youth I imbibed heavily from the trough of American Exceptionalism and have held to it explicitly or implicitly for most of my life.  As a result, I have done the only logical thing: I have repented.

America has been a blessed and unique nation, but recognising this is not adhering to American Exceptionalism. Many nations have been blessed and all nations are unique, but this is not what David Barton believes. American Exceptionalism is the teaching that the United States is special above all other nations – that God has blessed America and likes America more than the others.

American Exceptionalism has been used as an exemption from the law of nations. The attitude is that international law may apply to the rest of you but it doesn’t apply to us, because we’re special and we don’t have to play by everyone else’s rules.  We will tell you what you can and can’t do in your country, but don’t you dare tell us. In fact, international law so doesn’t apply that we can violate the sovereignty of other countries and have done so with impunity. All countries are sovereign, but some countries are more sovereign that others. The sovereignty of other countries is always secondary to American interests.

This doctrine of American Exceptionalism is not something new. One hundred and seventy years ago it was called Manifest Destiny (though the term is often used for the period between 1812-1860, it was coined in 1839 and only came into common use around 1845). It was used to justify the expansion of the United States at whatever cost. The biggest acquisition was 42% of Mexico as a result of the Mexican War, which started as a dispute over the territory between the Rio Grande and Nueces Rivers in South Texas. This is a bit like taking an area twice the size of France as the result of a dispute about an area the size of, for example, Alsace-Lorraine. This area now contains over 16% of the US population, so it could be argued that we eventually needed the lebensraum.

It was also the justification to gain control of much of the central part of the continent that had been purchased from a European power which claimed it by right of conquest.*  Most of the inhabitants were completely unaware they had been conquered. When they objected to their lands being taken by white folks, the US Army brought this to their attention. They were, after all, savages, so it was okay to kill them. Having no concept of private property, they also had no property rights, so it was only right that it should be taken over and controlled by folks who understood their God-given right to plat and deed every inch land. Now it must be said that out of the goodness of their heart, the American government did reserve some of the Indians’ own land for them, force them to live there, and shoot them if they objected.

The most extraordinary thing about this American Exceptionalism is that it is generally agreed to have its roots in a thesis (it is often called a sermon, but we have no record of it ever being spoken to a gathering of people in church or otherwise) by John Winthrop, written aboard the Arbella on the way to Massachusetts Bay in 1630. The thesis was called “A Model of Christian Charity”. It is best known for the phrase “city upon a hill” which appears near the end.  I reiterate that this is an extraordinary thing, because there is nothing in Winthrop’s thesis that supports the idea of Exceptionalism or Manifest Destiny. If you doubt me, you need to read it. I welcome you to challenge my understanding of it.

“A Model of Christian Charity” is explicitly an exhortation of how the Massachusetts Bay colonists should behave toward one another. This is based upon their religious covenant to each other. Winthrop does say that what they are doing is extraordinary – not in founding a nation that would stretch from sea to shining sea, because they did not see themselves as founding a country nor did they have any concept of the size of North America. They saw what they were doing as extraordinary, so that living by the Golden Rule was going to be essential. The avoidance of usury was going to be essential. Being knitted together as the body of Christ was going to be essential while they struggled to hang on to an existence on the shores of New England.

I have outlined (barely) some of the practical results of Exceptionalism. I have demonstrated, if only enough to encourage you to read the original document (David Barton would be proud), that the connection with the Puritans and the “city on a hill” is non-existent. But none of that relates to the most important aspect of all and the reason I have titled this essay as I have. None of this is the reason I have repented.

Exceptionalism is a heresy. The more one tries to support it with a religious foundation, the more heretical is becomes.

Americans are not God’s chosen people. The Church is God’s chosen people. The Church includes some Americans. Americans do not even make up the largest fraction of national representation in the Church. (That would be the Chinese. Current estimates indicate that there are likely more Christians in China than there are people in the United States.) When St Peter said, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light,” he was referring to the Church.

In that oft-used phrase, John Winthrop refers to Matthew 5:14 – “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” The “you” to whom Jesus is referring are His disciples – those who are hearing and following His teaching – the Church. Winthrop was referring to his fellow Puritan settlers as Christians living out the Gospel, not to the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, or a democratic Republic, which would have been the furthest things from his imagination.

With all due respect to Ronald Reagan, who co-opted Winthrop’s phrase in his Farewell Address, as well as by his own admission having use it all his political life, the city on a hill is not prosperity nor is it freedom. No, if we go back to the Original Document and Original Intent (I hope David Barton would be pleased), the city is the light of Christ. Inasmuch as it refers to freedom, we would have to cross-reference to John 8:38, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”

Has the United States been blessed? Certainly. Has the US as a nation done some good things? Of course. Has this blessing been because we have somehow fulfilled Winthrop’s vision for Massachusetts Bay? Absolutely not. It has been by the grace and mercy of God, despite some very terrible shortcomings as individuals and as a nation. How dare we say, “Our fathers expanded and built the United States this way and look at how God has blessed us – surely this is evidence of our righteousness!”

Everyone knows the bit of Winthrop’s thesis that says, “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.” The important bit follows: “So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God’s sake.”

As Christians we are the light on a hill. It is we who have a responsibility to live out the Gospel. Not because of what John Winthrop wrote and a connection we feel to the Puritan fathers, however tenuous that may be. Not because we are Americans. Because we are Christians. We have a responsibility to live charitably toward one another. Again, if you want to know the characteristics of the city on a hill as outlined by Winthrop, as true and biblical today for all believers, read the whole thing.

God does not love America more because some of the first white settlers of an area that eventually became a colony and eventually broke away from England were good Christian folk. (And just for the record, we have no covenantal connection to those good Christian folk of Massachusetts Bay, so we are not reaping what they have sown. But that’s an article for another time.) Nor does He love us more because a lot of people that were involved in the American Revolution and the Constitutional Convention were Christians and even those who weren’t occasionally used Christian shop talk.  Nor does he love us more because we are a democratic Republic that has tried to spread our form of government around the world, whether other people wanted it or not.

I’m blessed to be an American, but that does not make me special to God, nor did it make the generations of my forefathers going back to colonial times any more special to God. Nations rise and nations fall. The United States hasn’t been around all that long and it won’t be here forever. God operates on a completely different time scale.

The exceptional thing is that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, whether we were blessed to be born in America, Europe, Africa, Asia or anywhere else. As the Church, we are God’s special people and unique nation. That is the Gospel.

*Technically, it was purchased from a country (France) which acquired it in a treaty from another country (Spain) which had acquired it in a treaty from the first country (France), which had laid claim by conquest.
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How a Bishop Should Respond

In a previous post I mention the conflict between Bishop Tobin of Providence and Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island over the issue of abortion and Kennedy’s putative Catholic faith.

With thanks to Seraphim, who mentioned it in a comment and to Fr John Whiteford, from whose blog he got it, I refer you to Bishop Tobin’s direct response to Kennedy’s claim to Catholicism.

Our Orthodox bishop should take note. Won’t but should.

The Greatest Scandal in American Orthodoxy

After seeing an article about the clash over abortion between US Rep. Patrick Kennedy and his diocesan bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, RI, I decided to look into the voting records of the one senator and five representatives who are members of the Orthodox Church. The results are not surprising, but equally as shameful. I almost don’t know where to start.

The teaching of the Orthodox Church concerning abortion is just as clear and just the same as the teaching of the Catholic Church. It doesn’t matter that it is an issue the Ecumenical Patriarch skirts around, perhaps because it takes away from his main job of opening evironmentalist conferences and exhibitions. And just like the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church has members who have been elected to public office and act in direct opposition to the Orthodox Christian faith. It is not a matter of what they do in their private lives, for which they should go to confession and after which their priest should happily partake with them of the most precious body and blood.

Rather, it is a matter of what they lead their country to do. They have chosen to take a public stand against the teaching of the Church. They have appropriated the public purse for the killing of unborn children. They have otherwise refused to protect the unborn and directly facilitated those who would kill them.

It is the duty of the diocesan bishops of those members of the Orthodox Church who openly and knowingly pay for, or otherwise facilitate, the killing of the unborn to excommunicate those persons. Any bishop who knows what a Congressperson who claims to be under their spiritual authority is doing in this regard is failing in their responsibilities if they to otherwise.

Any Orthodox bishop, including the Ecumenical Patriarch, who praises or elevates such a person in the Church should be causing a scandal far worse than the misappropriation of funds in the OCA, or a drunk Antiochian touching up girl in a casino. Every clergy and every lay person of such a diocese who cares about the integrity of the Orthodox Church should be writing to their bishop.

I already knew the views of Olympia Snowe. She has been one of the most social liberal Republican members of Congress since she entered the US House in 1979. She has been in the Senate since 1995. She has consistently voted against the unborn. Has Metropolitan Methodius of Boston spoken out against her? No.

Pro-abortion senator and archon of the Orthodox Church, as conferred by Black Bart himself, Paul Sarbanes may be out of the upper chamber, but now his son John represents Maryland’s 3rd district. Equally as pro-abortion, this year Rep. Sarbanes has voted to fund the State Department under Hilary Clinton to promote abortion projects throughout the world, fund abortions in the District of Columbia, fund Planned Parenthood to provide abortions, and to provide federal subsidies to insurance companies to pay for abortions. Has Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey taken a stand against him? No.

Rep. Zach Space of 18th District in Ohio may be a Blue Dog Democrat, but he voted with Sarbanes on all but the last of the four legislative measures mentioned above. He also voted with Sarbanes for the DeGette clone-and-kill bill, and the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, among others. I’d like to hear something from Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit on this. If you hear anything, let me know.

Rep. Niki Tsongas is the widow pro-abortion Sen. Paul Tsongas and has been elected serve the 5th district of Massachusetts. She has also voted against unborn life 100% of the time. Still nothing from Metropolitan Methodius…

The Greek do not have a monopoly on Orthodox representation in Congress. The Serbs have Melissa Bean of Chicago in Illinois’ 8th district. Bean actually lives in the adjoining 10th district, but it’s all the same for our purposes. She has also voted against the unborn 100% of the time. Bishop Longin of the Diocese of New Gracanica – Midwestern America needs to say something and do something.

The one that stands out the most as a bad example of Orthodoxy on Capitol Hill has to be Alice Costandina “Dina” Titus, from the 3rd District of Nevada. Not only had she voted against the unborn 100% of the time like the others, she makes the strongest public claim to Orthodoxy. On the home page of her website, she boldly declares “Congresswoman Dina Titus Sworn-In on Grandfather’s Greek Bible” (if it has moved from the home page by the time you read this, try this direct link to the article).  The article, written by Andrew Manatos, notes “Congresswoman Dina Titus’ rise to national prominence is a story that will make all Hellenes and Orthodox Christians proud.” Clearly for Manatos, like so many Greeks, Hellenic culture and background and Orthodoxy are the same. And clearly for Manatos and for Congresswoman Titus, the important thing about being Orthodox is being Greek, not adhering to the unchanging teaching of the Church, particularly about the sanctity of life.

Let me make this clear: Dina Titus’ rise to national prominence is a story that should make all Orthodox Christians, Hellenic or not, ashamed. Has Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco denounced Congresswoman Titus’ votes to fund the killing of the unborn?

There is one Orthodox member of Congress who has not sacrificed the children of America to Moloch. Gus Bilirakis repesents the 9th district of Florida. He has a 100% pro-life voting record. Whether his votes have been guided by his Orthodoxy or by his adherence to the Republican Party and conservativism, I don’t know.

As for the others, I think every American Orthodox Christian who adheres to the teaching of the Orthodox Church has a responsibility to write to every Orthodox Congressperson who votes in opposition to Orthodoxy and call them to account. Likewise, they should write to every Orthodox hierarch who has refused to demand the protection of the unborn and refused to excommunicate those who lead the nation in opposition to the moral teaching of the Orthodox Church and call them to account.

If the Orthodox hierarchy will not stand up, the Orthodox laity must stand up. I’m not so naïve to imagine that either the Congresspersons or the hierarchs will actually listen. The Congresspeople have shown that their loyalty lies with their political party and the hierarchs have shown that their loyality lies with their ethnicity. No matter. Orthodoxy doesn’t change because of either. The unborn are being murdered in their thousands every day and the faithful need to declare to those who are complicit in these murders: You do not speak for me! You do not represent the Holy Orthodox Church, the Holy Tradition and it’s unchanging inerrant understanding of the Holy Scriptures.

I think every Congressperson should be free to vote their conscience. If that conscience says the teaching of the Orthodox Church through the Holy Scriptures is wrong, then they should leave the Orthodox Church. They should excommunicate themselves and go be Episcopalians or whatever semblance of Christian form suits them.

Obama’s Deadly Confusion or Diabolical Deceit

It is hard to believe that President Obama hasn’t made the connection between science and theology. He’s either not so bright or ever so dishonest. First of all, he calls it difference between facts and ideology. It is nothing of the sort.

I’m sure all readers have seen the video clip of Obama signing the executive order lifting the ban on federal funding for killing embryonic humans. Here’s what he said: “As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research — and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly.”

Here’s what he means: “As a person who wants to claim to be a Christian while offending no one, especially my liberal constituency, I believe we are called to care for those humans whose lives do not offend the abortion rights lobby and work to ease the suffering of a select group of humans at the expense of the lives of others. I believe we have been given this capacity by a Generic Non-judgmental Supreme Being, and the ability to choose our will to pursue this research — and the inhumanity and lack of conscience to think we can take innocent lives responsibly and call it science.”

So what drives Obama? It appears that the US can’t afford to let scientists in other countries get ahead of research in the US. Why? The only thing I can think of is that all of this federal funding will go to creating treatments  that will then make millions and millions of dollars for the health care industry. As Obama said, “When government fails to make these investments, opportunities are missed. Promising avenues go unexplored. Some of our best scientists leave for other countries that will sponsor their work. And those countries may surge ahead of ours in the advances that transform our lives. No, we can’t let other countries transform people’s lives!

And why shouldn’t it be us? “But in recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values.” That’s right if scientists say they are doing something based on facts, then there can be nothing wrong with it. It’s the fact, ma’am, just the facts.

So how can Obama then flip around and say “We cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse. And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society.” So killing humans is not profoundly wrong and has a place in our society. And how, exactly is Obama going to guarantee the government never opens the door to human reproductive cloning?

After all, he has just opened the door to non-reproductive (in other words, embryonic experimental) cloning. Where is the ethical distinction that reproductive cloning is profoundly wrong yet killing embyronic human life is not? What if scientists decide that there is either great research value in a birthed clone or that even greater life-enhancing suffering-easing advancements will be accomplished this way? If those are the scientific facts, what right has ideology or theology to stand in the way?

Debating Whether or Not to Share the Gospel

Now you would have thought the answer would have been in the long tradition of missionaries sent throughout the world. Or maybe they would have seen the Great Commission in Matthew 28.  But no.

The General Synod of the Church of England is going to debate whether the C of E bishops should report to the Synod on “their understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in multi-faith Britain” and give examples of how the Gospel should be shared.  In other words, the issue is whether the church should try to convert non-believers in any religion and remarkably more controversially, adherents to non-Christian religions.

A lay member of the Synod put a motion forward for July’s meeting of the Synod, but it was not heard. It appears enough pressure was brought to have it put on the February agenda. Of course it could always be shelved at the last minute again.

In the Church of England they like to avoid controversial things like sharing the Gospel.  In February the Synod meeting will also debate whether clergy should be banned from being members of the British National Party. This is probably because there were C of E clergymen on the BNP membership list that was stolen and published on the Internet.

There will be a presentation on “the implications of the financial crisis and recession”. The Church is worried that the economic downturn could damage the its billion-pound investment in the stock market as well as takings in the collection plate.

This is all much easier to deal with than the claims of the Gospel. After all, if you go around saying Jesus is the only way to God, then you are likely to offend the Muslim community. If you dare to state the obvious that this means you should attempt to convert Muslims, then you stand in direct confrontation with the stated Muslim aims of convert Britain to Islam, and the C of E doesn’t like confrontation.

As the Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, the newly appointed Bishop of Urban Life and Faith (wherever that diocese is) said earlier this year, “Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs are learning to respect one another’s paths to God and to live in harmony. This demand for the evangelisation of people of other faiths contributes nothing to our communities.”

At the same time, a church spokesperson explained, “We have a mission-focused Christian presence in every community, including those where there are a large number of Muslims. That engagement is based on the provisions of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” That’s right, the C of E’s engagement with missions is based on the ECHR, not the Bible or the Tradition of the Church.

At Least They Admit It

The BBC admits that they treat Islam different than Christianity. The Director General of Britain’s public broacaster says that it is because they are a religious minority. What he means is that it is because if you were to make jokes about imams like the Beeb makes jokes about vicars, every one of the corporations executives and public figures would have to live in fear of their lives.

Can you imagine what would happen if they allowed a production about Muhammad like the live broadcast on BBC2 of Jerry Springer – the Opera, in which Jesus is part of a dysfunctional family, dresses as a baby and poos himself? The BBC Television Centre would be levelled.  The 2001 IRA bombing of the building would look completely amateur in comparison. This eggshell approach just another example of how terrorism is effective.

Mark Thompson has said that programmes criticising Islam would be broadcast if they of a good enough quality. It’s a shame the same standard doesn’t apply to Christianity.

Fecal Atheism

While much ado is made about Christian fundamentalist in the comboxes of this blog, it must be said that not all atheists are gentle, peace-loving folk.

I came across this article tonight. It seems Timothy Brown wasn’t willing to let his persuasive intellect suffice in his bid to convert Helen Watson to unbelief.

Yes, there are some crazy Christians out there. Mr Brown is in a whole other league.