I’ve been reading Scandalous Witness: A Little Political Manifesto for Christians by Lee C. Camp, after seeing the book mentioned a couple of times on Scot McKnight’s blog. It’s a challenging read and is forcing me to recognize some blind spots I have had. Other times, I find that Camp has put into words things I have felt but not taken the time to articulate thoroughly.
Rather than chapters, the book has a series of “Propositions,” which are summarized with one or two paragraphs at the start of each “chapter,” then developed and fleshed out over several pages. The fifth proposition is, “The United States is Not the Hope of the World.”
Camp recounts how various U.S. government leaders since the founding of our nation as have placed the United States in that position. Thomas Jefferson, in his inaugural address in 1801, used the words “the world’s best hope” to refer to the still-new republic. In his 1862 state of the union address, Abraham Lincoln used the phrase “the last best hope on earth” to describe our country. Following World War I, Woodrow Wilson repeatedly said that the United States would “save the world,” and in one speech said, “At last, the world knows America as the savior of the world!”
In 1900, Senator Albert Beveridge said in a speech on the senate floor, “And of all our race He has marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead in the regeneration of the world. This is the divine mission of America, and it holds for us all the profit, all the glory, all the happiness possible to man.”
More recently, President Trump, in his 2016 inaugural address, talked about “America’s destiny—that one Nation, under God, must be the hope and promise and the light and the glory among the nations of the world!” Democartic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke said in 2019, “We are truly now more than ever the last great hope of the Earth.” Democrat secretary of state Madeleine Albright once called the U.S.A. “an indispensable nation.”
An earthly nation-state has boldly claimed the mantle that belongs to the true Savior, Jesus the Christ, and which He has placed on the shoulders of His authorized agent on earth—His bride, the Church—through the anointing of His Holy Spirit.
As I was reading this part of Camp’s book, a biblical image popped into my head.
In the fourth chapter of the prophet Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon stood on his palace roof and boasted, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30, NIV). Just as God had warned the king beforehand in a dream (which Daniel had interpreted), Nebuchadnezzar was stricken with madness as a judgment from God for his hubris. He started living like a wild animal rather than as a human being. Only when the king lifted his eyes toward heaven and praised the Most High was his sanity restored (Dan. 4:34).
The early settlers gave thanks to God for bringing them to these shores and sustaining them through harsh conditions. The Puritans, Quakers (primarily in Pennsylvania), and Roman Catholics (concentrated in Maryland) had a theological foundation that recognized that everything we have is a gift from God. But by the time of our nation’s independence, ideas founded in the French Enlightenment had taken over among those who rose to positions of leadership. Those at the forefront of the country adopted the attitude that was common among many in Jesus’s day, that if a person (or nation) prospered, it was a sign that they must be doing right (and if they didn’t, it must be due to some sin or failure on their part). They drove the original inhabitants of the continent from their dwellings, stripping them not only of their ancestral lands but also their dignity as image-bearers of God. They bought and sold other human beings as if they were animals, breaking up families along the way.
But the country was prosperous, so God must have been smiling on us and our actions. If God was opposed to our actions, He wouldn’t have been blessing us, right? And all the bad that happened to the Native Americans—and the Africans who had been forcibly brought to our shores—must have been because they were suffering the consequences of their heathen ancestors’ actions. After all, America was “the last best hope on earth,” and they should all just be thankful to be here.
And now, just like Nebuchadnezzar, America is acting like a wild animal. People demanding their rights have marched in the streets brandishing firearms. Others who have suffered pain are crying out to have their stories heard, only to have instigators (on the right and left) turn peaceful protests into violent riots. Violence begets more violence as individuals and groups attempt to justify their own retaliatory actions. Like brute beasts, we just make a bunch of noise, screaming at one another, trying to make our own voices heard over all the rest in order to prove who’s strongest. Rather than listening, analyzing, empathizing, and reasoning as God enabled us to do in the beginning when He made us in His image, we seek for any detail that will discredit the “other side” and provide us with an excuse to dismiss everything they say.
Rather than assume our own rightness and brag about our country’s greatness, we need to confess our collective guilt. Even those of us who have not participated directly in oppression have often benefitted, whether directly or indirectly, from past injustices. Nehemiah was a righteous man, yet when he heard of the terrible state of affairs back in Jerusalem, he prayed a prayer of confession that included himself and his father’s family (Neh. 1:6).
We must lay aside pride (which leads to downfall), lift our eyes to heaven, and worship the Most High, confessing our dependence on Him.
We must recognize there is only one Savior of the world, and it is not a nation-state. It is the only Son of God, who didn’t demand His rights, but instead made himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant.
We must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him.
We must no longer serve ourselves and our own interests, preferences, and desires, but serve Christ by serving one another (Phil. 2:3–4).
May it start with me.