Thursday, May 22, 2008


During the course of our 90 minute Bible study at the jail last Tuesday, one of the participants began repeating the oft-heard fundamentalist litany that America's founding fathers were Christians and this once great Christian nation has veered into wickedness and will be punished like Israel of old. "One the other hand", I said, "those founding fathers also owned slaves. Maybe they, like all of us, were a mix of good and bad; capable of great goodness and great evil."

At that point we let it drop and moved on with our discussion and study, but the exchange came back to me tonight while watching, of all things, National Treasure: Book of Secrets. It's a dumb movie, but entertaining. The climax of the film takes places at Mt. Rushmore, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. For some reason it suddenly struck me that, in a certain sense, the monument at Mount Rushmore is very ugly. In fact, I realized, it's an abomination. Oh, it's not an abomination if you're white and Christian. But if you are a native Lakota it must be.

Think about it: The Black Hills were sacred land to the Lakotas. And right in the middle of their sacred land, on the side of a sacred mountain, we carved out a massive image of their conquerors. It's like graffiti for the ages.

Sure enough, a quick Google turned up a fascinating article in the Smithsonian Magazine about Native American attitudes towards Mt. Rushmore. One Lakota put it this way: “We all hate Mount Rushmore. It’s a sacred mountain that has been desecrated. It’s like a slap in the face to us—salt in the wounds—as if a statue of Adolf Hitler was put up in the middle of Jerusalem.”


America is a great nation. But we also have a dark history. Why is it that Evangelical Christians, in particular, don't want to see that or teach their children about it? To question the "Godliness" of America messes with the "myth of a Christian nation" (as Gregory Boyd calls it).

I saw a news story recently about a Baptist pastor who began receiving death threats after he removed the American flag from his church's sanctuary. The pastor felt that the focus during church should be on the cross of Christ, rather than on a national symbol. Many members of his church were upset by the removal of the flag; some to the point of threatening to kill him.

The great sin of many of the Jews in the Old and New Testaments was ethnic pride. They saw themselves as God's chosen people; blessed by God simply by being descended from Abraham. Many could not handle Jesus' and the Apostle's inclusion of Gentiles into the family of God. It strikes me as ironic that so many American Evangelicals make the same mistake. To see oneself or one's race or one's nation as especially favored by God is, essentially, to worship oneself/one's race/one's nation alongside God. It is idolatry.

And that is an abomination.


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