"My kingdom is not of this world."
This was Jesus' answer to Pilate, recorded in John 18:36, when asked if he was, in fact, a king.
His answer is still true, even though American Christianity has done its best to coronate the United States as our own version of Jesus' kingdom. We were told that this was all part of that original, breathtaking dream, forged in the hearts of the nation's founders.
For most of my life, I have witnessed the tension between the two kingdoms. First it was prayer in schools. Then religious symbols erected on public lands had to go. No more crosses, no more stone tablets etched with the words that define self-control, no more God, in the marketplace or in the halls of government. And American Christianity took to the streets, or rather, the courts, where the battles rage on.
I have to wonder why. The kingdom called the United States of America is a mere ghost of the founders' dream. They understood that a nation of the people, by the people and for the people would only be possible if it were inhabited by a people who were, first and foremost, self-controlled. We are anything but self-controlled. Selfish? Yes. Self-serving? Certainly. Self-aggrandizing? Every single day. Self-controlled? Not so much.
In fact, our morals descend into ever-deepening darkness with every generation.
Why then, are American Christians so caught up in this battle for God? Why do we wave the red, white and blue in one hand, while holding our "loose-leaf" editions of the Holy Bible in the other?
Israel's desire for a king provides a clue. Brought out of captivity, desert wanderings far behind them, the time came when the nation of Israel said to Samuel, "Give us a king." Even though they had been led, fed and guarded by the hand of God since he first called out to Abram to leave Ur and travel to the land of Canann, Israel longed to be "like other nations."
John Winthrop's vision of "A City on a Hill" described in his own words in 1630, also provides a clue. His heart was certainly in the right place. He sought to convince the people with him that if they followed the teachings of Micah 6;8, "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" then the hand of Providence would guide, guard and direct their path.
When World War II ended, America entered the Cold War and the "godless Russians" were declared to be our mortal enemies. In the ensuing years, we added God to our Pledge of Allegiance and inscribed "In God we Trust" on our currencies and as clearly as we painted the Soviets "godless" we became "God-fearing." American Christianity took the government at their word and the tensions between the two kingdoms increased.
Some, who live under the kingship of Christ, are just beginning to recognize the disconnect. At least, I am. Contrary to popular opinion, God has not abandoned America. She was never his country anymore than Babylon was, or Egypt, Canaan, or any other nation you can name, ancient or contemporary. Daniel allows that God sets up kings and deposes them in Daniel 2:21, but that doesn't mean that those kingdoms are his as Israel was.
No, God hasn't abandoned America. American Christians have abandoned God, replacing him with the kings of this world.
In 1 Timothy 1 and 2, Paul exhorts early believers to offer "petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." And we do well to do so, and will do so Thursday, during the National Day of Prayer.
But to continue to insist that America is God's own country is an affront to our mighty and holy God. As America continues to slide into moral decay, as the tensions between the two nations increases, those who would call Jesus Christ both Savior and King continue to be called out of the world, not to become part of it.
"But when they said, 'Give us a king to lead us,' this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: 'Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.'" 1 Samuel 8:6, 7 (NIV)
I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him together.