Manifest Destiny Gone Bad

Adam and Eve’s sin was an attempted coup to seize power, authority, and omniscience – to become like God according to their own agendas rather than according to God’s own plan for them to be like Him. While Anglicans today often focus on sex and gender issues, the foundational worry should be about the rebellion against God’s authority. The attempted coup continues, despite the most appalling consequences.

This has many aspects, but now is election season and, thus “the left hand of God,” the political realm, comes foremost to mind as the impending national debacle draws near. Bishop FitzSimons Allison (speaking to the 2016 Forward in Faith Assembly) put it this way: “God is saying ‘You want democracy without me? Then help yourself.’ We have helped ourselves by being given a choice for the President of the United States of America between two of the most distrusted candidates in the history of our country.”

A look at that history may be instructive. Because people believed in the dualistic division of the world into the sacred and the secular, the role allotted to Christian leadership was narrow as the new Republic evolved. In return for tax exempt status, religion was expected to stay out of the way, except for a niche assigned, informally but effectively, in regard to specific issues of personal morality. Managing the planet in any other way was not seen as a Christian concern.

Prayer was allowed in public institutions as long as it was sufficiently vague. Clergy could cheerlead the progress of the Republic but not re-redirect it significantly. God was, however, frequently called on to bless America.

Opposition to drinking and gambling was allowed as an acceptable arena for the Church to influence. The ultimate supposedly “Christian” political triumph nationally was Prohibition. While some spoke on a wider range of issues, such as abolition or social benefits, they were always a minority and generally were people who saw Jesus as a moral teacher rather than a Divine Savior.

The concentration on drinking and gambling has faded in the past half-century, to be replaced by the “Pro-Life” movement as the allotted niche for Christians in the public square. Politically, the movement has been successfully used by Republican strategists to wean blue collar Roman Catholics and southern fundamentalists from their traditional Democratic loyalties. It continues to be the defining political issue for many Christians.

As is well known, there is a Federal constitutional separation between church and state, which has evolved from its original intention of opposing a national established church to the contemporary practice of removing all references to religion from public institutions and discussion. This harmonizes with the view separating life into “secular” and “sacred” spheres (the latter restricted to church activities only).

With this dualistic view of “sacred” and “secular”, the concept of “dominion” thus meant “to conquer the earth by subduing it rather than nourishing it” (to “win the West,” for example). Avarice and conquest were rarely considered to be sinful, especially as wealthy donors (who had made their fortunes from avarice and conquest) became important for churches cut off from public funding. The churches were not considered relevant to the stewardship of earthly life. Their role was relegated to certain issues of personal morality.

As the mostly Deist founders of the Republic faded from the scene, they were gradually replaced by movements to save individual souls. Large revivals swept the land to capture souls for immortality. “Pie in the sky bye and bye” their opponents called it, and accused the revivalists of serving the capitalist bosses by pacifying the populace with promises of a better hereafter if they were docile in this “vale of tears.”

Alas, God’s beautiful planet suffered grievously from the wounds inflicted by both the otherworldly who saw it as a prison to be endured until their souls went to heaven and the godless who saw it only as an object to be exploited until exhausted. Humans, responsible for the care of the earth neither defended nor protected it. The West was “won,” its people stripped of their language, culture, resources and human dignity, its other creatures, like the life-giving buffalo, hunted to virtual extinction, the forests decimated. A great abundance of God-given natural riches fueled an industrial expansion which made some wealthy, but oppressed others and contaminated the earth, water and air. New waves of immigrants were exploited and despised in new ways.

This is a much too brief and generalized summary of a greatly complex history, but we are modern man, with short attention span and many things to do. So it will have to suffice, although I hope it drives you to delve further. In any case, the present day has been formed by our history. Yet each new generation still receives the same mandate to steward the earth, and not least, the people of it.

As Psalm 24 notes, “The earth is the Lord’s.” Genesis tells us God owns it and sees it as a good creation. We fail God as stewards if we abdicate our prophetic role to call for the management of earthly life based on the authority of God and instead accept a limited place on the edge of the public discourse. “What would Jesus do” is the foundational moral question about all issues. But in the upcoming Presidential election, given the two choices, there is no possibility of electing someone who reflects our understanding of what is needed.

It is right here that history and today’s reality meet. Christians fail the Lord if we are content to lobby for one “churchy” issue when the basic issue is the life of the world.

More on that next week.