“American Exceptionalism” is a term that has resurfaced in recent times. This phrase has echoes in the American Revolution, Alex de Tocqueville and Abraham Lincoln. It reflects the unique origins and principles upon which the United States was established and its role in the world.
If ever that phrase was under challenge it is now. When a nation of over 300 million people has placed before it two very unexceptional people as a choice for president any claim to exceptionalism comes under intense scrutiny. It could be argued that the two candidates, in fact, represent two aspects of American society that reveal the baser instincts of humanity – the power hungry political machine and the excesses of capitalism.
No matter who wins on Tuesday, the USA is going to struggle to assemble some social and political equilibrium in the future. This comes on top of its unwillingness as a society to deal with issues of guns, race and social inequality.
To prove to itself and the world that the title of being exceptional is justified, the nation needs to show that it has the willingness and moral fortitude to confront these issues. The next few decades will reveal which aspect of the American character will come to the fore.
I have been watching the American election process with a fascinated horror. It is like observing a slow motion train wreck and being helpless to do anything about it. For me, it is scary to think that the “winner” will wield amazing power within and outside the US.
Yet the most appalling part of this debacle is watching the behaviour of many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Their writhing and slithering around the candidates with obfuscation and weasel words is sickening to witness.
Let’s get a few things straight. Every political candidate is going to be flawed. We won’t get the perfect candidate until we are in heaven – and then we won’t need them anyway. Less flippantly however, it is the hope that fellow Christians put into the political process, as though this process is going to be a means of “salvation”, which is alarming.
Christ was neither for the Jewish leaders nor the Romans. His allegiance was to the Father. I think we can learn a lot from that. Our allegiance should not be primarily for one party or the other but to the Father and His purposes. Our task is to put forward an image of an entirely different Kingdom – not a kingdom where we need to create a hierarchy of crucial issues and choose abortion over gun control, or tax over social justice as issues, but rather where we give the world in which we live a picture of what life can be like under King Jesus. We can begin by showing that in our families, in the way we treat the weak and the vulnerable … and the list is endless. The problem has been that we have seduced by our culture. That seduction is in large part the the reason why there is teeth gnashing amongst many Christians today. We have come to realise, rather late, how far the temptation has led us astray
For too long we have made the mistake of assuming that democracy is somehow “Christian”. Like Churchill I believe it is the worst of all forms of government except for all the rest. Now that Western societies have largely foregone their Christian values of the past (which, by the way, enabled democracy to work) we can no longer assume that the majority will get things right. For Christians there is a growing clash of values. We need to rethink our place and purpose in modern post-Christian democracies. I am not saying, don’t be involved – we need to be. But it isn’t the source of our hope.
I believe we are seeing the discomfort and angst of that transition in the current US election. But that uncomfortableness is true for any political arena in Western democracies today. In the US today that change is so glaringly in the spotlight.
Our task is to think about what allegiance to the Father means and how we can be counter cultural in a genuine way in this changing world.