This past month we celebrated both Canada Day on July 1st, and Independence Day on July 4th. This inspired some thoughts about getting some Canadian perspectives on “American Patriotic Christianity”. As I am the lone Canadian writer at Internet Monk, I gathered up seven of my Canadian, primarily “unchurched” friends, to get their perspective on the topic. A couple of friends, for personal reasons, asked not to be identified, so I have chosen to refer to all by their initials.
Many of you will find the discussion below stereotypical and offensive. Others may find it enlightening. I would ask that you persevere to the end. After interacting with some of their ideas, I will conclude with some thoughts about the Canadian Church, and how it is impacted by American Christianity.
To get a completely different perspective, from someone who has spent decades interacting with both Canadian and American Christians, I would suggest you read this article.
Now, take a moment, sit in on our discussion, and let us know what you think.
Michael Bell: Thank you everyone for being willing to contribute to this discussion. My first question is thisâ€”What do you think of Americans in general?
J.L.: I have traveled widely and frequently in the USA. I find Americans to be extremely friendly, welcoming and helpful. This reflects a quietly confident and respectful spirituality that I believe characterizes America far more than the outspoken and extreme views often quoted in the media.
S.F.: It is a nation with such potential to lead the world with intelligence, foresight and understanding.
Michael Bell: I have many American friends who I hold in very high regard.
Michael Bell: I would now like us to look at the intersection of faith and politics. Politically, if Canadians were to vote in the United States, we would be overwhelmingly Democrat. Canadian opposition parties try really hard to portray the governing Conservative party as closest to American Republicans, but truth be told, Obama has enjoyed an approval rating in Canada that has never dropped below 74 percent. This means that Canadians of all political stripes identify most closely with the American Democrats. If you were to look at policies, issue by issue, you would find that in some issues Canadians are to the left of the Democrats, and on some they are to the right. Politicians in Canada tend to move towards the center of the political spectrum which means that Evangelicals are found in significant numbers in all the political parties. In the U.S. you see Evangelical Christians most closely aligned to the Republican Party. Why do you think this is?
T.S.: There are good, honest, well intentioned Christian people in the U.S. who I believe are being sucked into bad political policies under the guise they are losing their Christian vote and freedoms. It is so sad to witness these events. Adding to the volume of rhetoric is the Republican voice that Obama is not a Patriotâ€”there is even a segment who still does not believe Obama was born an American citizen (The “Birthers”). The GOP is all about fear and obstruction. Those who might fall into the “American Patriotic Christianity” are getting sucked in and don’t see the world outside their own backyard.
J.L.: The fact that patriotism is tied to a specific religious belief system is downright frightening; it implies that anyone who does not “fit” is unfit to be an American. If I understand Christ’s message at all, I believe that He would be frustrated by the exclusionary tone of the American Patriotic Christian movement. Christ taught that all are loved and add value to humanity and that defining one self by pointing out what others are not is hypocritical.
A.S.: Ah yes, this is God’s country, the land of free speech, and the land of freedom of religion. Bring us your tired, your weak, your hungry, and so long as (it’s in the fine print) they conform to the Christian part of our country’s founding fathers’ Judeo-Christian values, they will be welcomed with open arms.
Michael Bell: What other issues do you see with Patriotic American Christianity?
A.S.: If it is not too much to ask our president to say his daily prayers, and thank God for blessing America each day for His and it’s existence, is it not too much to have our children recite the Lord’s Prayer each day in our public schools? We would not have gun violence, gangs, sex, unwanted pregnancies and sin in our schools if our children recited the Lord’s Prayer each day because they would learn it, listen to it, and live it.
Michael Bell: Little bit of sarcasm there A.S.?
A.S.: Maybe just a little!
S.F.: God bless us all should they fall prey to the cancerous rantings of backward fundamentalism and ignorant nationalism. To me, American Patriotic Christianity looks, sounds and acts a lot like Sarah Palinâ€”and that should scare the hell out of anyone who wants the world to move forward.
P.B.: The prosperity gospel mentality is another dark side of American Patriotic Christianity. It’s a beautiful country with some really great people, so it’s really easy to sow in a little patriotism and make the average Sunday school kid grow up believing that heaven will look something like the rolling hills of Kentucky on a perfect sunny day, except with more mansions.
A.S.: P.B. is half rightâ€”Heaven IS the rolling hills of Kentucky on a perfect sunny day, or Indiana, with more mansions, flowers, and everyone is carrying their firearm in plain view, a Bible in one hand, a gun in the other, gleefully singing “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful,” like at the start of a NASCAR race, waiting to fight off Satan’s hordes when they attempt to plant their truck-bomb at the pearly gates and invade. Diligence, perseverance and duty are part of patriotism. Who but God’s chosen American people will fight to protect Heaven from the outsiders?
C.S.: The Patriotic Christian American sees the U.S. position in the world as part of GodÃs plan, thus a position of global dominance is natural and should be defended.
Michael Bell: Your use of the word “natural” reminded me of something that I had read recently, that Americans have “natural God given rights”. How do you respond to that C.S.?
C.S.: The American Christian feels that he’s entitled by divine right to whatever he’s accumulated and, thus, resists any and all government initiatives that may cost him a few bucks.
Michael Bell: I guess that ties back into P.B.’s concern about the “Prosperity Gospel.”
T.S.: Tell me how it is a Christian organization is not in favour of health care for those who cannot afford it? I think it happens because they keep drinking the Kool-Aid of disinformation from the GOP.
Michael Bell: Do you have any fears of this brand of Christianity being exported? You have been awfully quiet there R.C., anything to say on this matter?
R.C.: I was thinking of some of the manipulative things that have gone on between some strong-handed Christian leaders and some smaller African country’s governments, for example their influence to make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. (Ed. Note: You can read AmericansÃ Role Seen in Uganda Anti-Gay Push for more information about R.C.Ãs concern.)
A.S.: Once others think and believe as we do, that God is good, that God is great, that God is right, that God is American, they will have no reason to attack us anymore.
Michael Bell: Enough with the sarcasm already! So I take it that you think that Americans believe that if they could just export their politics and religion that everything would be right in the world?
Michael Bell: I would be interested in getting some our reader’s thoughts on that one!
Michael Bell: Thanks to everyone for participating, your comments have certainly been enlightening. I would love to see you interact with some of our readers as well.
So how does this impact the Canadian Church?
Canadians and Americans are in many ways joined at the hip. Over half a trillion dollars in trade crosses the border between our two countries each year. Eighty percent of Canadian exports are consumed by Americans. When America sneezes, the world catches a cold, and Canada goes into cardiac arrest. (This most recent recession being the exception!)
Our airwaves are bombarded by American signals. American programming fills our T.V. sets. American music saturates our radios. It is not surprising that the Christian voice that is heard loudest and most often is the American Christian voice.
The voice that we hear is not the moderate Christian voice, it is the bombastic, outrageous, extreme voice. The voice that tells us that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment, or that the earthquake in Haiti was because of a pact with the Devil.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that there are many moderate American Christians. I read their comments on Internet Monk all the time. Their voice is starting to get stronger with advocates like Tony Campolo, Rick Warren, and Willow Creek. So maybe the Canadian view will change over time. Right now, however, I believe that the Canadian response to Patriotic American Christianity is one of the reasons why Canadian expressions of Christianity has become withdrawn and quiet. We end up having to spend a lot of time and energy to show that “We are not like that.”
That is problematic for me as I already find it difficult to be a Christian up here. For a while in my home city Christian clubs were banned in the schools. At work (a previous employer) a request to play a Christmas Gift Exchange game as part of the “Holiday Festivities” was turned down because some might find it offensive. Christmas decorations were welcomed, but there had to be symbols of other other faiths represented as well. We experience similar situations in our public schools in the area where I live.
On the positive side, perhaps because I have somewhat of an outgoing personality, I have had no problems letting others know that I am a Christian, and that it is not something that I keep siloed and just practice on Sundays. My wife has been invited into the public school to tell the Christmas story. At my current place of employment, while few would share my Evangelical perspective, many have been open to conversations about faith, and several will be reading this post.
So while I get frustrated at times when workmates ask me about Joel Osteen or Benny Hinn, or Evangelical support for the Republican Party, I believe they have a pretty clear sense that Canadian Christianity is different.
I believe that Canadians having such a negative view of American Christianity impacts their receptivity to the good news of Jesus Christ, and as such becomes a hindrance to the gospel.
My questions for our readers is this: Do you agree? If so, what can more moderate American Christians do to rectify this? Does moderate American Christianity collectively have a responsibility to change what it does, or change what and how it communicates?
I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on this topic.