The battle over a proposed sale of American evangelism’s ‘Missions Pentagon’ raises questions of missionary strategy and nonprofit accountability. What responsibility do ministries have to their founder’s vision—and to those who sacrificed to fund it?
The United States is not the new Israel, but the Charlottesville tragedy should remind us of one way Biblical and American history follow a similar pattern.
The Bible tells us of God creating Adam, and Eve out of Adam, thus choosing one first couple. Later, God chooses one family, Noah’s. Later, God chooses one people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Later, as Exodus 12 notes, a “mixed multitude” joins them, as does the Canaanite Rahab (Joshua 6) and the Moabite Ruth. In the New Testament, God chooses people from many nations, ethnicities, and He continues doing so today.
Native Americans and Hispanics lived within the current borders of the United States before white people from one nation, Britain, and one religion, nominal Anglicanism, settled Jamestown in 1607. It’s hot this August and it was hot in August 1619, when people from Africa arrived in Virginia as slaves. It was cold in December 1620, when dissenters from Anglicanism settled at Plymouth, Mass.
Soon, within God’s sovereignty, people from Holland, Germany, and other European countries arrived. Soon, within God’s sovereignty, people of other religions, including Catholics and Jews, arrived. In the 19th century, within God’s sovereignty, people from China and other Asian countries arrived, bringing with them Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions.
The New Testament declares that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek. The U.S. Constitution declares that in America before federal law there is neither Christian nor non-Christian. The first three words are “We, the People,” not “We, the [fill in the blank].” The 15th Amendment makes it clear that regarding the right to vote there is neither black nor white. By extension, colorblindness is the American way, although many politicians disregarded that amendment for nearly a century, and many churches were complicit in that denial.
Just as some churches did not follow Biblical principles regarding race, so the failure to follow constitutional principles is a sad part of American history.
The New Testament declares that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek. The U.S. Constitution declares that in America before federal law there is neither Christian nor non-Christian.
My favorite name for a think tank is the Center of the American Experiment, based in Minneapolis. The experiment, it seems to me, is whether our classic motto, “e pluribus unum,” can work. In almost every place at almost every time people have thought e pluribus impossible. A country had to be of one religion and one ethnic group. But the United States has regularly extended the “We.”
The big 19th-century experiment was whether the “We” could include different religions. The United States was almost entirely Protestant until millions of Catholic immigrants arrived from Ireland, Italy, Poland, and other countries. Later in the century, millions of Jews arrived from Eastern Europe. Some ugly nativist groups sprung up, but by the end of the century the consensus was clear: “We” could include Catholics and Jews, and soon a smattering of Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims as well.
The big 20th-century experiment was whether the “We” could include different racial and ethnic groups. The Civil War hadn’t settled that, since African-Americans largely moved from slavery to sharecropping, which did not leave many much better off. The civil rights movement brought great victories in the 1950s and 1960s, with some churches standing up for Biblical and American principles and some in opposition.
By the end of the 20th century, although big problems remained, the consensus was clear: “We, the People,” includes African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and others. The battle of the 21st century is whether unborn children and other powerless humans are part of “We.” We should be emphasizing their needs, but the white nationalist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va.—and ensuing violence—have sidetracked that. Some, even some who call themselves Christians, want to shrink the Bible and the Constitution by mandating racial and ethnic preferences—but their god and their constitution are too small.
The president of the United States is not just an executive. He’s also a presider over and protector of the American experiment. He should advocate constitutional understandings and vigorously call out racists, particularly those who use violence to frighten opponents. Pastors are protectors of the sheep God has given them. They should proclaim Biblical understandings and vigorously criticize racism. And, realizing that we are like sheep, the rest of us should not be content with bleating. We should pray for Biblical peace and justice, and help by welcoming other children of God into our families and churches.