It’s been an interesting season in America. Our country is changing rapidly. Not all the changes are positive, but not all the changes are bad, either.
For generations, one could argue that Christian faith and American culture married up pretty well. They at least tracked along the same path in minimal discord, with a warm hand-hold of shared history and understanding between them. One could also argue that the two should never have been that cozy with one another, and their coziness made more of a statement about the syncretization of Christianity into a majority cultural system and way of thinking than it did about America ever truly being a “Christian nation.” I would agree.
Whatever it is, this feels like a nasty breakup. A bad divorce. American culture is shifting decidedly away from historic “American Christianity” and “American Christianity” doesn’t want a divorce. It wants a flag, apple pies, fireworks, and the Bible…all in one harmonious relationship. But this was bound to happen, wasn’t it? For Christianity (not it’s Americanized version) has always stood outside nationalistic culture in order to represent a new – a heavenly – kingdom. Certainly, nations can enact laws based on Biblical values and I would argue that followers of Jesus should be better citizens and neighbors as a direct result of their Christian faith. But Americanism and Christianity are and must remain distinctly different, for they are not of the same substance. A lot of us thought they could be, but we’ve been served divorce papers. If you are grieving this divorce, that is ok. Lift your head, friend. God is, I believe, drawing you to a depth of rootedness in Him that is far, far better than any idealized national identity. Love your country – I love it too – but love God first and re-root your citizenry in a future “city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). This sad season for you might be a helpful disentanglement, a time of repentance, a necessary grief, and the start of a fresher faith. Let it be.
Open Season on Anything Evangelical?
But I have a strong word of warning to my brothers and sisters who have seized upon this unique season to continually uproot anything and everything related to Christianity in America and evangelicalism: consider the Parable of the Wheat and Tares (look-alike weeds) from Matthew 13:
24 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ”
In love, I have to call this out: some of you have made it your single mission to pull out the tares. The constant, relentless, wide-swathe, recurring attacks on the American Church and American Christians is destructive. Look, I’m with you in the desire to get back to the very root of our faith in Christ and to see the church repent of her entanglements with American nationalism. We do not disagree on this. But at some point, we have to get back to our priority of growing good wheat.
There will always be tares in the midst of God’s people – not just in America, but wherever the church is found in the world. But clearly, clearly, Jesus’ priority is to grow the healthiest wheat in a field that also includes…weeds. Of course, Jesus called out the religious elite and spoke out against the nationalistic-tinged messaging that had corrupted His Good News. But the majority of His time and energy was spent investing in His followers – making them the best, healthiest, rooted wheat stalks they could be. He prayed for them, asking the Father to keep them, knowing full well He was planting them in worldly soil where there would be fakes, enemies, look-alikes, and co-opters of all sorts (see John 17:14-16).
Brothers and sisters, can we get back to growing good wheat?
In our religious fervor to purge evangelicalism from it’s poisoned partnership with nationalism, we might well be rooting up new seedlings who are getting their start in Christ. Does this mean we never speak against syncretism, white supremacy, or the political nationalism that has in some places enmeshed itself with the Western Church? Of course not! But it does mean that we use wisdom in our Words of Mass Destruction against all things American Christian. We must tenderly disciple the seedlings. We must teach a faith whose roots are in the Person of Jesus, not the Pledge of Allegiance. We must nurture church-based, not media-based discipleship. We must tend and grow strong and fruitful wheat stalks who will stand tall even in a field of weeds. Jesus did not commission us to be spiritual arsonists who’s sole goal is to burn all things evangelical to the ground. Some of us must light the way for churches who have swallowed nationalism but are awakening to their sin and their need for rootedness in Jesus. All of us must plant seeds of Good News in Jesus.
Let us not uproot all Christian faith within America to get rid of the tares. Some of these tares will not ever be fully uprooted until the time appointed by the Father and we have to believe that He is well capable of dealing with them. That is His job. If we take on as our primary role the removal of tares, though, we absolutely will disturb and damage the wheat that’s still here. It’s already happening.
If America’s Great Divorce is showing us that there are tares in the field – and I believe it is – we must turn our attention to growing good wheat. What does a follower of Jesus look like in this malaise? How does a healthy, maturing disciple live and act? What does it look like for a follower to have his feet in American soil but his citizenship in Heavenly soil? We’re seeing Exhibit A of what not to do. Let’s lead in what to do and in what should have been happening all along, but wasn’t. Let’s plant, water, and grow good wheat.
End Note: I’m not married to the term evangelical, preferring to simply call myself a follower or disciple of Jesus. The term evangelical means one who proclaims good news – it’s not a bad moniker. But in our recent American story, it has come to take on a nationalistic or supremacist-tinged Christianity. My fight is not to redeem and reclaim this word. My fight is to follow Jesus and help others follow (grow good wheat). I happen to be a person born in America, thus America is the backdrop in which I follow Jesus.