The following article was written by Ken Locke, Pastor of Downtown Presbyterian Church and appeared in the Tennessean, July 4th 2009. Before the article disappears from the Tennessean website, I wanted to copy it here, so that as many people as possible can read it.
Optimism doesn’t make U.S. a Christian nation
Ours is an optimistic nation. From our very beginning we have been optimistic, and our history suggests that this optimism is well placed.
We believed we could win our independence from the mightiest nation of our day. We did. We believed we could tame the Western frontier. We did. We believed we could win two world wars. We did. We believed we could send a man to the moon. We did.
Even when our national political rhetoric is based on fear, as it has been for much of the last decade, our optimism shines through. We believe we can defeat the terrorists. We believe we can climb out of this recession and be stronger.
Perhaps that is one reason why Christianity is so much a part of our national character and remains a key part of our national identity. Like America, Christianity is optimistic. When your faith is built on belief in God raising a man from the dead it is hard to stay pessimistic very long.
Christian optimism, like our nation’s, has a good track record. Jesus believed God would raise him from the dead. The disciples didn’t understand and even deserted him, but Jesus was raised from the dead.
Paul believed he could bring the gospel to the pagans. He was shipwrecked, jailed and eventually killed, but his missionary efforts paved the way for greater things. The early church was ferociously persecuted, but it believed God was with it. Persecutions fell away and Christianity was accepted. The missionaries of the 19th century believed they could bring the gospel to the world and translate the Bible into every known language. They did, and are still doing it today.
But America, as wonderful as it is and as great a role model as it is for the rest of the world, is not just optimistic. Ours is a nation that adores hard work and getting ahead. We celebrate the pushers and strivers building huge companies and amassing fortunes. And if someone gets hurt along the way, either physically or fiscally, that is sad and bad, but we would really rather praise the hero than weep for the one left behind.
Our nation has long been less than aggressive about the huge inequalities of education and housing and wealth that mark our society. We are an optimistic nation, but those who can’t keep up are soon left behind.
Christianity, on the other hand, is not only concerned with those who do well and live well. It does not only celebrate those who succeed against all odds. Christianity is very much concerned with those who struggle to make a living and fail time after time after time.
Christianity has a special place for those who are never going to get enough education to get a job paying more than minimum wage or providing decent health care. Christianity cares about the dignity of those who are rotting in jail because they had three strikes and were declared “out” for life. Christianity advocates for the well-being of those who cannot help themselves, and celebrates those who make it a point to sacrificially help those who cannot help themselves.
As we celebrate our independence we will, and should, thank God for the many blessings we have enjoyed. We should especially thank God for the blessing of optimism, which has seen us through so many dangerous times.
But shared optimism does not make us Christian. When recycling and caring for the environment become a sacred act rather than a legislated necessity, when my neighbor’s health insurance is not his employer’s problem but my problem, when illegal immigrants are treated with the same compassion the Samaritan had, when we care just as much for the left-behind as for those who get ahead, then and only then can we even think about calling ourselves a Christian nation.
I am proud of my country and proud of my faith. And I pray that one day they will have more than optimism in common. I pray that they will share a commitment to caring just as much for least as for the best.