At Personal musings I wrote a sober (perhaps depressing) account of our situation as citizens of the U.S.A, as a country and nation that is racist, has committed genocide and war crimes as it has attempted to bring its ideal of democracy and freedom across a contentment and as a beacon of democracy to the world. I contended there, that any good such a nation produces is always already mixed with its evil. The Nation State and its citizenry are stuck in this impossible bind even as that people might seek to disentangle and only live into its good ideal, but the ideal is suspect.
For the U.S. this has a theological and ecclesiological dimension. I will suggest here (and this post isn’t the place to flesh this out fully, rather this is a sketch that maybe some would like to help flesh out), that part of what we are seeing still working itself out in our streets, in our policing and criminal justice system and our politics, is a working out of an heretical misapplication of the qualities and the purpose of the Body of Christ to a nation state.
Theologically what I described, in the other post, could be summed up by the theological concept of original sin. Human failure and evil have powerful and continuing effect upon generation after generation of the original act. Human good of its own can’t cancel out or redeem human evil and failure. At best, from the perspective of mere human action, what we can hope for is a mixture that might be accented upon human goodness. But any human goodness is always already tainted by human failure and human evil. The solution is in two parts: one is repentance, a change of heart and mind and which is opening up to the second part of the solution is that which God ultimately did in Jesus of Nazareth, as the crucified one.
However, for white Christians in the United States this theological account runs aground as a way forward. The reason for this is ecclesiology, or an ecclesiological heresy. This too is twofold: There is the identification of the United States, America, with images and role of the Church, the People of God, Israel, the Body of Christ. The U.S. as America is a “City set upon a hill” to be a light to the nations. At the same time Whites, those of European descent, think of themselves as Whites as the People of God entrusted to bring the truth, civilization and salvation to people of color. These two misappropriations of ecclesial distinctive to a nation and a race create the divisions and racial segregation we continue to see in American Christian Religion.
Part of the mythology of the United States is the heretical appropriation of the purposes and reality of the Body of Christ to a particular Race , Whites, and a particular Nation State, the U.S.A, under the name “America”. The mythological greatness of the United States and its role in the world is founded upon this appropriation of the role of the Church the Body of Christ by this Nation State.
While one dimension of this was something Europeans had already begun as Race and Whiteness were invented. However, White American Christians took it further and identified it with the state formed out of the rebellion from the British Empire, “America”.
One can argue that White Christians then bear a particular burden for what we see today in our streets and justice system.
The hopeful response to all of this, the bad theology, the misapplication of some special role for the United States as America in bringing democracy and enlightenment to the world, is the repentance of White American Christians, which should include the renunciation of the mythology of “America”
This repentance and renunciation of this heresy of American exceptionalism, of bringing the light of freedom and democracy to the world, a light to the nations, can lead to further repentance both in regards to slavery but also in regards to the genocide of Native Americans. White Christians need to stop appealing to the American mythology, recant any claim to exceptionalism for the United States, and seek to first be identified not as Christians but as members of the Church the Body of Christ. Such a repentance and renunciation and subsequent affirmation would be one source hope in our time.