Adherents to the right wing of American politics, including many Christians, often hear the term “American Exceptionalism”. It is, indeed, a core principle for many patriotic Americans. The theory is that our nation is unique in history. Rather than being founded on the right of a bloodline or class to rule, we are founded on the principle best summed up by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”.
From those eloquent words flows our constitution with its separation of powers and strict federalism. Because of principles that drive those eloquent words we have our Bill of Rights. Upon those principles we’ve built a nation unrivaled in the world where anyone and everyone gets a chance to succeed and live in peace as they wish. We’ve been a force for good in the world staring down genocidal mad men, evil empires, and our own demons that divide us. We’ve influenced history in more ways than any other nation in history with our advanced culture, and have maintained the highest standard of living human beings have ever dreamed possible.
As light gave way to night on June 26, 2015, the White House was bathed in rainbow colored lights to celebrate what can only be called a profanation of marriage. About the same time I finished reading Justice Roberts tepid dissent to the landmark Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges which forced same-sex “marriage” on all fifty states. Roberts has betrayed his conservative principles too often to be called anything but moderate, but nonetheless his final words ring true.
“If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”
How could this happen? How could nine judges read the same text that says not a word about marriage and conclude that our country’s highest law contains a right for men to marry men and women to marry women? Ben Franklin has our answer.
Upon leaving the last Constitutional Convention in 1787, a woman among the gathered crowd questioned Franklin “What kind of government are we to have, Doctor; a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin paused and replied “A republic, madam, if you can keep it!”. Quite simply, we have failed to keep our republic and are ruled now by the whims and wishes of accomplished men and women who hold high offices. The law no longer rules us; instead we rule the law, making it out to mean whatever we’d like it to mean.
Much is made of the uniqueness of our founding documents and the prestige of our history. But, at the end of the day, our documents are words on a page. Our history? Stories of our past. Ultimately, they have no control over what this nation is now and what it will become. They, alone, cannot make America exceptional. The Constitution may show us the path and light the way, but it is Americans who must walk it.
It appears, however, that America is not willing to walk that path. Obergefell was met with resounding applause and fawning adoration. Our culture embraced the profanation of marriage as the new norm when, less than 5 years ago, a majority of Americans publicly claimed to stand against it. Al Mohler remarked at the time that it was shocking how quickly the cultural tide had turned. I respectfully disagree with Dr. Mohler. The mood of a people who have long eschewed any foundation for moral thought is rarely anything but fickle.
The path America choose when Obergefell was decided and celebrated was not a trail in need of blazing. Rather, it was the well worn path traveled by profane and petulant nations throughout world history. It was the easy path. So while the wicked celebrated their “historic” and “landmark” victory, the apt student of history has heard this song before. And therein lies all we need to know about American Exceptionalism. This country will one day be relegated to a relic of history among other relics from which it will hardly distinguish itself.
The finest tools will always be the finest tools, but greatness is built by the the one wielding the tools, not the tools themselves. America has all the tools to be exceptional, but it is not exceptional. America has its republic, but it refuses to keep it. It prefers instead to chase carnal pleasures and to excuse wickedness as “choice” and “love”. One learns much from the propaganda of a culture, and in the wake of Obergefell we learned that our nation was bursting at the seams to normalize perversion and to pull it from the shadows of shame to prominently display it among its many idols. This culture does not merely tolerate the profanation of marriage, it celebrates it. Perhaps it even prefers it.
The church in America would do well to learn that it cannot trust in princes and mortal men (Psalm 146), even if those men wave the red white and blue. It would do well to remember that we are strangers and pilgrims here, longing for our true home (1 Peter 2:11-12). It would do well to remember that the nations of the earth are a proverbial drop in the bucket (Isaiah 40:15). But most of all, we must forever abandon the silly notion that a nation full of lovers of self instead of lovers of God meets any definition of exceptional. We must reject the hope and change from the right that somehow this nation will overcome the curse of the fall and defy history. Just as we tell ghost stories around the fire, we ought to gather around the BBQ and tell of the fable of our exceptionalism on the Fourth of July. For it is but a fairy tale, a ghost story, propaganda that we as pilgrims and aliens ought to view with much skepticism. It ought to be an urban legend, with no clear basis in reality. The exceptional nation is the bigfoot of history. All bigfoots are merely men in costume or simply another beast. So then, we must know, all nations claiming to be exceptional are merely a population pretending or really just another empire God has allowed to be dominant in the world for a period of time.
Let us not only be skeptics, but ambassadors too. For while we are pilgrims, we are not traveling to a new land, but rather our home. The righteous kingdom where our King rules in righteousness, where He will one day judge the living and the dead. Let us make many more citizens of that great Kingdom, that TRULY exceptional kingdom, and perhaps in the process save our temporary American home.