I have traveled from coast to coast in this great country, and I have seen its people do many great things. I have seen bravery and courage, love and compassion, ingenuity and brilliance. Many would say that we are the greatest nation in the world, and some might even say that we are the greatest nation in history. These claims of American superiority have given many Americans much pride over the years. “We are an exceptional nation of people,” it is said. It is certain that many in the world long to be here, to enjoy for themselves the greatness and opportunity that is said can be had by her citizens.
Still, I have to pause as we get ready to celebrate the 240th anniversary of our declaration of independence as a country. I can’t help feeling that in saying America is the greatest I am somehow forgetting, or perhaps neglecting, the reality that no country no matter how great can ever rival the glory and greatness of the Kingdom of God. I am reminded of Paul’s words in Ephesians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” While many would seek to twist this verse into something Paul clearly never meant for it to be, this is Paul calling for unity in Christ, a unity that flies in the face of the world’s thirst for power by class and division. It challenges the notion of Jews being better than Gentile, Freemen being better than Slaves, and Men being better than Women. It gives everyone equal significance in the Kingdom, in Christ.
Now let us consider how this principle matches up with the notion of American Exceptionalism. If I see myself better in some way than a Christian from China, or Austria, or Uganda, or Chile, or New Zealand, or anywhere on Earth simply because I’m American, what does that do to our fellowship, our brotherhood of believers? This sets me up against them. They may find my arrogance offensive, naive, brutish, haughty, or simply off-putting. And why shouldn’t they. By acting as though America is the greatest, I am also acting as though their country is lacking is some way. This comes across when we interact with those from other countries. I have seen it myself as I am conversing someone from another country. They seem to expect Americans to think of their country as small, insignificant, and primitive. “No, we have that too” is often the answer given to questions asked about their country. Or else one might hear, “not all of our country is like that.” It is as though they are defending the greatness of their homeland.
It isn’t only in development either. Many Christians in America seem to think we have this “Christian thing” all figured out, and other countries just need to follow our lead. But the fact is that there are numerous areas where we can learn from our Brothers and Sisters from other countries. I have enjoyed talking to some of my friends from Kenya and Uganda about hospitality and greater openness in our lives together. I have been encouraged by my friend in India, and his great faith and deep spiritual walk. I have learned about community from my Japanese friend. The truth is that when we see our nation as the greatest we tend to see our way as the right one, above and beyond all others, and we tend to discount what we might learn from them.
So, as my American friends celebrate this fourth of July, be joyful for what you have, but don’t let it become a source of pride for you, for our true source of pride, that in which we boast ought to be Christ Jesus and Him Crucified and Resurrected. Ultimately the independence that means the most is the freedom we have in Christ, which was fought and paid for on the Cross. It is in this that Christ signed the declaration of a new nation, not of geographical, or ethnic distinction, but one marked by the blood of the Lamb given on the Cross. It is in Him that we have unity, and His nation reaches across all borders. As for me, if one were to inquire of me what nation is the greatest of all time, I would not hesitate to say it is the Kingdom of God. It is my hope that we can someday see that the earthly nation of which we are a citizen is not what makes a man great, but rather a humble nature before both God and men.