Readings off the Map

In researching for my upcoming paper, I’m reading through a lot of scholarly work on the periphery of theological scholarship. Most folks who check this blog out will probably be pretty unfamiliar with much of this work. I know some of you will have difficulty stomaching some of it, but I think there is great reward in exposure to things we have difficulty understanding and that offends. Stemming from a pacifist perspective, consider the following excerpt from Walter Wink’s book, Unmasking the Powers. (By the way, this book is written with the Cold War as a backdrop, and it has been interesting for me to see the many parallels with today’s works reflecting on the war on terror.)

“This is why the American abolitionist and founder of the Oneida Community, John Humphrey Noyes, could write to William Lloyd Garrison,
‘When I wish to form a conception of the government of the United States (using a personified representation), I picture to myself a bloated, swaggering libertine, trampling on the Bible – its own Constitution – its treaties to the Indians – the petitions of its citizens, with one hand whipping a negro tied to a liberty pole, and with the other dashing an emaciated Indian to the ground . . . The question urges itself upon me – “What Have I, as a Christian, to do with such a villain?”
‘My hope of the millennium begins where Dr. Beecher’s expires – namely, AT THE OVERTHROW OF THIS NATION.’
I have quoted such an extreme view because it helps place in relief the most radical challenge of Revelation 18: its celebration of the fall of the richest and most powerful empire of the time. Are we then to entertain the terrible possibility that the salvation of humanity depends somehow on the decline, destruction or transformation of the United States as a sign of God’s sovereignty over the nations? Rome, yes, but – America? Never! The very suggestion of such a thing will strike many Americans as subervsive. And that reaction itself is an index of our idolatry. A godly people would react ot the treat of God’s judgment with fear, awe, consternation. They would know that no person and no nation is righteous before God. They would say, with Jefferson, ‘I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just.’ But Americans do not, on the whole, think that way. To the degree that they are religious at all, they actually believe that God is pleased, beholden to, partial to, and identified with our land.
This is not to deny that, in many ways, our nation may be a more desirable place to live than some other countries. Nor do I wish to ignore the many positive contributions it has made to human society. My point is simply that these contributions in no way mitigate the objective state of idolatry that has been the price we have paid for nationhood.”

Many of us who speak against the perils of our country take great offense and quickly dismiss us as “haters” or the like. I think the merit in Wink’s point here is that it must be possible for the Christian to live critically in the world she is a part embracing the good, but prophetically rebuking the evil.


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