Some of us are reading the prophet Hosea as we say the office of morning prayer. Writing near the end of the northern kingdom of Israel before its obliteration by the Assyrians, he compared Israel to an unfaithful wife who had violated God’s trust. The natural consequences of their behavior would doom their existence as a nation, yet God’s love for the people would persevere with the promise of new life for them.
How might Hosea’s words inform our own time and nation? We’ve enjoyed a century of relatively stable good times. Rich, powerful, free, the leader of Western nations, respected by allies, feared by foes, who would dare to get in our way? With pride of country leading the way, significant elements of the Christian Church have adopted a patriotic theology conflating Christianity with American nationalism subsuming Christ under the Stars and Stripes. Patriotic Christian nationalism is, to my mind, an apostasy akin to the golden calves and assorted baalim woven into ancient Israel’s worship of the Lord. Yet those who adhere to it are adamant about it as the true Christianity to which the nation must cling if it is to retain it’s place in the world’s hierarchy. It comes up frequently on Facebook in the form of memes pleading for the return of prayer in schools, displays of the Ten Commandments on public property, photos of flag and cross, etc. Preachers such as Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. proclaim it to cheering crowds, as did the priests of Israel before approving kings and blinded congregations.
Whatever else the United States is, it is not a nation God has called into being as the new promised land. For that matter, neither was the northern kingdom of Israel. It was the product of a civil war that had left the promised land far behind. God promised through Hosea not the restoration of a nation, but the salvation of a people. As Christians we are witnesses to delivery of that promise through Christ Jesus in whom all peoples everywhere are invited to become a new creation, not as a nation but as a people of God present in every nation. It’s not an easy idea to grasp given nearly two thousand years of Western Christendom during which Church and state were one, in a chaotically balkanized often violent way.
As has been true in other ways, we Christians may need to learn from our elders, the Jews of the diaspora. For most of European history, they were always aliens wherever they lived. They could become wealthy, powerful and achieve high office, but they could never be other than alien. And being alien, they were vulnerable to the ebb and flow of political power, economic conditions, and the prejudices unleashed through them.
Christians, in like manner, are called to be faithful people of God no matter where they live. The United States is not called by God to be a Christian nation. Christians in America are called by God to be followers of Jesus first, and citizens second. As citizens, they are called by God to work, as they are able, for public policies that encourage Christlike justice and equity, and to exhibit behavior illustrating it, as they are able. It’s likely their work and ways will not always be appreciated, sometimes reviled, and always suspected. Persons claiming to be Christian will present corrupted versions of it that suit other ends and purposes. Many will follow them. Don’t be among them. Pay attention to Hosea. Pay attention to his contemporary Amos. Most of all, pay attention to Jesus, and follow where he has led.