Eugene McCarraher (“Morbid Symptoms,” Commmonweal, November 2012) makes reference to the “church called America”– which he understands to be separate from, and significantly different from, a Christian church. In making this distinction, he identifies one of the faultlines in American culture today. That faultline is the point of collision between two continent-sized ideas: one, that God’s good will for the world is co-extensive with American economic, political, and military principles and practices; and two, that God’s good will for the world is co-extensive NOT with any state or nation, but with a person whose self-sacrificing love revealed a divine, redeeming, inexhaustable Love at the heart of all.
This gets messy. Why can’t it be both, some may say: why can’t Jesus be the Savior AND America be the light, lately arrived on history’s scene, to show the world the way of God? Why not both?
Because we are human. Perhaps there is such a thing as “American exceptionalism,” but even if there is such a thing, it does not apply to our basic fallen nature: power corrupts always; pride leads to overreach always; nothing is purely good, ever.
McCarraher is criticizing the US Roman Catholic bishops for conflating the way of Christ with the way of American consumer capitalism/militarism, but the criticism applies to all who have authority in Christian churches (hello, self): we need to draw more clearly the lines that locate the God of Christ at work in the world, and the lines that locate the god of America at work in the world. We may imagine a time when those lines corresponded, but that time is not the present time.
To say so, is to make possible a love for both God AND country, with a love that is appropriate to each.