American Civil Religion in Revelation

As the first Christian century was drawing to a close, a prisoner named John wrote out a mysterious letter, addressed to seven churches in Asia (modern Turkey), warning them of the dangers of America, coming two thousand years hence.

OK.  Not really.  But in Gorman’s third chapter on Revelation (a chapter ostensibly about the purpose of the book) we find a surprisingly lengthy section on the dangers of 21st century American civil religion.  Gorman’s larger point is that Revelation was initially a critique against specifically Roman imperialism and the deification of the state, but certainly the same judgments could be leveled against any empire (or pseudo-empire, or would-be empire) in any place or any age.

via wikipedia.org

I don’t mind Gorman’s critique of American civil religion.  It’s actually less a critique and more an identification with a knowing glance.  Though I would argue with him on a few points (his definition of American exceptionalism, for one), the overall issue is well-taken.  Be careful how you mix, whether consciously or not, nationalism and faith.  My issue with Gorman here is probably more an issue with his editor.  Paralleling the United States with Rome would probably serve well as its own chapter (at least) rather than a section of a chapter about the form and structure of Revelation.

Anyway, here’s a brief rundown of the places Gorman points to as marks of American civil religion.  Each of these, he implicitly suggests, has the potential to draw American believers away from true fidelity to Christ.  Each has the potential to draw us towards the worship of something that is quite unlike the God of Scripture, the God of the cross.  Take a look and tell me what you think.  Are these legitimate dangers?  Are there others?  What’s your experience been?

  • Manifest Destiny (this I think Gorman confuses slightly with American exceptionalism)
  • American messianism (that America is somehow the savior of various underprivileged peoples around the world)
  • American innocence (that we are somehow always the injured, pure party)
  • The elevation of human liberty and rights
  • Militarism and sacred violence (that all our military action is righteous)
  • The flag as a sacred object
  • National flags inside churches
  • Various national holidays (Memorial Day, Presidents Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, etc)
  • National days of prayer
  • The Pledge of Allegiance (including its reference to “one nation, under G(g)od”)
  • Swearing on the Bible
  • “God bless America”
  • Sacred national texts (the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, etc)
  • Congressional & military chaplains

The list goes on, but that’s enough for now.  Your thoughts?

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4 thoughts on “American Civil Religion in Revelation

  1. I don’t believe this is what our founders had in mind. They never intended on Americans worshiping the state or our country being militaristic. They feared standing armies. While our country today may be becoming more like the Roman empire, it was never founded as a conquering empire, but rather a free republic. Instead they wanted a strong people and a weak government that shied away from “foreign entanglements”. I see nothing wrong w/pledging my allegiance to and obeying the laws of and praying for my country (as long as I’m not required to go against God). Yes Church and State should be separate – the state should not interfere or impose a church and the church should not be primarily occupied with trying to mend the state. I do believe America is exceptional b/c it’s legal system and forms of government were based upon biblical principles, including individual sovereignty and equality in the eyes of God.

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