This article about how Christians should love and defend America is based on Rebeccah Heinrichs’ talk for Providence’s happy hour on July 19. Be sure to follow us on Facebook or subscribe to our free newsletter to learn about future happy hours and other Providence events.
“Germany has played her last card and placed herself outside of all laws and far beyond the place of civilization by proclaiming her intention to pursue her submarine warfare to its extreme limits, against neutral as well as belligerent shipping, in her determination to starve the Allies and end the war…Germany’s act is tantamount to war against the world. She has thrown off the mask and has shown a contemptuous indifference for America by revoking all her undertakings to that country with regard to her piracy campaign. What President Wilson will do is the question on all lips.” — The New York Herald, European Edition, Feb. 01, 1917
On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson went before a joint session of Congress to request a declaration of war against Germany. Two days later the U.S. Senate voted in support of the measure to declare war on Germany.
Americans were now at war and on edge.
In a little town in Ohio with little more than 1,000 inhabitants, neighbors gathered in the afternoon for lunch and fellowship.
Little three- year-old Marjorie Taylor watched the men come in from work to enjoy lunch with their wives, and the conversation drifted to the war. One of the men remarked that the Germans had made a grievous error in their aggression. The United States would end their conquest, but it would be bloody. The neighbors agreed, solemnly.
And then, one voice protested.
“But… But… I love the Kaiser,” the lady from across the street said with a thick German accent.
The room fell silent. Then, little Marjorie watched two of the men take the woman by her arms and out the door, down to the town’s gazebo where there was an American flag planted. And there, in front of the neighbors, they urged her to pledge her allegiance to the United States and her flag. And she did.
Little three-year-old Marjorie Taylor was my grandmother. The memory lasted.
Try to imagine this occurring today. It’s impossible. I can’t help but wonder if enough Americans today would have the constitutions and the moral clarity to fight and win a world war again.
Consider the president’s “America First” agenda, his confident pro-America rhetoric. It has been disparaged as nationalistic, and described using the pejorative “alt-right” label.
In his recent speech in Poland, Trump praised the achievements of Polish people and proudly and unashamedly praised the West. The commentariat quickly condemned his speech as having fascist tones and worrisome nationalistic themes.
Peter Beinart, who teaches at the City University of New York, called President Trump’s concern for the survival of Western civilization “perhaps the most shocking sentence in any presidential speech delivered on foreign soil in my lifetime.” To be “considered Western a country must be largely Christian (preferably Protestant or Catholic) and largely white.”
Now, while confident patriotism is denigrated as dog whistles for the “alt-right,” those on the Left, with a distinct anti-American sentiment, are praised. The “Resistance” movement and “Women’s March” darling Linda Sarsour recently exhorted fellow Muslims to wage “jihad” against the president. She also said, “Our number one and top priority is to protect and defend our community, it is not to assimilate and please any other people and authority.”
Her message, one the Left has embraced, is where identity politics reigns, and where disgust for the country’s past and current state prompts a visceral hatred and subsequent desire to act, to change our nation, and remake it into something different.
The survival of the American Republic, Alexander Hamilton asserted, depends upon “the preservation of a national spirit and a national character.” Therefore, all of us who have locked arms with the mission of Providence have a great task before us.
We are a community of mostly Protestants and Evangelicals addressing national security and global statecraft through the lens of historic Christian thinking.
Let me try to explain why I think this mission is so timely.
First, we have great external threats facing the United States, including Radical Islamism, which does not limit itself to one sect of Islam. It is neither strictly Shia nor Sunni. It travels in the minds of individuals. It is exported along with mass migration and is funded by regimes controlling nation-states. It does not merely show itself in the form of terror bombings or knife attacks. We can see it in what has been called “rape jihad,” most notably in the Afghan migrant population in Europe where sexual assault takes place brazenly and daily.
But Islamist militarism isn’t the only threat, of course. Communism and its sister Socialism continue to prove themselves enemies of the dignity of human beings. In our lifetimes we have watched Venezuela go from prosperous to barbarous with the help of Cuba’s Castro regime. As the nation continues to devolve, its leaders express their solidarity with the world’s tyrants, including Syria’s Bashar al Assad.
Assad is willing to use chemical weapons explicitly for the purpose of terrorizing his own people into submission. The elderly and children are especially targeted, not incidentally but deliberately. This is the inherent purpose of chemical weapons: to terrorize. It is why they are in another class of weapons than merely conventional ones.
And its patron, Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, with or without a deal is committed to obtaining a nuclear missile that could reach the United States. It continues to wreak havoc across the Middle East and export and fund terrorism.
Then there’s North Korea. A regime so ghastly its death camps are so vast we can see them from space. Political prisoners are there. Children are there. Unimaginable sexual violence and torture go on in those prisons. And a man so craven as to let his own people starve so that he can have a nuclear missile that can reach American cities is close to having one if he doesn’t have it now.
All of these problems run through Russia. The Putin regime has sought to undermine U.S. efforts for peace and stability in nearly every area. It blocks efforts to punish North Korea and Iran. It props up Iran and Assad. It threatens sovereign nations that want to live and thrive like Poland and Ukraine. And it has the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet. And, oh by the way, it isn’t afraid to threaten us with them.
I haven’t even talked about China, its power-grabs in international waters, its enabling of North Korea, and its opposition to efforts that would strengthen the U.S.-Japan and U.S.-South Korea alliances. I could go on.
But we have other threats at home. And if we don’t win the day with our ideas here at home, we can’t possibly balance and implement effective and realistic strategies for handling the external threats facing the United States.
There are ideas that would hobble our nation’s ability to deter mass war, to fight when we must, and to end conflicts on terms most favorable to the United States. These ideas range from ones that would overextend our military, to over promise what we can even accomplish with countries ruled by dictators, ideas that seek to hamstring our military, and ideas that naively place far too much confidence in the effectiveness of diplomacy and arms control.
Here’s where I want to make a rather finer point: within the Christian intellectual community we have a crisis that has been going on for decades and is dangerously coming to a head now. We can see it displayed so clearly during this new era of patriotism, or civic nationalism.
That is, the Left has sought to co-opt Christian thought in domestic affairs, to view the Scriptures much like it views the Constitution, as a living document whose meaning must be adapted and amended as history unfolds. It is also co-opting Christian thought in international relations and national security, even in traditionally conservative Christian denominations.
Christianity has a long legacy of great minds who toiled to understand the Holy Scriptures and Christian orthodoxy and applied them in ways to navigate matters of politics and international relations. However, today there is great confusion, partly due to the lack of proper catechesis, which works as a bulwark against bad doctrine and progressivism in general. But during this age of Trump-championed American nationalism, we have seen a strange reaction from Christian leaders.
To take one example, the words “to the least of these” have been ripped from their context, emptied of their meaning, and politicized so that Christians are fooled into thinking this must mean our national borders should be open to the world’s oppressed and that the fruit of a serious Christian is his or her willingness to praise and support the migrant policies of, say, Germany’s Angela Merkel.
No doubt you’ve also seen, as I have, exhortations that we should detach ourselves from the tumultuous political times, and that perhaps celebrating our country looks too much like “idolatry,” because, as you know, the Christian’s citizenship is ultimately in heaven.
Yes, as Christians our citizenship is ultimately in heaven, but we have much to do in the time God gives each of us and for as long as Christ tarries. American Christians, with more say in what their country does than perhaps any other Christian has ever had, have the greatest responsibility to steward this earthly citizenship well for the great glory of God.
This brings me to my last point: American Christian intellectuals seem especially susceptible to this trend of becoming less impressed with our own country. Even, perhaps, ashamed of her.
A smattering of headlines from major Christian blogs shows that this Independence Day was one with a perhaps less enthusiastic celebration. (Notable exceptions were lovely pieces by Providence’s own Mark Tooley here and here.)
There seems to be an inability among many to praise our great heritage without also including her past and ongoing sins. Serious praise of America by prominent Christian thinkers was hard to find. This is worse than sad. It is a shame.
God has given Americans an enormous gift in the United States of America. Our nation was founded by men and women who recognized that God gives human beings rights, that the government is only here to protect those rights—life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness—and that this experiment of self-government relies not on the whims of thugs but the rule of law.
Our history is one we can be proud of. The people with power looked upon their enslaved brethren and ended the scourge of slavery, though it was and is a global institution, always has been, and persists in faraway lands even today.
Or, as famed brilliant economist Thomas Sowell said: “While slavery was common to all civilizations, as well as to peoples considered uncivilized, only one civilization developed a moral revulsion against it.” That is, Western civilization. And that Americans fought a bloody civil war to end it.
Our country is one in which we all, including men who first held power, looked upon American women with dignity and respect, image-bearers of God, equal in value and in dignity and worth. To this day, we encourage and extol the virtues and unique contributions of American women and are committed that they—we—have equal protection under the law.
And, perhaps most precious to the Christian, our nation is committed to ensuring that, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently said, the government does not come between God and man.
All of these blessed, remarkable phenomena exist because of generations of American Christians’ heroic intellectual heavy-lifting, heartfelt convictions, physical work, and real blood and toil sacrifice.
We have much to be thankful for as American Christians.
Now this independent, spirited president and his administration have come at a time when these concepts are being rediscovered and debated. What is America? How do we preserve her culturally? How do we rediscover, appreciate, and protect her?
We are crushing ISIS in Iraq and Syria. We are strengthening NATO by reassessing and recommitting to the purpose of this political and military alliance. And we are seeking to control the flow of immigrants who do have the will to become American. There is good work being done to reassert America as an independent, sovereign nation. And there is so much more to do.
But this moment in our nation’s history needs more thinkers to guide us through this tumultuous time.
The voices of those who would link arms with the mission of Providence are important ones, and it is an honor to lend mine to this great task, for the benefit of our great nation, and, as in all things, to the glory of God.
Rebeccah L. Heinrichs, a contributing editor at Providence, is a fellow at Hudson Institute where she provides research and commentary on a variety of international security issues and specializes in deterrence and counter-proliferation. She is also the vice-chairman of the John Hay Initiative’s Counter-proliferation Working Group and the original manager of the House of Representatives Bi-partisan Missile Defense Caucus.
Photo Credit: SCHOFIELD BARRACKS — Soldiers display different historical American flags during the Fourth of July Spectacular, July 4, 2017. U.S. Army photo by Kristen Wong, Oahu Publications.