Chapter 1 finds the author examining Christian America as God’s Chosen People. He starts by recounting the most recent national example of Christianity – the massacre of the Amish children at Nickle Creek Mines which saw the family of the victims reach out repeatedly to the family of the murderer.
The author discusses the rate of biblical illiteracy in the American public, starting in the 1940’s when bibles were far outselling any other books, but only 50% of the American public could name a gospel (it is only 40% now), using this as a focal point in discussing the historical misconception of what a Christian Nation is.
In doing so, he starts with the earliest colonial history, and the propaganda used in previous generations to focus on the divine predestination of the colonies, especially, it seems, New England. He recounts the confusion of America’s purpose with Israel’s purpose, quoting actual bible verses (NRSV) as opposed to mentioning them in passing. He notes that many see the bible as an ‘undifferentiated’ document which blinds Americans to the idea of divine nationhood.
He starts the history of the myth of the Christian Nation with none other than my personal hero, William Tyndale, who saw England under the thumb of anti-biblical enforcers, and started to confuse the divine covenant in Deuteronomy with England’s status – calling for a covenant with God. He quotes briefly from Tyndale’s preface to Jonah, adding,
There Tyndale lamented that over the years, God had sent numerous prophets to proclaim repentance to England, but England reused to respond to those indictments. Now England, like Israel of old, was in danger of suffering the wrath of God.
He follows that line of thinking from Tyndale to the earliest settlers unto the present, including Billy Graham’s promise that if Americans turned to God, Communism would be kept at bay, and to D. James Kennedy’s insistence that American was both a chosen and a Christian nation.
Hughes then moves to accessing the claim, noting that some early founders rejected the notion that the United States was the new Israel, such as Roger Williams who founded the colony of Rhode’s Island. In this section, he notes many of the reasonings used in naming America either a chosen or a Christian nation, but I fear that he misses one. While he does note the strong confusion/connection seen by many between Israel and the United States, he fails also to note the strong belief among many quarters that the sole-purpose of the United States is to secure a defense of the physical state of Israel.
He writes concerning the many notions that he mentions,
This conflated view of the Bible therefore sustains the notion of the United States as a chosen nation, just as it sustains the erroneous but common designation of the United States as a Judeo-Christian nation.
Moving on, he examines biblical passages for the understanding of a chosen nation, comparing the Old Testament and the New Testament, to show that Israel was chosen exclusively but that under the New Testament, ‘chosen’ applies to believers regardless of race, creed, or color.
He briefly discusses (p28) the outcome of confusing ‘chosen’ and then applying it in confusion to the United States. With the importation of the covenant view of the English people and the transference to the New England colonies, came the reliance upon the Hexateuch and it’s history if Israel’s invasion and war against the natives. In doing so, the New England Puritans (and the South African colonists) found justification for severe and inhumane crimes against the native population. Further, he mentions this rhetoric as it touched the Ameircan-Filipino War and the Iraqi War.
He doesn’t merely mention people form the past and then give an interpretation of their statements, but allows them to remain in their own words.