At a recent Faith And Freedom Coalition Conference, Marco Rubio attempted to justify intervention in Syria.
He said: “If America’s light is extinguished, there is no other light. We are called not to hide our light but to shine it. If we lose the will … there is nothing to replace us…If we’re encouraged to be silent … then who will say it instead of us?…Who will be the salt if we are not the salt?”
I’d like to discuss his statements from my perspective, as a non-American (Canadian) who is also a theologically conservative Christian.
I believe this is a great example of contemporary “Americolatry”. I do want to give Rubio the benefit of the doubt. Certainly he was probably trying to exhibit “rhetorical flourish” more than giving an exacting explication of his views. That said, from what he’s said elsewhere, it’s clear that Rubio stands behind the general thrust of his words. And, of course, this flavor of Americolatry is not unique to Republicans like Rubio, Democrats hold to a modified version of it as well. And, of course, it must be said that all nations have unrealistic and problematic views of their place in the world in one way or another.
Rubio’s comment verges on seeing the U.S. as “Savior of the World”. This ought to be disturbing, especially for Biblical Christians. It is one thing to have an “exceptional” America. Certainly, nobody in their right minds would oppose America being a “city on the hill” of sorts, a good example of liberty shown forth to the rest of the world. However, Rubio is claiming far more than that, namely that America is the only light, the only salt, and irreplaceable.
Statements like Rubio’s inevitably sound arrogant and pompous to many outside of the U.S., but they are also unsound from a theological perspective. From a Christian perspective, Rubio is showing a crucial misunderstanding of history and God’s view of “nations”. And he’s misusing a biblical text, Matthew 5, horribly.
It is also worth question whether, given the complex and controversial nature of the U.S.’s foreign policy activities, “light” is actually the right word for the American presence in the world. At the very least, American foreign policy is not “unalloyed” goodness. It would be hard to seriously claim that America has always done right and performed justice in their activities.
Leaving that aside for a moment, though, whatever America’s “light” is, it is clear from history (and the Bible) that every nation is replaceable. Job 12 makes that perfectly clear. And ever since the Tower of Babel, nations has been saying to themselves “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves”.
Large (and seemingly important) nations have risen and fallen throughout history. Being powerful and important in world affairs is one thing, having the attitude that you are irreplaceable is another thing. Like individuals, nations have the tendency to exalt themselves in their pride and importance. Even tiny nations. However, all such pride is folly, whether it be placed in an actually powerful nation or a mere “paper tiger”. Nobody can dispute that America is a powerful and vastly important nation. However, viewing it as the savior of the world is an affront, not only to other nations, but to the God!
Unfortunately, it seems theologically conservative Christians have too easily bought into the “Americolatry” which is pervasive in the thinking of many right-leaning politicians. There is a strong sense of “civic religion” that is so pervasive, it’s surprising it is not etched into church creeds. “America” because a force that is yielded throughout the world in some sort of abstract holy quest to save the world.
The idea, of course, is not to react to “Americolatry” by hating ones country. Rather, the proper antidote to “Americolatry” or the an over-exalted view of any country is (a) Placeing our hope not in our nation, but in the only one who can give hope (as a Christian I say this is the triune God), (b) humility–knowing that our nation’s place, as exalted as it may appear be, is low before an all-powerful God, (c) love for ones neighbor countries by respecting their independence (d) avoiding the abstractions and justifications that nationalism ultimately relies upon, and (e) focusing on becoming exceptional in behavior and conduct rather than in reputation, force, or control.