By Jonathan Langley
“Praise the Lord for the 2nd Amendment.” That was a Twitter post (I just can’t come straight out and call it a “tweet” without feeling like a “twit”) after a recent shooting that resulted in two deaths. It came from Todd Starnes, a Fox News Radio reporter and former writer for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news arm. He was commenting on a shopkeeper in Harlem who shot and killed two armed robbers (leaving two more critically injured) in his store Aug. 13.
Please don’t misunderstand me: I am not judging Charles Augusto Jr., the man who “exercised his rights” in shooting the robbers. In the same terrifying situation I could quite easily have done what he did. But I don’t think that would make it a cause for celebration or “praising the Lord.”
Starnes, when asked by one of his Twitter contacts how he reconciled such a view (in which he called the shop owner the “Hero of the Week”) with Jesus’ command to love our enemies and give both cloak and tunic to those who take from us, said the man was within his “Christian rights.”
And while I can disagree with a secularist who thinks the death penalty is appropriate for robbery, I know that we will probably come to an impasse where our basic assumptions are clearly very different. But it is more disturbing when someone who theoretically shares your basic assumptions comes to conclusions that you find anti-Christian.
And in a week when Americans opposed to a large role for government in health-care reform have been attacking the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, mistaking American rights for “Christian rights” highlights a tendency in some American Christian circles to mistake the United States for the Kingdom of God.
A frighteningly smart Christian academic said something to me last week that seems relevant here: “America is a worldly power and acts, like worldly powers, in its own interests. The problem of theology in America is a theology of dominion. Imperial dominion, not biblical dominion. The dominion of America is a fallen dominion, and if Christians hitch their wagon to that dominion, then they are hitching to a sinful cause.”
If you think of America as having God on its side (as many Americans still clearly do, despite Bob Dylan’s best efforts), then that which seems “un-American” will seem evil.
This, I think, helps explain why there have been such vehement denunciations of the British health-care system in America in recent days. Socialism, to those still brainwashed by Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s legacy, is “un-American.” Why? Because, as an old colleague returning from a time in Chicago explained to me last week, the American dream is to work for yourself and your own betterment. And any attempt to make you pay even a little for someone else’s health care is a violation of that dream.
The duty of Christians, it seems to me, is to be clear in their minds that the American dream is not one provided by God as to Joseph. Our duty is to remember that the God Jesus Christ proclaims requires his children to give freely, love selflessly and sacrifice readily for the well-being of others.
Selfishness — even ambitious selfishness elevated to the level of a national “dream” — is never, for Christians, to be something to which we aspire. Let’s pray that our American brothers and sisters can free themselves of any heresies that would see them deny the less fortunate among them health care for the sake of any false dream.