How America Can Become America Again

Noah Millman, on a roll again, squares the circle of American identity and national narrative:

In our private lives, few would accept leaving this question — who inherits our property, our name, and the custody of our reputations — to forces entirely beyond our control. Most of us think seriously about who we marry, who we will have children with. Even those of us — like myself — who are adoptive parents recognize that the choice to adopt is exactly that: a choice.

Questions of identity — of who we are — are just as fundamental to any political community. A shared sense of identity is what makes collective action possible, whether that action is financing a community center or fighting a war. Any time we make sacrifices today to benefit generations yet unborn, we imply an identifying bond between the present and the future. And yet, for many supporters of immigration there is a real dispute about whether this is even a valid political question — or, on the contrary, whether freedom of movement is an inalienable right, or whether asking questions about national identity is inherently racist.

In a piece that considers deeply how immigration advocates have gone wrong, Josh Barro argues for the need to make the case for a relatively liberal immigration regime as being in the national interest (as opposed to just being “the right thing to do”). And he’s right about that. But before that case can be made, they need to win the trust of those who suspect — perhaps rightly — that immigration advocates see “the national interest” as the interest of a corporate entity known as the United States of America, without regard to what the nature of that entity is, or who it exists for in the first place.

If they can’t rule questions of identity out of bounds, liberals will be tempted to answer them with ideological definitions of Americanism that implicitly deem large numbers of actual Americans to be less-than-faithful communicants of the national religion (something conservatives have been prone to do at least as much). It’s an approach that is distinctly unlikely to win over anyone not already singing from their hymnal.

So how can those with a more expansive conception of American identity make their case? The answer begins with a return to that word: posterity.

From the perspective of the founders, we are their posterity, whether our ancestors are from England, Ethiopia, or Ecuador. They are our ancestors. And what they have bequeathed to us — from our political institutions down to the land itself — is our inheritance.

We all have varied relationships with our individual parents. Some of us live in awe of their shadows; others of us cringe at their failures; still others of us have spent years working our way through the residue of abusive childhoods. And some of us are lucky to stand tall and proud on our forebears’ shoulders. For all of us, they are still the people to whom we owe our beginnings. We can love them, hate them, live in illusion, or see them for who they are — but we cannot disclaim them.

The same is true of our political ancestors — and we need to talk that way.

If we want to share our inheritance more broadly, and convince our cousins to do the same, we need first to be able to demonstrate that we cherish it, that we recognize that it is our inheritance, something we, as individuals, did not create, but was given to us by those who came before, and that we are responsible for passing on. If it is ours, then we have the right to remodel it to better suit the needs of the present and the future — we don’t have to be shackled by the past. But if we care about it as an inheritance, then we’ll show gratitude for what we have received, and make changes in that spirit, even if we know that many of those who came before would have cringed to see just who has taken up residence in what was once their house, and what they’ve done to the place.

But if the United States (where did the name ever come from) did not begin until the nation elected Barack Obama, who cares about the so-called Greatest Generation or the Founders or even Abe Lincoln? Such a way of looking at the past — today’s social justice warriors’, not Millman’s — does make it hard to look at Donald Trump as a betrayal of inheritance. If they can cut themselves off from Jefferson, Jackson, and Wilson, why can’t Trump cut himself off from Obama?

Doh! History always comes back to bite. Not to mention that the founding has been pretty good business for Lin-Manuel Miranda.

42 thoughts on “How America Can Become America Again

  1. Sarcasm alert is on…..We are born in grace, but we still need to work to prove not that we deserve grace but that we still have grace , and those others need to consider state and local rights, and prove they are worthy (not deserving, not meriting anything) by accepting circumcision. While baptists may be into ideological experiences, none of us can be ever be sure that we ourselves are not terrorists and therefore what we need to do and can do is to simply show up every week and keep our mouths shut in order to win the trust of those born here before us. And it’s not up to newcomers to tell us if our nation is defined by corporate capitalism because our answers are not ideological but come from being born here. You don’t earn an inheritance, but those in the covenant can be disinherited. Even if one day we are cursed, even then that curse will be by means of the new covenant and our ancestors , because we don’t any of us have the free will just to walk away from being born Christian.

    ”Covenant theology does not teach that the covenant of grace itself is ‘breakable’. God promises his saving grace in Christ to each person in baptism, whether they embrace this promise or not… The word proclaimed and sealed in the sacraments is valid, regardless of our response, but we don’t enjoy the blessings apart from receiving Christ with all of his benefits. …..To be claimed as part of God’s holy field comes with threats as well as blessings. Covenant members who do not believe are under the covenant curse. How can they fall under the curses of a covenant to which they didn’t belong? ”


  2. 2 questions here. Why can’t doing what is right be seen as part of our political identity and national interests? After all, doing what is wrong to others moves them to attack us. And whether they do depends on their capabilities. And technology is so user-friendly, as it advances it increases the number of enemies who can attack us. But why not just make doing what is right a part of our identity?

    The other question is what do you mean that we can’t disclaim the past when we can easily tell Trump lies about how great our ancestors were? Though the names of those ancestors might be the same, their identities have been changed to protect our national self-image.


  3. Liam Goligher—-“All future covenants will be variations of the covenant with Adam”.

    John Frame– “A feature of the historia salutis method is that it sees salvation less in individual terms, more in corporate terms. The covenants are made, not only with the covenant mediators like Noah and Abraham, but through them with their families. By the time of Moses, the family of God had become a nation; and with the institution of the New Covenant, it became a nation made of many nations. The corporate emphasis in the historia salutis leads to a focus on the public and visible aspects of salvation. The events described in the ordo are invisible, inward. They occur in the individual heart. The historia salutis occurs in public events. The covenants are publicly witnessed. God attests his covenant mediators by signs and wonders. The history includes deliverances from oppressors, victories in war, dramatic displays of divine power and grace. “


  4. Curt, what you often consider to be right is something I consider to be amoral.

    There’s that.

    And what politics does — use force legitimately — is not something that I can do as a Christian. And yet use of force is right.

    Uh oh.


  5. D.G.,
    general statements like your first statement means little. Real meaning lies in specific judgments. For example, was what was practiced during Jim Crow wrong or amoral? Was the legal segregation and subjugation of the Black race in our nation wrong or amoral?


  6. Curt, you do know that what’s legal is different from what’s moral. Then again, for most mystics, pietists, revivalists, and utopians, that’s a distinction without a different. Immanentize the eschaton NOW!!!!!


  7. Pietists and revivalists? What about Reformed theonomists? Are you right there in the sweet spot in the middle between the mystics (in my heart now) and the “take every inch already” world-viewers ? What part of the eschaton is not postponed while we ignore Jesus and attempt consensus with the pagans about what’s natural law? The keys to the church, apart from which there is no salvation now or in the age to come ?

    Meredith Kline –The consequences of the judicial dereliction Cain anticipates (Genesis 4) will be, he laments, that everyone in the family of mankind, kinsmen all of his innocent victim, Abel, will be let loose in a mindless blood feud to take vengeance on him (v 14d): “Everyone who finds me will kill me.” Hidden from God’s face, Cain will have no judge to appeal to. Society east of Eden will be devoid of God’s judicial ordering. Cain will be exposed to lawless men bent on vengeance. He will be ex lex on a God-forsaken earth.

    Brandon Adams–This betrays Kline’s presuppositions, rather than his exegesis. The Genesis 4 text says absolutely nothing about such vengeance being “lawless” and “mindless.” In fact, this process of a kinsman executing vengeance upon the murderer was the default, lawful practice under Old Covenant law. Numbers 35 and Deuteronomy 19 explain the role of the avenger of blood (the kinsman of the murder victim, not a state official). Numbers 25:19 says “The avenger of blood himself shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death.” This is precisely what Cain was afraid of – his lawful execution.

    John Frame — Some have found divine warrant for the state in Gen 9:6, where God commands Noah’s family to return bloodshed for bloodshed. But this is a command given to a family. There is no indication of any new institution being established. In the law of Moses, the execution of murderers was carried out, not by the state as such, but by the “avenger of blood,” kin of the murder victim, Numbers 35:19, 21; Deuteronomy 19:12. The family, here, is the instrument of justice. We have no reason to believe, therefore, that any special institution beyond the family for the establishment of justice was created in Gen 9:6… Was there, at this point in history, also a divinely appointed “state”? I would say no if, again, “state” refers to something above and beyond the natural authority of the family. As far back as Genesis 9, God called the family to execute vengeance for bloodshed, and so no new order was needed to administer capital punishment…


  8. But, Curt, even as a born, bred, and buttered Yank one can see how your rhetorical question is a tad simplistic. I know what it’s designed to convey, but how do you reconcile that with the fact there is no commandment that says thou shalt not segregate? What’s almost always missing from you is a category for wisdom, you know, somewhere between moral and immoral where a lot of life is actually lived. Things can be dumb, misguided, asinine, indecent, crummy, etc. without also having to be WRONG!!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Were Morton Smith and many Southern Presbyterian leaders committing sin by opposing the Civil Rights movement? Should the ones who are still alive be routed out of their aged beds and tried before church courts?


  10. D.G.,
    You seem to like to use definitions to classify people the way you want to see them but when it comes to using your definitions to specific examples, you refrain from answering the question. Again, the question is this: was what was practiced during Jim Crow wrong or amoral?

    And, btw, I am well aware of the difference between what is legal and what is moral. In fact, that difference is what my question rests on.


  11. Zrim,
    If the question is that simplistic, it is easy to answer. And as American history has shown, segregation results in inequality. In addition, the Great Commission rules out Christians singing It’s a small world after all as does Galatians 3:28.


  12. Curt, no, there’s a difference between simple and simplistic (you’ll recall from your ST that even God is simple, but not simplistic). The simple answer is that segregation as we’ve experienced it in America is unsatisfactory and worthy of reform (the language of wisdom), the simplistic answer is that it’s wrong and immoral (the language or moralized politics).

    I’ve no idea what your small word line is about, but if you’re saying I have a pious excuse to give my daughters to skip the It’s A Small World ride at Disney, preach.


  13. D.G.,
    That was not the question. After all, one could change The Constitution to make Jim Crow legal. The question is: Was what was practiced during Jim Crow wrong or amoral?


  14. Zrim,
    Again, was what was practiced during Jim Crow wrong or amoral? If you are answer with the latter, how would you change the Jim Crow laws and culture so that the segregation it promoted was satisfactory? Or, you could go into detail to describe how Jim Crow was unsatisfactory and worthy of reform.


  15. Curt, how about wrong-headed (Jim Crow)? Just like voting for Trump–stupid, stupid, stupid, know-nothing stupid. But immoral? Get over ya-self.


  16. Zrim,
    Is subjugating people from another race immoral? And in today’s world, is forced segregation immoral? Or is treating those from certain races with prefernce over those from other races against what it says in the NT about showing preference?


  17. Curt, surely you’ve encountered folks on the front picket lines who believe animals have rights that we used to reserve for people.

    Jim Crow was clearly a restriction applied to part of the population that cannot be justified except for racial hierarchy. Do I think citizenship should be universal? America was founded without that. So as a loyal American, it’s debatable whether everyone ipso facto gets the vote. But as the situation existed in parts of the country, change the laws.

    The problem though is that other inequalities exist and most Americans learned the lesson from overturning Jim Crow that all inequalities should be overturned. Somehow that never trickled down to the NBA’s exclusion of slow white guys like me.

    Notice, theology and morality has not entered into this comment.


  18. Curt, is utterly destroying another nation down to the infants, like Israel was commanded to do, immoral? It’s hard to accuse God of immorality. And since segregating lunch counters seems to pale in comparison to what amounts to a form of genocide, I’m pretty hesitant to call it immoral. The same for anything in the middle like enslaving.

    But if you’re asking if I take kindly to any of it, I do not. Some instances more unkindly than others.


  19. D.G.,
    Just because people believe something, doesn’t make it true. And there re a lot of crazy beliefs among conservatives, liberals, and leftists out there.

    And because of what I just wrote, why would you compare Jim Crow with the beliefs of those who think eating animals is wrong? It’s like when you bring in universal citizenship into the discussion, what brought that on? Because such refers to the citizenship of migrants as well as residents. And certainly, the Blacks who suffered under Jim Crow were not migrants. Or it’s like whle saying that all inequalities should be overturned that the NBA should exclude slow white guys. Why in the discussion of inequality in terms of human rights would you bring in that example? Are human rights like being in the NBA where once you lose your skills, you lose your human rights? Or is citizenship like being in the NBA where once you lose your skills, you also lose your citizensihp?

    Now I fully agree with you that Jim Crow cannot be justified. But the major reason I believe so is because I believe iti was immoral. Do you believe it was immoral?


  20. Zrim,
    So taking a command that come from divine revelation to a nation during which God’s people were a nation means that whatever else we do to groups of people is not immoral? For you, the keys here seem to be moral relativity and whehter God commanded Israel to slaughter people in a certain circumstance.

    But what if God doesn’t command a nation to do that? Is it still true that the laws and practices that occurred during Jim Crow were immoral? Was enslaving people, which included the negligent murder of peope in transit or the deliberate murder of some who resisted, based on race immoral?


  21. Curt, the point isn’t that there isn’t a moral dimension to phenomenon ranging from genocide to enslaving to discriminating. There is. But what you seem to gun for is a sustained declaration of the the immorality of certain things, which only seems to strip complicated human phenomenon down to only its moral dimension. IOW, it’s a moralistic take on social history. But Christians aren’t supposed to be moralists. Not that anyone could be expected to know that by how they take their cues from the rightists and leftists anymore.


  22. D.G.,
    Again, since I asked you first and you seem so hesitant to answer. Do you believe Jim Crow was wrong or amoral? And by wrong in this question, I mean immoral. It seems that you are asking me about its immorality before answering the question I’ve asked you a long time ago.


  23. D.G.,
    Would be glad to answer your question, but like so many times before, you are asking a question while avoiding answering the question on whether you think Jim Crow was wrong in terms of being immoral. And this refusal to answer question is just like you put off answering the question of whether Nazi Germany sinned and did what was immoral when it invaded its neighbors and persecuted the Jews.

    So it is a simple yes/no question. Do you believe that Jim Crow was wrong in terms of being immoral. I do and I will be glad to discuss why when you answer the question. So far, you have only stated that it was wrong in terms of The Constitution. But you haven’t stated whether it was wrong in terms of being immoral.


  24. Zrim,
    I expected that answer from you. But fail to see that it is Biblical or that it follows 2kt. In terms of being saved, we are certainly not saved by our morals. We are, however, saved by the morals and righteousness of Jesus who died for our sins and rose again. But say in the civic realm, for the sake of those who would be oppressed and exploited, why is being a moralist wrong? Is it God’s saving grace the only grace that changes people or can His common grace to do that too?


  25. Curt, because moralism and Christianity are not synonymous. The Pharisees and Judaizers were moralists, Paul was a Christian, same with Pelagius and Augustine. Christians are supposed to oppose moralism in all its forms. Being moral is not the same as being a moralist (just like being simple isn’t being simplistic). That’s the fatal confusion you make and carry forward everywhere you go. You can give the correct Sunday school answer about salvation (award 10,000 points), but that it doesn’t get applied consistently in every square inch of life by you reveals a lack of understanding (deduct 10,000 points).


  26. Curt, I can’t tell if it was immoral unless you explain morality to me. I don’t think in categories of social sin. You are the holy one. Enlighten.

    And if you think it’s a simple, yes/no question, wow.


  27. D.G.,
    So what you are saying is that you have no concept of morality? And then you expect an answer when you mock me.

    Yes, answering whether Jim Crow was immoral is simple. It is simple in that the answer is rather obvious just like stating whether what the Nazis did by invading its neighbors and persecuting the Jews was immoral. What do you think the unbeliever would associate with Christianity when they see your reluctance to answer a simple question?

    How we treat others is as much a part of the Christian life as knowing the confessions if not more so. How we treat others shows to what extent, if at all, we believe that we are sinners. How we treat others reveals whether we are proud–with pride being the enemy of faith.How we treat others can also indicate how much we adhere to the confessions we verbally acknowledge. If in debating, you like a superior position over others by playing games, mocking others, or trying to control them, you are really imitating the pharisees of Jesus’s day. After all, they loved public recognition and controlling others.

    Keller is not my favorite person to read, but for as much as you put him down, you have a lot to learn from him in terms of how to speak to others. And you can learn that while maintaining your 2KT.


  28. Curt, exactly. I have no concept of morality.

    Except, when it comes to government, we have the legitimate use of force and we have rules (Walter didn’t see his buddies die face down in ‘Nam) for civil society that are different from rules for Christians.

    But when you’re holy the way you are, governments are supposed to behave as churches do (or don’t).

    Way to live in a fallen world. Morality by what’s offensive to yyyyyooooooooUUUUU.


  29. D.G.,
    Didn’t you say:

    I can’t tell if it was immoral unless you explain morality to me. I don’t think in categories of social sin

    Then you went into mocking.

    The question is simple: Was Jim Crow immoral? To answer ‘yes’ does not imply that one has a monopoly on morality. So what say you? Is your answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’?


  30. D.G.,
    Are you interested enough in doing some research to see? For Jim Crow was not just a set of laws, it was a culture and way of life. You’re a historian. Read up on all that was part of Jim Crow and see if you can find which commandments were violated. Also realize that the Scriptures contain more than just the 10 Commandments.

    Personally, I don’t see your dilemma. And a lot of nonChristians would be shocked at your statement and find it to be contradictory to what they know about Christianity.


  31. Curt, what non-Christians know about Christianity. That’s rich.

    What you call a way of life is what you also call a racist society today. You’re never content with the need to immanentize the eschaton. Remove Jim Crow, extend voting rights, and it’s still a wicked society.

    When are you going to learn to live in a fallen world? Don’t you have to live with yourself? (In other words, get back to me when you are perfect.)


  32. D.G.,
    It’s not rich according to Romans 2. And of course think of what you are saying, you are saying the Christians can easily judge nonChristians but nonChristians can never return the favor.

    BTW, no need to educate me on the fallen world we live in and how wicked a society we have. I see that when I see Christians are so easily apathetic to justice issues in order to live in a small world of their own creation. But such is not as much as a Christian creation as it is a libertarian one.

    BTW, did you do any research on Jim Crow?


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