A very concerned Washington Post recently ran a front page story about the persistence of “American exceptionalism,” followed up by an online panel of religious experts pontificating over the reputed problem. A recent poll, of which the Brookings Institute was a partial sponsor, showed nearly 60 percent of Americans believe God has assigned America a “special role” in human history. Most believing were white evangelicals, over 80 percent of whom uphold this special role for America, as do two-thirds of minority Christians. Majorities of Catholics and Mainline Protestants also agreed.
Of course, the left-wing religionists from The Post’s “On Faith” discussion were very distressed. The Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State tied exceptionalism to America’s darkest sins. “After the European settlement, strange ideas about ‘manifest destiny’ were used as an excuse to push Native Americans from their land,” Lynn explained. “Later, in the antebellum South, some preachers routinely endorsed the thesis that slavery, American-style, was endorsed by God.” Lynn deliberately concluded: “Today’s ‘exceptionalists’ are really no different, a theologian’s equivalent of the child in the backseat telling his sister that ‘Mom likes me better than you!’”
So apparently Lynn believes the majority of black and Hispanic Christians in America who believe in America’s “special role” are the moral successors to slave-holders. He forgot that American exceptionalists have included Abraham Lincoln, abolitionists, civil rights advocates and hosts of social reformers motivated by America’s highest ideals. Most Americans who believe in a providential role for America probably aren’t aspiring genocidalists or slave traders. Instead, in sync with most Americans across several centuries, they believe America was founded to uphold democracy, freedom, religious liberty, with the opportunity for prosperity to all. They also recall America’s unique role in defeating foreign tyrannies who genuinely did aspire to a sinister global hegemony.
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