How can Americans, and American Christians in particular, work toward a more comprehensive and equitable national narrative for all? The exclusivist aspects of the core narratives that have defined the United States make clear that we need a new narrative. We need a general consensus of values and a feeling that we’re part of the same long, hard, intergenerational project.
The first step in crafting this national narrative involves self-assessment. Understanding our own individual journey and experiences is a crucial step before connecting the puzzle pieces for how our story fits with everyone else’s. The process of recognizing and reflecting on our self-understanding through the lens of a national narrative is multilayered and should hold up to the following elements: internal consistency, historical accuracy, value impact, and biblical rootedness.
1. Internal Consistency. Ask yourself, Whom does my narrative include and exclude? For example, does your story make space for how people of your own ethnic roots engaged with people of other cultures and religious beliefs? Consider who the enemies are in your story. For example, do you believe that illegal immigrants are the greatest threat to America? Conversely, have you labeled all White people as the enemy?
2. Historical Accuracy. Ask yourself, Does the story of America that I believe in give a defensible history of the nation’s history? Consider who the main historical players are in your version of a national narrative. What are the achievements of your historical heroes? Have scholars verified or debunked these claims? Assessing the historical accuracy of our national stories requires time and research as we move from simply receiving “truths” passed down to us and begin to study and analyze the information for ourselves.
3. Value Impact. Ask yourself, What do I value above all else as an American? How do these values either help or harm other people? For example, does your national story lead to justification of violence or intolerance? We all need to face our moral failures, individually and as a country.
4. Biblical Assessment. Finally, ask yourself, Does my story and the subsequent way I live my life align with Scripture’s call to love God and love my neighbor? The Bible says that we must “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” and “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). This means that we must bring every story in our lives before the Lord in prayer, asking for his Spirit to give us discernment on whether these stories—and their present-day ramifications—glorify God.
The second step is to challenge ourselves to better see, hear, and make space for the stories of our neighbors. We need to take time to learn each other’s stories and allow each other’s narratives and identities to have room to breathe and flourish. This includes creating a more robust political vocabulary to enable dialogue and healthy debate between people with differing views of our country and its purpose in the world. It also means that as we pursue a more multicultural version of a national narrative, we embrace our unique cultural roots and ethnic heritages without disassociating ourselves from our fellow Americans.
Our third and final step is to pursue a path forward that involves compromise. We need to value alliances when it comes to an American national identity. The United States has never been a wholly Christian nation or the offspring of an entirely secularized and fractured multicultural project. It has never been the story of one people group either. Our story should not cause us to participate in national self-worship or self-loathing. What we need instead is a national story born from a spirit of ecumenism, generosity, and civic friendship in which Brown, Black, and White, men, women, and children can flourish together.
As American Christians, we need to make space in our national narrative for an all-encompassing tent where we can still be true to our religious beliefs, and in which we can value American culture and institutions enough to cherish them while not succumbing to the belief that America is always a force for good in the world. If we can open ourselves to these forms of self-assessment and engagement, we will be on a stabler path to finding unity as a nation and within the story we are living in, even in times of deep division like the present.
Taken from Kingdom and Country: Following Jesus in the Land that You Love, edited by Angie Ward © 2022. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers.