“I believe this blessed land was set apart in a very special way, a country created by men and women who came here not in search of gold but in search of God. They would be free people, living under the law, with faith in their Maker and their future.”
— Ronald Reagan, Natl Prayer Breakfast, 2/4/82.
Centuries of belief in American Exceptionalism was almost erased by President Barack Obama during a press conference in Strasbourg, France (April 2009), when he was asked the question: Do you believe in American Exceptionalism?
“I believe in American exceptionalism,” he stated. And just when you thought he really associated himself with countless presidents before him, he continued, “Just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” (1)
The president saw no real value in defending American exceptionalism. But what isAmerican exceptionalism? How does it distinctively separate us from other nations? Is that even a politically correct thing to say?
While there are varied aspects of American exceptionalism, including secular, let’s primarily discuss the religious implications of the term.
And could American exceptionalism possibly be traced to the Bible?
ORIGINS OF THE TERM
The French historian Alexis de Tocqueville seems to have coined the phrase in mid-1800s when he described the United States and the American people in his book“Democracy in America” as “exceptional.” (2)
Exceptional, but why?
That notion that America is exceptional can be traced even further back to colonial times, at the very founding of the nation. The Puritans regarded the settling of the North American continent as a Promised Land, where a new Canaan can be built as a model for the rest of the world. (3)
President Ronald Reagan’s favored term, “city on a hill” (Matt 5:14) to describe the United States, can be traced to Puritanical leader and first governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony, John Winthrop.
To all those who think that Christians need to be separated from politics –Surprise! Here we have an early Christian leader who was also a politician! – as was Reagan himself.
Winthrop delivered a lay sermon aboard the Arbella, during its passage to New England in 1630, in which he declared that his fellow settlers “must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are upon us.” What an understatement!
His words, having been circulated in manuscript form throughout the colonies, have since become one of the main formative texts of American self-identity and meaning. Inherent in this notion of the “city on a hill” is the belief that the American colonists, and those who have followed them, were uniquely blessed by God to pursue His work on Earth and to establish a society that would provide this beacon for the betterment of all humankind.(4)
That is what American exceptionalism means! God has blessed this nation!
GOD IN AMERICA
The preponderance of proof that America was founded upon religious principles with a fervent allegiance to God cannot be denied, despite the prevalence of present-day revisionist historians.
Having understood that government is ordained by God (Romans 13), the early settlers knew that God must be in the forefront of all its institutions. Early government was led by Christian, God-fearing men. Early schools and colleges (Harvard and Yale, for example) were instituted by Christians (knowing that you couldn’t convert people who couldn’t readthe Bible, therefore it was Christians who started the educational curriculum!). Most all state governments had God and bible-based morality mentioned in their state charters and they used the Bible as the foundation of their civil laws. (5)
But one of the most outstanding characteristics of this modern government, unlike any other government previous to it, was the notion that God gives us unalienable rights – not the government, not man – but God!
Therefore these rights are given personally to the individual from God – and have nothing to do with the government.
The freedoms we enjoy today all have as their cornerstone the fact that God gives us that freedom! Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly – all come from God.
ACLU…are you listening?
This relationship with God was so crucial to the original concept of our founding that we’ve incorporated it into our Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The government doesn’t give us these rights, we receive them from God and then loan them to the state.
It was so much a part of our national identity, that by the time the U.S. Constitution was written, it began, “WE the people…”
No other nation on the face of the earth ever acknowledged God so prominently in its founding as did the United States.
Well, maybe one other did. But we’ll hold that thought till later.
The facts speak for themselves. There has been no other nation that has been more blessed than America. The “city on the hill” became the greatest nation on the earth, setting the standard for industry, economics, inventions, technology, food production, entertainment – and unselfishly proclaiming that people from all the world are welcome to come and experience a portion for themselves.
As President Abraham Lincoln said, “We find ourselves in the peaceful possession of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards fertility of soil, extent of territory, and salubrity of climate…. We…find ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or the establishment of them.”
Generous to a fault, the United States has blessed the world for decades with food distribution, nation building, charitable donations, missionary work, technology sharing and saving the world in two world wars.
Is this a coincidence? That this nation that has acknowledged God more than any other should be so blessed?
Not at all. We merely subscribed to a divine law that any nation that submits to God will be blessed and any nation that rejects God won’t be (Deuteronomy 28).
Can you also see that since the mid-20th century, when we’ve removed all semblance of God from our society – we can’t read the bible in school, we can’t pray in school, we can’t even have preachers endorsing political candidates anymore, for crying out loud – can you see how our nation has deteriorated in every aspect of society?
Our culture is shattered beyond recognition. Moral restrictions have been lifted from our society, that we have very little regard to what is right and wrong anymore. Our schools turn out educated amoral citizens. And these will be the leaders of tomorrow.
Our moral compass has been set to calling evil good, and good evil.
Economically we have fallen. Our currency, once the standard of the world, is slowly being edged out by other currencies. We’re 14 trillion dollars in the hole and subservient to China.
Militarily we have fallen. We are subject to global terrorism and have no answers.
We’ve saved the world twice before, but now our global influence is so weakened on the world’s stage that we can only watch on the sidelines as Egypt falls and the Middle East moves toward global Jihad.
Lincoln’s proclamation for fasting and praying for this nation from 1863 is all the more relevant today: “It is the duty of nations, as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God…and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord…. We have been the recipients of the choicest blessings of heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity.
“We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation ever has grown; but we have forgotten God! We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.”
The light on that city is flickering, slowly dying out – because in our modern, enlightened, ACLU-dominated culture, we’ve removed God from our land.
But there’s still hope. We can still see a reversal in our future.
Earlier I referred to another nation that was founded upon God; another nation that was“exceptional” because of its unique relationship with God – that nation was the nation of Israel.
God led a small, ragtag outfit out of Egyptian slavery and gave them a homeland and blessed them there. God set up a special relationship with the Israelites that if they would follow God, then He would set them up as “exceptional” and “blessed” and “prosperous” over all the other nations. Sound familiar?
They would be unique among the nations.
Take a look at Deuteronomy 28. While some mistakenly use these scriptures to apply toindividuals, this entire chapter is laying out the ground rules to nations that would submit to God. The founders of the United States knew these scriptures:
(1) “If you indeed obey the LORD your God and are careful to observe all his commandments I am giving you today, the LORD your God will elevate you above all the nations of the earth.
(2) All these blessings will come to you in abundance if you obey the LORD your God:
(3) You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the field.
(4) Your children will be blessed, as well as the produce of your soil, the offspring of your livestock, the calves of your herds, and the lambs of your flocks.
(5) Your basket and your mixing bowl will be blessed.
(6) You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.
(7) The LORD will cause your enemies who attack you to be struck down before you; they will attack you from one direction but flee from you in seven different directions.
(8) The LORD will decree blessing for you with respect to your barns and in everything you do — yes, he will bless you in the land he is giving you.
(9) The LORD will designate you as his holy people just as he promised you, if you keep his commandments and obey him.
(10) Then all the peoples of the earth will see that you belong to the LORD, and they will respect you (that’s the city on the hill motif!)
(11) The LORD will greatly multiply your children, the offspring of your livestock, and the produce of your soil in the land which he promised your ancestors he would give you.
(12) The LORD will open for you his good treasure house, the heavens, to give you rain for the land in its season and to bless all you do; you will lend to many nations but you will not borrow from any.
(13) The LORD will make you the head and not the tail, and you will always end up at the top and not at the bottom, if you obey his commandments which I am urging you today to be careful to do.
There is a cause and effect in this chapter. Simply put, if a nation follows God, even as the United States has followed God and His word, that nation will receive abundant,“exceptional” blessings. It’s not different from today. America in many ways has been the recipient of national promises and blessings God promised to Israel.
Therefore let Israel be our guide. Read the scriptures. When righteous leaders led Israel to God, the people prospered. When unrighteous leaders led Israel astray, the people suffered.
Now continuing in the chapter, if a nation that knew God turns away from Him, there are natural consequences that come as a result of God removing His hand of blessing.
And please note, that this is not God being vindictive. It is merely a cause and effect of God removing His blessings from a people who reject Him and embrace darkness.
(14) But you must not turn away from all the commandments I am giving you today, to either the right or left, nor pursue other gods and worship them.
(15) But if you ignore the LORD your God and are not careful to keep all his commandments and statutes I am giving you today, then all these curses will come upon you in full force:
(16) You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the field.
(17) Your basket and your mixing bowl will be cursed.
(18) Your children will be cursed, as well as the produce of your soil, the calves of your herds, and the lambs of your flocks.
(19) You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out…
Do you get the point?
Now here’s the good news. Since American Exceptionalism is a concept that dates back to ancient Israel, it’s not exclusively American. It is for any nation on the face of the earth that will submit to God – not Allah, not a host of other gods – but God! They too can beexceptional.
So, let us not be ashamed of American Exceptionalism. It is our relationship with God that has set us apart. Therefore, let us embrace it and return to the God of our forefathers to continue enjoying His rich blessings upon us and avert the coming disaster.
(2) “Democracy in America,” by Alexis de Tocqueville, “The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional, and it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be placed in a similar one.”
(5) “The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States,” by Benjamin F. Morris (1863, republished in 2007)