July 4, 2014


Who Are Americans?: What Christians contribute to the search for a national identity. (Chuck Colson with Catherine Larson, 6/21/2010, Christianity Today)

Can a Christian worldview inform us as we wrestle with our national identity?

Any kind of racially or ethnically intolerant society would be incompatible with Christian principles.

Further, we know that the core values of our creeds, which in particular promote the dignity of all people, resonate with Scripture and are worth preserving. American patriotism does not rest on jingoistic nationalism but on a universal creed that says, "All men are ... endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."

Liberty is one of those unalienable rights. And this core value, also emphasized in Scripture, teaches us that we cannot force beliefs on others. Our founders understood, however, that freedom of religion is not synonymous with expunging religion from public life, a problem that I and others addressed last fall in the Manhattan Declaration. So if Huntington is in fact right that the U.S. needs a reinvigorated religious commitment, it won't come from a nation-mandated religion but rather from a reinvigorated populace.

I believe, then, that for national identity to be salient in the midst of our changing society, we need to promote a recommitment to our creeds, a respect for American history, and a proper role of patriotism, rooted in love of neighbor. Our founders' Judeo-Christian heritage helped produce a culture in which moral responsibility, transcendent ethical principles, and the dignity of all people could flourish--a culture in which our creedal values made sense. This is why our role as leaven within society is so important, and why we must continue to bring a biblical influence to the public square, reinvigorating society.

As we do so, we must guard against the easy tendency to embrace xenophobic notions or fall into the equally perilous trap of promoting subcultural identities over national identity. People will not live with, let alone die for, a nation that has abandoned its religious moorings and adopted a creed that suggests we simply live together in cosmopolitan bliss. Millions of us, however, have been willing to live and die for beliefs rooted in our deepest convictions about God and man--convictions that were expressed so well in the stirring words of our national creed, the Declaration of Independence.

An immigrant's trip to Arizona: The columnist's mother finds much to like -- and much to be concerned about -- on a visit to California's neighbor. (Hector Tobar, July 10, 2010, LA Times)

In Sedona, she was reminded of the growing tension between the two worlds she has lived in since she was 20 -- one English-speaking, the other mostly Spanish-speaking, both filled with people she respects.

She found some English-speaking friends a little glib in their dismissal of people's fears.

"Mercedes, how could you be concerned about the new law?" one asked her. "There's no profiling. You're only going to be stopped if you're breaking the law!"

This same longtime friend, who before had seemed apolitical, was upset at the immigrants rights groups calling for a boycott of the state.

My mother was surprised by the sudden anger.

Being in Arizona made her reflect on her own immigrant experience. She thought about the people who've arrived in the U.S. after she did and was inspired to write down a list of principles all current and future immigrants should follow.

"1. Learn the language. 2. Obey and respect the law. 3. Be careful of the image you project -- without losing your identity. 4. Imitate the good things -- but don't get caught up in [the Americans'] bad habits. 5. Never be embarrassed to say where you are from. 6. Be grateful for the opportunities you are given. 7. And give something back that will enrich your adopted country."

Words of wisdom, of course.

But she kept feeling rankled, despite all her perspective.

"Our governor is only trying to protect our borders because we don't have any federal help," another of her Anglo friends told her.

"Somehow, the word 'protect' bothered me," my mother wrote, because it was said with a "tone of discrimination."

The new Arizona law is meant to "protect" Americans from danger -- and it bothers my mother that so many Americans think of their Latin American neighbors as a source of danger.

Her Mexican-born friends spoke of strange encounters with local police. Some involved traffic stops made with what seemed like the flimsiest of excuses. A son-in-law of a friend, she was told, was pulled over for "leaving a dog on the street corner" -- even though he's never owned a dog.

"All I know is that before I felt free to go anywhere," said Antonia Rodriguez, a native of Agua Prieta, Mexico, and a naturalized U.S. citizen. "And now if I don't have my passport with me, I feel scared."

Those who aren't citizens, her Mexican-born friends told her, fear being deported and separated from their U.S.-born children.

After listening to all these stories, and seeing the fear in her friends' eyes, my mother wrote: "Just the idea of seeing a police car behind you, and knowing they can stop you and ask you for your papers does something to your dignity."

"I've never been a person with a complex," my mother wrote, by which she meant she's never been hung up on the idea that she was the victim of discrimination. "But this new law makes me feel sad."

[originally posted: 7/11/10]

Posted by at July 4, 2014 12:38 AM

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