By Ronnie McBrayer
When that group of Separatists landed in the New World on the Mayflower, they landed at Plymouth Rock in a territory that would eventually become known as the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Colony became, obviously, the seedbed for the nation whose birthday we celebrate this week.
The Pilgrims were not very successful and, under a new charter, were replaced by the Puritans. The Puritans were governed by a man who continues to have influence on the New World—John Winthrop. Winthrop claimed that God had given the Puritans this new land in order to purify Christianity, to save this continent from being wasted, and to serve as an example to the Old World for building a model society.
John Winthrop delivered his most famous sermon to this end, before he even set foot on North American soil. Just off of the beach on the boat that had brought the Puritans to their new home, he preached: “We shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us. Keep his commandments and his laws that the Lord our God may bless us in the land we go to possess.”
This high idealism that a human nation, united with religious fervor, can serve the grand and glorious intentions of God has been written into this nation’s history and psyche; but these words have been terribly misappropriated. “City on a hill” language is verbiage that belongs in the realm of faith. No government or country can ever serve as the light of the world. Any earthly nation claiming otherwise has plagiarized the words of Jesus, attempting to use human power to birth what can only come into the world by the power of God.
Eugene Peterson makes this point eloquently clear. He says the North American church conspicuously embraces the way of the Empire while living “in Jesus’ name.” The church “replaces the Jesus way with the American way. Yes, the American way works, sometimes magnificently, in achieving grandly conceived ends. Wars are fought, wealth is accumulated, elections are won, and victories posted. But the means by which those ends are achieved leaves a lot to be desired.”
So with apologies to John Winthrop, do not expect government—any government—to be a City on a Hill. Expect great and noble things from governance; even demand it. But do not expect more than these can give.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.