I could say a lot about the sad spectacle of protestors-turned-rioters trashing the US Capitol this week, but I need to stick to my lane.
I’m a pastor.
It’s fashionable these days to bash the idea of American exceptionalism, but if America isn’t exceptional, why are we so upset about what we saw?
America truly is exceptional. Every other nation in history was based on tribe, religion, ethnicity, or place. But America was founded by people from different tribes, religions, ethnicities, and places.
They all had to cross an ocean in wooden ships to get here.
The nation they formed was based, not on tribe, religion, ethnicity, or geography, but on the truly exceptional idea that free people could govern themselves.
A nation…based on an idea?
What gave them the idea it could work?
The founders understood that the Christian faith had created a shared sense of personal and public responsibility among the people of the colonies. Of course, not everyone believed, and there were vast differences in how faith was practiced. But enough did believe to create a shared expectation of how free people were supposed to behave.
The key was George Whitefield, the most important founding father you never heard of. Whitefield was a short, cross-eyed preacher from England who was the first truly international celebrity. Aside from George Washington, he was the most famous person in America. He attracted vast crowds; people would walk 20 miles or more to hear him. His clear voice allowed him to be heard by tens of thousands at once. His sermons made people weep, wealthy and poor alike.
Like no one before, Whitefield proclaimed the Gospel directly to the people, showing how all people were of infinite worth and beloved by God.
When Whitefield died in 1750, an incredible 80 percent of the people in the colonies had heard him in person. His legacy was a shared understanding of public virtue that made democracy possible.
But today, not nearly enough of us have heard the Gospel, and not nearly enough weep at its beauty. We’ve lost the shared understanding of public virtue that can only come from a Gospel understanding of the worth of each person.
If you were sad or scared about what happened this week, there is something you can do:
Join a church that lives and proclaims the Gospel.
Worship. Bring your friends. Repeat.
Really, what’s your excuse? It’s not like you have to cross an ocean.