Thank God for America

With the long-awaited arrival of Mark, Megan and Hayden Teeter from Washington State (Mark is our new youth pastor at Christ Church), and with some considerable interest (if not controversy) in my book on Christian Zionism (dealing as it does largely with American Christian fundamentalism), I thought it would be appropriate to clarify my views on the United States and reiterate something I said three years ago (that got me into hot water then).

I love America. There, I've said it!
And I feel better already. Having made thirteen trips to the USA in three years after 48 years abstinence, I admit I still have the zeal of the newly converted. In fact, it was an American who led me to a personal faith in Jesus Christ back in my first term at university in 1973. With around 10% of Christ Church family from the other side of the Atlantic, and growing, more and more of my best friends are American.

We love to turn our noses up
Speaking as a Brit, if we are honest (and why not) we love to turn our noses up at the Yanks. After all, they invented Big Macs, big cars and got to the moon first. In the war, they were indeed over here, overpaid and in the words of Mark Green, "stole our most genetically advanced women with the lure of nylons, cigarettes and chocolate." Since then, they have colonised our cinemas with their values, filled our high streets with their products, bought many of our industries and succeeded in persuading us that Coca Cola, that quintessentially American drink, is actually the beverage that best captures the essence of the quintessentially British game of football.

I love the American, "can do" spirit
But I love the American, "can do" spirit even more. If you have an idea in a meeting with a group of Americans their instinctive response is to think of 10 good reasons why that was the smartest thing anyone ever said. In contrast, if you have an idea with a group of Brits, their instinctive response is to think of 10 reasons why - A. That was the silliest idea in the history of human civilisation; B. You are the stupidest creature ever to emerge from the primordial slime. A recent survey by Gallup showed that Americans are more fulfilled on a daily basis in their work environment than employees in any other country in the world. I think it has a lot to do with the positive encouragement and motivation they exude and so many British employees sadly lack.

I also love American openness
I also love American openness and hospitality. We have had two superb Thanksgiving Suppers at Christ Church, hosted by our incredibly generous American families for which we are enormously grateful. I much prefer getting invited for brunch at Shoneys within 30 seconds of touching down on American soil than all that British reserve that takes us years before we invite the neighbours over the threshold for a sherry at Christmas with all the suspicion of a Trojan considering a wooden horse.

Maybe it's just envy
Maybe it's just envy. It's bad enough that another nation is top nation and America is - but it's worse when you used to be top nation and you aren't any longer, and never will be anymore. So we comfort ourselves with a shallow disdain and romantic memories of the lost Empire. And when we see them doing things well - and they do - we grumble about the fact that it's only because they've got the money. Well, they do (or at least they know how to borrow it). And many of them know how to invest it.

Imagine a world without Americans
Think about it. Without America, there probably wouldn't be any Jews in Europe. Or Israel, for that matter. Without America the Berlin Wall would have been in Frankfurt. Without America, Saddam Hussain would have a palace the size of Belgium in Saudi Arabia (well maybe). Without America…. actually, it doesn't bear thinking about. For all her faults, for all the scandals that have rocked that nation in recent years, the last century was the American Century and the only Western nation that held onto it's political moral nerve was America.

So maybe it's not a surprise, that America is the only Western nation that has held onto Christianity to any significant degree. God remains on the agenda. And if American Christianity is less influential on the national political agenda than we'd like, well, are we doing any better? This is not to say that healthy dialogue and constructive criticism of US foreign policy in the Middle East, or other parts of the world, is not justified (and it is) but at least they listen - and Tony Blair at least is one world leader who gets a regular word in.

Judging American Christianity
Judging American Christianity by its televangelists is a bit like judging British culture by Benny Hill. Similarly, we whinge at what we perceive to be the average American's isolationism or how coaches all over Europe disgorge brigades of glaringly dressed Americans around the great cultural sites of old Europe. When you are tempted to look down your nose at the superficiality of their tourism, ask yourself how the average Brit spends the summer - glugging Carling Black Label and eating chips in Benidorm. And besides, isn't it actually rather impressive that so many Americans save up for the trip of a lifetime and have the discernment to spend their money looking at some of the greatest artistic achievements of humankind? And then if we consider the great mission enterprises of this century, British Christians need to remember that 75% of Protestant mission funding comes from the US and that half the Protestant overseas missionaries in the world are American.

Humble Enough to Receive?
So if you're praying for God to send someone to save the world, there's a one in two chance that the King of the Universe is going to send an American. And when these well-funded, prayed for Americans arrive overseas, what do they find? Under-funded Europeans. And what do the Americans do? Sacrifice their money to make sure their fellow Christians have enough. So lets thank God for America, and above all, lets thank God for the Americans (and other wonderful nationalities) in Virginia Water.

With grateful thanks to Mark Greene of Christianity magazine for some of the inspiration behind this article published in Connection, the Parish Magazine of Virginia Water, January 2005.