Reflections on “Revising Our Pledges of Allegiance”
James J. Condra on “Christian America”
Ashley Woodiwiss managed to cover an awful lot of ground in his “Revising Our Pledges of Allegiance” (Touchstone, September/October 1998). While I agree with much, I think that the prescriptions he offers: an embrace of serious ecclesiology, a rejection of consumerism, and a reinvigorated sense of community, offer anything but a rosy scenario for America’s Evangelicals, at least in the short run.
The systemic allegiance that Evangelicals have to the American civil religion is perhaps more tenacious than the allegiance of many on the secular Left. Political discourse in our country is hamstrung by the individualist-collectivist dichotomy, which forecloses a politics respectful of, to use Dr. Woodiwiss’s phrase, harmonious difference and solidarity. The Christian Right takes it for granted that rugged individualism is one of the things that made this country great, in contrast to liberals, who profess solicitude for the good of the whole. What is missing from this debate is the classical trinitarian concept of the person who finds his place and identity in relationship to a community of other persons. This concept excludes the notion of the rugged individual, even the rugged individual studying his open Bible by candlelight. What it offers instead is an image of the person standing in line with his family and neighbors to receive the blessed Eucharist. As a vision of organic community, it also unmasks the pretensions of the Left, which wants to destroy the church, the family, the neighborhood, and the guild so that the collective good is nothing more than lone individuals at the tender mercy of the secular state. Anyone who accepts this classical trinitarian vision and who listens to such popular forums as “conservative” talk radio feels estranged from the Enlightenment-based rhetoric of “contract” and “rights” that American Christians share with their adversaries.
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