What is America like? Are we generous or are we the spoiled brat in the global village? How Christian are the Christians in politics? Third Way thinking addresses these issues, and Adam Hamilton’s book sketches ideas for us to think about when we think of America’s image in the world. See his book Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics.
We have 5% of the world’s population; we consume 22% of its energy resources. We expect other countries to go along with our global and national designs. We are obese while other nations struggle with starvation.
We think we are generous. According to the Congressional Research Service, in 2004, we were the largest dollar donors in the world — we gave .2 of our GDP. 5 times less than we were giving in the 1970s. Our income in that time has increased 5 times. Half of our 20 billion dollars in aid went to the poor — the rest went to foreign militaries. We give the most to Israel.
But, American individuals are generous, leading many foreigners to like Americans but not the USA. In 2000 we gave away — as individuals — 33.6 billion dollars.
How did you respond to this sketch (and it comes from Hamilton, and some might quibble with the facts)? Did you say, “It’s not our job to solve the world’s problems?” Or, “America, take it or leave it!” Or, “It’s unpatriotic to talk like this.” Or, “You sound like a European!”
Hamilton sketches a Christian way — a Third Way — of responding. One that gets beyond the “who gives a rip?” of isolationism and individualism as well as beyond “Red, white and Blue, God, and Jesus are all the same.”
First, the Christian understanding of sin. If we as individuals struggle with sin, so also our nation.
Second, the Christian community is to witness to an alternative world and alternative kingdom voice. We are to be a conscience to the nation and not its mirror or its mouthpiece.
Third, critique is not unpatriotic.
Fourth, we are to be a blessing to other nations; we are to be the salt and light; true greatness is not power but loving service.
“The only hope for creating lasting peace is for the United States to claim the biblical ideas of blessings, compassion, humility, and servanthood as defining characteristics of our nation and our foreign policy” (224).
“We are,” he adds, “in need of a vision, as a nation, that will call us to true greatness — defined not by how much we have but how much we give … defined not by how many people we can coax to do what we want but how well we listen to the needs, opinions, and thoughts of others in forging a way forward; defined not by the fear inspired by our military might but by the admiration inspired by our compassion and generosity” (225).
Compassionate conservativism in the last decade gave way to neo-conservatism. Will Christians fight hard enough to change the direction in the next decade? Will they avoid the dangerous trap of centralizing it all into a neo-socialism, thinking that the Feds can do it all? It matters for our world.