“We are in need of a vision, as a nation, that will call us to true greatness—defined not by how much we have but by how much we give of ourselves to lift others out of poverty and despair; 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 the admiration inspired by our compassion and generosity.”*
When I was a communication professor, I taught a class called “intercultural communication.” In that introductory course, my aim was to help American students understand how we look at other cultures in this world and how other cultures look at us.
I assigned many papers for my students to write and most of those papers were based on documentaries filmed in other cultures. People around the world would give a glimpse of their reality and in turn often shared with the viewing audience how they felt about America.
Over and over the same phrase was used to describe the United States: “I like Americans; I just don’t like the United States.”
What does this mean? How could this be?
We see ourselves as benevolent and some of us see the citizens of the U.S. as Christian, charitable, caring, people who want to help the world be a better place for all.
I am not sure the facts bear that out. We have five percent of the world’s population and consume twenty-two percent of the total energy produced every year. Only China produces more greenhouse gases than America and their population is four times the size of ours. When it comes to foreign policy, we take on the role of world cop, expecting others to follow our lead. We think we are so generous with our foreign aid but in fact most of our foreign aid goes to countries that have some strategic value for us on the world stage. Our foreign aid does not go to the neediest people. Many would be surprised to know that the largest recipient of foreign aid is Israel.
Other countries spend far higher percentages of their gross domestic product to help other countries. Germany gives away two times what the United States does in aid. France gives away three times more of its GDP than the U.S. Denmark donates seven times what the U.S. gives away.
Where we as a people shine is our giving of private funds to help others recover from disaster. In a 2013 Chronicle of Philanthropy study, we ranked 13th out of 135 countries in private giving but 1st in private giving to help strangers in other countries experiencing disaster and 3rd in our ability to volunteer to help countries in need.
Jesus talks so much about salt and light and what would be best is for America to be the salt and light of the world. In Jesus’ day, salt was used as a preservative and as a flavor enhancer. America could preserve what is good and right in the world in the face of the evil that is so evident in many places throughout the world. Where there is strife, sorrow and hatred, we could be a positive force to make peace, bind up wounds and show love. In Matthew 5, Jesus talks about “a city on a hill” and how that city cannot be hid; it can give light to the whole house. The world may see our good works and see us give glory to God and that may inspire the good in others.
In this election season we have had such self-absorbed rhetoric as candidate has bashed candidate. I have often wondered how other cultures have viewed this election process. Has it hurt our image abroad?
I suspect it has.
Adam Hamilton expresses hope for America’s future, a hope that I also have. Maybe it is naïve. Maybe it is too idealistic.
I like it anyway.
“The only hope for creating lasting peace [in the world] is for the United States to claim the biblical ideas of blessing, compassion, humility and servanthood as defining characteristics of our nation and our foreign policy.”
Now we are a long way from being that city on a hill, but as we aspire to be a better nation, I can think of no greater aspiration than to be that city.
As Christian Americans, I cannot think of a more important role than to be the conscience of our great nation, gently nudging our leadership to not only talk about the good we can do, but more importantly doing the good that we know we can do.
*Adam Hamilton from Chapter 22 Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White
**Chronicle of Philanthropy December 3, 2013
I plan to post on thoughts inspired by Adam Hamilton’s book Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White until election day November 8, 2016. On November 9, we begin a new study based on W. Bingham Hunter’s book The God Who Hears.