A friend asked me these questions recently. He asked me to blog about it...it makes me feel small just thinking about it. I mean, who am I to try an answer such questions? Yet here I am, sitting at my laptop, unable to escape an attempt at a response.
First (as always), my disclaimers.
As I said already, I feel inadequate for this. There is an incredible diversity to being American. First of all, I'm only including the United States of America. Yes, I know that's what most people mean by "American", but as I've learned from many people (including my South American wife) America involves 2 continents and multiple countries. But just within the US, there is diversity in culture (southern hospitality vs the speed of the metropolis) and language (what is the plural of "you"?) and timing (what defines "American" today? how is that different from 1911? 1811? 1411?) and I'm sure hundreds of other categories. To try and identify definitively the core things that make us Americans seems inherently arrogant. So I'm humbly offering my list in hopes that a dialogue might emerge where we can learn from each other. I declare my list to be faulty and biased before I even start it, because I know that I am faulty and biased.
Second caveat: American values and biblical values are not the same thing. Oddly, I'm much more comfortable talking about what I believe the Bible says that what I think an American values. But they are clearly not the same set of values. There are times when they will agree, there are times when they can be complementary and there are times when they will clash. And perhaps clash hard, harder than any American who is following Jesus is comfortable with, if we really engage the teachings of Jesus and scripture as a whole. Which leads to my third disclaimer;
Every American follower of Jesus will at some point be confronted with the choice of which "kingdom" comes first, which sets of values will be more influential on our families, our work, our choices, our beliefs. Honestly, we are probably confronted with that choice at least daily, we just don't realize it. And my fourth disclaimer? Following on the heels of #3;
Too many Americans who self-identify as Christians are living as though the "kingdom" of America and her values are at least as important as biblical values, if not more so. Yes, I am admitting that I believe many of us (yes, us, as in "me too") are failing miserably at "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness."
So with those caveats, if you're still interested, here's what I think are the core American values, not necessarily in a particular order (although you might see a pattern in a few of them if you're familiar with our Declaration of Independence and Constitution):
- human rights and opposition to tyranny
- consent of the governed
- individualism and e pluribus unum
In the meantime, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments. Looking forward to the dialogue!