By Dr. Riley B. Case
“Thy love divine hath led us in the past, in this free land by thee our lot is cast…”
Thanksgiving is America’s only holiday that is both a national day and a religious day. By its very nature it defies the extremist arguments on total separation of church and state. Thanksgiving is about being thankful-not just thankful generally to any one in particular-but thankful to God, and quite specifically, to the Christian God. Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful to all those persons and institutions through which we have been blessed, but in its original form, it is meant to be thankfulness to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, for providentially having guided us as a land in the midst of a troubled world.
Of course, like other Christian holidays, efforts have been made to deconstruct Thanksgiving and make it something quite different. Secularists are uneasy about expressions that link God and patriotism, especially patriotism that suggests that America is meant to be a Christian nation. They are especially troubled that it is somehow in our national psyche there is the belief that God has a plan for the world and that America somehow fits into that plan.
Let it be known we are guilty as charged. While we as a nation have often stumbled, have frequently not lived up to our high calling, and have often arrogantly stated our case, the truth is that it is not only Christians, especially evangelical Christians, but Americans generally who support the notion that we as a nation have been blessed by God and that we have a role to play in world affairs. This has been confirmed quite dramatically by a poll conducted by Greenberg Quinian Rosner Research Inc. for the PBS news program, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly and the United Nations Foundation. According to the poll, 61% of Americans believe America is a land specially blessed by God. In addition, 59% believe United States should be a model Christian nation to the world.
To believe that we as a nation have been blessed by God does not mean we say we are a “Christian nation,” (to say so, or even to aspire so would be to demean the word “Christian”) or that God has a covenant with us in the same way he had a covenant with Israel in the Old Testament (God’s covenant is with the Church). It is to say, however, that we believe God has a plan for all peoples and our nation somehow fits into that plan. If we are blessed it is so we might be a blessing.
It also means that we as a nation can sin (by not fulfilling God’s plan) and thus should be open to those prophets (whether liberal or evangelical) who would call us to repentance. To say this is to imply that there is an important role for groups like the Board of Church and Society (even as we wish the board had a broader vision).
It is probable that not many families will discuss these matters when they sit down to their Thanksgiving feasts. But they should. The vision of the first Pilgrims still sustains us.