Yesterday, I represented the seminary at the Day for Theological Conversation, which was hosted by Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, a Roman Catholic seminary here in town. My understanding of the event was that there would be three speakers--a Rabbi, a Muslim, and a Arab Christian (discussing "The Semitic Experience in America)--and then all the faculy members present were to give two minutes or less in reflection or question of the presentations.
When our host outlined the sequence at the events, though, he said that after the three speakers would be two respondants. I thought to myself, "Hmm, that's good. They lined up two respondants before the event." So, I contented myself with passing the time and listening to the speakers, two of whom were engaging and the other overbearing. But then, after the speakers spoke (for over an hour and half), the host said, "Let's take a break. After that, we will hear from our two respondants, Dr. X [I didn't catch his name] and Dr. Sean Lucas, from Covenant Seminary." Yikes! I had 10 minutes to prepare a 5-10 minute response in which I would sound reflective, knowledgeable, and winsome without saying anything which I would regret or which would be untrue!
Fortunately, the Lord had brought to mind a classic book in American religious history, R. Laurence Moore's Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans. Moore considers various "outsiders" (Mormons, Fundamentalists, Catholics, Jews) and observers the dialectic tension that is created by "Americanization"--in the interplay between religion and America, how does the meaning of America shift? How does the faith system itself transform?
After outlining Moore's basic framework, and using it to summarize each of the presentations (on the pressures of America and particularity of faiths), I also admitted that these questions applied just as well to the conservative Protestantism that I represented at the gathering. How does the American situation cause conservative religionists to identify more with the nation-state instead of God's own City? What should the proper (i.e. Christian) response be?
My thoughts turned to Hebrews 11 and the image of Abraham wandering as a stranger and alien in the Promised Land. He lived in tents that had no foundations because he was looking for a city whose builder and maker was God. And so must we. We are strangers and aliens in this place--and when conservative Protestants identify with America or a particular part of America (region, race, or political platform) instead of the City of God--our own faith is transformed in ways that are unrecognizable when compared to Holy Scripture. I asked in conclusion, what would this recognition that we are all strangers in America mean for our particular faiths? And what would this mean for America itself?