The America I grew up in was seen as the shining light on a hill. We took pride in the inscription on the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Instead of decimating our enemies after World War II, we helped them rebuild. Germany and Japan embraced freedom and prosperity and became two of our strongest allies.
We fought and died in the jungles of Vietnam, not for ourselves, but for others. In its aftermath we welcomed Vietnamese and Hmong refugees who integrated into our cities. Christian churches sprang up among various groups: Vietnamese, Chinese, Laotian, Thai, Korean, Liberian, Nigerian and many others. Spanish speaking churches exploded and continue to thrive. The Christian faith swept across South Korea until it became the second largest mission sending nation in the world.
When I visited Brazil I was welcomed as a celebrity because I was an American. Children ran through the streets and people crowded in the windows to see someone from the United States. When I served briefly as pastor of an English speaking church in Nuremburg Germany older Germans often expressed their gratitude for GIs who helped them rebuild their nation. We thought of ourselves as a generous and welcoming nation, blessed by God to bless the nations of the world.
But all of that seems to be changing. We are well down the road of putting “America first.” The question is no longer, what is best for mankind, for the world and for posterity, but what is best for us. The MAGA has transitioned into a “me first” mentality.
Instead of asking, how can we help out neighbor nations fight the gang violence and corruption that causes families to flee to our borders, we ask only, “how can we keep these people out?” Children are torn from the arms of their desperate parents as punishment for seeking a safe asylum in the United States. In our efforts to “make American great again” we seem to be losing the values that made America great in the first place.
Our movies, our media and our politics portray us as a covetous people. We seem to have adopted Gordon Gekko’s maxim that “greed is good.” We have turned a deaf ear to the tenth commandment: “You shall not covet.” (Exodus 20:17).
The Apostle Paul confessed that this commandment was his undoing. “I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting.’” Romans 7:7-8).
When we start down this self-centered path we sow the seeds of future calamity in our communities, our nation and the world. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet, but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” (James 4:1-2).
Paul’s conclusion is applicable for all of us: “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” You shall not steal, “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Romans 13:9).