Prophetic Preaching and American Exceptionalism
It is clear that one cannot hope to compete politically without mouthing one's assent to the principle of American Exceptionalism. We have come to believe that there is something "special" about this country. We see ourselves as especially blessed by God, and ultimately we can do no wrong. To "apologize" for past acts of injustice is seen as inappropriate and weak. One presidential candidate has made it his mantra to condemn his opponent for making apologies for American actions. No apologies necessary, for we are guiltless. Never mind the facts -- that America long allowed for slavery, embraced a policy of genocide toward Native Americans, embraced Jim Crow. We claimed to offer a haven for the poor and the lost, but our immigration policies are less than adequate to that claim. Thus, preaching that embraces the prophetic imagination of the ancient prophets and of Jesus often finds deaf ears in this country. Brueggemann writes in this regard:
In like manner, the “world in front to us” in contemporary US society has immense power, as it is carried variously by slogans, mantras, and various historical illusions. Thus variously the dominant imagination of the national security state trades on
• “A city set on a hill,”• “Land of the free and home of the brave,”• “Don’t tread on me,”• “Leader of the free world,”• “White man’s burden,”• “Manifest destiny.”All of these mantras, and many more that could be added, amount to a claim of exceptionalism that readily melds “God” into “country.” That melding, moreover, justifies macho violence in the world on behalf of “democratic capitalism.” As any preacher will attest, the political-theological force of this imagination is immense and resists challenge, its devotees being acutely vigilant to spot any hint of challenge. [Brueggemann, Walter (2011-12-15). The Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word (p. 26). Augsburg Fortress. Kindle Edition.]
How do we proclaim Yahweh's Narrative when the alternative has proven resistant even to the Gospel. What does it require of us? Are we willing to say no to this message of exceptionalism?
Brueggemann continues this conversation by noting:
This judgment can be tested by asking any would-be prophetic preacher to identify the topics that cannot be mentioned in church. The list of them reflects the totalizing exceptionalism that is given religious sanction and that seeks to silence any question about that claim. (p. 27).
So, what topics are beyond the pale?
*Note, this series of reflections on Brueggemann's book are related to my attendance at the Rochester College sponsored: "Streaming 2012 Conference" with Brueggemann and Richard Beck.