The Silver Lining to "The American Patriot's Bible"

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

If the beginning of this promotional video doesn’t remind you of the opening credits of The Colbert Report, then you probably don’t get Comedy Central.  And if the entire thing doesn’t make you cringe with embarrassment, then you probably lack the facial muscles to do so.

The American Patriot’s Bible, released this spring by Thomas Nelson Publishers, has caused quite a stir on the blogosphere recently.  Needless to say, if anything deserves one of LifeWay’s infamous “Read With Discernment” stickers, it would be this little piece of nationalistic propaganda.

Gregory Boyd wrote an excellent review on Out of Ur blog. In Part 1, he criticizes the editors for suggesting that America is a nation uniquely governed and blessed by God and for selectively retelling American history based on that assumption.   (The celebration of Andrew Jackson seen in the promotional video is a good example of such selectivity. The Patriot’s Bible praises for Jackson for hailing the Bible as the “rock” on which the U.S. was founded, and yet it was Jackson who blatantly disregarded a ruling of the Supreme Court, forcing thousands of Cherokee Indians from their homes onto the Trail of Tears.)

In Part 2, Boyd expresses his dismay at how The Patriot’s Bible celebrates nationalistic violence. “Most stunningly,” writes Boyd, is that “each Gospel opens with a scene that includes soldiers struggling to raise a flag under the words ‘In God We Trust.’”

Boyd concludes that “the assumption that God is uniquely invested and involved in America should especially concern Christians, since Jesus explicitly taught that the Kingdom he brought had nothing to do with nationalism or violence. His Kingdom was ‘not of this world,’ and the proof he offered Pilate in support of this claim is that his followers would not engage in violence, as defenders of worldly kingdoms invariably do (Jn. 18:36)... In this light, it’s nothing short of tragic that we now find ourselves with a version of the Bible whose sole purpose is to reinforce the nationalism and celebrate the military victories of a particular country.”

Clearly, The Patriot’s Bible is at best an embarrassment to evangelicals everywhere and at worst a little idol with a $30 price tag.

So what do I see as the silver lining?

The fact that everyone’s so mad.

Well, maybe not everyone....but nearly every professional review I’ve come across has been negative, and bloggers of various denominations and affiliations have come out strongly against The Patriot’s Bible.  In fact, I considered avoiding the topic altogether since so much had been written on the subject already.

I find all of this online chatter oddly reassuring because it tells me that religious nationalism does not pass as an unquestioned assumption within evangelical circles anymore. It tells me that people of faith are more willing than ever to honestly confront the mistakes of our past, acknowledging the ways in which Christian people claiming Christian values have done terrible things in the name of “God’s will.” The uproar over The Patriot’s Bible tells me we are ready to engage on a deeper level the question of how to reconcile the teachings of Jesus with national defense and war.

Of course, we have yet to see the sales numbers, and that may be more telling than blog chatter. But I have a feeling that, overall, tolerance for combining Scripture with nationalistic propaganda is growing thinner.

Sure this promotional video sickens my heart...but the general outcry among Christians that we can do better than this has actually lifted it a little.

What was your initial response to The Patriot’s Bible? How have people around you responded?

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