Do American Values Equal (Biblical) Christianity?

I recently read an interesting New York Times article by Michael Luo entitled “Gingerly, Romney Seeks Ties to the Christian Right.” As the title suggests, the piece detailed the effort by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a practicing Mormon, to court the support of conservative evangelical Christians.

One particular paragraph caught my eye:

“The values of my faith are much like, or are identical to, the values of other faiths that have a Judeo-Christian philosophical background,” [Romney] said at a campaign event in New Hampshire this month. “They’re American values, if you will.”

This one quote actually introduces a handful of important questions, including whether the “values” of the Mormon faith are identical to those of other Judeo-Christian perspectives (there are actually significant differences with regard to all of them), as well as whether biblically orthodox Christians should feel the freedom to vote for a Mormon (quite possibly in some cases—though please don’t take that as an endorsement for Romney). But leaving those issues aside for the moment, I want to draw your attention to the equation Romney seems to be making between the “American” values and those of Judeo-Christian faiths.

While I don’t want to hold Romney to the letter of everything he says in the seemingly endless barrage of interviews he and every other candidate undergoes, the idea of a basic correspondence between the prevailing American cultural viewpoint and that of biblical Christianity in particular is seriously flawed. For example, try as one might, it is difficult to find Scriptural support for the particular strain of individualism that has long been such a significant part of the American consciousness—all those “one another” passages continually get in the way. The same would hold true for the rampant materialism and consumerism that influence so much of our daily existence in this country. Paul’s assertion that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10) doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement of such practices.

Has the American cultural milieu been influenced by biblical Christianity in some ways? Of course. Even so, Christianity can no more be identified as American than it can be labeled Japanese, Ethiopian, or Canadian. Rather, the biblical perspective is one where the gospel provides the platform to weigh any culture, inevitably providing the basis for both legitimate affirmation and prophetic critique. As Christians living in the United States—or anywhere else for that matter—we will always need to be about both.

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