Friday, October 10, 2008

A City upon a Hill

When Gov. Joan Wayne of Alaska isn't using her "Obama bin Laden" screeds during this campaign season, she often refers to Ronald Reagan's "shining city on a hill." Of course, Ronnie was quoting John Winthrop's 1630 speech upon the Arbella before he and his fellow Pilgrims landed on this "virgin" continent."

For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken… we shall be made a story and a by-word throughout the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God… We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us til we be consumed out of the good land whither we are a-going.

It's pretty heady stuff--the belief that nations have a covenant with God and are committed to His work here on Earth. But what exactly did that covenant entail for Winthrop and his Puritan posse?

--There, of course, was the Salem witch trials.

--The enslavement of Africans and Natives.

--The persecution, banishment, and murder of religious dissidents (think Anne Hutchinson, Roger Williams, and Quakers.

--Oh yeah, and conducting wars of extermination against the Pequots and other Natives, believing it was "God's will" (as one Capt. John Mason declared: "God laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to Scorn, making them as a fiery Oven ... Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling the Place with dead Bodies.")

Maybe this continent has spent most of the last 400 years trying to be that "shining city on a hill." I'm thinking we should now try to be something a little more inclusive and perhaps a bit less ambitious--like the "gleaming subdivision in the valley." Just a thought.

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