Remembering Who We Are

Today is Independence Day. I write today as a direct descendant of five signers of the Mayflower Compact and a dozen men who fought in the American Revolution, and as an incurably, relentlessly optimistic believer in the future of these United States. But the importance of understanding and appreciating our history has never been more apparent than today.

Our educational system, from grade school through college, has completely failed to provide an accurate account of American history. If any history is taught, it is most often focused on our failings, shortcomings and flaws. As a result, we have raised several generations of Americans who have no understanding of why they live in the most free, most just, most safe and most prosperous nation in the history of the world. There is little appreciation of the sacrifices made, little understanding of the biblical worldview at the core of our form of government, and little respect for the values and virtues necessary for freedom to be maintained.

Many have seen this depressing video interviewing Americans at the beach about the meaning of Independence Day: It would be funny if it were not so sad.

Not just our educational system has failed. Some of our national political leaders seem to be in complete opposition to the notion that there is anything in American history that is exceptional or worth celebrating.

Their perspective is now being reflected even in the museums and monuments that should be tributes to American triumphs.
Yesterday in San Diego we paid a patriotic visit to the USS Midway Museum. While much of the Museum was stirring and inspirational, I was stunned at the moral relativism reflected in the film about the battle of Midway — for which this now decommissioned aircraft carrier was named. While tribute is given to the valor of the sailors involved in the battle, there is nowhere in the film any explanation of why we were fighting World War II. A visitor exposed to this film could conclude only that Japan wanted to defeat us, and we wanted to defeat Japan, and we were fighting because both nations were uncivilized.

Recently I met with a Christian pastor from Syria who is a patriotic American – except that our country makes it impossible for him to become a citizen or even earn permanent status. Meanwhile he ministers to the refugee community, and watches the ease with which people from cultures that violently suppress Christianity and democracy receive permanent status and even citizenship. His question for me: “Why do Americans denigrate their founders? In most countries and cultures, where there is much less to appreciate, people revere and honor their ancestors and founders – why in America do you undermine and attack your own history?”

We can reverse this. At Arizona Christian University we are committed to restoring an understanding of the biblical worldview and Christian influence that guided our founding and that undergird our republic. We teach classes in American exceptionalism, and we ground American history in a realistic look at our flaws combined with an appreciation for the great and virtuous aspirations at the core of the American idea.

Earlier this summer I finished reading The History of the American People, British historian Paul Johnson’s epic account of the history of our people. Right now I am reading Ron Chernow’s excellent biography of Alexander Hamilton that sparked Lin Manuel Miranda’s brilliant musical, which Tracy and I were blessed to see on Broadway in January.

Both books accurately reflect the trials, flaws and scandals of American history, but also clearly depict the positive role of Christianity and the brilliant and self-sacrificial conduct of so many Americans throughout history – “heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!”

Happy birthday America. Let’s study history, remember who we are, regain our confidence and recommit ourselves to being positive, productive and unselfish contributors to a world that benefits from the leadership of a strong and virtuous America.