Is America “the greatest force for good”?

[World, September 17, 1994]

Tom Clancy is the novelist for patriots, and Pat Buchanan is one of his biggest fans. But one of Buchanan’s recent columns, devoted to praising Clancy’s work, had a line that pulled me up short: “[His characters] put duty, honor, country above all else. And in a Clancy novel there is no moral equivalence: The U.S.A. is the greatest force for good on the planet.”

I write this as the U.N. International Conference on Population and Development begins in Cairo. The U.S.A. is there, parading as the greatest force for abortion, birth control, and eugenic population management on the planet. Our immense wealth and power make us a force hard to withstand.

Roman Catholic and Muslim countries protest that we’re trying to force on them a culture of sexual permissiveness (underwritten by contraception and abortion) that has been a demonstrable catastrophe for us. They say we’re trying to export out great failure.

What’s more, they say, we’re asking them to discard their deepest religious and moral beliefs, in favor of moral fads that have done anything but prove their worth. We’re treating their ancient culture with contempt; our fondness for multicultural diversity vanishes when the object of our patronage decline to dance to our tune.

Most embarrassingly, in Cairo the plump First World is chastising the Third World for not whittling back their numbers – as if we weren’t the most gluttonous consumers on the planet. America nods in agreement with Scrooge: Let the poor die and “decrease the surplus population.” Funny how the disposable surplus is made up of the weakest in our human family – the babies in the arms of the poor.

Is America the greatest force for good on the planet? In terms of worldly power, it’s safe to say that we’re the greatest force on the planet. If we’re not working for good, the possibilities are frightening.

A very different perspective form Buchanan’s arrived in a letter from a friend. James wrote that his wife had been part of a conversation about an unborn child with a heart defect. A woman listening in had stated sharply that the mother should have had early prenatal testing so she could have taken care of the problem. “Abortion” hung in the air unsaid.

As James listened to his wife recount the conversation, the grim reality hit him at a new depth: “My blood, almost literally, ran cold,” he wrote. He thought about Hitler, and how America fought to save helpless millions from his bloody drive to form a “master race.” Fifty years later we’re doing it ourselves, building the ideal race one abortion at a time, snuffing out the lives of disabled children. Today the unborn, the elderly, the sick and disabled. Tomorrow – well, as Father Smith warns a progressive-minded doctor in Walker Percy’s novel, The Thanatos Syndrome, “You’re going to end up killing Jews.” We’ll tell ourselves it’s proof of our great compassion. “Tenderness leads to the gas chamber,” says the priest.

We need no foreign despot to kill our babies – we do it ourselves, 4,400 times a day. Hitler laughs from the grave. His philosophy has found a home in the Land of the Free, and our big muscle pushes it on the weaker nations of the world.

James wrote that every week before church he prays for the “usual things,” forgiveness, wisdom, his family, his country. But this week, after those troubling thoughts, “I finally had the courage to ask God – if it be not his will that we come to our senses and peacefully turn away from evil – to destroy us before we reach the full potential of our wickedness.”

A gap wider than a generation looms between Buchanan’s thoughts and James’s. Part of our pride in our country is rooted in the self-sacrifice and courage expended in “The Good War.” But there was no guarantee that America would always be good.

In the last thirty years, we have seen every locus of elite power in our country – political and judicial, arts and entertainment, news media and advertising, education from preschool to college – become captive of a social agenda that dances with death. Death is the grinning handmaid of sexual revolution: death of trust in marriage, death of children in abortion, a hero’s death for those who won AIDS in the noble fight. Death has come in like a flood and sits in the seats of the powerful. The land of my birth feels less and less like where my true citizenship lies.

It was never true that Christians should “put…country first,” not if Jesus warns us even against putting spouse, parent, or child first. “The greatest force for good on the planet” was never our nation; it was always the Spirit of God moving through his redeemed people, whatever their color, tongue, or native land. God never promised to defend “My country, right or wrong.” If we are wrong, we can eventually expect wrath.

For many conservatives it is shocking and saddening to contemplate a split in the union of God-and-country. But if a divorce is looming for that venerable couple, if “the unbelieving partner desires to separate” (I Corinthians 7:15), then we know where our allegiance lies. And if babbling history should continue to repeat herself in this crazy-mirror fashion, if the day comes when Bill Clinton orders my sons to kill to advance his patriotic agenda (just as Hitler ordered the patriotic sons of his time), we will obey God rather than man.

“I love my country, but I fear my government,” the bumpersticker reads. Christians may want to vary that as we face the years ahead: “I love my country, but I fear my God.”

About Frederica Matthewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service,, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.

Christian LifeThe Culture