Michael Youssef: Confusing Americans with Christians

Michael Youssef
"Make no mistake about it: the moral character of a nation, as expressed in its policies and laws, can evoke God's response. I don't mean that our heavenly Father would send fire and brimstone from heaven in response to a nation that embraces ungodly laws and policies. But He can and will withdraw His protection from a people who once declared Him as their Lord and then become rebellious and an immoral affront to Him." - Michael Youssef

In a commentary at OneNewsNow.com (from Donald Wildmon's American Family News Network), Michael Youssef seeks to answer the question, "Can there be a Christian nation?"

As I read Youssef's column, it struck me that Youssef is confused about the difference between the United States of America and the Christian Nation that is comprised of Bible-believing, Jesus-following Christians, no matter what country they live in.

At one point, Youssef says, “A country, or even a culture, cannot be Christian — only individuals can be Christians.” But then he negates that statement by making the case that America is, in fact, a Christian nation, rooted in Christianity, founded by Christians, and that all the citizens of America need to repent and get back to God. To do this, he is initiating "GODSAVEOURCOUNTRY.COM" to return America (and all Americans) to its Christian roots so as to ensure America's security since God "can and will withdraw His protection from a people who once declared Him as their Lord."

He later makes this caveat: “Let me be absolutely clear, America is not ‘the new Israel.’” And then says, “but the lessons we learn from Israel of old can be of immense importance today.”

I agree with this statement whole-heartedly. But he and I apply these “lessons” that we learn from Israel in different ways. Youssef applies them directly to the nation of the United States“We are being made aware once again of His (God’s) desire for this generation of Americans to return to Him and to the faith of our Founding Fathers.” In other words, today's Americans are like the Israelites who were thrown into exile - we have turned away from the God that founded our nation.

I disagree with this way of applying Israel's history to our contemporary setting. I believe that the Bible wants us to not apply the lessons of Israel to any contemporary political state, but only to the contemporary People of God – that is, Christians. Today’s followers of Christ are a “holy nation;” it is not limited by any geographical or political boundary – see 1 Peter 2:9.

Here is the weakness of what Youssef is attempting to do:

He is not making a clear differentiation between Bible-believing, Jesus-following Christians and the American populace at large. In other words, he implies that all Americans are back-slidden Christians, needing to return to who they really are. He says,
“As believers, we should know and believe deeply that God desires for our leaders and judges to repent for shedding the blood of the unborn. A loving heavenly Father is waiting for them to repent for approving and sanctioning sins that are abominations to Him. God desires for His children to repent from the spirit of materialism and placing our hope in possessions.

“The Lord's desire for His people is to stop serving Him in a half-hearted manner. He longs for His people to thirst and hunger for righteousness and not for ease and comfort. God continuously calls us to Himself.”

About whom is Youssef speaking? If he wants Christians (who happen to be citizens of the United States) to repent of being lax in our battle to protect the oppressed (i.e., the unborn) and to repent of our capitulating to the capitalistic materialism of American culture, then I would want to say, “Amen!”

But this is not what Youssef is saying. He is saying that the United States, as a whole, is a Christian nation, needing to repent and return to God. He believes that since the United States, as an entire nation, is experiencing “economic woes and national disasters,” and a weakened national security, then this is evidence that America’s relationship with God is off track. While he may say that he doesn't see America as “the new Israel,” his way of applying the Old Testament to America certainly betrays that statement.

Youssef is improperly equating the United States with the true “Christian Nation,” that is, the people of God who follow the Lord of lords and King of kings.

On this Independence Day weekend, we Christians can be proud citizens of the United States. But we can do this without equating our nation with Israel. As good citizens, we should vote for good laws that reflect God’s creative order, we should advocate for justice where we see injustice, we should pray for the common good of all citizens (whether they be Christian or not), and we should seek to be light in the darkness of a secular nation.

As Christians, we will continue to pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, by the means of the One we follow, Jesus Christ, who originally brought his Kingdom into this world through service and suffering.

As God's chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, on July 4 and every day, we will declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.

And we will invite our fellow Americans to become members of God's true Christian Nation - the Universal Church - so that they can do so as well.


John Fea said...

Bob: Great post. I responded at http://www.philipvickersfithian.com/2010/07/confusing-americans-with-christians.html

Patrick said...

Check out what Greg Boyd said about this over at Relevant Magazine: "For (Too Much) Love of Country".

backcheck said...

Dear Brother Bob,
I am a relatively newly minted pastor but I do know what I know. While I agree with nearly all of your points about what it means to be Christians and advocate for good policy and fight social injustice, I believe you have painted Dr. Michael Youssef in a poor light. What he meant with the parallel of the U.S. and Israel and what you read are not the same things. I can definitely understand your interpretation of what he said but I think you're reading too deeply. Dr. Youssef is a tremendous Christian minister who has decades of experience (over you and over me). I believe there are very few who are truly annointed pastors in this nation but Dr. Youssef is one of them. I do not attend his church, I am not one of his "followers" nor do I give to his ministry in anyway. I just like what he says because he preaches biblical truth. Might I recommend that before you criticize fellow brethren that you try to better understand what it is he's really trying to say instead of point-by-counterpoint trying to discredit that person in a blog. That's just IMHO. Be well and God bless you and your ministries. Remember, are as much a people of love as we are a "nation" of truth.

In His Service,
Rev. Sung N. Kim
Cornerstone Community Church
Redding, CA

Bob Robinson said...

Rev. Kim,
I appreciate your concern for truth and love, and your desire to show grace and fairness to the brethren. Dr. Youssef did, however, write a theologically flawed article, and as a public figure, he must accept public criticism for such statements. It is not my intention to attack him as a person or as a brother in Christ, but to simply state that his theology is misguided.

Dr. Youssef's "experience" is irrelevant; there have been plenty of experienced ministers that have taught things that are flawed theologically. I have twenty years of ministry experience, yet I admit that I must constantly humbly submit to correction. In light of your criticism, I seriously re-read Youssef's article and my critique, for I know that I am just as broken as Dr. Youssef in seeking the truth.

I've re-evaluated what I wrote and believe it stands up.

Simply put, Youssef is making the mistake of thinking that America needs to go back to its Christian founding or else God will withdraw his protection.

But (1) America was not founded by evangelicals to be a Christian nation (evangelicals, who should be seeking truth should not be perpetuating this lie), and (2) America has a long history of unchristian practices (slavery, manifest destiny, native American relations, greed, corruption, religious persecution, etc.).

As John Fee, an evangelical who teaches American history at Messiah College states, "He (Youssef) implies (OK - he doesn't imply it - he comes right out and says it) that the Founders were evangelical Christians who were creating an evangelical, covenanted nation. But a close look at the ideas of the Founders shows that such a golden age never existed."

Youssef says that America "once declared God as their Lord" and that now America has "become rebellious." This is simply not true. America, as a nation, has never declared Jesus as Lord, and has always been rebellious to him. This focus on geographic/political nations as being either Christian, pagan, or backslidden is the wrong way to think. In Christ, there is a new nation, the nation that transcends geographic and political borders (1 Peter 2:9).

Anonymous said...

Dear Bob

I feel that you need to ask yourself this question. Why did America come to be a nation. Did the pilgrims not want a Christian Foundation here in America? I as a Christian feel that you have unfairly judged Dr. Youssef, who is clearly a spirit filled minister. Yes, America has citizens that are not Christians, but like his twelve disciples that were chosen by him, we cannot say the eleven faithful were not founded on Christ because one failed the master.
With Love
M Burkett

Martha said...

I agree with Rev Kim and M Burkett , thank you, martha