Twelve Lies that Hold America Captive is a provocative title for a book, and the subtitle: “And the Truth that Sets Us Free” only calls for a closer look. Jonathan Walton, in this work, calls for a close look at several pervasive ideas in the United States and calls them out for being mistaken on several counts.
Walton pulls no punches in his denunciation of the mixture of Christianity with nationalism. Early on, he notes that “Many Christians hold the same level of commitment to the Pledge of Allegiance that they hold to the Apostles’ Creed” (12). One could go on from this statement and note that plenty of Christians likely have the former memorized but know almost nothing about the formulation of the Apostles’ belief as outlined in the Creed. What does this say about the allegiance of American Christianity? Walton continues to press this kind of point throughout the book.
What are the twelve lies? They are: We are a Christian Nation; We All Are Immigrants, We Are a Melting Pot, All Men Are Created Equal, We Are a Great Democracy, The American Dream is Alive and Well, We are the Most Prosperous Nation in the World, We Are the Most Generous People in the World, America Is the Land of the Free, America Is the Home of the Brave, America Is the Greatest Country on Earth, and We Are One Nation. One’s visceral reaction to seeing these sentiments as “lies” is a good guide for how much this book is needed. I personally had a negative response to calling some of these lies, but as Walton drew out his meaning and the implications for a Christian life, came to find myself in agreement on most of his points.
Walton continues to make convicting points throughout the book. For example, while talking about the lie that “All Men are Created Equal,” Walton notes that it encourages us to see all achievement as personal success, thus leading to a kind of works righteousness in which if one just does what they ought, they receive (financial) reward. It’s a distortion of the Christian message, and ignores real, societal challenges to success that exist. It also encourages the vision of politeness rather than true kindness. Walton writes, “Preserving the image of a society that is polite and respectful and rewards hard work and grit is more important than genuine kindness, justice, and living like every person is made in the image of God” (65). It is this kind of insight and call to true Christianity that is found throughout the book.
Each chapter goes back to the Bible and Christianity to find a truth instead of the lie that nationalism and what Walton calls “White American Folk Religion” offers. For example, in the chapter on the “melting pot,” Walton points out that God’s kingdom is not a melting pot and instead that it will have every tribe, tongue, and nation–that God’s Kingdom is “shalom [peace] amid difference” (57). Again, the book is filled to the brim with this kind of insight.
Twelve Lies that Hold America Captive is a thoughtful, challenging book. It calls Christians to do better–to see beyond themselves and even their country to the ties that bind us all together in Christ. I recommend it very highly.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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