Does America Still Have a Common Creed?
That headline stretched across an article that dominated the Opinion Page in the Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition, two days ago. In it, Jason Willick – the writer for the Journal – highlighted his interview with David M. Kennedy, the aging Stanford historian who wrote Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945. The book won him a Pulitzer Prize in 2000.
In the weekend piece, Kennedy reflects that “in this big, throbbing, pulsing, kinetic, diverse society, a sense of common purpose and common belonging is being lost. Incompatible views of identity and immigration are fracturing politics…” He sees the evolution of American culture emerging at odds with our common past: “The dominant view until the late 20th Century was that we welcome all kinds of people, but we expect them to assimilate into some range of standard values, behaviors, aspirations and ambitions. Now, diversity itself has become the paramount value in parts of American culture. When celebrating differences replaces creedal values like liberty, fair play and respect for the Constitution that undercuts the project of assimilation…”
The net perspective offered by Kennedy, as an informed observer of America’s traverse of time at a societal level is troubling: he submits his concern that, if confronted by the economic crisis that became the Great Depression or the international threats that drew America’s sacrificial involvement in World War II, the national response to those monumental calamities would be anemic, at best. The reason, in Kennedy’s view: we – as a nation – no longer have agreement regarding a national creed.
That’s an interesting word choice. “Creed” is most often used in relationship to one’s faith foundations. Creed is the essence of doctrinal certainty; whether for God or country, it is the hill you’re willing to die defending.
In a modern era when America’s Founding Fathers are being dismissed from our history – joining “God” as the now-unwelcome influences within our American story – the idea of “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” is now disparaged as a unifying pledge.
As the Christian faith matured and spread across countries and cultures, the importance of a comprehensive values vault within which the treasure of truth could be defended became obvious. Over time, the development of a description of the beliefs that defined what it means to be a Christian – with biblical clarity – resulted in what we know, today, as the Apostles’ Creed. Though there are various versions with phraseology tuned over time, the historic summation goes like this:
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic* Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
“Catholic” means universal, not Rome. The point, however, is powerful: Creeds unify people around what’s most important. They define the place we’ll die to defend, the values we live to advance.
As we head into Christmas mode, remember that the Baby in the Manger is The King whose rightful place has been challenged, since Eden. Our Creed warrants our allegiance, and sacrificial loyalty. He’s the cause worth holding high in a world that is still out to dismiss him…