Book Review: The Divided States of America?

Land, Richard. The Divided States of America?: What Liberals AND Conservatives are missing in the God-and-country shouting match! Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007.

Richard Land is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He holds an A.B. from Princeton and a D.Phil. from Oxford. In The Divided States of America? Land, a conservative Christian, attempts to correct far left and far right political ideologies in their views of God and country. The book will give readers much to consider regardless of their political leanings.

Considering the relationship between God and country in America brings forth many opinions. Whether framed as “God and country” or “separation of church and state,” it can be a difficult topic to agree upon. In this debate, Richard Land sets out to bring the extreme right and the extreme left, each of whom is only happy if their particular views are the standard bearer, to a place of common ground where both parties can live peacefully amongst the disagreements.

Finding common ground can be difficult, especially, when one side dismisses the other as if they are not allowed to form positions based on their own worldview. This is what some on the far left have done to the religious right. Land examines this view in light of the historical records.

For example, he notes that religion has played a key role in abolishing slavery and establishing civil rights. Land also quotes several U.S. presidents in their use of God and the Bible in various speeches, establishing the importance that religion has played in the history of America. Land also examines the religious left who, while disagreeing with the right, have theologically informed politics. Examples of the religious left are seen when Land shares some of his past dialogues with them. The dialogues show the religious left dismissing biblical perspectives that support the right, only to invoke a different biblical perspective for their side.

Land reports that his fellow conservatives can go too far in their religiously informed political views. He addresses the Christians in America who seem to view this country as God’s chosen nation in the same vein Israel was His chosen. ‘God is on America’s side’ is essentially their position. Land reacts to this view of America explaining that while God has blessed America and many of its founding principles were Judeo-Christian, this not a Christian Nation. Using Nazi Germany as an example, he also points out the danger of claiming God to be on one’s own side instead of objectively seeking to be on God’s side.

Land is not asking the right to abandon God in their worldview. He explains that while this nation has had many blessings, God has not made a personal covenant with the United States. Instead, he explains that each Christian is to be a sacrificing and serving member of society. Land’s position is that God has blessed America in spite of its shortcomings, yet Americans should still heed God’s blessings by being responsible citizens.

A favorable aspect of the book is the fairness in which Land lays out the issues. Many times authors take a hard-line approach when dealing with those with whom they differ. Land does not take this approach as he attempts to reign in those on the left and on the right. He winsomely offers a reasonable common ground built on freedoms and liberties.

I would recommend this book with a side note. The practical and historical persuasions in this book are well documented. However, those who desire to flesh out such God and country issues more in the realm of theology may be slightly disappointed. For example, while agreeing that America is not a Christian nation and arguing against it having covenant status with God, Land does support an American obligation to aid modern day Israel because they are God’s chosen people. This seems to run contrary to the common ground position of the book. Yet, it is still understandable that America should share its God given blessings with others. Richard Land is to be commended for his considerate approach to a topic where much division lies.

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