Although it happened nearly a month ago and has largely been forgotten in the media frenzy about the government slowdown and subsequent Obamacare meltdown, a significant event occurred that Americans shouldn’t overlook.
Writing in the New York Times on Sept. 11, 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented on our President referring to the exceptionalism of the American people. He stated, “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”
This lecture came from a man who brought the full crushing weight of Russia’s military forces upon those who dared stand up to his tyrannical policies in Georgia, Chechnya, and, in his own country, Russia. Apparently, he thinks God created some nations more equally than others. His hypocrisy is overshadowed only by his ignorance of American exceptionalism.
I’m not sure I fully understood American exceptionalism either until last February when I accompanied a group from my son’s church on their annual mission trip to the rugged mountainous region of Olancho in central Honduras. I flew down the day before the others and showed up early the next morning at the Tegucigalpa International Airport to ensure I met my group before they set out on the eight-hour drive to Olancho.
As I waited for them, four flights arrived from the United States: Houston, Chicago, Miami, and Atlanta. There were a few Hondurans on those flights, but there were hundreds of American missionaries representing churches all across America. I even stumbled across a group from Soddy-Daisy. I spoke with a few of the missionaries but mostly I listened as they met their in-country contacts and chatted quietly among themselves. They were fanning out across Honduras to hospitals and clinics, orphanages, schools, urban assistance centers, and impoverished rural villages. There were doctors of all sorts, nurses, teachers, pastors, plumbers, electricians, and laborers from every walk of life.
Suddenly what I was witnessing hit me. This event wasn’t unusual. It happens every day! It also hit me that this wasn’t just happening in Honduras that day, but throughout Central America, South America, Africa, and other needy countries.
These people were not government bureaucrats bearing gifts tied in political strings, they were private citizens traveling at their own expense, and sharing the resources and opportunities that abound in our free country. They were responding to a gracious God whose major command to them is to love their neighbor as themselves. It was the greatest outpouring of love on a major scale I have ever witnessed.
I realized further that American exceptionalism is not defined by our role as a major actor on the international stage. That’s what statists, fascists, or communists like Mr. Putin would think since they view government as the ultimate authority.
Instead, American exceptionalism springs from our free citizens’ humble desire to share their blessings of freedom and opportunity, and those traits reflect our Judeo-Christian roots. Mr. Putin cannot understand that because he sees the state as being an entity answering only to itself, not to a higher power.
However, our American spiritual roots teach us that we have been blessed as a people and we are accountable to our Creator to share those blessings.
In the words of Jesus, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48, NIV). Mr. Putin, “exceptional” doesn’t mean better, it means we as a people are accountable to a gracious God. Not only has God blessed America, but the world is blessed through America!
Roger Smith lives in Soddy-Daisy and is the author of “American Spirit.”