The New England Puritans were not in doubt that the US was the new Israel and Shane Claiborne is not in doubt that the US is a new Babylon. I think Claiborne is closer to the truth, but I wish he had taken a more nuanced approach when comparing the US to Babylon or Rome. When discussing how Christians and the Church should relate to politics and the state, Claiborne gleans from how Jesus, Paul, and John the Seer relates to and speak about the Roman Empire in the New Testament.
Claiborne quotes Tony Campolo saying “we may live in the best Babylon ever […] but it is still Babylon and we are called out of her” (Jesus for President, 151). The quote alludes to Revelations 18:3-4, where John talks about Babylon (codeword for the Roman Empire):
For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxury.” 4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins, and so that you do not share in her plagues.
It does not take a whole lot of imagination to see how verse 3 could be a description of—at least part of—the United States’ role in the World the last century or so. Claiborne particularly notice how the pursuit of wealth is a striking point of similarity between Rome and the US, and I could not agree with him more. I would think the chasing after material wealth has penetrated a much larger part of society in the US than in than it ever did in Rome, and the Church seems thoroughly infused by materialism.
But John wrote Revelations to Christians who were persecuted by Rome and feared for their lives. Through John God comforted them by saying that their current struggles would have an end, and God would bring down the oppressive rulers. John recalls how God had shown himself to be mightier than the Emperor once before when he brought down Babylon and freed the Isralites.
The Church in America is in a very different situation. Some families worry about their kids learning about evolution in school, but they don’t exactly need to fear for their lives. Claiborne and Haw fail to discuss what implications democracy has for how the Church should relate to the state. Claiborne is right that the church should not be tempted to think that they can transform a nation to become like the kingdom of God, it will always be a kingdom of the World. Claiborne points to how the kingdom of God spreads like a mustard plant, hidden but powerful. But Christians today have more options than in the first century. Claiborne has an anarchistic Christians-should-live-beside-society approach that I find too narrow.
I think many Christians have been way too optimistic about how the kingdom of God through media and engaging in politics, but I also think Claiborne and Haw go unnecessary far the other way. There is a danger for the church to buy into too much of kingdom of the world thinking, but I think we need to be more creative in engaging the opportunities modern democracy gives also for the kingdom of God to advance.