American exceptionalism in action

Jordan through evangelical Christian eyes – Disneyland with conversions

By , Tuesday 23 October 2012 03.30 EDT


I took a press trip round Jordan with a group of mostly evangelical Christian writers from the US last month. I had visited before, with a largely Catholic and Anabaptist group, who had seen their visit as a learning pilgrimage. This time was very different. I hoped that once our gracious host gently illuminated Jordanian customs and traditions, they would adapt accordingly. But after she explained why we should not photograph women in burqas without their permission and someone responded, “but those are the pictures we want”, I knew I would be in for an ongoing demonstration of American exceptionalism in action.

After a few in our group witnessed to our bus driver and someone even tried to convert me, I realised that once again, the evangelicals are coming after my apophatic soul. Those of us who do not subscribe to the “Jesus said it, I believe it, that settles it” mindset continue to be targeted. The roots of these attacks can be traced back to the 17th century Puritans who proclaimed Massachusetts Bay Colony as a City on a Hill, a nation particularly blessed by God. My direct ancestor Roger Williams countered this argument by proclaiming liberty of conscience, the idea that one’s soul must be free from any state interference.

Also, in lieu of seizing the natives’ land and trying to convert them over to his version of God, Williams negotiated fair treaties for their property and learned their language so he could work alongside them. As expected, he got banned from godly Massachusetts by those Puritans whose motto should read “religious liberty for me but not for thee” to say nothing of their disdain for the local tribes, whom they viewed as subhuman savages.

The modern-day Puritans I encountered in Jordan acted like they were visiting a religious Disneyland-style theme park. Their objectives appeared to be sampling their version of the holy land experience while racking up conversions. For example, a member of our party who donned sleeveless tank tops, bought Muslim headgear intended for Sunday school show-and-tell demonstrations and talked about Jesus at every opportunity appeared oblivious that her actions were viewed as a sign of disrespect by the Muslims she encountered.

In an interview I conducted with Father Nabil Haddad, executive director of the Jordanian Inter-Faith Coexistence Research Centre, he discussed the need to find the common ground between the local culture and the international human rights culture. But for us to get to the core of what we have in common via our shared humanity requires deep listening instead of the incessant evangelical chatter that I encountered not only throughout my trip but during this 2012 US presidential election cycle as well.

Romney possesses the breeding not to commit some of the additional faux pas I observed such as exposing the soles of his feet or asking a Bedouin man what he is wearing under his white tunic. But he can only get elected with the votes of people like my companions in Jordan, and he will worry more about pleasing them than offending the rest of the world. or

Photograph of first glimpse of Petra’s Treasury (al-Khazneh) upon exiting the Siq, by David Bjorgen, 08:32, 17 January 2006 (UTC).

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