A City on a Hill

Preaching in the United States has always included themes and teachings found in the Scriptures and in tradition, as has preaching in other countries. But there is another theme which is special to the United States: the theme of chosenness. John Winthrop spoke to the people on the Mayflower. The Massachusetts Bay Company was to be a “Model of Christian Charity.” They would be “a city on a hill.” All would see how they lived.

Their preaching (mostly white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant) saw God having chosen America for a special role. It would take different forms over the years. At time the preaching would take different sides of an issue, such as supporting and opposing slavery.

Different groups would see different perspectives, but they still saw their position as part of God’s call to America. Southern white preachers would see slavery and later segregation as God’s plan for America. African American preachers (north and south) and Abolitionists would turn to the Book of Exodus and see their call to to create a path to freedom.

American preaching would be a call for moral reform. The Temperance Movement was an attempt at moral reform in support of the family. The Great Awakenings were calls to conversion. But many, many of the sermons were also directed at the challenges of the day, and frequently trying to answer the call of the Gospel for the “New Chosen People.”

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