The speech makes clear that humility is our only hope: "The only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly without our God."
Sound much like the present-day United States, snarled in political gridlock? Here's the key point we too often overlook in Winthrop's speech: We ought to think twice about what it means to be a City upon a Hill. If we're proud and boastful, it's not a place we want to be. According to Winthrop, God put us up high, not to have the whole world bow down to us -- but to give everyone a front row seat to view our example. Should we are no longer be meek and humble, God would rain down fire on our heads before their upturned eyes.
That's really why we're the City upon a Hill: to be a giant fireball for all the world to see should we break our covenant with God.
And what is this covenant we dare not breach?
Nothing so tame as interfering with traditional marriage or the right to bear arms. No, while it may come as a surprise to many, the most sacred covenant of the community is this: "[W]e must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of each other's necessities."
To translate Winthrop into a tweetable, we should give our excess to the poor, just as Jesus told the rich young man who asked what he must do to be saved. And we must deal with each other "in all meekness, gentleness, patience, and liberality."
Think about it: If that's what matters most, then as a City upon a Hill we're toast. We're the richest country in the world, but nearly a quarter of our children live in poverty. Not "near poverty," but no-kidding official government-recognized actual poverty. As for meekness, we're America has become a by-word for political tantrum throwing all over the world.
But most of all we're just arrogant. What might shock Winthrop the most is how the richest country in the world spends next to nothing on foreign aid, doing next to nothing for the billions in poverty around the world. Even a poor country like China -- godless, Communist China -- makes more of an effort, in relative terms, to redress misery in Africa.
And for all of this, we're supposed to be too exceptional to apologize?
As a City upon a Hill, we sit upon a hot seat. Here are those famous lines from Winthrop's speech, the ones we let the children see: "For we must consider that we shall be as a city on a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us." But those eyes rest upon us as they might on those lynched at Tyburn. Winthrop continues: "So that if we deal falsely with God in this work we have undertaken, we shall be made a story and a by word throughout the world."
And of course we surely will die: "... if our hearts turn away so that we will not obey, but be seduced, and worship other gods, our pleasure and profits, and serve them, it is propounded unto us this day, we shall surely perish out of the good land whither we pass over this vast sea to possess."