The Cross and the Sword

17 03 2010

Greg’s book, ‘The Myth of a Christian Nation‘ is based on a sermon series titled ‘The Cross and the Sword’. In the book and sermon series, he argues from Scripture and history that whenever the church gets too close to any political or national ideology, it is disastrous for the church and harmful to society.

The basic distinction we need to learn as Christians who live “in the world but not of the world” is this: we live in the Kingdom of Darkness but serve the Kingdom of God. The message was about the different ways these two kingdoms understand the use of power. Because the use of power was the topic, the issue of politics is inevitably involved. Greg did not propose support for one political agenda or another, but helped us assess how we, as citizens of heaven, are to understand political involvement.

The Bible is emphatic that nothing is to compete with God. God is Absolute—first and foremost in all things. God is the beginning and the end. We are to love God above all and our neighbors as ourselves. One result of living in this way of thinking is that we understand the Kingdom of God, is not of this world. Our loyalties are not ultimately with anything of this world, but with God. Things get confusing when something of this world begins to take on too much importance. The Bible uses the strong language of “idolatry” when this happens, and the consequences are severe!

Greg pointed us to several passages that help us make distinctions between the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God (Matt. 20:25-28; 26:51-53; John 18:35-36). Two preliminary points were made: 1. The Kingdom of God works the opposite way that the kingdom of this world works. Power is not used to coerce obedience and control behavior; love is the power that draws all unto God through Christ’s sacrifice and willingness to suffer on our behalf. Kingdom of God power is always self-sacrificial and is always willing to suffer for the sake of Christ (Eph. 5:1-2; Lk. 14:27, etc.). 2. Christ had the power of the sword available to him, but he chose to love instead. He refused to play by the rules of the kingdom of this world. We too must take care not to be co-opted into the world’s ways (what Greg referred to as “methodology”). God’s ways are higher than that of the world.

To make things a bit more real for us today, Greg pointed out that the kingdom of this world is not all bad. The orderly structures of this world are designed to uphold justice and right behavior, and this is a good and necessary thing in a world where God is not universally accepted as Lord and obeyed. Rom. 13 teaches that we are to obey our leaders so long as it does not conflict with God’s will for us. After all, Paul (who wrote Romans) was no stranger to Roman jails! So there is a good and necessary reason for the world to have sound political structures that serve the good of the whole of the human race and all of creation. Greg’s advice is to be good citizens, but keep the Kingdom of God first (we should always be seeking first the Kingdom of God!). A Christian person should never rejoice over the destruction of other human lives regardless of what they did to “deserve” our wrath, as though we too do not deserve God’s wrath every bit as much.

Vote your conscience, but be sure to maintain the values of the Kingdom of God. Don’t be co-opted by the world’s agendas and the methods the world uses to accomplish them. Sin is dealt with on the cross for us all, not in the voting booths where we legislate punishment for a sin someone else is guilty of, but ignore our own – where we vote to our own benefit at the expense of helping others who have much greater need. Vote your conscience, but do not forget which kingdom you are fighting for!

Greg challenged directly the misleading nature of the political claim that we ought to “Take America back for God!” This simply cannot be done. Why? Because America never belonged to God. We were never a Godly nation. Even if measured in terms of the standard unit of individuals who claim to be Christian, it is a historical fact that the percentage of people in Christian churches has steadily increased ever since the beginning of this nation! The further back we go, the less Christian our nation really was. The idea of taking a nation back for God requires that there must have been a “golden era” when things were really good. Greg insightfully challenged this by sketching a portrait of our history at various times to see if any of them might qualify as the “good old days.”

Was it while we were destroying (20 million were killed) the indigenous people of this land? Or later when we enslaved Africans (3-4 million enslaved and untold masses died on their way here) for our prophet? Their forced labor is a huge source of our economic strength. Much can be accomplished on the backs of slave labor. It worked for the Romans, the Egyptians and our forefathers as well. There are no good old days where we were truly operating by kingdom principles. And when the Church aligns itself with the kingdom of this world, it is the church that is compromised and the kingdom of darkness that is being built. We are Christians before we are Americans. If not, then we are not Christians. God does not accept second place to any human being or organization.

The early church exploded with growth because people were living kingdom values. They were willing to suffer and die for their faith. There was enormous power in this. They refused to take up the sword; rather, they chose the cross. When this is done, the power of the sword is undermined and the evil is exposed. Once the Church gained political power through Constantine, everything began to change.

The sword was now wielded by the church. Being a Christian began to have perks and benefits for those who would enlist. While the church was under persecution, being a Christian was a difficult thing and one really had to have conviction and strength to endure, even to the point of death. Christians who once turned the other cheek now cut of heads. Christians who once loved their enemies and willingly died at their hands now burned their enemies alive. Christians who learned to bless those who persecuted them now persecuted others. Can we not see that this is not victory for the kingdom but defeat? How we accomplish the building of the Kingdom of God is every bit as important as whether it gets built. Every time the church has picked up the sword, it has damaged its witness in the world. We who are to be known by our love demonstrate against ourselves. And don’t think the atheists don’t notice this! Be cautious of those who would tempt you to blend your passion for serving God with their political agenda. Few things are more dangerous than those who wield the sword with the passion of misplaced faith.

We need to be suspicious of any attempts of others or ourselves to try to gain power over others. This is not the way the Kingdom works. It is how the kingdom of darkness operates as is demonstrated frequently in Scripture (1 John 5:19; Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2; Luke 4:5-7; Rev. 11:15). What is clear is that Satan is indeed the god of this world, of this present darkness, and we need to be weary of the ways this regime operates. Power over others is not the true path of love. In fact, Scripture is so clear on this distinction between God’s Kingdom and Satan’s domain over the world that it teaches us to think of ourselves as not truly citizens of this world (1 Pet. 2:11; Eph. 2:19; 6:12; Phil. 3:20)!

We have only one command, love God first and love our neighbors as ourselves. These are our marching orders and our enemy is clear: it is the kingdom of Darkness and its ruler, not any other human being or human organization (Democrats, Republicans, gay rights activists, CEO’s, abortion doctors, protesters, etc.). When we do this, we will be dying for our enemies, not rejoicing over their destruction at our hands. Our unique authority and power as Christians is not our right to vote, but our right, no our obedience to God’s command that we suffer for righteousness sake, that we love sacrificially and serve our enemies for the sake of winning them to Christ. The test is clear when we COULD pick up the sword, will we choose the cross?

Sermon 1: ‘Taking America Back for God?’ Greg Boyd – sermon length 38:44
Greg questioned the slogan “Taking America Back for God” by discussing the differences between the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God. As Christians, we are to belong first and foremost to God’s Kingdom, yet live under the governments of this world. How does that work?

Sermon 2: ‘The Difference Between the Two Kingdoms’ Greg Boyd – sermon length 43:43
The kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world are two very separate things. One uses the sword (power over) to influence people; the other uses love (power under). To understand this distinction is much easier than letting it affect the way we live. Greg continued to discuss the differences between these kingdoms and how we are to live within the distinction.

Sermon 3: ‘Abortion: A Kingdom of God Approach’ Greg Boyd – sermon length 38:41
The Cross and the Sword series continued with this sermon, which covered two more consequences of fusing the kingdom of God with the kingdom of the world. To illustrate the damage this can cause, Greg discussed using the Kingdom of God approach with abortion: don’t limit ourselves to the options given by the kingdom of the world, but ascribe unsurpassable worth to others (mother and baby) at cost to ourselves. This is the unique mission of the Kingdom of God, and it’s not easy.

Sermon 4: ‘Is the Church the Guardian of Social Morality?’ Greg Boyd – sermon length 44:28
The Cross and the Sword series continued with this sermon, which covered the final effect of failing to distinguish between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world: we Christians begin to see ourselves as the “protectors” and “fixers” of social morality, as the moral standard bearers. But our only job as the body of Christ is to look like Jesus, the one sinless human, who stood in unity with others and met their needs. Greg also addressed the idea that America is a theocracy.

Sermon 5: ‘Be Thou My Vision’ Greg Boyd – sermon length 38:19
Human beings have deep and fallen passions that propel us into continual conflict with one another, the theme behind “Troy,” the movie based on Homer’s “Iliad.” We are stuck in a pattern from which we can be freed ONLY by embracing the paradoxical kingdom of God. Christians are to imitate Christ, period; we are not called to create another version of the kingdom of the world.

Sermon 6: ‘”In” But Not “Of” the World’ Greg Boyd – sermon length 51:30
In this sermon, Greg responded to the top five questions he received while preaching “The Cross and the Sword” series. Maybe you’ve been asking some of these questions: “What’s the difference between turning the other cheek and letting yourself be abused?” and “Are you saying that the church is politically irrelevant?”

For study guides & slide presentations

Kingdom of God vs. kingdom of the world

Kingdom of God

Kingdom of the World (America style)

Greg Boyd in ‘The Myth of a Christian Nation’

If we are to take America ‘back’ for God, it must have once belonged to God, but it’s not at all clear when this golden Christian age was.
Were these God-glorifying years before, during, or after Europeans “discovered” America and carried out the doctrine of “manifest destiny” – the belief that God (or, for some, nature) had destined white Christians to conquer the native inhabitants and steal their land? Were the God-glorifying years the ones in which whites massacred these natives by the millions, broke just about every covenant they ever made with them, and then forced survivors onto isolated reservations? Was the golden age before, during, or after white Christians loaded five to six million Africans on cargo ships to bring them to their newfound country, enslaving the three million or so who actually survived the brutal trip? Was it during the two centuries when Americans acquired remarkable wealth by the sweat and blood of their slaves? Was this the time when we were truly “one nations under God,” the blessed time that so many evangelicals seem to want to take our nation ‘back’ to?
Maybe someone would suggest that the golden age occurred after the Civil War, when blacks were finally freed. That doesn’t quite work either, however, for the virtual apartheid that followed under Jim Crow laws – along with the ongoing violence, injustices, and dishonesty toward Native Americans and other nonwhites up into the early twentieth century – was hardly “God-glorifying.” (In this light, it should come as no surprise to find that few Christian Native Americans, African-Americans, or other nonwhites join in the chorus that we need to “Take America Back for God.”)
If we look at historical reality rather than pious verbiage, it’s obvious that America never really “belonged to God.” As we’ve said, when the kingdom of God is manifested, it’s obvious. It looks like Jesus. There was nothing distinctively Christlike about the way America was “discovered,” conquered, or governed in the early years. To the contrary, the way this nation was “discovered,” conquered, and governed was a rather typical, barbaric, violent, kingdom-of-the-world affair. The immoral barbarism displayed in the early (and subsequent) years of this country was, sadly, pretty typical by kingdom-of-the-world standards. The fact that it was largely done under the banner of Christ doesn’t make it more Christian, any more than any other bloody conquest done in Jesus’ name throughout history (such as the Crusades, and the Inquisition) qualifies them as Christlike. (pg. 98-99)

Just listen to Frederick Douglass, a nineteenth-century slave who taught himself how to read and write, as he expresses his view of how Christian America was:
“Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference – so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt and wicked. . . . I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.” (pg. 101)

As much as God wants governments to operate justly, Jesus didn’t come to establish a perfect worldly government. He came to establish the kingdom of God as a radical alternative to all versions of the kingdom of the world, whether they declare themselves to be “under God” or not.
When we misguidedly loop Christian talk into American kingdom-of-the-world talk, we do great harm to the work of the kingdom of God. Among other things, we leverage the credibility of God’s kingdom on someone believing that it was God’s will – “manifest destiny” – for whites to carry out the barbarism they carried out toward Native Americans, Africans, and a host of other nonwhites in the course of American history. We compromise the purity and beauty – the holiness – of the kingdom of God by associating it with typical “power over” injustices that this country has largely been built on. And we encourage the sort of “power over” behavior among religious people that we see today as they attempt to “take America back for God” by political means. Allegiance to the kingdom of God is confused with allegiance to America, and lives that are called to be spent serving others are spent trying to gain power over others. (pg. 102)

Still, a citizen of the kingdom of God need not deny the positive outcomes that have resulted from Europeans discovering and conquering America. Yes, the process was largely immoral and extremely bloody, as it typically is when versions of the kingdom of the world collide. But the bloody injustices don’t negate the fact that America has arguably now become, by historic and global standards, a relatively good version of the kingdom of the world. Still, we must never confuse the positive things that America does with the kingdom of God, for the kingdom of God is not centered on being morally, politically, or socially positive relative to other versions of the kingdom of the world. Rather, the kingdom of God is centered on being beautiful, as defined by Jesus Christ dying on a cross for those who crucified him.
To promote law, order, and justice is good, and we certainly should do all we can to support this. But to love enemies, forgive transgressors, bless persecutors, serve sinners, accept social rejects, abolish racist walls, share resources with the poor, bear the burden of neighbors, suffer with the oppressed – all the while making no claims to promote oneself – this is beautiful; this is Christlike. Only this, therefore, is distinct kingdom-of-God activity. (pg. 103)

If your response is that this “power under” approach is impractical, if not morally irresponsible, perhaps this too reveals that you have been conformed to the pattern of the world (Rom. 12:2) and have allowed yourself to trust “power over” rather than “power under.” Perhaps it reveals that you have placed more faith in worldly “common sense” than in the resurrection. Perhaps it reveals that worldly effectiveness has replaced the kingdom faithfulness as your primary concern.
When Jesus was crucified, it looked as if he were losing. More often than not, when the kingdom of God is being authentically carried out, it looks that way, at least initially. The cross didn’t look effective on Good Friday, but God raised up Jesus on the third day. And our task is to believe that, however much it looks like we may be losing, God will use out Calvery-quality acts of service to redeem the world and build his kingdom. However much we lose – even if it’s our own life – we are to believe in the resurrection. Ultimately God wins, and each one of our acts of loving self-denial will eventually be shown to have played a role in this victory.
This is faith in the resurrection. This is the kingdom of God. (pg. 104-105)

I believe a significant segment of American evangelism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry…

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Books I plan on getting soon:

Myths America Lives By‘ by Richard Hughes

Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History‘ by Chris Rodda

A great convo via email, between Shane Claiborne and Jim Brenneman, about Christians and nationalism, patriotism, etc.

Another great sermon by Pastor Boyd, ‘Living in God’s Peace




8 responses

14 04 2010

Thought this would be an appropriate place to put this (as opposed to a separate blog post).

Anti-Americanism is as popular today as seeing America as “the greatest nation in the world,” and to be honest I fit comfortably in neither camp. On a day when patriots will praise and dissenters will picket, I simply want to be truthful. I of course do not presume to know the whole truth, nor do I claim to have escaped the pits into which I am about to accuse others of falling. I am, however, a part of that strange people possessing (or hopefully possessed by) “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16), and at least for those on the inside that has to count for something – even if it means pointing out the grave errors of others presumably within this same group (as it did for the man who originally coined the phrase). Regardless of my own (in)abilities, since it is the fourth of July I decided to offer a few reflections on our identity as a nation. I am currently studying American Religious History and would like to share some of what I see. Given the fact that not only individuals but also nations develop habits – patterns of action that eventually become second nature, I have found it profitable to ask what habits were set in motion in the early life of this country. Below I identify five tendencies I have detected from studying American origins and comparing them with the current state of our nation and our world. I write as an American, but most of all as a follower of Jesus. I am admittedly critical of America, but please understand that I do not hate this country, nor do I aim to disrespect those who have courageously done what they considered right in order to ensure our present way of life. I adopt this stance for two reasons: 1) I am more critical of the things I love than those I hate, and deep down I do love America and desire her to be as loyal as possible to the God of Jesus Christ. 2) The New Testament writers, and especially John in the book of Revelation, set a precedent of hard, honest, critical thinking about the kingdoms of this world. These wise teachers knew that many of our most cherished and unexamined assumptions are driven by our “political” identities, and therefore for the sake of love and the building up of Christ’s body they painstakingly scrutinized temporal kingdoms in light of the eternal kingdom of God which is even now being brought to bear (ever so slowly) “on earth as it is in heaven.” With this short defense I offer my thoughts and invite your contributions – additions, subtractions, Amens, disagreements, and the like.

As Americans – and especially Christians living in this land called America, we must beware of . . .

1. Our tendency toward an all-consuming (and often irrational) fear of tyranny. As our celebration of this holiday suggests, American identity was forever shaped by the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and the eventual and surprising victory in the Revolutionary War (1783). Among other things, the Revolution and the events surrounding it solidified within the American consciousness a deep fear against all tyranny. Leading up to this time Anglicans here in America were predicting England’s certain victory and calling for more bishops to squelch division and revolutionary sentiment on the ground. This program was met with continual resistance to English (or any other) control, and this resistance to dominance from without left its stamp on the actual victors. In the words of Gaustad & Schmidt (The Religious History of America), “Much uncertainty lay before them, as they grappled with the question of a federal and national authority and as they struggled for some security or at least recognition as a nation among nations. One common thread bound the states together in peace even as it held them together in war: the fear of tyranny, of all tyranny, civil and ecclesiastic.” They told themselves the (largely true) story that for fourteen hundred years history had been in the hands of the powerful, and said powerful abused it. Little if any attention had been paid to the “natural and inalienable rights bestowed upon [all] humankind.” On the contrary, for fourteen centuries church and state had joined together to squash said rights and liberties. Thus the obvious emphasis on America as a quest for freedom. I perceive four problems with this, each of which I will only briefly mention: 1) not everyone is out to get us, and therefore we cannot legitimately call every military action “defense” (as often occurs); 2) predicating a culture on fear will result in excess violence 100% of the time, for we only desire the elimination of others when we fear they might eliminate us; 3) not all authority is bad, though much popular culture poses as if anarchy is actually better than leadership; 4) our concept of freedom is “doing what I want when I want,” which is neither biblical (see Romans 6) nor safe.

2. Our tendency toward selective moral scruples – in a word, hypocrisy. Americans (as a group) have always operated under the assumption that there are simply different rules for us. Our example here is the early Puritans who settled in the New England area (many of the other “Christian” groups would have worked). They fled England to escape persecution from the Church of England (Anglicans). The problem there was twofold: 1) these Puritans, who were calling for a more rigorous and committed practice of the faith, held opinions and engaged in practices opposed by the official church, and 2) the official church was interlocked with the civil government so that persecuting dissenters seemed a quite normal course of action. But in spite of their stated motive for leaving, they created virtually the same environment here in America. This is but one example, but one that set a precedent that would be followed in countless ways by both church and government: when you do this you are wrong, but when I do the same thing I am right. It is hard not to think of the current conflict in our world concerning “weapons of mass destruction.” No one has more than us, but we will go to war against those to whom we sold some of said weapons because they cannot be trusted with such dangerous materials.

3. Our tendency toward division. With the exception of William Penn’s Pennsylvania and Roger Williams’ Rhode Island, the early colonies epitomized the opposite extreme: if you didn’t believe the same things and practice your faith in the same way as the majority, you were taxed, beaten, exiled, or worse. In response to such a pathetic and God-dishonoring state of affairs, Jefferson and Co. set out to establish radical religious liberty as the American way. This resulted in the sort of mindset that said, “It doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you let others believe what they want.” I am certainly not in favor of coercion or persecution in order to ensure orthodoxy, but neither am I comfortable with what resulted, namely, a world in which “Christians” were in no meaningfully way united across the board. I do not know what to do about this, nor do I know that I would have done it differently, but I do know that Jesus seems to care quite a bit about unity (see John 17). Jesus prays that those who will believe in him because of the apostles’ preaching – that would be us – will be united as one just as Jesus and the Father are one, so that the world might believe that Jesus was in fact sent by God. If I wanted an excuse not to be a Christian, I’ve always thought I’d need look no further than the lack of unity among Christ’s people. We must beware of this tendency, wrestle ourselves out of dead complacency, come to terms with the fact that we have failed our Lord in this regard, and work tirelessly to find a way to unite.

4. Our tendency to view ourselves as a chosen nation. From John Winthrop to John Ashcroft, sprinkled throughout American political rhetoric we find both implicit allusions and explicit citations of biblical passages in reference to the American people. Let’s take as our example John Winthrop. He was a Puritan leader in the early colonial period who led a ship of people to establish what would become the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In a famous sermon he preached to his people while at sea, he explicitly quotes not only the Abrahamic promises but the covenantal language of Deuteronomy in reference to their little group. They perceived themselves as receiving nothing short of a new calling like Abraham’s, ratified by this new exodus like Moses’. According to this new covenant God promised to establish and maintain them so long as they lived up to Christian morals. I could quote many more sermons and speeches like this one, but you get the point. The danger here is that if you perceive yourself specifically sanctioned by God, pretty much anything you think you need to do receives “God’s blessing.” This can be seen in the way our early ancestors simply took over the land of the Indians. In order to justify their actions, they ignored the Indian perspective on “property” (namely, that there was no such thing) and argued that surely the Indians did not hold title to specific parcels of land as the Englishmen did. Moreover, the English had been granted this land by edict of King Charles I. The question, however, seen clearly by Roger Williams, was Who had given the land to King Charles? While the answer was of course “no one,” the assumption was (I guess) “Almighty God,” and the result was violent displacement of those who had lived here for centuries. One need not look far to see the same idea present today – that America has a divinely inspired missionary vocation vis a vis the rest of the world. Who cares what the rest of the world does and doesn’t want us to do – we’ve been sent by God. I still remember a painting I once saw of Jesus stitching together an American flag with some OT promise embroidered into it. I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous.

5. Our tendency to ‘adjust’ God / Jesus to fit our agenda. I could go on forever on this point, but I’ll try to keep it short. If you have already decided that God wants to bless your mission, then it isn’t much of a step to recreate God according to said mission. Remember my previous post: “God created us in his image, and we returned the favor.” Let’s look at a few quotes from American history about Jesus: Thomas Jefferson saw Jesus as an “enlightened sage,” “the Herald of truths reformatory of the religions of mankind in general, but more immediately of that of his own countrymen, impressing them with more sublime and more worthy ideas of the Supreme being,” and “the most innocent, the most benevolent, the most eloquent and sublime character that has ever been exhibited to man.” James Smith called Jesus “the most perfect model of Republicanism in the Universe.” Henry Ward Beecher said, “It is a psychological kingdom he came to found. He aimed not to construct a new system of morals or of philosophy, but a new soul, with new capabilities, under new spiritual influences.” Dwight L. Moody called Jesus “the ‘Open Sesame’ to heaven.” Elizabeth Stuart Phelps saw Jesus as “a great democrat” who undertook a “social revolution” on behalf of women, and as a lover nature who grew “to manhood in a world of flowers, his eyes trained from his youth “to the tints of narcissus, iris, and the red tulip . . . the pink convolvulus and daisy . . . the cyclamen and asphodel.” Billy Sunday objected to such a “sissified” Jesus, for Jesus “was no dough-faced, lick-spittle proposition.” On the contrary, “Jesus was the greatest scrapper who ever lived.” Or as Walter Rauschenbusch insisted, “He was the one that turned again and again on the snarling pack of His pious enemies and made them slink away. He plucked the beard of death and He went into the city qand the temple to utter those withering woes against the dominant class.” G. Stanley Hall asked, “Could we not have Jesus as an athletic champion, illustrating perhaps the ideal of doing the prodigies that athletes so admire? Could Jesus be knight, priest, banker, sailor, landed proprietor, society man, manufacturer, actor, professor, editor, etc?” I suppose it’s not surprising that Jewish eschatological prophet (which Jesus actually was) didn’t make Hall’s list. Lastly, let’s look at a popular “Jesus cheer” from the sixties (I promise this is real):

Give me a J (J)
Give me an E (E)
Give me an S (S)
Give me a U (U)
Give me an S (S)
What does that spell? (Jesus)
What will get you higher than acid? (Jesus)
What will keep you up longer than speed? (Jesus)
What does America need? (Jesus)

Given this multi-faceted heritage, I suppose it shouldn’t surprise us when one of our Presidents (whom I neither hate nor adore, for the record) called Jesus his “favorite political philosopher” even though their respective politics look nothing like one another. Or that some in our country fail to see that the God in “God and country” is simply not the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Isaiah, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and John.

Sorry that was so long. I am not trying to be thorough, just suggestive. Like it or not, this is our heritage, and it has shaped and formed us in more ways than one.

3 05 2010
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21 05 2010
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12 08 2010

A Christian’s (not mine) reason for voting for Barack Obama:

Well, I voted for Barack Obama. This is only the second time I’ve voted, and now I have cast one for each of the dominant parties (with neither of which I’m registered). To be honest, I don’t like voting. I think people – Christian people – take it way too seriously. I think it takes on almost sacred significance in our country, which means it’s borderline / arguably idolatrous. I respect the arguments of those who don’t vote, and if you don’t, you should probably take another look at them. I know people died to give me the right to vote, mind you. It’s just that I also believe Jesus died to protect me from competing allegiances. And our current system is kind of broken, given that we always seems to be voting for “the lesser of two evils” and that both dominant parties are way too tied to corporate power. But nevertheless I voted, and I voted for Barack Obama (though not without hesitation). Here are the reasons why.

Why I voted for Barack Obama

1. His foreign policies have more of a chance to quell international hostilities. He will actually talk to our national enemies in seeking peaceful reconciliation. I have no illusions that Obama is anti-war. Let’s be honest, now. The way he talks about going to war in Afghanistan reminds me of someone Obama isn’t supposed to be like at all. I have no doubt that if put in Bush’s shoes, Obama would have given the American people what they wanted – a war. It might have been a different war, but it would have been a war nonetheless. Nevertheless, Obama and McCain have very different strategies for dealing with hostile enemies. McCain has criticized Obama for being willing to talk to terrorists. That just about sealed the deal for me, honestly. It’s that kind of knee-jerk anti-listening reaction that our world simply cannot withstand. I believe that Obama’s foreign policies, not to mention his overall personality, demeanor, and symbolic significance, may significantly reduce certain hostilities in the international arena. Let me also say that this is a life issue for me; if we value life from the womb to the grave and everywhere in between, we must stop acting like foreign policy has nothing to do with being pro-life.

2. He improves America’s image worldwide, which is more than symbolically important. We need to distance ourselves from the international image the last few regimes have made for us. I am saying this as a matter of both “national security” and international stability, not sentimentalism. Our world is incredibly hostile right now, and much of that hostility is directed toward America as a result of our international forays in the past couple decades. I’m not saying their perception of American activity is correct. But I am saying it is important for our safety and perhaps survival, as well as the safety and survival of those who suffer in other parts of the world because of our world’s hostilities; given that I believe these things are worth voting for, I voted for Obama. In their minds, he represents something dramatically different, and this change may result in renewed efforts from both sides to seek peaceful arrangements and less violent conflict resolution.

3. He will protect us (somewhat) from the tyranny of (unequally free) free market ideology. I resonate with those who fear the tyranny of big government. In case this needs to be said, I am not a communist. But I do not believe that allowing a few political lords to rule the day is much worse than letting a few economic lords rule the day. What’s more, in this country our political leaders will always be at least somewhat accountable to forces outside themselves – the populace hopefully – whereas multinational corporate tycoons don’t have the same structures of accountability. I’m not saying all CEO’s are evil. Of course they aren’t. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying, but certainly no more so than battle cries about “the government taking all my money” and “giving handouts to lazy people who don’t want to work.” I think these battle cries are propaganda that do not represent the complex reality of poverty in our country and our world. I know that in some cases they represent the sad reality, but even then they often ignore some of the deeper roots of current class divisions. I’m pretty confident America will never become socialist, so I welcome moderate shifts away from what we’ve been doing. And by the way, there is no such thing as a totally free market; that has always been somewhat of a rhetorical invention that benefits those at the top while providing an excuse to ignore or exploit those on the bottom. For what it’s worth, both Obama and McCain are probably more corporate controlled than I’d like. This is all, of course, my as-of-yet-relatively-undereducated-opinion. All I know is that the rich seem to be getting richer while the poor become poorer, both here and abroad, and I think (emphasize “think”) that Obama’s policies are more likely to put a check on MNC’s and TNC’s and other elements of free market tyranny than McCain’s.

4. His policies may actually lead to fewer abortions. These arguments have been rehearsed elsewhere, as have the accusations that they are misinformed, dishonest, ridiculous, etc. I respect those who reject them, but I cannot do so. Let me first say that I think abortion is always un-justified killing. (As a pacifist, how could I justifiably think otherwise?) As far as the two current platform options, the basic difference is this: one side aims to reduce abortions through anti-abortion legislation, that is, by making abortion as illegal as possible. The other side thinks a mother’s “right to choose” must be protected, and instead aims to reduce abortions by attacking the causes that lead to abortion: ignorance, non-“safe” sex, poverty, lack of adequate health care, etc. (I’m sure some people don’t really care about reducing abortions, but I don’t believe Barack Obama is one of them; they are heartless and will not enjoy meeting God face-to-face in the eschaton.) As for side one, it is often pointed out that the next President will likely appoint numerous Supreme Court Justices, which could affect the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade. But even if RVW were overturned, this would not outlaw abortion; it would merely return to each state the power to decide the matter. So again, even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, and even if many states do vote to outlaw abortion, as long as people still have transportation, abortions will not be drastically reduced. Many states will protect abortion legally, so all people have to do is get a ride to those states and have an abortion there. I’m not saying we shouldn’t seek RVW’s overturning, just that it’s not as foolproof a method of reducing abortions as we are led to believe. Add to that the fact that Repubs have had the White House for eight years now and we haven’t seen much in the way of abortion reduction, I have lost much faith in this method. On the other hand, it just makes sense to me that reducing the causes of abortions – as much as this is feasible – will result in fewer abortions. You can find the specific stats elsewhere, but there actually tend to be less abortions in places where it is legal (certain parts of Europe) than in places where it is criminalized (Africa and Latin America). I don’t put much stock in stats so I won’t be upset if you disregard them. I don’t expect any dramatic victories in this regard, but I do hope things may improve a bit.

5. An Obama victory may force many Christians to come to terms with the end of Constantinianism. I haven’t yet written out a full explanation of this one that I’m happy with. Suffice it to say for now that I am very glad to poke as many holes as possible in the idea that America is, ever has been, or ever could be “a Christian nation” (or, more broadly, that the West is, ever has been, or ever could be “a Christian civilization”). The world is not going to help us (the church) do what we’ve been called to do – make disciples of the strange Messiah who was put to deathby his world’s sole superpower. It is about time we learn to acknowledge that to be followers of Jesus is to be different in significant ways than people who are not followers of Jesus. Perhaps now more Christians will tend to use “we” more in reference to the church than our country.

6. Three words: universal health care. I know there are no solutions to the “health care problem.” I know there are many who don’t consider “health care” an inalienable right. I know there are many who believe that universal health care simply doesn’t work. As for the latter, I’m just not convinced. If anyone can make it work, it’s probably us. And let’s once again be honest – what we’re doing now isn’t working either. So this is one of the areas where the “change” rhetoric might actually mean something, one of the areas where I welcome (even imperfect) change. As for the rights question, I don’t even believe in inalienable rights (though I believe in something akin to them). If I did believe in basic human rights and was making a list of them, health care would be on that list. To me it is silly to say we value life without providing health care. Let’s not just get the babies born; let’s get them medical care. As for there being no simple solutions, I completely agree. But since this is true with any health care policy, at least for now I am in favor of seeking to universalize it to some degree. I admit, however, that I don’t know enough about this issue, so forgive me if I am inadequately informed.

7. I agree with more of Obama’s policies on less crucial but still important issues. Like gun control, for instance, or immigration. I don’t know a great deal about these issues and they honestly didn’t factor much into my decision, so I won’t say much. I suppose it’s possible I could change my mind on the immigration issue as I learn more about it, but it’s unlikely. Less likely still would be a change on gun control restrictions, though Obama won’t likely be able to do much about it. I know people kill people, but the fact is that guns make it easier, and I’m all for making it harder to kill people. Ooh, I almost forgot about the environment. Once again, this wasn’t a deal-maker for me since from what I can tell both candidates want to be wiser about the harmful effects of human pollution, but I certainly favor pro-creation policies (regardless of whether “global warming” is real).

8. Obama models the family values many of his opponents preach about. This point shouldn’t be lost, if we’re seeking to be fair and all. The Right often talks about family values, and about how strong families form the backbone of a stable society. If that’s the case, then Obama is clearly our candidate, at least in terms of putting our money where our mouths are., Though I in no way want to villainize him or act as if I understand all the factors involved, and while I recognize that people make mistakes and we have to leave room for growth and maturity, McCain has a checkered family history. On the other hand, Obama has been faithful to Michelle and so far as I can tell, they have done a good job loving and raising their two little girls. Because much has been made of Obama’s “questionable character” (usually in regard to certain of his associations with other people), I think this point deserves a little due. Not a lot, but a little. Obama is a family man, and for what it’s worth, he models for us all what a strong family looks like, more so than his opponent.

Why I did so with serious hesitation:

1. I don’t fully trust Barack Obama. Please don’t misunderstand me; I do not believe any of the dramatic accusations against him. I don’t believe he’s a Muslim, a terrorist, or any such thing. I wouldn’t trust any candidate, and I am especially suspicious of those who consider themselves Christians (see below). When I say that I don’t trust him, I have two things in mind. First, I don’t fully trust that his policies will reduce abortions. I hope they will. But I fear his voting record, misconstrued as it sometimes tends to be. Second, he’s a little too smooth. I’m not saying this is a good reason, but I’ve always thought that someone as good as Obama at looking good and talking well is dangerous because he tends to win people’s faith apart from any meaningful content.

2. Obama claims to be a Christian. I’m not going to say whether he is or not; thankfully, that’s not my (or your) call. I am confident that if he is a follower of Jesus, he’s got a lot to learn. I think he has an idolatrous view of America and America’s role in the world, and a heretical view of the American people. Being a pacifist, I am of course uncomfortable with his pro-war rhetoric in regard to Afghanistan in particular. I do not expect Obama to be a pacifist; if he were one, we wouldn’t we talking about him. But I nevertheless cannot disregard this conviction in my evaluation of him.

3. Oprah loves Obama. I’m not a big Oprah fan. At all. I think she is one of the primary priests for an alternative religion to Christianity. I don’t know what to call it: “Americanism” is unfair; “Materialism” is too broad; “Consumerism” is too specific; “Liberalism” is too vague; “Secularism” is too confusing. So I don’t know what to call it, but it is the primary religious alternative in our world, and she represents one of its two main forms. And she loves Obama. This makes me nervous, seeing as how I see my task as a pastor to save people from her religious propaganda and the religion she represents. (In this context “Oprah” represents the whole mainstream media in my mind. I picked on her because they kept showing her crying during Obama’s victory speech.)

4. People put way too much faith in Obama. My goodness people, do we honestly think this one man can be and do all of the things he’s promising. Let’s be real. Let’s be sober. Let’s not be so blatantly idolatrous. I fear that an Obama victory, though it may hopefully shake many Christians free from devotion to the religious Right, will merely replace this fervor with equal passion for the presently-being-formed religious Left. Capitol Hill will never provide the world – or this country – with a savior. This has been covered well elsewhere, so I won’t go on. For starters, read Isaiah 40 – nations aren’t nearly as important as we think! This type of overblown faith is generally true with all Presidents, but seems especially so with this one.

5. Most people in my church would not like the way I voted. This matters. It really does. But not enough, or so I apparently think, to seal the deal. It really does hurt my heart that I had to go against so many of the people with whom I live and among whom I try to love. I hope and pray that this won’t cause division or lessen their respect for me. I respect those who disagree with me, and I hope they will return the favor.

6. Since Obama was so likely to win (especially in my state), a McCain vote would have protected me from being held accountable for my vote in any substantial way. I don’t know to whom or to what degree we’re held accountable for the actions and policies of those for whom we vote. But the whole idea makes me uncomfortable, so it would be very easy for me to vote for the likely loser, so that (a) people couldn’t yell at me for not voting, and (b) people couldn’t yell at me for voting for the then president whose policies we might end up hating.

7. I don’t think McCain would have been as bad as most people think. Sorry if that annoys some people. But I think the McCain-is-just-another-Bush rhetoric is grossly overstated. I know, I know, I’ve seen the commercial in which he proudly announces that he voted with Bush over 90% of the time. But the reality from his record is that he has been fairly centrist over the decades – not afraid to go against his conservative friends. I don’t think he would have been great or brought enough change to the areas where change is needed, or I would have voted for him. But I don’t think he would’ve been that bad. And now that we’ll never know, none of you can prove me wrong! ☺

A lot of common ones are missing, I suppose. I’ve said nothing about age on the one hand, or experience on the other; I never even mentioned Sarah Palin (or Colin Powell)! Nevertheless, these are my reasons. I didn’t say they’d all be good ones. And if you weigh the good reasons against the silly ones, you’ll probably see why I voted the way I did. I am not completely confident in my decision, for what it’s worth. Besides, in the end my vote didn’t really matter this time. (Sorry to be so un-PC, but it’s empirically true!) Obama would have won my state no matter how I voted, and Obama would have won overall no matter how my state voted. I’m not dogging voting (honestly!), but in this one instance my vote didn’t make much difference. But I still voted, and I thought I might as well submit to all of you why I voted the way I did.

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