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Anti-American Christian

2012 January 11

I’ll admit, I follow a few celebrities on Twitter – especially the writers and actors of my favorite sci-fi shows. If I didn’t love Firefly/Serenity and Chuck, I probably wouldn’t be following Adam Baldwin (@adamsbaldwin) – pictured here at Austin ComicCon. At the same time it’s sickly fascinating to read his extreme right-wing hate speech on a regular basis. I’m still not for sure if his Twitter persona is an extension of his characters or if he simply plays himself in his shows – as his gun-loving Ronald-Reagan-obsessed characters mirror what he posts on Twitter. So whether or not his tweets are caricature or the real deal, they serve as my reminder of the extremes of individualistic nationalism that stands in direct contrast to the ways of the Kingdom of God.

A few days ago, he posted the following Tweet –

anti -American Blog! | RT @washingtonpost “Why do we overlook civilians killed in American wars?” – http://wapo.st/xhLko2 ~ #FreedomIsNotFree

At first it pissed me off. What sort of people are we if it is considered not only unpatriotic but actually anti-American to care about the innocent people our country kills? Are the deaths of children on their way to school or of a mother in the marketplace really simply the cost of the freedoms we enjoy? To not expect them to pay that cost or to even mention that they are paying that cost, is therefore a betrayal of our country? Who are we that anyone would argue that such things define our national identity?

But as I considered the idea of national identity, I realized that the very notion of rooting one’s identity in one’s nation requires that the nation be valued before all else. If who one is at their core is a citizen of the United States (as opposed to say a Christian), then defending and protecting the manifest desires of the nation must form a person’s core identity as well. What is right (what is ethical) is therefore what serves the nation no matter who it harms or uses. Freedom, defined as the nation always getting what it wants when it wants, is of course not free as anyone who stands in the way of the nation’s ascendency must pay.

As a pure philosophy, it holds together and I respect the right of others to hold to that philosophy. The problem is of course when that religion of nationalism is sold as the right and true path for Christians. Few people would admit to rooting their identity in the nation or placing the needs of the nation at the forefront of their lives. But if they are told that in doing so they are actually serving God, then they easily jump on that bandwagon. In this way to care about the death of innocents or to question why others must pay for our expensive lifestyles is not just un-American it is unchristian. But as Walter Brueggemann has written, nations and empires “lack both patience and tolerance toward those whose ultimate loyalty belongs to someone or something other than the empire itself.” The clever way to deal with such impatience is to turn the worship of that other thing into worship of the empire. So if the nation can get those that claim to worship God to actually worship the nation in the name of God, then there is no conflict of interest. It’s idolatry of course, but it keeps the peace as it serves the nation.

So I realized that it is not so much the words of Adam Baldwin’s tweets that upset me so much, but that they echo the idolatry I hear on the lips of so many professed Christians (and, yes, before you accuse me of partisanship, liberal Christians can be trapped in idolatry as well). More and more therefore I want to embrace the anti-American label. I appreciate my country and am grateful to live here (and don’t foolishly believe anywhere else would be better). I also desire to embrace the call Jeremiah gave to the Israelites to seek the peace and prosperity of the land of their exile. But if being American means finding my identity in the nation and situating my ethics in my loyalty to it, then as a Christian I have no choice but to be anti-American. My ethics must be based on “blessed are the poor and those who hunger and thirst after righteousness” instead of “We’re #1” and “freedom (for us) isn’t free.” So thank you, Adam Baldwin/Jayne/John Casey for reminding me of my identity and what it means to give my allegiance solely to the Kingdom of God.

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11 Responses leave one →
  1. January 11, 2012

    Are we American Christians or Christian Americans? Which one is the. Pun and which the Adjective makes all the difference.

  2. Joseph Legander permalink
    January 11, 2012

    Amen! The widest circle of truth to which can realistically grant your allegiance largely defines your current level of growth. God, being the circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere, is the widest of all.

  3. Joseph Legander permalink
    January 11, 2012

    Add a “you” in there. Profundity fail brought on by grammar.

  4. January 11, 2012

    I believe it was Frederick Douglass who once said, “”A true patriot is a lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins.”

    So I guess that means if Douglass lived nowadays, Fox News would call him another angry radical black socialist commie.

  5. Jodi Golden-Lund permalink
    January 11, 2012

    Amen!

  6. January 11, 2012

    I remember a fine editorial a few years ago by Jim Wallis on the idolatry of much of evangelical Christianity. He spoke of the confusion of the U. S. A. with the kingdom of God. We must never confuse any nation with the kingdom, he wrote (as I remember it.) Civil religion is a dangerous thing. Julie is quite correct that progressive/liberal Christianity is just as likely to find itself caught up in it. I remember being in an Anglican church building in downtown Toronto, Canada a few years ago and noticing a mural on a wall of the sanctuary, depicting a pitched battle, circa., 18th century. When I asked, it was explained this panorama depicted the brave Tories of Toronto repulsing an attack by the U.S. on the shores of Lake Ontario during the War of 1812! The U.S. is not the only nation to suffer from conflation of its national agenda with the aims of the kingdom of God. Indeed, where would civil religion be more deeply entrenched than in nations which have a state church?
    The entire discussion in Paul’s writings: Romans, Ephesians, etc., of the preeminence of King (Christ) Jesus over any and all authorities has led me to teach that as a Christian, my ultimate allegiance is to the King and his kingdom. All other allegiances are (or should be) faithful, non-competitive expressions of that primary allegiance. So, I love Jesus by loving my wife as wholly and sacrificially as I am able to do. Far from loving her less than I love God, loving her is an expression of my love for my king; loving her is one of the ways I love God.

    In the same way, I love my career as a worship/work (Hebrew = avodah) expression of the kingdom in action. If I fudge or cheat or let my work slide I fail Jesus, for in fact, I work for him.

    In the same way, my love of my nation should be a living expression of my devotion for the ultimate kingdom of which this nation will one day publicly become a joyful and devoted part (or else cease to exist). For me that certainly does preclude remaining silent when my nation uses remote-control drones to mow down another nation’s children on their way to school for the sake of U. S. national security.

    Travis (in a comment above) mentions a quote from Frederick Douglass. My great-great grandparents (who named my great grandfather Frederick Douglass James) were station masters on the last stop of one of the Underground Railroad routes out of the U. S. into Canada. Harlow and Armenia James received runnaways under the cover of darkness from the previous station and on the following night, they led them to a small boat and took them across Lake Ontario to freedom. They were breaking the Fugitive Slave Law on a regular basis because their final allegiance was to God’s law of love, not to an unjust Federal Statute. Christians in this nation will never be truly free to worship God in the practice of everyday justice until they are set free from the powers and principalities which presently blind them to the civil religious tenant that the U.S. can do no wrong. This is no theoretical matter. This is a real problem.
    Trace James

  7. The Misfit Toy permalink
    January 11, 2012

    So you refuse the let someone else define what “Christian” means, but you let them get away with defining what “American” means? Fight both fights, they are both worthy fights.

    I am, however, staunchly anti-amurican, which is my own word, so I can define it any way I want.

  8. January 12, 2012

    Thank you for posting this! Great thoughts.

  9. January 13, 2012

    Thank you for your post, Julie. I too am deeply frustrated and bothered by the idolatrous patriotism that gets associated with Christianity or is understood to be synonymous with Christianity.

    Nekiesha Alexis-Baker has written an excellent article about the role of the church as resistance to nation-state from an anarchist perspective. In it she argues that the very construct of the nation-state creates/perpetuates racism, exclusion and oppression.

    You are spot on in highlighting the connection between identity in nationality and the prioritization of values. As long as nation-states dominate our global relations we will struggle to see our fellow humans as brothers and sisters, but instead as the Other. As Christians, I believe we are called and expected to ignore such boundaries and suffer alongside and grieve for all life, especially those whom the empire insists are threatening our freedom.

    That our churches are not more unified around the criticism of nationalism and war and empire really bums me out and makes me seriously disappointed that our tradition is completely missing the point.

  10. Sam permalink
    February 8, 2012

    A couple of good books to read about this very subject are The Kingdom of God is Within You, by Leo Tolstoy, and any biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I just started reading one of Bonhoeffer’s books, The Cost of Discipleship, and there is a brief biography of him at the beginning of it. Tolstoy was a Christian pacifist and anarchist who was excommunicated from the Orthodox Church for his views, and Bonhoeffer was executed for working to bring about the defeat of his own country (Germany) during the second world war.

    Tolstoy’s and Bonhoeffer’s views seem to oppose each other, but at the root of their differing ideologies is the sentiment that true Christians should never submit, whether willingly or unwillingly, to any demands of the state that are immoral and which contradict God’s laws, even if such opposition to the state’s demands leads ultimately to their deaths.

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