No, I’m sorry, but no…

On August 29th, 2008, Barack Obama said in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention:

“America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise – that American promise – and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess. Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.”

I heard that speech in its entirety.  It was, by and large, a pretty decent one.  But to the section I’ve quoted above, I have to say, “No, Barack.  I’m sorry, but no.”

Your speech was full of good, solid thinking on the problems of America and some solutions we can strive for together.  But I was deeply saddened at your last few sentences.  I’m not knocking the American promise; we can work together as people for the good of this country.  But Barack, the American promise is not the hope that we confess.  You claim to be a Christian, a claim that should not be made lightly, and Christians are held accountable to the Scripture that roots us as a people.  Last I checked, in that Scripture you quoted a little bit of, Jesus is the hope that we confess, and his global kingdom is the goal we progress towards as people, not America.

Barack, you have shown a balanced, principled approach to leadership in this country.  But in pursuit of being “balanced,” you have either allowed your discipleship to be co-opted by your political interests or you have presented yourself as someone without any serious, totalizing commitment to Christ that might make you look foolish in the eyes of others.  Whether this is a method or the real thing, Barack, Jesus expects more out of you, and it saddens and angers God when we place other things or commitments in the place only he can occupy.

And Barack, one more thing.  I know you have to say “God bless America” or you’ll be written off as a unpatriotic heretic.  Another one of those hurdles you have to jump through to be elected in this country. But please, in your politics and in your speech, will you represent the larger blessing we pursue, the one that reads “God bless the world”?  Clearly, America is not God’s kingdom, but there is a Biblical commitment among those who are blessed (in this case with material things); they are blessed to be a blessing.  Blessed to have a genuine concern for all the world’s citizens and all the rest of God’s creation; the kind of concern that leads us beyond America an into the major global moral issues of our day.  Please talk about/exemplify that, Barack.

 

On September 3rd, 2008 at the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney said:

Just like you, there has never been a day when I was not proud to be an American. We inherited the greatest nation in the history of the earth. It is our burden and privilege to preserve it, to renew its spirit so that its noble past is prologue to its glorious future. To this we are all dedicated and I firmly believe, by the providence of the Almighty, that we will succeed. President McCain and Vice President Palin will keep America as it has always been – the hope of the Earth. Thank you, and God bless America.

I also listened to his whole speech.  I can’t say much good about his larger message, but especially in the above quotation, I was horrified and now must say, “No Mitt.  I’m sorry, but no.”

America is not and has not ever been the hope of the Earth.  As a disciple of Jesus, I firmly reject your statement.  In the incredible, beautiful letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul makes a powerful statement.  It is  may not come with the weight of an entire army behind it, nor will it come with economic might, but it is the truth nonetheless.  Here is Paul’s confession;

“For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing hymns to your name.” Again, it says,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and sing praises to him, all you peoples.” And again, Isaiah says,
The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
the Gentiles will hope in him
.”

Mitt, you’re a Gentile like me, so this passage is addressed to us.  It seems that the prophet Isaiah proclaimed that Jesus rules over the nations, and that the Gentiles (joining with the Jewish people) will hope in him.  So no, Mitt, America is not the hope of the earth.

And Mitt, isn’t it a little myopic of you to make the claim that America always has been the hope of the earth?  Are you aware that America has only existed for 232 years?  And if you’re looking beyond the relatively short existence of America to make a larger claim, are you trying to say that all of history has anticipated the rise of the American nation so that it may, finally, have hope?  Mitt, forgive me for being direct, but that’s, frankly, deluded, not to mention deeply vain.

I would encourage you, Mitt, to read a story of someone else that got a little too big for his own britches, trusted a little too much in his own power, believed that every other nation had anticipated his people’s rise. His name (a little confusing to pronounce) was Nebuchadnezzar.  For all intents and purposes, his kingdom was the most powerful around.  People quaked in their boots when they heard ol’ King Neb was coming.  King Neb had a dream, though, a disturbing one. You can read about it in the prophetic book of Daniel, chapter 4.  The dream was about a great and beautiful tree. In King Neb’s words,

“Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the beasts of the field found shelter, and the birds of the air lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.”

Pretty amazing tree, right?  But in the King’s dream, the tree was cut down by a certain “holy messenger.”  It disturbed the King, so he asked one of his royal advisors, Daniel (or Belteshazzar), what it meant.  Daniel had some bad news.  Forgive me for quoting his whole answer, Mitt, but I doubt you’ll go to read the chapter, being that you’re more interested in attacking liberals than in seeking the Scriptural truth.  Here’s Daniel’s words.

“My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the beasts of the field, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds of the air- you, O king, are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.”

Does that sound a little like America, Mitt?  I’m going to bold the parts you might like to reflect on for a bit. Daniel continues;

“You, O king, saw a messenger, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live like the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.’

“This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

Mitt, I’m not sure if you caught that.  Not only did King Neb get the reminder that he wasn’t the Grand Kahuna (or “the hope of the earth,” in your words), but Daniel reminded him of a social reality; good governance that God blesses is that which is “kind to the oppressed.”  In addition to recognizing who’s the real hope of the Earth, if you’re able to look past your political buzzwords that flush the faces of partisan hacks, America’s material prosperity is intended to flow from us outwards in a conscious commitment to the oppressed.  

Here’s a couple good questions, Mitt.

Who are the oppressed in our world?  

Who or what is oppressing them?

And how are these people reacting in order to gain a voice in the world?  

These are compelling questions that may lead you to dis-ease with your confident pronouncements.

I’m sorry about ranting a bit here, Barack and Mitt (well, not really).  

You see, I’m tired of politicians invoking the name of God while essentially spitting in his face as they do whatever they want.  I know that’s not just the politicians’ problem; heck, it’s a general global one.  But I’m about to the end of my rope with you guys, and profoundly dissatisfied with how American politics has descended into a conversation I could imagine with first-graders in my local elementary school.  

“You’re stupid.”  
“No, you’re stupid.”
“You have a fat nose and you’re poor.”  
(The other kids’ varied responses  “Ooooo” “Oh no you didn’t!”  Some laughing, others appalled).  

Barack, you’ve shown a commitment to attempting to rise above this stuff, and so far you’ve done an OK job.  I hope you keep to that.

In closing, I will say that I hope that both of you understand why I don’t expect a whole lot out of you, with the present state of things being what it is.

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3 thoughts on “No, I’m sorry, but no…

  1. Great, Nathan. Absolutely great. This is the exact type of nonsense I preached against Sunday (in honor of one of the “Jesus Loves America” days, a.k.a., Labor Day). We have almost entirely conflated the Kingdom of God and American politics–conservatives and liberals. And this was a great response to two heterodox statements. I wish they could read responses such as this.

  2. I see a theme emerging in some of your posts … 🙂 For most of us, stock phrases trip off the tongue all too easily, and without much nuance. But we might reasonably assume that every word of such a high-profile speech has been placed there with great care.

    Great post. As a non-American I’m not going to touch the substance of it.

    Someone pointed me to Don Miller’s “prayer” at the Democratic Convention. That had some choice lines which I choked on, I have to say, too.

    And your last sentence is spot on.

  3. Alan,

    Thank you for your willingness and courage to approach some of America’s sacred cows. I talk about this often with my friends; for too long, disciples of Jesus have allowed persons with slanted agendas and/or incomplete gospels to dominate the Christian agenda, and it has resulted in a “flock” of Christians who are fundamentally confused about who they are. The church is desperately in need of leaders who are willing to step outside of their present context and consider the historical and social contexts of Jesus and how they speak to us as former foreigners and aliens to the covenant who are trying to understand what the truth looks like lived out.

    I’m tired of politicians treating the American people like idiots; and, I should say, the American people settling for thinking that’s all we can ever hope for…we’ve become a nation of buzzwords and simplistic answers rather than people who can live with complexity and maintain a conversation for longer than five minutes on issues we care about without descending into immature name-calling. I think we’re better than that, and we should expect politicians to be better than that.

    I’m sorry to say that the political and social environment in this country doesn’t look like it will change very quickly, but I am convinced that the small actions of folks like you and me acting with a bit of courage can have an impact in incremental steps back toward modesty, wisdom, and maturity.

    Andrew,

    What theme do you see emerging in my posts? I don’t have any theme I live with in my life! 😉

    And your comment on the chosenness of every word in a high-profile speech is dead-on accurate, in my book.

    As a non-American, I would love for you to touch the substance of the post. We need perspectives that are different in our lives, and I promise I won’t flame you for bringing some alternative perspectives in.

    I would agree with you on some aspects of Don Miller’s prayer at the DNC, though I thought it was a good effort, especially in light of his interview with Christianity Today he did before the prayer (it’s on Youtube). What specifics frustrated you with the prayer?

    Nate

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