One of the benefits of having moved to Europe has been the convenience of limited exposure to U.S. politics. In fact, during both the Democratic and Republican Conventions I was in Russia, which afforded me only snippets amid other international news. But what I saw horrified me.
So far, I have not mentioned politics this electoral season - partly because I haven't been posting much at all, and partly because I have enjoyed being apart from the morass of voices and images that bombard Americans during electoral cycles. But there is something I feel I must say.
Presidential hopeful John McCain's choice of slogan, "Country First", virtually prohibits any support by Christians, and is in fact an anti-Christian phrase.
The whole point in the followers of Jesus using the phrase "Jesus is Lord" is to contrast themselves with the politics of the Roman Empire, where Cesar is Lord and Savior. In Empire, the Empire is what saves. In Empire, "peace" is achieved by domination, violent suppression of any resistance, and control (and upward movement) of wealth.
With John McCain raising the banner of "Country First", Christians are given a choice - nation first or Jesus first. Even for non-Christians, I can imagine there being a great many ideas, principles or values that would come before "nationstate": human rights, abolishing poverty, eliminating hunger, healthcare for everyone in the world, love, genuine peace, and so on. But for Christians, the issue is particularly pointed because of our history with power.
At the Republican Convention, one crowd-member who got the thumbs up from McCain was holding a sign that read: Peace Through Strength. Obviously, this person wasn't a Christian, but McCain claims to be a Christian. What church is McCain attending - what gospels is McCain reading - that do not contrast the peace brought by a suffering, sacrificing messiah on the one hand with the violent, double-speak politics of empires on the other. "Peace Through Strength" is a phrase Christians shoud react to in horror. Jesus is a model of strength through weakness, of self-sacrifice. The New Testament is an inversion of the military-messiah into a spiritual and peaceful one - the radical and surprising choice of vulnerability, love and creative resistance over security, power over others and domination. "Peace Through Strength" is antithetical to Christian values, to the Christian tradition, and strikes violently at the very heart of Jesus' life, message and meaning.
It is a fundamental element of Christianity - often lost in the overwhelming rhetoric and noise of our secular, capitalist, military-industrial culture - that we are given a choice whom we will serve. The choice is cast in different ways at different times, but they all have the same bottom line: Jesus' way or the way of Domination, Jesus or Empire, Jesus or some other entity that offers a different set of values, priorities and strategies. It is no different for American Christians now.
Now, in all honesty, I don't think McCain is an anti-Christ, or that he realizes what he is doing, or that he is intentionally peddling an anti-Christian message. He is a pawn of Empire, too, willing to do whatever he can to get more power. And he is using the slogan in a way that seems softer, warmer, than it might otherwise be seem in more clear circumstances. McCain and the Republicans want "Country First" to mean "thinking about others before yourself" - which is a noble sentiment as far as it goes. But the problem is - as it always is with allegiances - the slogan wants to enlist people's support under this warm and fuzzy pretext of caring about other people, but once they are on board with the slogan "Country First" will take them far from "caring". Appealing to nationalism only serves to remove people's ability to make decisions for themselves, remove their own value system with one that serves the empire's interests. What I am saying is that "Country First as Caring for Others" is a lullaby lie, meant to put you to into moral slumber. Rather than clarifying and proclaiming people's values, the phrase is meant to subvert and subject people's values to those of the Nation-state, to those in power, to the mechanisms of Empire.
I'm not advocating in this post voting for Obama. This isn't a partisan attack. My concern here is that we who would be followers of Jesus are aware of the profound choices being asked of us. "Country First" is no innocuous political phrase. "Peace Through Strength" is no simple proclamation of American sentiment. We are being handed opportunities to abandon our commitments to Jesus, wrapped in the American flag and to the sound of parading bands and applause.
Let us pause and consider what Jesus would want us to think or choose in these instances. Let us ask who's values are we being asked to uphold and make our own. Let us ask what else might be more important, what else might come before country, first.