Sunday, November 1, 2009
Making America Great
For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
This morning I read from Ched Myers' Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus and then (a little later) Bill O'Reilly's piece in the Boston Herald. I'm struck by how O'Reilly strains to connect Obama with 'fringe' characters like Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers to make him 'somewhat out of step with mainstream America.' O'Reilly starts the piece with 'In the beginning, there was the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a fire-breathing Chicago preacher who believes America is a bad place.' This is classic conservative dualism: either black or white, good or bad, patriotic or unpatriotic. The title of Mitt Romney's latest book is another example: No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.
The greatest American prophet [and I would add 'patriot'] of the 20th century--Martin Luther King--had a sermon prepared for 4 days after his assassination entitled Why America May Go to Hell. Wright, like King, comes from the African-American Christian heritage that echoes Jesus' combination of both the subversive [critiquing systemic injustice] and the constructive [building 'the beloved community']. Of course, this combination put Jesus (and King) on the cross--the same cross he calls his followers like you, me and Wright to take up today [Mark 8:34]. Unfortunately, Wright continues to be crucified by (mostly) white conservative 'Christians' giddy to place him in the same photo with Obama.
EasyYolk is far more 'at home' with prophetic figures like Wright and Ayers, as well as the biblical scholarship of Ched Myers, than the far right rants of O'Reilly, Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck. Our King Jesus was no more anti-Jewish than Wright and Ayers are anti-American. Jesus prophetically engaged with the leadership and power structures of 1st century Palestinian Judaism to fight for the causes of the other 95% just trying to survive a viciously corrupt and unjust society. As we Christians believe that Jesus renewed Israel, so too Wright and Ayers renew the American Dream for all of God's children (rich, poor, black, white, First World, Third World). And if the US is going to be what our sacred documents call it to be, the 5% who make decisions and own resources must be called to account.
Part of being 'Christian' must mean that we call out our country's policies and leaders when they oppress the least of these in our midst. As a student of church history, I am compelled that cozying up to the nation-state as a litmus test for true Christian faith and true patriotism is the last practice we want to engage in if we really want to be faithful to God's will. Allegiance to the reign of God inaugurated in Christ means that we will have to subvert the American Empire in many creative ways. As John Howard Yoder wrote 25 years ago:
The transcendence that counts is not a power from beyond that is now leashed to favor us, but the affirmation of values beyond our control to which we are committed, calling us to be ministers of peace and of justice above, beyond, and maybe even against our own interest. Ask not what God can do for America; ask what America owes humankind.
On the other hand, Fox News boasts its ratings as proof that they provide mainstream Americans with their news. This is a disturbing trend, exacerbated by the fight the Obama Administration picked with them last week. If O'Reilly's brands of Christianity and patriotism win the day, what will become of the Body of Christ's witness in the United States? The strategy of Fox News is to create a aura of 'news' coverage that is 'fair and balanced' while Obama is 'liberal,' and consistently flirting with what O'Reilly and his comrades call 'the radical left.' Fox News' mythical political spectrum looks like this:
*Wright/Ayers-Obama-----------Fox News-----------far right*
In reality--according to actual content--it looks more like this:
Polls are showing that Americans--both Republicans and Democrats--are moving to the right on the political spectrum. As Bill Maher recently explained, 'The Democrats are moving right...the Republicans are moving right into a mental hospital.' American conservative pundits and politicians have done a fantastic job of marketing 'liberals' as lepers. Political leaders do it to get elected [more power]...Fox News does it to get viewers [more money]. There's no doubt about it, in his day, with different issues, Jesus was 'on the radical left' with a political agenda for the Kingdom of God [see Matthew 5-7].