The Third Debate, American Imperialism and “Christian” Voting

Before getting into the problems with political campaigns these days, in response to the third presidential debate on foreign policy last night — which hardly left room for alternatives with respect to any difference between the two candidates regarding the issue, for example, of whether our country should be killing people at will who are unilaterally deemed threatening to our national security without trial, even if they happen to be U.S. citizens — a question came to mind:

If Jesus’s message about the kingdom of God was a narrative intensely at odds with the dominant Roman political program of imperialism, doesn’t this put American Christians especially in an awkward position, since “Jesus was a Middle Eastern man who lived in an occupied country and was killed by the superpower of the day”?[i]  And I do not think we have to worry so much about the exact similarities between the United States and the Roman Empire in order for this analogy to hold.

According to the President, “the United States is the one indispensable nation.”  Governor Romney on the other hand insisted that “America is the greatest hope for the world.”  To paraphrase a tweet from Greg Boyd: if this were true, I would be very depressed.  An unquestioned willingness to exercize violence for the purpose of promoting stability where it essential for our continued economic prosperity and dominance is just about the only consistent criteria that has been espoused since World War II, and even before — regardless of who has been in office.  If this kind of rhetoric doesn’t wake us up to the reality and intensity of nationalism, idolatry and neocolonialism in this country, I don’t think anything will.

What does it say about U.S. culture and the priorities of voters if campaign strategists insist on first and foremost assuring the American people that they are safe from terrorists as long as either candidate is in power?  Does this not reveal an obsession with security and the pervasiveness of fear of “the other”?  What does the gospel say about these things?  I think it is clear.  This is why the decision of who to vote for in November is a thoroughly unChristian one.  The tendency within an empire, Bell and Golden go on to argue, is to tell only one version of the story, the version that glosses over the dark side. In such an empire, “Christians must not become indifferent to the cries of those among us, no matter how uncomfortable they make us.”[ii]

It has long since been time to end all entanglement of the Christian story with mainstream American politics.  This is not to say Christians who happen to be U.S. citizens shouldn’t vote.  There are differences between these two candidates, and some of these differences will indeed affect people’s lives in significant ways, for better or worse.  It’s also ok to have a strong opinion about this (I certainly do), and to identity some measure of overlap between Christian principles and values, and specific policies or economic strategies that either candidate might be supporting.  But there has been almost no conversation whatsoever in these debates about any of the issue that I’m convinced Christians should be most concerned about: mass-incarceration, failed drug policy, global and national poverty, extreme income inequality, environmental degradation, clean water and the impending global water-supply crisis, unjust free trade agreements (which Romney sounded eager to propagate further in Latin America), militarism in general, consumerism, a culture of individualism, the death penalty… etc.  Abortion was brought up once; healthcare is of course debated; there has been some reference to keeping Wall Street accountable (but not nearly enough); and yes, always lipservice to renewable energy initiatives (and even lots of money given in recent years, though unfortunately to little avail due to poor stewardship on the part of the federal government).

Comparatively speaking, however, and with any regard for actual alternatives to the propaganda of American exceptionalism, voting for either candidate in this election has decidedly little consequence for a genuinely Christian politic.  There is no good vs. evil here; there is only evil vs. evil, to a greater or lesser degree.  Simply recognizing this, even if we go on to assume the responsibility of actively exercising our “right to vote” (more about this in a later post), could go a long way toward debasing the false consciousness about our true identity — an identity as disciples and citizens of the Kingdom of God.


[i] Rob Bell and Dan Golden, Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 17.

[ii] Ibid., 124.

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