Ted, Ted, Ted, my beloved but confused son! I heard your speech the other night. Actually stayed awake through it. I don't usually make it through political speeches these days. But, as I say, I listened to yours.
I listened because you never seem to have gotten the distinction between being an American Christian and a Christian American. And because of that you get most everything else wrong or out of balance. I love you, boy, but you need to get clear on this!
It matters whether the “Christian” is the adjective or the noun. Nouns are the primary thing which adjectives modify in one way or another. An American Christians is what I intend you to be, but you keep insisting on being a Christian American. And as I already said, that makes you get everything else out of whack.
To wit, Ted, if you were an American Christian rather than the Christian American I heard you proclaim yourself to be the other night.
-you would not confuse America with the church the way you so evidently did in your speech.
The church and not America is the only “exceptional” people I know. And they aren't a nation since Jesus came (weren't really even before he came – but I digress). Instead, they live in every country, every nook and cranny of this globe and serve me and my purposes there. Transnational, multi-ethnic (you ought to know about that, Ted!), spread across my creation, my people these days know no national boundaries, have no national boundaries to defend, no national interests to secure, you get my drift, don't you?
-you would not identify the destiny of America with the destiny of the church or the world.
America is a geopolitical empire. Nothing more, nothing less. The day will come when America no longer rules the worlds, or perhaps, even exists. And no, I'm not telling you which. Another of my beloved boys said it best, “America is the best Babylon the world has yet seen, but it is still a Babylon” (my apologies, Tony Campolo). America has boundaries, interests, and agendas to protect, secure, and enforce. And it has done so, often with brutality, injustice, and oppression, as is the wont of empires. That doesn't mean I never use America as a part of my governance of the world. No indeed! I used Egypt and Babylon and Persia and Rome, and I have used America. Not perhaps in ways you would expect or easily identify, but take my word for it. But I have not and do not underwrite American arrogance and pretensions. It is NOT the savior, model or “city set on a hill” by God that all other nations must follow and obey. America will go to judgment just as all those other empires and be a memory for the history books. Nothing exceptional about that!
The church, my people, on the other hand, are truly exceptional. You'd know that, Ted, if you read your Bible more carefully. Don't you remember how I told Abraham and Sarah, promised them actually that I would raise up a great people from them, bless and protect them, and through them bless everyone else (Gen.12:1-3)? That's where my people, Israel and the church, began. And since I always keep my word, my people bear the blessing and destiny of the world. And that's what makes them exceptional; and their mission critical to the well-being of the world. That's why your confusion here, Ted, is so unfortunate! Mark well, no nation can carry out the mission of the church, but the mission of the church can be carried out in any nation!
-you would not seek to be President of America, at least not as Christian.
You just can't do it, my son. Don't you see? How can you pledge to support and protect America's interests and boundaries over and often against other nations where your sisters and brothers in Christ live and seek to do his work? How can you go to war against them? Really? You must be so willing if you take that pledge, you know! You will even have to jail and prosecute some of those brothers and sisters here who protest the imperial injustices America does, in truth, impose on others. You can't have Christ and Caesar at the same time – sorry about that.
Understand this, Ted: if you seek and secure this office it will not be me who put you there! Ponder that. I have a much more significant and truly important job for you to do. Your desire to be President is not only inappropriate, it is to aim too low! You're one of my kids, Ted. That makes you royal. And you're also a priest in the temple that I'm making out of the whole creation. That makes you a royal priest. With the rest of my people you are to stand for me and my interests before the world and to stand for the world before me bearing its needs and concerns.
Did you hear that, my boy? The whole world and its well-being is your concern! And when you remember that the baseline for health and well-being in my world is the compassionate, inclusive, and just (in my sense of justice) treatment of the last, the least, and the lost, well, then you have a mandate worthy of royal priests, brothers and sisters of my own beloved son, Jesus!
-you would learn to see the world very differently than any political party does.
One of your brothers who learned this, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, put this remarkably well:
“There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learnt to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who suffer. The important thing is neither that bitterness nor envy should have gnawed at the heart during this time, that we should have come to look with new eyes at matters great and small, sorrow and joy, strength and weakness, that our perception of generosity, humanity, justice and mercy should have become clearer, freer, less corruptible. We have to learn that personal suffering is a more effective key, a more rewarding principle for exploring the world in thought and action than personal good fortune. This perspective from below must not become the partisan possession of those who are eternally dissatisfied; rather, we must do justice to life in all its dimensions from a higher satisfaction, whose foundation is beyond any talk of ‘from below’ or ‘from above’. This is the way in which we may affirm it.”
Oh, how I wish you'd said something like that in your speech. That's the way I want my people to see the world. Dietrich was an upper crust guy like you, Ted. I know you weren't always of that status, Ted. But you are now. Yet Dietrich learned to see things my way. I have every expectation that you can too. I know it's hard, son. It goes against everything the world is about in its rebellion against me. But being like me in a world like yours is to see things from the bottom up, through the practice of suffering servanthood. Sooner or later you need to learn that.
-you would discover that the kind of action that genuinely changes people and situations doesn't come from the top down.
My daughter Dorothy Day learned this. She says,
“What we would like to do is change the world--make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, the poor, of the destitute--the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor, in other words--we can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world. We repeat, there is nothing we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as our friend.”
Yeah, this, this is what I want, Ted. And I want you to be a part of it. That's what being an American Christian looks like. And that's what I want you to look like. Like Jesus. So be done with this “Christian American” thing, Ted. For my sake. For you sake. For the world's sake.
I love you, man!