America and the Soul

The heart of the church-state separation is the protection of the church from political poison, rather than the other way around.  We’ve spent so much time recently scratching and clawing our way to what we see as our “rightful place” at the center of American culture, we’ve failed to see how deeply the political poison has penetrated our vital organs and how very sick we are.

As an example, a proclaimed christian political figure recently made the statement publicly that “We see America as the greatest force for good in this world.”  Can we see the distortion in this statement?  The GREATEST force for GOOD in the world is one of its nations?  This idea is rooted in the notion that America’s particular way of being is, as a whole, beneficial to the entire globe.  Is it the American way of living and being that we are committed to multiplying throughout the earth?  Is this what is good?

As responsible citizens we have a responsibility to be culturally critical.  It should be a given that our first allegiance is to a King and a Kingdom, yet somehow being a follower of Jesus has come to be equated to being a patriot, while in the meantime, being a patriot has come to mean having a nearly blind allegiance to and defense of “the American Way.”  But even the briefest critical look at the Way of Jesus and the “American Way” makes clear that there are some rather large gaps between the two.

As an example, the emphasis on productivity and growth as a determinant of worth and success has gone greatly unchecked here in the States.  While this characteristic is not entirely unique to America (China seems to hold its own in this regard), I can only speak to the length of my own experience and understanding, which is with American culture.  While the size of the average home in the US has grown almost exponentially in the past few years, the number of people living in those homes has declined by an equally alarming rate… Fewer people needing more space; is this a life-principle worth passing on to the rest of the globe?
Even the sacred concept of freedom we find at the center of much patriotic conversation has morphed into an idea more closely tied to limitlessness (and that limitlessness tied to consumer greed) more characteristic of gods than humble, responsible human beings.  As Wendell Berry writes;  “Hell is the place where we believe no limits apply, where we believe our power and knowledge to be limitless, and thus become slaves to our appetite and lose freedom in the name of false liberty. “ (Read the rest of this article here.)

The US victory over the Nazis reinforced the idea that America was on the side of good by its very nature.  It is this dangerous mixture of political and religious zeal that certain political elements have seized in an effort (and a successful one at that) to solidify political allegiance among evangelical christians.  “Good” in this light has come to be closely and deeply tied to “American” and has us held so closely to it’s bosom that we cannot see our beloved nation from a sufficient distance to judge its health.

Now, besides the fact that empires who claim the will of God moves upon their moving have a rather nasty track record, the people of God living in a nation gone awry have often had much explaining to do when they’ve assimilated to that nation’s ways.  In this light, being critical IS being a patriot.


  1. I agree that when the church is critical it is fulfilling it’s prophetic role in the world. We need to be critical of all political parties though, not just the one you aren’t voting for. You have endorsed a candidate without criticism of his unashamed and absolute support of abortion.

    Teacher, listen to yourself.

    God is good

  2. Good stuff, Justin. Honestly, I don’t know how any Christian who has ever actually read the Gospels could conclude that nationalism is the way to go. It seems to me that the type of patriotism that’s perpetuated by certain members of the religious right is the antithesis of what Jesus was talking about.

  3. admin


    I have actually written elsewhere about my views of abortion and that my support of a candidate does not hinge on his or her being a proponent of the legislative route to dealing with the issue.


    Meanwhile, while John may already be familiar with these kinds of thoughts, the article links below outlines part of where my heart sits in relationship to abortion.


  4. Obama’s legislative route to deal with abortion is a promise to make into law The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) which isn’t a neutral law….

    The FOCA is a bill that would make partial-birth abortion legal again, strike down restrictions on taxpayer funding of abortion, and nullify virtually every state and federal law or policy that would in any way “interfere with” access to abortion, including parental notification laws. In a letter sent to every member of Congress by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on September 19, Cardinal Justin Rigali wrote, “No one who sponsors or supports legislation like FOCA can credibly claim to be part of a good-faith discussion on how to reduce abortions.” In a speech to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund on July 17, 2007, Obama said, “The first thing I’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That’s the first thing that I’d do.”

    — Obama advocates the nullification of state laws requiring parental notification or consent for a minor daughter’s abortion, which would be one of the effects of the FOCA. Moreover, since entering the U.S. Senate, Obama has had two opportunities to vote directly on the question of parental notification for interstate abortions on minors, and he voted “no” on both occasions.

    — Obama advocates repeal of the Hyde Amendment, the law that since 1976 has blocked almost all federal funding of abortion, even though both pro-life and pro-abortion analysts agree that this law has prevented many abortions. By even the most conservative estimate, there are more than one million Americans alive today because of the Hyde Amendment. “Because the Hyde Amendment must be renewed annually, a new president hostile to the Hyde Amendment could quickly place it in jeopardy,” Johnson observed. The FOCA would also nullify all state laws restricting state funding of elective abortion.

    — In a written response to a pro-abortion advocacy group, the Obama campaign said that Obama is opposed to continuing current federal funding for “crisis pregnancy centers,” which provide needed assistance to many thousands of pregnant women.

    — NRLC has thoroughly documented that in the Illinois state Senate, Obama led the opposition to legislation to protect babies who are born alive during abortions, and persisted in his opposition even after Congress had enacted a virtually identical federal bill without a single dissenting vote.

    This information is found here. http://www.prolifeblogs.com/articles/archives/2008/10/barack_obamas_s.php

    Even Bill Clinton added to the Democratic plank the language of making abortion rare. The party this year removed that language. It’s the church’s prophetic role to cry out together the evil of this. I agree that the atrocities and human rights violations that the current administration participates in are abhorrent. I do not endorse nor do i plan to vote for McCain nor do I plan to vote for Obama. I will vote for the protector of children and their mothers. When abortion is delegalized we know children will be 10 times safer in poverty than now, rather than any incremental decease by economic gain.

    I responded before to Schaeffer’s article here, http://umbl0g.blogspot.com/2008/02/pro-life-and-pro-obama.html
    God is good

  5. admin


    You and I do not agree in this area (respectfully,… i have read much on your blog and think you are a great voice in this conversation). But I am beginning to get the impression that unless or until I renounce my political preferences and concede your point regarding life legislation, you are going to continue to publicly remind me that my worldview is flawed no matter what else I am writing about; as if to say that nothing else I have to offer (topically speaking) has any weight of authority because of this weak link in my way of thinking.

    This was a blog about nationalism and greed; the back-story to a song about separating my allegiance to my country from my devotion to Christ… but you posted about abortion. Previous to this, I wrote about the song “Driving By The Accident” and the need for each of us to recognize a moral responsibility to those around us… you posted about abortion. Previous to that, I wrote about the illusion of the “mainstream” and the unifying picture of the majority struggling to find our place (Bullhorn Theory)… you wrote a response about abortion. I wrote a blog about the general theme of the song “Deconstruction” and the need to simplify my christian practice by de-linking it from many of the cultural expectations I had assumed were part of the whole… you wrote about abortion (though, more justifiably, since i mention the topic in the post).

    I suppose my concern is that you honestly feel that my work is degraded on the whole because of my inability or unwillingness to concede your point regarding my political leanings or my views on the most effective method in eliminating abortion. With that hesitation, I’ve never been one to censor responses to my blogs and don’t want to start now.

  6. Justin I only pursue those I care about, friends like you. you’ve been a guest at my church and I’ve enjoyed our conversations in the church parking lot, I like you and your wife. I like your music. I like your stories. I like hearing God’s story in your life. I’m glad you are bringing God’s story and the good news to many with the gifts he has given you.

    But when you endorsed a candidate from your ministry platform, I was concerned, like i’m concerned when any person given a platform by God endorses someone, e.g. Dobson. on top of that, you lit a fuse on a big keg of dynamite, abortion. btw, i didn’t comment on every blog, just ones that present principles in contradiction to your approach to the political race or human rights.

    for example, i’m glad IJM lit a fire under you. i tried to persuade you that the same legislative principles IJM is using can be applied to children a little smaller and a few years younger. if all humans have human rights why can’t we agree on protecting the rights of these smallest humans? like we agree on protecting the rights of the child sex workers. poverty plays a large role in their situations as well but we agree that both routes need to be pursued simultaneously, laws and poverty, and gospel.

    when i dump facts on your blog posts i’m hoping you’ll interact with those facts and reply to them. thanks for not deleting my replies, but it happens to me enough that i won’t take it personally.

    God is good

  7. First, a President Obama would likely sign into law a bill he co-sponsored as senator that would sanction the mass production by cloning of embryonic human beings for research and effectively require their subsequent destruction. This bill alone–which McCain opposes–would multiply the killing of tiny human beings on an industrial scale.
    Hi Justin
    I’m replying to this post as this is where we had an Obama discussion. Perhaps you have already voted when you read this, but I learned something more distressful about your candidate. He wants to unleash the bounds of embryonic stem cell cloning, yet another commodification of humans, like prostitution. I hope you reconsider your choice. See this quote in context here. http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/viewarticle.php?selectedarticle=2008.11.03_Anderson_Ryan%20T._The%20Pro-Life%20Case%20Against%20Barack%20Obama%20.%20.%20.%20and%20Doug%20Kmiec_.xml

    “Ignoring this, Kmiec focuses on abortions, claiming that ”empirical study confirms abortion reduction through the Obama cultural and economic assistance course of action.” He asserts–but provides no reference to show–that generous social welfare programs ”have significant impact in the reduction of abortion.”

    In fact, precisely the opposite is true. As political scientist Michael J. New has demonstrated, such programs have been shown to have next to no effect at all. But pro-life legislation–limited after Roe to modest measures like informed-consent and parental notification laws and public-funding restrictions–have dramatically reduced abortion rates. Obama would eliminate all of these laws.”

    God is good

  8. admin

    I’d read a bit about Kmiec’s POV and think he misrepresents Obama a bit. Then again, I didn’t think the Archbishop represented the best political position for christians for Life.

    I don’t know if economic assistance programs will have the deep and lasting effect that we all hope for. I have read some of the studies of the Clinton v Bush years and side with those who see a pattern in the relationship between poverty and abortion, so I am trusting that my hopes are not entirely groundless.

    Ultimately, I don’t really trust either party to passionately or comprehensively deal with abortion after the election cycle has passed. I think you’ll agree that those among us who are philosophically pro life are somewhat tired of being jerked around and manipulated like suckers. Perhaps that makes me jaded,… So I primarily vote on other issues (i’m a foreign policy nut and long to see job growth in technology and the arts).

    If I thought Obama’s approach to abortion was better, I’d be that much more inclined to support him. But I favor his presidency for a plethora of other reasons.

  9. Thanks for the reply brother. I don’t think we are getting jerked around. I think the pro-life politicians are working by the law incrementally to undo what was done suddenly and undemocratically by judicial fiat. It’s taken this long to tip the balance in the supreme court and now so many of my pro-life friends quit. It’s not like Obama is less partisan than Gore and Kerry were. He is so partisan in his declaration of who he would nominate to the bench, anyone who is pro-Roe.

    I got bummed last night on my bike ride home. I’m bummed so many in my family suffer from fetus fatigue and are no longer motivated by compassion for these children and their mothers and fathers. But I know you and I can both pray for God to change the hearts of those in power, like he did to King Neb of Babylon. Perhaps, we can grab a minute together to do that in a couple weeks when you come by.

    Thanks for letting my dialog with you here. I’m glad you moved this off myspace as well.

    God is good
    your friend

  10. Congratulations on the success of your candidate. I wrote a post today celebrating the history our country made last night. But I also had friends like you in mind.

    God is good

Leave a Comment