The Common Good

Anti-American Christian

I’ll admit, I follow a few celebrities on Twitter — especially the writers and actors of my favorite sci-fi shows. If I didn’t love Firefly/Serenity and Chuck, I probably wouldn’t be following Adam Baldwin (@adamsbaldwin). There's something sickly fascinating about reading Baldwin's extreme right-wing hate speech on a regular basis.

The actor Adam Baldwin ("John Casey" of the TV series "Chuck.")
The actor Adam Baldwin ("John Casey" of the TV series "Chuck.") Image via IMDB http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000284/

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I’m still not for sure if his Twitter persona is an extension of his characters or if he simply plays himself in his shows — as his gun-loving Ronald-Reagan-obsessed characters mirror what he posts on Twitter. So whether or not his tweets are caricature or the real deal, they serve as my reminder of the extremes of individualistic nationalism that stands in direct contrast to the ways of the Kingdom of God.

A few days ago, he posted the following Tweet:

anti -American Blog! | RT @washingtonpost "Why do we overlook civilians killed in American wars?" - http://wapo.st/xhLko2 ~ #FreedomIsNotFree

At first it pissed me off. What sort of people are we if it is considered not only unpatriotic but actually anti-American to care about the innocent people our country kills?

Are the deaths of children on their way to school or of a mother in the marketplace really simply the cost of the freedoms we enjoy? To not expect them to pay that cost or to even mention that they are paying that cost, is therefore a betrayal of our country? Who are we that anyone would argue that such things define our national identity?

But as I considered the idea of national identity, I realized that the very notion of rooting one’s identity in one’s nation requires that the nation be valued before all else. If who one is at their core is a citizen of the United States (as opposed to say a Christian), then defending and protecting the manifest desires of the nation must form a person’s core identity as well. What is right (what is ethical) is therefore what serves the nation no matter who it harms or uses.

Freedom, defined as the nation always getting what it wants when it wants, is of course not free as anyone who stands in the way of the nation’s ascendency must pay.

As a pure philosophy, it holds together and I respect the right of others to hold to that philosophy. The problem is of course when that religion of nationalism is sold as the right and true path for Christians. Few people would admit to rooting their identity in the nation or placing the needs of the nation at the forefront of their lives. But if they are told that in doing so they are actually serving God, then they easily jump on that bandwagon.

In this way to care about the death of innocents or to question why others must pay for our expensive lifestyles is not just un-American it is unchristian. But as Walter Brueggemann has written, nations and empires “lack both patience and tolerance toward those whose ultimate loyalty belongs to someone or something other than the empire itself.”

The clever way to deal with such impatience is to turn the worship of that other thing into worship of the empire. So if the nation can get those that claim to worship God to actually worship the nation in the name of God, then there is no conflict of interest. It’s idolatry of course, but it keeps the peace as it serves the nation.

So I realized that it is not so much the words of Adam Baldwin’s tweets that upset me so much, but that they echo the idolatry I hear on the lips of so many professed Christians (and, yes, before you accuse me of partisanship, liberal Christians can be trapped in idolatry as well). More and more therefore I want to embrace the anti-American label. I appreciate my country and am grateful to live here (and don’t foolishly believe anywhere else would be better).

I also desire to embrace the call Jeremiah gave to the Israelites to seek the peace and prosperity of the land of their exile. But if being American means finding my identity in the nation and situating my ethics in my loyalty to it, then as a Christian I have no choice but to be anti-American. 

My ethics must be based on “blessed are the poor and those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,” instead of “We’re #1” and “freedom (for us) isn’t free.”

So thank you, Adam Baldwin/Jayne/John Casey for reminding me of my identity and what it means to give my allegiance solely to the Kingdom of God.

Julie Clawson is the author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices (IVP 2009). She blogs at julieclawson.com and emergingwomen.us.

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