A Christian Response to the Final American Presidential Debate

I just finished watching the last (thank goodness!) presidential debate between Romney and Obama. This post will be somewhat of a response to it. My method in this post will be to frame the predominate theme of the debate tonight (supposedly, and for the most part it was), “foreign policy,” through the critique that the Apostle John provides of the Roman Empire’s foreign policy in the 1st century A.D.

As both of the candidates went back and forth tonight, something that stood out quite dominantly was that they didn’t really go back and forth with each other. Instead, they basically agreed with each other (at least Romney did with Obama) on the policies that have been being employed by Obama’s administration across the globe. Both men, then, in general affirm a posture towards other nations that ultimately stands against others with unrelenting military might and force; with the end result of sustaining our way of life, and imposing our mode of being (as consumers)  on the rest of the world. The bottom line is that for us to be secure and prosperous and to maintain “peace” in the world — both candidates would affirm — that we need to maintain a strong, police like force in the world in order to ensure that this continues to be the status quo. And all of this without any talk about the humanitarian impact that this is having on our trade partners (like China, Saudi Arabia, etc.) in the world. The end goal is to ensure that Americans remain rich and prosperous on the backs, often times, of slave labor (relative to American standards of living) and brutality that our trade partners employ on their own citizenry.

This kind of American “foreign policy” for the “Revelator” is the kind that God in Christ is coming to finally judge and put an end to at his second coming. Here is what Richard Bauckham writes in regard to how God viewed this kind of foreign policy in Rome, and by corollary, how he then would view this kind of foreign and domestic policy in and for America (Bauckham is commenting quite a bit here, on Revelation 17–19):

[F]inally, the portrait of the harlot in Revelation 17:1-6 ends with a fresh and even more sinister use of the image of drunkeness: she who made the earth drunk with her seductive wiles is herself ‘drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses of Jesus’ (17:6). The accusation recurs, this time with a judicial image, in 18:24: ‘in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth’. Here the prophets and saints are the Christian martyrs, and many commentators understand ‘all who have been slain on earth’ also as Christian martyrs, but this is not the natural sense, and it robs the verse of its climax. Rome is indicted not only for the martyrdom of Christians, but also for the slaughter of all the innocent victims of its muderous policies. The verse expresses a sense of solidarity between the Christian martyrs and all whose lives were the price of Rome’s acquisition and maintenance of power. John has not forgotten that Babylon rides on the beast with its bear’s hug and its lion’s teeth (13:2). He knows that the Pax Romana was, in Tacitus’s phrase, ‘peace with bloodshed,’ established by violent conquest, maintained by continual war on the frontiers, and requiring repression of dissent. Like every society which absolutizes its own power and prosperity, the Roman empire could not exist without victims. Thus John sees a connexion between Rome’s economic affluence, Rome’s idolatrous self-deification, and Rome’s military and political brutality. The power of his critique of Rome—perhaps the most thoroughgoing critique from the period of the early empire—lies in the connexion it portrays between these various facets of Rome’s evil.

Thus it is a serious mistake to suppose that John opposes Rome only because of the imperial cult and the persecution of Christians. Rather this issue serves to bring to the surface evils which were deeply rooted in the whole system of Roman power. In John’s perspective, the evils of Rome came to a head in her persecution of Christians, because here Rome’s self-deification clashed with the lordship of the Lamb to which the Christian martyrs bore witness and so what was implicit in all of Rome’s imperial policies here became explicit. Hence Revelation most often portrays the fall of Rome as vengeance for the death of the Christian martyrs (16:6; 18:24; 19:2; cf. 18:6). But this is certainly not the whole story: God’s judgment of Rome is also attributed to her slaughter of the innocent in general (18:24; cf. 18:6), her idolatrous arrogance (18:8), and her self-indulgent luxury at the expense of her empire (18:7). [Richard Bauckham, “The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation,” 350-51]

It is this kind of commentary and prophetic/apocalyptic exhortation from the book of  Revelation that has really convicted me in regard to being able to vote for either American candidate this voting cycle. If John the revelator is to be taken seriously, his indictment (the “Lamb’s indictment) is that the power of the “beast” is equivalent (symbolically and in reality) to the usage of military clout and might to ensure the sustainability of a society that is primarily shaped by self indulgence, entertainment, and basic hedonism. I cannot help but look at the United States, in general, and its (my) government, and but see us as fitting the same type of “right by might” posture that Jesus condemns in the book of Revelation as the power of the beast (in that immediate context in reference to the Roman Empire).

I understand that this is a complex thing, and I don’t want to oversimplify this. I am thankful to live in a country that has the kinds of freedoms we enjoy in the United States. But I am afraid that that kind of golden age belief (that we are an innocent country of liberty and freedom) is now being used, in sentimental ways, to paper over the fact that the United States, in many ways, has become an oppressor in the world and not a liberator. I think this is tied into our primary interest of ensuring that the petrodollar system (the system that continues to make our dollar the reserve currency of the world — although this reality seems to be shifting) stays in tact at all costs (I will have to address this point, “the petrodollar point” in another post). Ultimately, I don’t care if I am on the right side of history; I just want to live from the life of Christ in this world system, which means standing up (somehow) for the downtrodden and oppressed.

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3 comments

  1. Hi Bobby,

    I’ve read Bauckham’s smaller work (at your recommendation a while ago), which pretty much brings out the same things you comment on above. I had also been having a time of it trying to find grounds to continue to participate in “American Empire” even through voting, but an experience I had last election opened a hole through which I continue to travel as a “storyteller” of the kingdom of God. I related that experience over at Storied Theology, Daniel Kirk’s blog, a week ago. One comment in response was a great encouragement, although I had hoped it would open a dialogue to the post’s claim that all voting needs some kind of forgiveness. I think everyone has moved on though. Here is what I posted there, along with a response:

    “I remember back in 2008 being in the voting booth trying to decide between the McCain/Palin and Obama/Biden ticket. The voices from my “Christian Right” heritage were telling me to vote the McCain/Palin ticket because of the issues of abortion. But I was struggling over the war-mongering, American civil religious idolatry they had been using to make America God’s instrument of righteousness for the planet. I recalled Jesus having much harsher words towards those who would do this kind of thing – remake God over to “bless” all things of a worldly kingdom – than towards all the “sinners”. But, I also could not bring myself to vote for Obama for those same “moral” reasons.

    Then I noticed the “write-in” option. All of a sudden those voices that shout “you are wasting your vote” came flooding in.

    I left the voting booth with “Jesus for president” in that option, wondering why I even came that day to vote.

    Just as I was at the brink of despair, a group of pre-voting age students came up to me, asking if they could interview me on my vote. They were doing this for their civics class. For the next half hour or so I got to share with them about Jesus and His kingdom and how it provides the confidence to discern all the banter of the world’s competing voices, leaving it as the only “unshakable” option in which to depend.

    Maybe that “write-in”, while in the world’s conventional wisdom (and the eyes of so many of my fellow Christians) only think of it as a waste and irresponsible, can be used as that subtle way of subverting the world’s wisdom and opening eyes to that person and kingdom that gives all the certain hopes we long for.

    Maybe, just maybe, those kids learned something that will lead them there that day. It certainly would give a vindication (and rebuke!) to that despair I was feeling up til that time.”

    A response that gave me a lot of encouragement:

    “I’m not into American politics but I love this story. God has better ideas than any politician and this shows how we can be involved in his better ideas if we just follow our conscience rather than follow the world.”

    I had wondered if this person was from outside America or just one who did not involve herself in politics. It did bring to mind our need to think outside our “parochialism” though, even in our politics. Christians have a responsibility to think outside their geopolitical nation-state, and the kingdom of God filled with its proper content does just that.

    Thanks again for bringing out good theology Bobby. It had served and continues to serve as discernment for us as we bear witness to Jesus’ kingdom.

    Mark

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  2. @Mark,

    That is great that you had the opportunity to share Jesus with these kids! Since we know Jesus has already won the “election”, as God’s ‘elected’ humanity for us 😉 … we really have no worries. Glad that you were able to read Bauckham’s book, that really turned my world upside down in a good way; and it made the book of Revelation that much more applicable to Christian witness and discipleship today.

    @Adam,

    Hey brother! Thanks. Hope all is well, pastor 🙂 !

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