For his final State of the Union address, President Obama delivered a characteristically eloquent and passionate speech. He issued a heartfelt call for unity and cooperation in a country whose political climate is just a few notches short of civil war. He asked us to consider how we might move forward as one nation, affirming our highest ideals rather than the hateful rhetoric of would-be despots.
Obama’s final State of the Union was in many ways a masterpiece of American political theater. He reminded us of the best of our tradition, calling us to live up to our history of welcoming the outsider and being a land of opportunity for all people. Despite the fact that this canonical history is to a great degree aspirational rather than actual, I was at many points uplifted to hear the president invite us to live into the more beautiful aspects of the American Dream.
Given how compelling the president’s speech was, it was disappointing to hear him spend so much time asserting America’s “strength” on the global stage. There were long stretches of the State of the Union that were unabashedly imperial. The president spoke with pride about the overwhelming US military budget, which has been draining the lifeblood of our poor and middle class for decades. He cited the 10,000 airstrikes he has overseen as if it were a badge of honor. He bragged about assassinating Osama Bin Laden, with swagger that was reminiscent of George W. Bush.
None of this is surprising. I’m not so naïve as to expect the commander of “the finest fighting force in the history of the world” to renounce the way of the sword. Caesar will be Caesar, and the empires of this world are not likely to be governed by peacemakers any time soon.
And yet this president – like almost every other president in our country’s history – is a confessing Christian. So were almost all of the national leaders gathered in the Capitol Building. We are a nation governed largely by professed Christians who have no compunction about taking up the sword and “destroying” those who threaten America’s economic and military dominance. For all his lovely words, President Obama has once again made it abundantly clear: He is more than willing to destroy whole nations if they threaten the US Empire.
How do we as the followers of the crucified messiah reconcile ourselves to the fact that many of the most violent people in the world are our co-religionists? In this time of such great fear about militant Islam, who will protect us from nuclear-armed Christians? How can we share the good news of Jesus’ way of love while launching 10,000 airstrikes on people around the globe? How many must die at the hands of Christians before the followers of Jesus finally resolve to follow our humble commander-in-chief to the cross?
To all of our leaders who profess faith in the Lord Jesus: I beg you to consider whether your commitment to American military dominance is compatible with your decision to live as citizens in the reign of God. And for all of us who seek to follow the risen savior, whether we hold political authority or not: How long will we choose to compromise our faith and support a nation that so disregards the law of love and the Spirit of Peace whom our Lord Jesus sends us?
My prayer is that President Obama, and all of our Christian leaders, would come to more fully know the power of Christ’s love, which frees us to lay down the sword and take up the cross. On that day, ISIS won’t stand a chance.