Whose side is God on? A outsider’s perspective on American Christianity

Original post: October 22, 2008; repost: March 30, 2010.

I don’t tend to react very well when a person claims God for their agenda or their side or their country. As an American citizen, born and raised in Hong Kong, and educated in London, I have somewhat of an outsider’s perspective on the role of faith and American politics, notably in how many view America’s affiliation with the Christian faith with caution and even outright hostility. I remember following the effects of 9/11 and the subsequent Iraq War with my English friends, Christian and non-Christian, wondering—and at times, cringing—at the ease with which President Bush claimed God for the American ‘side.’

In The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne describes what he saw in America after the events of September 11th, 2001:

Conservative Christians rallied around the drums of war. Liberal Christians took to the streets. The cross was smothered by the flag and trampled under the feet of angry protesters. The church community was lost, so the many hungry seekers found community in the civic religion of American patriotism. People were hurting and crying out for healing, for salvation in the best sense of the word, as in the salve with which you dress a wound. A people longing for a savior placed their faith in the fragile hands of human logic and military strength, which have always let us down. They have always fallen short of the glory of God. (2006:199)

The Christian faith became too easily subsumed into American patriotism, and there were many in the American Church too easily persuaded to support the war in Iraq. Yet Obery Hendricks Jr. argues that this is not an isolated incident but a cultural phenomenon: “in the strange calculus of American political culture patriotism has come to be virtually equated with Christianity. Love of country is extolled in the same breath as love of God” (The Politics of Jesus, 2006:324).

Such an attitude is not only unbiblical, but it undermines the global and universal nature of God’s invitation and salvation. As Jim Wallis comments, “Nationalism doesn’t go well with the kingdom of God. The church is the international body of Christ, and “God bless America” is not found in the Bible” (The Great Awakening, 2008:74). In Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address in 1865, he acknowledged the tragic irony of asking God to be on one’s side:

Both [sides] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not, that we not be judged. The prayers of both could not be answered—that of neither has been answered fully. (quoted in E.J. Dionne, Souled Out, 2008:186)

His advice: “Do not say that God is on our side. Let us hope that we are on God’s side” (quoted in Hendricks 2006:193).

It would be easy, especially in a country where Christianity—or some semblance thereof—is so ingrained into the cultural identity and where national pride is so encouraged, for Christians to allow their faith and their love of country to become intertwined, for God to be seen as promoting their agenda—whether conservative, evangelical, liberal. When this does happen, as has happened in part already, the American church’s mission to the world—to demonstrate the love of Christ and the power of the gospel—is hampered by her association with all other things American: “For many in America and around the world, the American flag has smothered the glory of the cross, and the ugliness of our American version of Caesar has squelched the radiant love of Christ” (Greg Boyd, The Myth of an American Nation, 2005:14).

Three-quarters of November

November has, so far, been the greatest month of this year for me. Let me tell you why …

November 4: Election Day

I got to start the day off with a cup of tea in my Obama cup!! And I got to vote in my first general election!! And Barack won!! And I had a little election night shindig at mine, with lots of friends crammed into my little studio, hunched around my baby TV, and munching away on treats.

November 6: Selah’s birthday

Two of my favorite people in the world—Adam and Katie—had their baby girl on Thursday, November 6. Selah Rose was just over a week early, and I got to see her at only a few hours old. (Also went for bowling with the boys.)

November 9: Dad’s birthday

My dad is the most sprightly 71 year-old I know. Happy birthday, Dad!

November 9-13: TiTi come to play

Sunday to Thursday: my bestest friends Tim and Tiff came to stay with me for a few days after spending a week in Colorado with Tiff’s family, and they got to meet my friends (again, in Tim’s case). I hadn’t seen Tim since last October and Tiff since last June, so it was great to see them.

Highlights: brunch at Coco’s, going to the beach, going to see Copeland, brunch at Marston’s, talking and playing cards.

November 14: Coffee by the Books

Almost every Friday, Coffee by the Books (Fuller’s coffeeshop) puts on an acoustic music night. On the 14th, I played what will probably turn out to be one of the last times I play at C by the B, and it was probably the best I’ve felt about how I did in the last few years. The weather was perfect, i.e. not so cold that my fingers are trembling and my vocal cords are freezing; and it was great to have so many friends out in support.

November 18: A Wicked Night Out

The day before my birthday, I went to see Wicked with Hyunja, and Matt and Sara, preceded by dinner at Thai Patio in Hollywood, one of the best Thai places I’ve been to … ever. So dinner was great (I’d recommend the Volcano Seafood dish), and Wicked was amazingly awesome.

November 19: Turning 26

My 27th year began with birthday dim sum. And then I was in class for seven hours, which I’ve never done to celebrate a birthday before. And then dinner with M&S (Matt and Sara, not Marks & Spencer), and birthday dessert with friends. Good times … (Also, happy birthday also to Helen and Shing, my birthday buddies!)

November 21: Korean BBQ and Bolt

Friday night, Micah and Christie treated me to Korean BBQ dinner for my birthday (which Gabe and Maribeth and the kids also came to), and then we hit up downtown Disney to watch Bolt with the Journey youth group (and their friends). It was hilarious; I laughed so much I couldn’t breathe. That’s the measure of a funny film.

November 22: Monstars Football

Fuller’s intramural flag football playoffs were this past Saturday. Last year, we made it to the championship game where we lost handily after playing three games before that. This year we won our first game, and then lost in the final four; but it was a good run, and we had a lot of fun this quarter. Changing our team cheer to “Yes We Can” propelled us to three victories, but couldn’t carry us through. Oh well; you win some …

And there’s still a week of November left! God is good. 🙂

November 4

Yesterday morning (Monday, November 3), Madelyn Dunham, Barack Obama’s grandmother and the person who played a large part in raising him, passed away. My thoughts and prayers are with the Obama family at what must be a bittersweet time.


And in case you didn’t know, it’s now Election Day 2008! Vote away …