God's Politics

This weekend, the Sojourners/Call to Renewal intern program traveled to Columbus, Georgia to participate in the annual vigil and nonviolent direct action events to close SOA/WHINSEC. Be sure to check back often this weekend for on-the-ground updates, and let us know through your comments what you think!

Upon watching the local news Saturday evening while eating dinner at a local sandwich shop, we interns realized that the SOA protest was not the only gathering of note in Columbus yesterday. Across town, the 5th Annual “God Bless Fort Benning Day” was occurring, complete with military displays, family activities, and even an H2 Hummer that proudly served during the early days of the war in Iraq. And earlier in the day, two of us witnessed a police-led procession through town of what must have been at least 100 motorcycles, all with American flags prominently mounted and waving in the Georgia breeze. Whether intentional or not, these two scenes seemed to be the town’s answer to the 10,000 outsiders who have descended upon Columbus. Honestly, who can blame them? I imagine that Fort Benning is vital to the town’s economy and identity, and in Americana, what pride runs deeper than that which supports those who have served in our armed forces? However, both these scenes begged the question for me, what is true patriotism?

While thoughtful and well-meaning Christians differ on the role of the military, and whether they believe it should exist at all, I think one thing that my presence at the SOA gathering represents was an objection to the conflation of patriotism with militarism. I am from what one can safely call a military family: My father is a twice-wounded Vietnam veteran, and I still wear his Marine Corps jacket as a symbol of my solidarity with him and his proud service in an unpopular war. To this day he will not talk about his time in the war, and I can only imagine what emotional and psychological scars he bears. On his side of the family, my grandfather is a WWII veteran, and my uncle a career Navy man. On my mother’s side, I have three uncles of “the greatest generation,” all who served in WWII. And I grew up in small town America, where you flew the flag proudly, honored those who served our country, and stood a bit taller and removed your hat when the veterans in the parade went by. Being honest, there was a tear in my eye some of those years. And I still identify with my upbringing, at least insofar as our flag and those men stand for the things we claim to hold dear as a nation – liberty, freedom, and opportunity.

However, it saddened me today when I saw those flags flown in seeming defiance of our protest, because – for me – it seems that somewhere, we have lost our way. It saddens me that in embracing our military, we as a nation have also seemed to embrace an uncritical militarism. In supporting our troops, we have failed to require the utmost justification in order to wage war. In believing in the promise of the spread of democracy, we have excused the means in order to justify the ends. The flag, which we pledged as kids stood for “liberty and justice for all,” has become a symbol that “might makes right” and that there are two standards in the world, one for us and one that we require of everyone else.

Most of all, it saddens me that some in the American church have uncritically elevated our identities as Americans over our callings as Christians. There are moments when we are called – by our Christian identities – to question the values of our American identity. While God most certainly loves our troops, we must guard against the haughtiness that assumes God blesses what we do as a nation, especially when it comes to actions that directly or indirectly lead to the deaths of others. Instead of believing God has written us a blank check, we should fall on our knees in humility, praying for God’s guidance and direction.

So what is true patriotism? In the context of this weekend, it is requiring utmost justification every time we call our troops into harm’s way. It is honoring people’s service, without being ignorant of the horrors and evils of war. It is not letting love of country blind us to our true identity in a kingdom that is not of this world. It is not allowing torture and abuse, even if we somehow believe it promotes virtuous ends or makes us safer. It is calling our nation to a higher (not lower) standard of conduct, one that respects all human life, acts justly, and loves mercy. I long for the day when our flag will symbolize to the world, as much as any earthly flag can, a people of peace, justice, and love.

When I arrived in Georgia on Friday, I called my dad to tell him where I was. He knew about Fort Benning and the SOA. He asked what I was protesting. Before I could answer, he said, “for peace?” “Yes, Dad,” I said, “for peace.” “Good,” he said, “I believe in that too.”

Bob Francis is a 2006-2007 Sojourners Intern.

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