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As we enter the final week before we get through this taut political season, I have a question: Who is responsible for making and distributing those yard signs that say “Take Back Our Country in November”? Since I see these signs in about two-thirds of the same yards that feature Romney-Ryan signs, I could guess folks are getting these signs from the same place they get the top-of-the-ticket signs but I don’t actually know that. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
What does trouble me is the meaning of that “Take Back Our Country” sign. Take it back from whom exactly? Because notice these signs do not say that we should take back “the White House” or “the Congress”, which would count as a pretty normal election slogan from either political party. No, we are being told that what needs taking back is nothing short of the whole country. But since I am not aware of any foreign interests or powers that took over our nation here in the United States such that we as Americans need to fight to get our own people back into power once more, I am left to wonder what’s up.
So for all those folks whose front yards now sport these signs, I guess I’d like to know in whose hands you think the country is right now.
Well, I’ll stop asking rhetorical questions and stop dancing around the obvious. The unhappy fact of the matter is that our political culture has gotten so polarized across the last fifteen years that we’ve actually come to a point where some of our fellow citizens have gone so far over the edge that a legitimately elected government is now viewed as in fact illegitimate, as being the practical equivalent of representing some anti-American, anti-patriotic, almost foreign presence. Many people have never viewed Barack Obama as a credible American. Some have chalked this up to rank racism, others chalk it up to people’s stubborn belief that Obama is Kenyan, is Muslim, is . . . well, whatever he is, many believe he is not “us.” Where that leaves all those Americans who voted for him four years ago and who will do so again a week from the day this post appears is less clear.
But if supporters of President Obama see these yard signs and feel themselves marginalized even as Americans, that ought not be too surprising. It is, however, a troubling development that can only serve further to split this country.
However, since this is a blog rooted in a church tradition, let me close out these musings with an ecclesial and theological thought. I served as a pastor from the late 1980s until the middle of 2005. Across my last half-dozen years in ministry before coming to Calvin Seminary, I noticed a heightened poliltical sensitivity in the church. Most pastors are smart enough to avoid overtly politicizing comments in prayers and sermons, but it struck me in the early years of the 21st century that even being careful in all the usual ways was no longer enough. People would pick up on even small-ish comments and spin them in a political direction. It’s the kind of climate that makes pastors want to avoid the Minor Prophets altogether–one whiff of economic justice for the poor from Amos can be enough to peg a pastor as a left-wing Obama operative these days.
It’s hard enough for pastors, church leaders, and ordinary church-going folks to keep clear the lines that separate the kingdom of God from any given poliltical system or nation here on earth. But that is going to get a whole lot harder if even in the political realm people become seduced by this riven culture of suspicion that thinks there is now only one political party that represents America, much less that may represent the alleged values of Christian Americans at that. A friend of mine who is on the political right and who would never put such a sign in his yard told me that both parties have some crazies on the fringes and we’re best off not getting distracted by that. True enough. And I know there are people of enormous goodwill and insight on all sides of the political world. Still, I have seen too many of these troubling signs to think it’s just a few folks in my area or that it can be only the funky fringe types.
What’s more, I live in a part of the country where it is almost certain that some of the people displaying those “Take Back Our Country” signs are people who go to church every week. Pity the pastor who would have the courage to challenge any right-wing position vis-a-vis such people. I’ve had people tell me directly that they cannot figure out how someone can be a Chrisitan and a Democrat at the same time. But if now being a Democrat means not even being a true American–if Democrats are the people from whom the whole country needs to be taken back so that real Americans can rule once more–then we’ve reached a tipping point in which clear-eyed appreciation for the message of the Bible will become swamped by socio-political considerations that could well lead to a form of idolatry that can only serve to corrupt the Gospel as Good News for all people.