Danger Zone (God and Country)
September 5, 2008
2008 Convention Odyssey is at an end and this is my next to last post. As I drove around St. Paul and Minneapolis this afternoon and reflected on all that has taken place, Kenny Loggins’ song “Highway to the Danger Zone” filled my consciousness. It was played last night immediately prior to McCain’s acceptance speech. Coming from the movie “Top Gun” it works wonderfully as an introduction to John McCain. But as the lyric seeps further into my consciousness, it helps me put words to the two areas of both conventions that caused me the most personal discomfort: God and Country.
Some might be surprised God is on the list. Being a minister you might expect that I am pleased that the Democrats have ‘gotten’ it on religion and that both political parties made faith in God a central thematic element of their speeches, music, and prayer.
Others might be surprised Country is on the list. After all, living without Country is virtually impossible to imagine. Aside from God what could be so important? Indeed.
I don’t have a problem with God or Country. I love both and I wouldn’t be here without them. It is because I have enormous respect for both that I react adversely when either are politicized.
Hannah Arendt and Jean Bethke Elshtain have written about the limits of politics and the importance of boundaries. Not everything ought to be political and not everything ought to be public.
We need to be able to have the fullest debate about the ideals for which our republic stands, as well as every aspect of domestic and foreign policy, including the use of military force. Moreover, we need to bring our deepest beliefs, including all of our thoughts on God, to the public square when we engage the debate.
What deeply concerns me is when God and Country become ideological symbols used for political ends. When challenging an idea is depicted or derided as unpatriotic or unChristian, it doesn’t facilitate public debate, but stifles it. Both parties crossed the line at various points these past two weeks. When a Rabbi or a Minister gets up and prays for the election of a specific candidate, it crosses the line. When we are told that one specific way to think about foreign policy is patriotic, it crosses the line. Neither Obama or McCain crossed the line, but there were those at each convention who did.
Politicizing God and Country is dangerous. It stifles free speech and discussion by saying that any subject baptized with a religious or patriotic invocation is off-limits for discussion.
There is something sacred about free speech, and protecting it requires keeping it possible to discuss all things. It requires that we recognize that there are some things ‘higher’ than politics.
As I looked at St. Paul in the aftermath of the anti-war protests, and reflected on the anti-abortion protests in Denver I could not help but wonder to what degree they are signs warning us of the danger zone.