GREGORY A. BOYD. The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church. Zondervan, 2007. 224 pages. $12.57 (U.S.)
In addition to being a pastor, I am a politician and elected official. I consider my first and highest calling to be my spiritual calling as pastor; this vocation comes before my governmental office as judge. I admit that at times the two offices have raised challenges and conflicts for me. For example, the United States Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing gay marriage has called forth my utmost reliance on God to resolve.
As a Christian with expressed Democratic leanings, I have often been disturbed by the notion that Republicans have the corner on godly values, that Republicans share Christian values, morals and beliefs, while Democrats do not. As a pro-life, pro-marriage Christian, I am both challenged and disturbed that Democrats are categorically labeled as proponents of all things liberal.
Greg Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation makes poignantly clear that my faith and strict adherence to the Bible as my ultimate source of truth conflicts with platforms of both Democrats and Republicans. The reality is that my political leanings have more to do with my racial identity and the challenges I face as an African-American woman, whose issues are usually addressed better by one political party. However, as The Myth highlights Jesus’ avoidance of political engagement, I appreciate the author’s views of Jesus’ focus on ministry, not politics.
I plan to recommend Boyd’s book to my evangelical friends and clergy in other denominations who fit the prototype of believers who equate their political underpinnings with their faith. They erroneously believe that that their faith and politics are identical. I have had many debates over the years about the notion that somehow patriotism and Christianity are interchangeable.
This book could not be more clear and accurate in pointing out the fallacies of such beliefs. It is refreshing to finally have a white pastor point out how offensive it is to call for a return to the Christianity of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others slave owners who routinely raped African-American women and sold their children away. This book touched home for me when I can’t trace my family tree because my ancestors were slaves and were given the surnames of their slave masters. My mother recently told me that one of her great grandfathers had two different surnames for the two different plantations he lived on, making it nearly impossible for my family to discover our history beyond a few generations.
When a conservative Christian suggests that we must take America back or make America great again, I can’t help but wonder whether they really mean the restoration of Jim Crow, black codes, riding on the back of the bus, and denial of a right to vote, if not slavery itself. All of these realities, which mar very recent American history, do not reflect Christ to me at all.
This book is important because it acknowledges the failure of most Christian theologians to be honest about the violent history of Christianity and its failure to reflect the New Testament nature of Jesus. I laughed and almost cried to finally read a book that did not gloss over the brutal truth that the many facets of racism, which continue today, are directly opposed to the Kingdom of God as Jesus taught. This book gave me hope that one day my fellow white Christians will understand why some black people reject the idea that America was founded on Christian principles.
Boyd’s discussion of the various wars that America has engaged in, based on the Constantinian ideology that somehow God is more with Americans than with other peoples, was eye-opening. Although I was raised as a devout Catholic, I was glad to read that during the violent conquests promoted by most religions, the Anabaptists, the root of the denomination I now claim as my own, did not murder in the name of Jesus.
Throughout the book, Boyd emphasizes the concept of “power over” versus “power under,” the sword versus the cross, and the Kingdom of God versus the kingdom of the world. He declares that the Kingdom of God relies strictly on Jesus. He dispels the notion that the world’s problems can be solved by participation in the political system, an understanding with which I agree. However, I also believe that without the participation of the Kingdom of God in the systems of this world, we are more doomed as a nation and there is no hope of justice for the disenfranchised of this world.
Contrary to Boyd’s claim, I believe that by entering the political arena I am able to effectuate change in a system I know first-hand treats the disenfranchised peoples of this world unjustly and inequitably. The only way I can change the system is to be in a position to exercise godly influence in an arena that is otherwise diabolically opposed to everything I biblically and spiritually represent and believe. While Boyd presents the near impossibility to change the kingdoms of the world, I still believe it is better to be a part of the political system than to be completely separate.
I also wonder about the author’s claim that we should love everyone unconditionally. I don’t believe that God called us to do so. Jesus said to love our enemies and pray for them. Boyd defines neighbor as anyone in need, and while I would help my political foes if they were hurt or give them food if they were hungry, I don’t think that intentionally making myself subservient to them would further the cause of Christianity or change their hearts. My experience has been that bullies don’t get nicer when their victims submit to their bullying, but bully harder. Jesus was not a doormat. Jesus whipped moneychangers out of the temple and called the Pharisees and Sadducees “vipers.” Those words do not sound at all like a subservient man, as the author suggests, but rather a confrontational, assertive, fearless man on a mission for his Father.
As a pacifist like Boyd, I don’t subscribe to the ideology of “an eye for an eye,” nor do I believe in using any form of violence against others. I don’t own guns, but I believe that there must be limits to how far we allow people to harm us. Christians are too often taken advantage of because we appear weak; therefore, I don’t agree with Boyd’s assertion that exercising “power under” toward people who are determined to harm us leads them toward righteousness.
I agree with the author that this seemingly passive message of “power under” poses a dilemma for Christians, especially when we are faced with issues such as the use of violence in self-defense. Having personally witnessed the effects in my community of gun violence, I know the violence must be stopped. I believe that only the Kingdom of God and the message of the cross provide the answer, but this answer must be demonstrated in power, not in passivity. As Boyd points out, the kingdom of the world can’t respond with warm fuzzies if attacked.
I submit that a balance between “power over” and “power under” is essential. Boyd doesn’t provide a middle ground. I don’t think “bleeding” for our enemies is the only solution, especially when our enemies’ purpose is to draw blood. Jesus already bled and died for all humankind and our dying to self does not require our physical blood too. I do believe, with Boyd, that complete reliance on God through the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus told the disciples he would send as our comforter and teacher, will enable us to respond with righteousness when faced with situations that might warrant a violent, radical response.
Author: Tracie M. Hunter
Tracie M. Hunter is pastor of Western Hills Brethren in Christ Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the first African-American senior pastor in the Brethren in Christ Church.