Recently there was some degree of controversy over President Bush equating Senator Obama's stated willingness to meet without preconditions with the leaders of American enemy-states, like Iran, with the (attempted) appeasement of Hitler. I didn't really follow the back and forth between Senators Obama and McCain, and the President, but I heard about it, especially on conservative talk radio. I'm not an avid listener but I do punch around the dial on occasion and of the three programs that are aired locally; Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, all have accused Senator Obama of being naive and part of the "blame America first crowd." They also argue that this kind of high-level engagement will make America less safe. This latest appeasement controversy has only increased these kinds of accusations. I'm sure I've also heard at least 2 of the 3 say the leaders of Iran, Syria and Hamas are without hope of redemption or reconciliation. "They only want to kill us!" and "Talking to them shows weakness!" are sort of the catch-phrases of this new attack on Democratic contender.
I am troubled by this kind of rhetoric in a number of ways. First, the argument that meeting with the Iranian President, for example, will make America less safe. What exactly can anyone do that will make America more safe in regards to Iran? They know the US is mired in Iraq and that it will take at least a couple of years to withdraw should a Democrat win the White House. And that starting next year. They're sprinting for the finish line of becoming a nuclear power and America does not have the military capacity to deal with Iran in any fashion. Any strike within the country would almost certainly lead to an all-out offensive on US troops in Iraq by insurgents, if not an all out war with the Iranian military. Plus, the drastic reduction in Middle Eastern oil production that would come with such a conflict would tank the US economy. What option does the US really have right now? Standing tough and refusing to engage may offer up good sound bites, but it is far from sound reasoning. About the only thing we've got left is serious diplomatic engagement. The status quo may not make America less safe, but neither does it offer the chance of improving the situation. Here I think we see the failure of militarism to adequately ensure the peace of the world and the safety of America. Christians cannot rely on the government to ensure our safety precisely because it is the government that is putting us in danger. Christ is our only security.
The other two arguments contradict my Christian understanding of the world. I know there are Christians (ie, Calvinists) who hold to the idea that people are totally depraved and there are indeed those who are beyond redemption because God has willed it thus. I am not one of them. The Gospel is the Gospel to the whole world, not just Americans, Europeans or other people amenable to US foreign policy goals. As Christians, we can never say that someone is beyond all hope, for Christ is our hope. We can never say that there can be no common ground between us, because we share the common image of our Creator. Christ died equally for me and Ahmadinejad. He hung on that cross for you and Hitler. We may be scandalized by that realization and even find it repugnant to our ideas of fairness and justice, but it is the reality to which every Christian must submit. To deny it is to deny Christ Himself. I realize that these commentators are speaking in secular, political terms, but they borrow the language of faith and we cannot allow their language to co-opt the grammar of the Gospel. Furthermore, this kind of political language has a subtle effect on our attitude towards these people. What is the point of loving your enemy if there is not the possibility of making them a brother? What is the point of enemy love if your only option is to kill them before they kill you? To people of faith, this kind of language is inherently dangerous and antithetical to the Gospel.
My final point is on the "blame America first" thing. I am honestly puzzled why this should upset any Christian in America. We always have to look to our own failures and sins, and repent of them before we can begin looking around at other people. Why is this good for us as individuals, to remove our planks before looking for another person's mote, but not good for us as a nation? Why are we as individuals to emulate Christ in humbly submitting to God (not finding equality with God something to be grasped) but as a nation to eschew introspection, honest self-appraisal and repentance? Once again, the political narrative that is being presented is directly antithetical to the Gospel. Our nation is not perfect, indeed, it is downright sinful in many, many respects. Our actions in the world can be and sometimes (perhaps frequently) are sinful. Why is it wrong to admit this? Why is it (relatively) easy for us to admit to personal failure but so incredibly hard to admit to national lapses? These political narratives directly contradict the narrative presented to us in the Bible. Rather than humility, they preach pride. In place of repentance, they preach continuing in our sins. What will it take for Christians to see this?