When Christians Fall In Love With Caesar: Obama and the State of the Union

barack obama signing copies of...
barack obama signing copies of...

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President Obama's State of the Union address last week inspired a meme which has been flowing through my Facebook newsfeed ever since. Progressive Christians, for the most part, when they post this meme or "like"it, say how "inspiring" the President has been, how "compassionate" he is. He makes them want to be better people, they say. Better American citizens.

I am not among those who have been inspired.

When I review Obama's presidency, with the major exception of his stance on LGBTQ issues and his endorsement of same-sex marriages, I don't find that he has stood up for the weak and vulnerable. I find his policies and, at times, his speech to be the opposite of standing up for the weak and vulnerable. In fact, with his militarism, anxiety over national security, and willingness to exploit vulnerable ethnic minorities for political or economic gain, he bears a close resemblance to Caesar.

This is particularly disturbing in light of the fact that the United States is the contemporary world's Rome -- a key player in the militarization and globalization of the world to the advantage of the rich and powerful and to the disadvantage of the weak and vulnerable.

My theological concern is that we progressive Christians have forgotten one of the central tenets of the Bible -- that there is a clear distinction between Caesar and God. We have forgotten that God is the good guy and Caesar is the bad guy. We should be the Anti-Caesars -- the Christ People who deliberately put critical distance between ourselves and the Caesars of the day. We should be the ones who analyze their policies and their words from the perspective of the weak and vulnerable peoples of the world. The peoples we might call the crucified ones.

Instead of putting critical distance between ourselves and Caesar, we seem to have fallen in love with him - in this case with President Obama. No matter what he does, we stay with him when we should walk away. We say he did not mean it (he had to compromise), he could not help it (Republican obstructionism).

When I review Obama's past seven years in office, particularly in light of his record on immigration, trade agreements, and jobs, I find that he did anything but stand up for the weak and vulnerable. He did not stand up for asylum seeking Central Americans, many of them children, whom he deported to their deaths last year, the Central American women and children being held in detention centers which some say resemble concentration camps, the more than 2 million families he tore apart through deportation, nor the thousands of migrants who died crossing America's heavily militarized southern border on his watch. He did not stand up for the veterans who have been deported to countries that for all intents and purposes are not their own. He has not stood up for the thousands of spouses, mostly wives, and children who have followed their loved ones into exile. He has not stood up for the many of them who now are the unauthorized immigrants, stranded by family ties, lack of funds, and lack of papers in countries not their own.

He has not stood up to the for-profit prison industry which negotiated contracts with the Federal government to deport 400,000 unlawful immigrants a year and detain 34,000 a day in prison-like detention centers. He has not stood up to the military contractors who want to further militarize our southern border. Obama talks about a "new economy". Yet, in his policies he has not stood up for the millions of people whose jobs will go overseas because he signed Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, South Korea, and Peru. He has not stood up for the millions of people whose jobs and businesses will disappear should the looming TransPacific Partnership, for which he has negotiated vigorously, come into being. He has not stood up for the millions of people who will be displaced in countries affected by those agreements.

He talks of a new economy, yet he has not spoken out for the many low-income Americans who have been in the streets crying out for "$15 A Day and A Union!" He has not stood up to the deep pocket employers who want to import cheap, vulnerable workers via major expansions of the slavery-like guest worker program.

Nor do most of us progressive Christians stand up to President Obama. We cannot. We are in love with him. And that is a problem, especially for the weak and vulnerable.

Ellin Jimmerson