Confederate flag in front of White House? Our politics as war by other means

WASHINGTON, DC — OCTOBER 13: Michael Ashmore, of Hooks, Texas, leans against the White House fence with his confederate flag. … Continued


WASHINGTON, DC — OCTOBER 13: Michael Ashmore, of Hooks, Texas, leans against the White House fence with his confederate flag. He and other demonstrators have walked here after attending a rally at the WWII Memorial to protest its’ closing on October, 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Carl Von Clausewitz, in his famous work,
On War
, said that war is “a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse carried on with other means.”

American politics today, however, is the reverse of the Clausewitz analysis. American politics is now the continuation of ‘war by other means.’ This became crystal clear when Michael Ashmore of Hooks, Texas, waved a confederate flag in front of the White House at a demonstration. As Jonathan Capehart wrote, that flag is “a symbol of Southern resistance and white supremacy” and it was “unfurled in front of the home of the first black president of the United States.”

Yes, this is the racist legacy of slavery and its aftermath, as typified in Civil War symbolism. But this is not only the re-enactment of the American Civil War, as much as the symbols of that conflict are in evidence.

Our politics is a cosmic war, a theologically fueled conflict where our politics itself is seen as the battleground between good and evil. That is the larger frame that can contain both a confederate flag and Islamophobia. At a related demonstration in Washington, D.C. yesterday, Freedom Watch founder Larry Klayman said, “I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Koran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.”

Klayman carefully added terms such as “nonviolent” and “figuratively” and yet declared our politics as war. The subtext, conveyed in language such as “come out with his hands up,” for example, is very aggressive.

If we do not understand that the political and religious right-wing sees American politics as a cosmic war, we might think that there will be a political resolution achieved when the government shutdown is ended, and the debt ceiling raised.

Don’t relax. This has just been a skirmish. The war continues. It will, I believe, even accelerate.

Yes, there will be a political “deal” to most likely get a continuing resolution on the budget until early 2014 and raise the debt ceiling, but the war will go on.

There will very likely be another government shutdown in early 2014 and another threatened default on our debt. This will occur not for any policy reasons, but because the Tea Party caucus is fighting Satan; they are engaged in a cosmic war with evil in American politics.

The theology of the shutdown is “Christian dominionism” as Morgan Guyton has so well demonstrated. Christian dominionism is the idea that the nation should be governed by Christians according to a conservative understanding of biblical law.

As Guyton showed in his article, Senator Ted Cruz, an architect of the government shutdown, has theological roots in Christian dominionism through the work of his father, Rafael Cruz, a pastor with a Texas charismatic ministry. At an Iowa Family Leadership Summit this summer, the elder Cruz preached, “When you hear this attack on religion, it’s not really an attack on religion. The fundamental basis is this. Socialism requires that government becomes your God.” This explains “homosexual marriage” as it is designed to destroy your “loyalty to the family.” What has to happen is that “kings” will fight “war” to gain “spoils” and establish dominion over the country.

Yet, you can hardly do better than the speeches of another Tea Partier, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), to clearly see the theology of American politics as a war with Satan.

During a spring appearance at Liberty Counsel’s Awakening 2013, “Bachmann urged attendees to keep up the fight against gay marriage, abortion and ‘Islamic jihad,” claiming that God supported those campaigns. She quoted the biblical book of Ephesians to suggest that these battles are supernatural struggles against the forces of evil, to “fight against the power and principalities and ‘Prince of the air.’” “Prince of the air” is a term for Satan in Ephesians.

Government shutdowns, threatened debt default, racism, homophobia and Islamophobia can seem like discrete political struggles for democracy, good governance, and equal rights. Progressives and moderates make a huge mistake when they do not see the connections extremists make among them.

It is crucial to see that to the extreme right-wing that is hijacking our political process right now, these are not discrete issues but part of a cosmic war on Satan played out in our American political life.

It is my belief that theological struggles need to be engaged as theological struggles and not allowed to mask themselves as ‘politics by other means.’

We are in a struggle not only for the future of our democracy, but also for a Christianity centered on the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth who taught us to pray for “daily bread” on “earth,” not just in heaven, not on some imagined cosmic war fought for political gain.

That will not be over this week. In fact, it is just beginning again.

Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President at Chicago Theological Seminary. Her most recent book is #OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power.

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
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