There was quite a spirited debate on the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in Phoenix today. A couple Baptist friends were disgusted enough that they turned off live streaming and ignored twitter feeds. The debate was about a resolution on immigration that contained the following verbiage:
That we ask our governing authorities to implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.
You can imagine how well that went over with the largely Cracker messengers of the SBC. Ironically, the chair of the resolutions committee, non-ironically named Paul (like the apostle) Jimenez (like a Latino), replied that it wasn't about "amnesty," the concern of the angry cracker mob carrying pitchforks...er...Bibles; rather, it was a "realistic and biblical approach to immigration."
I could write forever on the complications of asserting what a biblical approach or perspective is to an issue that the Bible doesn't really touch on, but I won't here. Suffice it to say that even Jim Wallis, that lovable liberal of a Jesus freak, gets it wrong when he insists on applying the language of "alien and sojourner" to this debate. The Hebrew people did not have immigration policy at the national level, Jim, so let's leave the Bible out of this debate, unless you're using it to castigate angry Crackers, and then I'm with you, sort of.
This brings me to this week's installment of:
If you've not been following, it's best to read this and this first. If you don't want to, I understand, but don't say something stupid in the comments. Deal? Okay. Fitch's third master signifier is Christian Nation. Oh dear. I can't tell you the rage that phrase engenders when I hear it, either in class or from a politican. For the record, I'm not enraged at the students, just the adults who lied to them in the first place. For the prior two signifiers, decision for Christ and inerrant Bible, Fitch was on board. He seems to affirm both those signifiers as somehow accurate descriptions of a state of affairs. For this one though, I found no such affirmation. In fact, Fitch seems to agree with the negation of the obvious inference that "there is no such thing as a redeemed social entity (or corporation)." (Fitch, 117) Yet another reason to like the man. What Fitch points to with this signifier is relevant to the discussion in Phoenix today.
The result is a justice done at a distance (ed.--if at all). In this way, then, "the Christian Nation" shapes us corporately into a posture of dispassion toward the poor, the hurting, and the lost. As a result, we are a politic incompatible with the Gospel. (Fitch, 121).
The Southern Baptists aren't obligated to take a "biblical" position on immigration, but many will insist in some way that they are, whether it be a vacuous nod to "obey the governing authorities," or with Wallis, an appeal to "alien and stranger" language. Fitch rightly points out that both these are wrong-headed if they begin with the assumption that America is a Christian Nation or even a nation governed by Christian principles (empty signifiers abound in metaphysics, it seems). Fitch fairly, finally, and rightly calls out Wallis as one who "defended these political goals (within God's Politics) on arguably more theocratic and biblical grounds than anyone on the Christian right defended theirs." (Fitch, 110)
The problem with Christian Nation language, beyond its absurd existence as an oxymoron, is that it reveals that Christians who ought to know better believe: "We can enforce socially a personal morality that is possible (so we say) only by personal conversion." (Fitch, 111) There simply isn't a subset of beliefs called "Christian principles" upon which this nation was built. A cursory glance at the history of our laws, Constitution, and formation reveals what a howler of a lie the Christian Nation is. This is preaching to the choir, I'm sure, but Fitch finally deals this idiocy the death blow it deserves, because Christians refuse to read Noll, Hatch and Marsden. Given that it is a master signifier in certain fundangelical circles, it's not likely to go quietly, if at all, and with the loon-in-waiting Michele Bachmann uttering "we are the head and not the tail" mantras nationwide, things are looking bleak for this next election cycle. Nothing is more antithetical to Christianity than triumphalism, a reality I wish some Christians actually understood. And Christian Nation is triumphalism of an ugly variety.
The Christian Nation is also tenacious, and it is such because it's a good lie. Many of the Founding Fathers were Christians. God is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence—our national divorce decree—but not in the Constitution, our actual founding document. However, the ideal serves to "rally the troops," an indication of a genuine master signifier. What is left to do is parse the Good Book in hopes of extracting the genuine Christian Principles we must use to build a Christian Nation. I leave that to Ms. Bachmann and the scared Crackers in the SBC, who are trying to figure out how the non-Crackers are going to fit into their beloved denomination (committee, anyone?). It's a quixotic task, but with Sarah Palin as her Sancho Panza, it may be that the two can find a windmill to tilt, and if they do, there will be plenty of fundangelicals along for the ride, but not many brown ones.