As David Cook prepared for his victory on the latest season of American Idol, the Republican state chairwoman of Georgia was engaged in paying reverence to a different type of American idol. In a bizarre moment in the world of mixing religion and politics, Sue Everhart compared Republican presidential candidate John McCain to Jesus and America to God.
Addressing McCain’s patriotism and devotion to America even while being tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, Everhart stated, “John McCain is kind of like Jesus Christ on the cross. He never denounced God, either.”
McCain, the occasionally foul-mouthed and short-tempered Senator who has yet to be baptized after nearly two decades of attending a Baptist church, seems like any other fallible human to be a far cry from the example of Jesus. Although he did suffer during Vietnam—and in 2000, challenged the religious leaders of his day—such a comment should seem to McCain and his Christian supporters as inappropriate and sacrilegious.
However, the more dangerous theology in the statement concerns the idolatry of casting America as God. With her analogy, America is placed on the heavenly throne that McCain refuses to denounce (unlike his treatment of televangelist John Hagee). Such a statement goes well beyond the more common claim that God divinely blessed America and that America is God’s special messenger to the world (delivering, of course, God’s gift of democracy). Now America has moved from being called “a city on a hill” to being sacrilegiously cast as God.
With this political theology, God is not dead but merely replaced. Our hope lies not in Heaven but in Washington DC, and we are watched over not by angels but by senators. Our heroes of the faith are no longer Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but Ronald, Newt, and Dubya. If McCain, as America’s new savior, rises to his holy place in the Oval Office, America will apparently then be saved from the godless liberals attempting to undermine the nation (especially that secret Muslim guy).
The deification of America results in placing the actions of America and its leaders safe from questioning or attack. If America is not only the omnipotent lone superpower in the world but also infallible and omniscient, then dissent becomes blasphemous. To question America’s involvement in Iraq becomes an act of heretical defiance. With the theology behind Everhart’s statement, America can literally do no wrong.
As a result of this nationalistic worship of America, we could find ourselves building walls to keep the unclean and unrighteous out of our holy land. We could find ourselves doing as we please in Iraq and elsewhere in the world without consideration of those pesky little voices from unholy and sinful nations like France and Germany. We could find ourselves demanding that other nations follow our commandments and dictates because we know better than they about how they should live their lives. We could find ourselves believing—as George W. Bush blasphemously declared during his 2003 State of the Union Address—that the American people have replaced Jesus with their “power, wonder-working power.”
The problem with such theology is that God transcends nationality. God cannot be drafted into a nation’s army or forced to wear a flag pin. As Christian musician Derek Webb sings, “My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man; My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood; It’s to a king and a kingdom.”
McCain, who has endorsed the idea that America is a “Christian nation,” has yet to speak of America as God. As he seeks political redemption in the ballot box, he and other Republican leaders would be wise to avoid blasphemous statements aligning his party and candidacy with God’s will. Religious rhetoric attracts many political followers, but taken too far it might just drive voters away as with the Roy Moore’s failed gubernatorial crusade in Alabama. Such a baptized quest for votes could prove Everhart to be a false prophet.