The empire strikes mac

Some Americans have a shaky grasp of Scottishness. I saw this first-hand at a music festival in Scotland once. An American Rap group strutted onto the stage, gazed out over the crowd with its myriad of Saltires and lions rampant and shouted: “Hello, England!”

It did not go down well.

And the Wu Tang Clan (who are, themselves, nothing to funk with) have nothing on the American Senate, which last week ‘summoned’ Alex Salmond and Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill to answer questions about the Lockerbie bomber and BP.

Some commentators thought it was fair enough, that the pair should indeed answer questions about whether Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was freed in order to facilitate a Libyan oil deal for BP. Others felt that all necessary explanation had been given and that, since Megrahi’s release had been obtained on compassionate grounds, Scotland’s hands were clean and the head of government could stay put.

Personally, I just pictured any numer of my Scottish friends squaring up to an American senator, saying: “And who the hell are you, Jimmy?” I mean, not to be petty, but what gives them the right to summon anyone who is not one of their citizens? It’s bad enough when they lord it over the (primarily English) British government. But Scotland? Did they really think that the Scottish would have no inherent resistance to being pushed around by a foreign (mostly Anglo Saxon) nation that doesn’t think of Scotland as a real country? Haven’t they seen Braveheart? Didn’t they make Braveheart?

Let’s not be distracted, however. The fact that American politicians are actually going after a multinational corporation for its transgressions is a minor miracle. I’m even willing to overlook the fact that they are probably motivated by upcoming mid-term election jitters rather than a desire for justice. I’m even a little willing to ignore the fact that the American who shot down an Iranian airliner full of civilians (Iran Air Flight 655) in 1988 was never jailed, making their obsession with Megrahi a little hypocritical. But I would like to ask them to extend their sudden righteous anger to other multinationals. In fact, I’d like them to extend it to the way they deal with big corporations generally. Banning BP from offshore drilling for a few years because of its failures? Excellent. But what if they do it again? Does the American (or this) government have the guts (or haggis) to put repeat-offenders out of our collective misery? That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

an american empire? why, yes, actually.What would also be nice is a little less of that imperial hypocrisy. Because, unfortunately, the USA, for all its many good points (and one only has to look at Noam Chomsky, Magnum P.I. and Bob Dylan to be prompted to think of more) has imperial hypocrisy in spadefuls. And that should worry all Christians (particularly those obsessed with interpretations of Scripture that see Beasts and Dragons in globally dominant political powers), because our witness to the world seems so tied in with America, that most public ‘Christian nation’, which regularly engages in conflict and destructive economics to further its control of the world. And it’s not only our witness. Christians in this country should be particularly worried by last week’s news that Britain seems at some point to have gone from being an accessory to the USA’s programme of torture (under the auspices of ‘war on terror’) to active participant. It’s not that we should worry that God will judge the entire nation, in an Old Testament fashion, for the sin of torture. That is by no means certain. But we should worry that he will be displeased with us, because we have not used our position as voters in a democracy to ensure that justice is done and the innocent are not oppressed in the cause of catching the guilty. He has a thing about justice.


Are American Christians stupid?

niceMy favourite headline last week: ‘Southern Baptist Leaders Not Getting Any Younger’. Like a midget who failed all his GCSEs, it’s not big and it’s not clever, but it did make me laugh (the headline, not the midget). It also provided much-needed respite from stories about American pre-election elections (or whatever it is that they’ve been doing in Iowa).

Much of last week’s debate raged over whether Mike Huckabee, one of the Republican candidates, had lied about having a degree in theology. My initial reaction was: ‘A politician, lie? Shock! Horror!’ And you may agree with my cynicism. Perhaps politicians, like newspaper columnists, white South Africans abroad and BT phone operators telling you when a line will be installed, should rarely be trusted. But that attitude is simply not helpful. If I am sick to the gills of hearing Christians say to me ‘Oh, I don’t really get involved in politics,’ when I am talking to them about issues of justice or freedom (and I am), aren’t I perpetuating it by perpetuating the myth that all politicians are liars? Don’t I deserve the unrestrained beating I wish to administer to them?this seems silly

Christians should care about politics as much as they care about justice, about feeding the hungry, about caring for widows and orphans, an end to war and terrorism or the right to preach the Gospel. They should be concerned with politics because politics is concerned with all these things.

You’re pulling a face, aren’t you? You’re pulling that freakish, dysfunctional face, making like the village idiot and saying: ’really?’ in an ironic and unkind tone of voice. Harsh, man. Fine: generally speaking, I think most Christians realise all this already. When the Archbishop of Canterbury publicly denounces American foreign policy and most of us have been involved in campaigns to make trade fair, erase debt, stop the people traffic (or at least introduce congestion charging) and protect the planet, aren’t we sufficiently political?Christian commies

Alright, bright-briefs, if you’re so okay with Christians being political, tell me how you feel about the following statement: ‘It is a sin to vote Conservative in the next election.’ Is it: a) ‘Uncomfortable’; b) ‘Extremely uncomfortable’ or c) ‘I agree, but please don’t say it out loud, it makes me uncomfortable’? Admittedly, the statement above is hideously simplistic and theologically problematic (and Baptist Times and Jonathan Langley in no way advocate or support the sentiments, blah blah blah), but it illustrates a point. We are seemingly fine with Christians being political, but not party political. Or if they are, it must be private and we should never try to bring religious morality into it.

The assumption is either that political parties are all equal in the sight of God (particularly if they count Christians in their ranks, as is the clarion call of every party justifying its religious cred’) or perhaps we’re not really that open to politics after all.rightwing

If it’s okay to campaign on religious grounds against poverty we should not just feel free to assess party political choices on the grounds of their attitude to the poor, it is our duty. All parties are not equal in God’s sight. Some represent interests that run counter to the Gospel. And while the issues are unlikely to be black and white, the correct response is not to run away from the challenge of sorting the wheat from the chaff of political policies. If we apply our faith to this area of our lives as much as we apply it elsewhere, if we truly engage with politics (rather than playing at it without offending anyone) we could have an effect. The time is ripe. And like Southern Baptists, we’re not getting any younger.