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I was asked for my initial reaction to President Obama’s State of the Union speech, and the handsomely redesigned Think Christian posted them last night, “Jobs, Steve Jobs, and the State of the Union.”

As I point out, the president’s protectionist posturing is belied by the realities experienced by companies like Apple. The president is essentially telling companies: Ask not what you can do for your company, but what your company can do for America. My contention is that “in casting global trade in terms of a simple win/lose proposition, the president missed a wonderful opportunity to show that Americans need not be made better off at the expense of other countries.”

The president also provided the latest instance of the yearly bi-partisan political ritual, in which the commander-in-chief is transformed into the cheerleader-in-chief, praising the American dream to high heaven and extolling the virtues of the American work ethic. The state of our union is always strong, it seems. “Our workers are the most productive on Earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you – America will always win,” said the president. He also claimed the priority of “the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.”

That the government’s attempts to underwrite this promise has played a large role in putting us in the dire fiscal straits we face today was a concern absent from the president’s speech. That the biggest threat to continued flourishing in this country is a spendthrift federal government continues to be ignored, while more and more promises about what government can and must do are made.

Anyone who would put foreigners to work is unpatriotic, it seems. Anyone who would point out the very real problems facing America are equally erroneous: “Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” says the president.

Mark Twain said that patriotism is “supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” And as Christians, we know that our ultimate purpose is not to promote our own individual (or national) interests at the expense of others. A government that uses trade and tax policies as a club to bring other nation’s to heel is little deserving of support.

Perhaps the best way we can support our country in this time of trial is to call our governmental leaders to account. As the president’s speech also made clear, we are entering the prime time of election season, and there’s no better way to hold politicians accountable than at the polls.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Oregon Engineer

    Interesting comment on Christians as being above nationalism, Jordan.  I wonder how Greek Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, and Russian Orthodox Christians would react.

    • A fair question, but I would also point out that almost all Protestant denominations are nationally-defined, if not regionally. Very few are multi-national.

    • Nationalism is degenerated and corrupted patriotism. Orthodox Christians ought to be above nationalism and for patriotism, but that does not mean that they always are. Patriotism has, at times, degenerated into nationalism among the Orthodox, to the point that we have a bad and not always unjustified reputation for it.

      The following is from the Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church:

      “The holy righteous John of Kronstadt wrote this about love of one’s
      earthly homeland: ‘Love the earthly homeland… it has raised,
      distinguished, honoured and equipped you with everything; but have
      special love for the heavenly homeland… that homeland is incomparably
      more precious tha[n] this one, because it is holy, righteous and
      incorruptible. The priceless blood of the Son of God has earned that
      homeland for you. But in order to be members of that homeland, you
      should respect and love its laws, just as you are obliged to respect and
      really respect the laws of the earthly homeland'” (II.2).

      Thus, one ought to love one’s country, but love for that citizenship should not take precedent over being citizens of heaven.

      And again, the Russian Orthodox moral philosopher Vladimir Solovyov wrote, “[S]ince men do not exist outside of nations (just as nations do not exist apart from individual men), and since this connection [is] moral and inward as well as physical, the direct logical deduction is that we must love all nations as we love our own.”

      Later, he admits a certain priority to loving one’s own nation, but not ever to the point of failing to love any other.