If This is “Christian Patriotism”….
Bob Revere is the Mayor of Mount Columbus, a one-stoplight town in the Rocky Mountains. As a young man, Bob fought in the Vietnam War. He was proud to see his only son, Tom, enlist in the Army, but ambivalent when the 20-year-old was sent to fight overseas. Those misgivings were amplified by the fact that Tom was newly married, and his wife Kari was expecting the couple’s first child.
Just weeks before Tom’s first combat tour was to end, the Revere family (which by that time included Kari and the newborn grandchild, Christian) was visited by a U.S. Army Notification Team. This is how Kari learned that she was a widow. Driven by grief from her hometown, Kari relocates to California to raise Christian as a single mother.
Fourteen years later, Kari and Christian return to Mount Columbus. The young man is understandably determined to learn why he had never known his father.
“What did my Dad die for, Bob?” Christian asks his grandfather.
“That’s what happens in war,” is Bob’s quietly evasive reply.
“No – I mean why did he die?” Christian persists.
That question leads Bob Revere to ponder the perverse inversion of nature described by Herodotus: “In peace, sons bury their fathers; in war, fathers bury their sons.” Why is it, as he comments to a friend, that young men and women are dying overseas, yet “our rights are being taken away, one by one”? He concludes that the country he loves is descending into tyranny because “we’re letting it happen.”
This epiphany motivates Bob to take an inventory of his convictions. He had often pondered the irony that the freedoms he once enjoyed are evaporating despite “the sacrifices of those who fight for our country.” Now he understands why James Madison described war as the most dreadful of all enemies of liberty, and warned that “no nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
Most importantly to him, Bob suddenly understands that the reflexive jingoism of many American Christians brings disrepute to the faith they profess, and the Name of the Lord they revere.
“Have you ever noticed that the mere mention of ‘Jesus’ nowadays seems to rub people the wrong way?” Bob muses to a friend. “Well, I’m very tired of not standing up for what I believe in.”
“I had been a coward – passive, and even selfish,” Bob reflects. “I had kept thinking about my son. Now is the time to honor his sacrifice.”
The most appropriate way to honor Tom, Bob decides, is to become a peacemaker. He commits to living the Golden Rule both as a private individual and, as Mayor of Mount Columbus, in his public capacity. Those who follow Jesus of Nazareth cannot commit or condone aggressive violence.
For the first time, Bob understands that it is obscene for American Christians to send their sons overseas to kill people who have never harmed or threatened us in any way. He begins to speak out in opposition to Washington’s wars abroad and its escalating assault on what remains of liberty at home.
Invoking the ancient Christian principle of sanctuary, and the Jeffersonian principle of interposition, Bob announces that Mount Columbus will be a refuge for members of the U.S. military who, for reasons of conscience, refuse to participate in criminal aggression overseas. He also makes it clear that his municipal government – including its police department — will not cooperate with the enforcement of the USA PATRIOT Act, the “indefinite detention” provisions of the NDAA, or any of the myriad enactments through which the regime in Washington is making war on the American people.
Predictably, this attracts the attention of the media, and provokes severe official reprisals. Bob is fired by the City Council. The charity mission his family runs is shut down by the health department for contrived and patently bogus reasons. After making an impassioned public speech from the roof of his shuttered mission, Tom is led away in handcuffs and spends Christmas in jail.
Bob Revere is the central character in the new film “Last Ounce of Courage.”
The foregoing quotes attributed to Bob were taken directly from the film, in which the character takes what we’re told is a heroic stand against the secularization of Christmas.
Although the character did end up in jail, it was for actions quite different than those described in the narrative above. Rather than repudiating the Warfare State, the character of Bob Revere unabashedly embraced it — while promoting facile acts of public piety that did nothing to advance the substance of the Christian faith.
We’re invited to believe that a small-town mayor who sets up a huge Christmas tree in the town square, and puts a large cross inscribed with the phrase “Jesus Saves” on a rescue mission that he owns, would provoke a national scandal and wind up disgraced, thrown out of office, and behind bars.
Much of the film is a melodramatic riff on the “War on Christmas” theme promoted by Fox News blatherskite Bill O’Reilly (who has a cameo). It’s true there are people associated with the puritanical Left who would love to use the power of the State to extirpate Christmas celebrations – just as their counterparts on the statist Right would make such observances mandatory.
In the universe we inhabit, however, there is no way that a mayor who behaved as Bob Revere did in the film would have the kind of trouble he experienced. That kind of treatment, however, would quickly befall a mayor who acted on his Christian faith by confronting the Warfare State. In fact, as a recent essay in Small Wars Journal illustrates, the Pentagon is preparing mount a full-spectrum military onslaught against any municipality that rebels against the imperial Capital. A real-life Bob Revere who became a genuine Christian statesman would quickly be designated an “unlawful enemy combatant” and murdered by way of a drone strike.
If the producers of “Last Ounce of Courage” had been interested in creating an authentic drama, rather than a risible work of militarist agitprop, they could have told the story of Rev. Clarence Waldron, a theologically conservative Christian whose real-life sufferings were at once similar to, and much worse than, those experienced by the fictional Mayor Bob Revere.
In October 1917, the execrable Woodrow Wilson, had managed to maneuver the U.S. into World War I, commanded churches across the nation to commemorate an event called “Liberty Loan Sunday,” during which collection plates would be circulated to gather a war offering on behalf of the government.
At the time, Waldron was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Windsor, Vermont. Like many other theologically conservative Protestants, Waldron was devoutly opposed to American involvement in the European war.
To his eternal credit, Waldron defied Wilson’s demand that he decorate the sanctuary of his church in the imperial colors and sing the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Rather than offering a homily on the supposed virtues of state-licensed murder, Waldron preached the Christian gospel. The offering taken in his congregation was used to provide for the ministry and the needs of the poor.
The consequences for Waldron’s peaceful non-cooperation were swift, predictable, and severe.
As Vermont historian Mark Bushnell relates, following the service a mob swarmed Waldron in front of the church and forced him to swaddle himself in the flag and sing the National Anthem.
Shortly thereafter, Waldron was evicted from his position as pastor, in large measure because of suspicions regarding his “loyalty” to the “god” revered by adherents of the Social Gospel — the American State.
In December 1917, Waldron – who had never committed a crime against anybody — was indicted by a federal grand jury for violating the Espionage Act. Passed the previous June, that measure imposed prison terms of up to 20 years for any act or statement perceived as willfully obstructing “the recruiting or enlistment service of the U.S.”
The specification against Waldron was that “he had once been heard to say ‘to hell with patriotism.’” As Waldron admitted on the stand, he had uttered those words — in condemnation of Kaiser Wilhelm’s regime in Germany.
“If this is patriotism,” a disgusted Waldron had told his acquaintances after describing Wilhelmine Germany, “to hell with patriotism.”
Waldron was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison, eventually serving a little more than a year behind bars. Of the roughly 1,000 Americans convicted under the World War I Espionage and Sedition Acts, Waldron was the first to be imprisoned exclusively for his religious beliefs.
Veritas Entertainment Company, which produced “Last Ounce of Courage,” describes itself as committed to the promotion of “Family, Faith, and Freedom.” Wouldn’t a production company claiming that high and noble calling be interested in dramatizing the official persecution of Rev. Waldron? Probably not, given that Veritas – like the Megachurch-centered variant of Protestantism that produced it – is devoted to evangelizing on behalf of the Warfare State.
In the April 26, 1917 issue of Christian Century – published shortly after war was declared on Germany – contained the following lines composed by William P. Merrill that encapsulate the bellicose nationalism of “Progressive Christianity”:
The strength of the State we’ll lavish on more, than making of wealth and making of war; We are learning at last, though the lesson comes late, That the making of man is the task of the State.
“Last Ounce of Courage” is advertised as a Christian film. In fact, it promotes a variety of pagan nationalism similar to that peddled by Kaiser Wilhelm’s government. To understand this cynical bait-and-switch, it’s useful to examine the film’s final act.
Bob’s grandson, Christian, and several other high school-age students decide to sabotage the secularized Winter Play, a genuinely bizarre opus involving a visitation by space aliens. Without informing their drama teacher – whose elongated sibilants and fey manner make him a stereotype worthy of “The Producers” – the students stage an unauthorized dramatization of the Christmas Story from the Book of Luke.
After the rebellious students recite the familiar Christmas benediction “Peace on earth, good will to men,” Christian strides onto the stage and introduces the last video postcard his father had sent from Iraq, which is projected on a large screen.
“The people over here can’t even celebrate Christmas,” Tom insists by way of explaining why he had left his wife and son to wage war on the other side of the globe. (No mention is made, naturally, of the role played by the U.S. Government in fomenting the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.) As Tom attests that his mission has been worth the suffering he and his family endured, he is killed on camera by an artillery strike.
After Christian brings out a United States flag, the same audience that had greeted the Nativity play with mild amusement and sedate enthusiasm rose to its feet in tribute to his father’s sacrifice.
This moment, which plays like a communion service, encapsulates the moral message of the film: The “true” meaning of Christmas is found not in Christ’s promise of redemption from sin, but in the supposedly redemptive violence carried out by the armed emissaries of the Imperial State. Permanent war is our natural condition; killing and dying on behalf of the State is the highest and holiest calling.
“Last Ounce of Courage” is targeted at Republican-aligned Evangelicals who insist that Islam is a doctrine of warfare disguised as a religion. On the evidence of this film one would be led to believe that this description applies to Christianity. The film could be considered a photographic negative of “Joyeux Noel,” the exquisite French film depicting the 1914 Christmas Truce. Its core audience – assuming it finds one – would be the kind of pious, church-going militarists who booed Ron Paul’s invocation of the Golden Rule during last January’s Republican presidential debate in South Carolina.
To paraphrase Rev. Waldron: If this is Christian patriotism, to hell with it.
Note: This is a re-edited and clarified version of the original essay.