John McCain's acceptance speech last night sought to present him as a maverick and bipartisan reformer, in contrast to the total partisanship of Sarah Palin the night before. She clearly relishes her own self-description as a pit bull with lipstick who fires up the conservative base, while McCain wants to reach out to the independents he knows he needs to win. He told his story again of how capture and torture took him from a reckless and selfish young man to a deep love for his country.
As I suggested after the first presidential primary many months ago, "change" has already won this election, given the deep unpopularity of George Bush and the many failures of his administration. Change is the theme of both Barack Obama's campaign and of John McCain's. Usually when voters want change, they change parties in the White House. But McCain has the difficult task of persuading voters that a different kind of Republican can do the job, while Obama will continue to ask him to explain why he voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time.
But now the conventions are over and the fact-checking can begin. There were a lot of very partisan things said at both conventions (that is the reason for conventions), but now all those things should be tested. I hope those who say that this will be an election about "personalities" are wrong. It must instead be about the real issues facing the country and the world. Whose tax policies will benefit whom the most? Who offers the best hopes for poor and middle-class families? And who has the smartest policies to defeat the real threats of terrorism -- not whose rhetoric against Islamic fundamentalism is tougher? So let the fact-checking begin, and given the speeches we have just heard from some politicians, we will need full-time fact-checkers.
But one other thing bothered me last night, and it did also at the Democratic Convention. It was all those signs that read "Country First" and all those chants of "USA, USA, USA!!" The high-powered and, frankly, militaristic rhetoric kept telling us that "country" should be put above everything else -- including family and friendship. But what about faith? Should country be put ahead of faith, too? I kept wanting to yell back at the people yelling at me about putting the country first and say, "No, not me, I'm a Christian." Because we as Christians simply can't put our country first, ahead of God, ahead of Jesus Christ, ahead of the body of Christ (remember the worldwide body of Christ), and even family and friendship. Especially when our country is wrong, and when most of the rest of the body of Christ around the world thinks so.
"Country First" was the theme of John McCain's speech and night, and he asked us to "fight with him." Barack Obama also said in Denver that all Americans must put country first -- to counter the Republican exclusive claim on patriotism. Well, again, not all of us. I suppose people running for president have to say that, but Christian voters shouldn't go along with that. Can anybody imagine Jesus leading cheers shouting "USA!"?
This morning I spoke to the annual Wheaton, Illinois, prayer breakfast. I was driven there by a local Christian leader who spends his days serving poor women and children along with troubled teenagers. When he told me he was Canadian, even though he had lived in the U.S. for years, I asked him if Canadian Christians would respond to the call to put country first. "No," he said, we are "world Christians." What a good thought and what a clear sense of Christian identity. It was a great way to begin the day after two weeks of political conventions. So let the fact-checking and the radical assertion of "faith first" begin in this political campaign.