Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Our President?

Now that the American people have voted for the electors who will in all likelihood elect Sen. Barack Obama to be the President of the United States, I know there are many conservatives who are uncomfortable with calling him "our" president.

I agree.

President Obama will not be "my" president. In fact, whoever would have won would not have been "my" president. This "my president" talk reveals an inner desire to be lorded over by a king, a little imperialist inside nearly every American just trying to get out.

Even the Church has that kind of talk in the liturgy (see The Litany, LSB 289, the petition that reads: "To direct and defend our president/king/queen and all in authority; to bless and protect our magistrates and all our people."

I suspect the translators of this litany simply "plugged and chugged" the word "president" alongside "king" and "queen" (which, no doubt, was the original wording of Luther's translation of the litany into English).

Now, I'm not opposed to praying for the head of state, in fact, we should be praying for him all the time. And in these United States, that head of state would be the President of the United States. I will have no qualms about praying for President Obama - but he isn't "my" president. Even if my candidate had won, I would not consider him to be "my" president.

A president is one who presides over something. President Bush doesn't preside over me. He presides over the executive branch of the federal government. He presides over federal employees within that sector. He is "their" president. In fact, to the members of the U.S. Senate (which is obviously not in the executive branch), their president is not George Bush, but rather Dick Cheney (who is the President of the Senate, and who is addressed as "Mr. President" when he wields the gavel)! The President of the United States is not the President of the Senate (rather the Vice President of the United States is the President of the Senate).

Remember, the founders gave us a republican form of government. These men are not gods. They are executives who oversee a department. Bill Gates is not "my" CEO. The pope is not "my" bishop. Drew Brees is not "my" quarterback. None of these men are part of my chain of command.

We are citizens, not subjects. Neither President Bush nor President-Elect Obama are kings. They are not "our" lords, but if they are "our" anything, they are "our" employees. But that's not the implication when we refer to these men as "our" presidents. The implication is that they are exalted, something other than simply men with the job to preside over a group of people in the government. That's all they are supposed to be. It perverts the Constitution to turn the presidency into some kind of cult, or to treat his office as though he were the king of the world or the master of the universe.

This is why the founders chose such unlofty, functional titles for these men, and why we not only resist speaking of the President of the United States as "your excellency" and such, but also prohibit all American citizens from holding royal titles, such as "Sir" or "Lord."

Similarly, we do not have a commander-in-chief. When I say "we" I mean we civilians. If you are in the U.S. military, George W. Bush is "your" commander-in-chief. Civilians are not part of that chain of command. The President of the United States gives orders to everyone in the military forces from the Secretary of Defense and the generals and admirals all the way down the chain to the private soldiers, seamen, and airmen, but not to civilians - at least not as long as the Constitution has anything to say about it.

In a republic, we civilians and citizens don't have a commander-in-chief. I do think government workers at every level of government need to be reminded of this fact from time to time. They all seem to get too big for their britches. I think it is also one of the results of having a standing army - something foreign to the Constitution and the founders. It has led to a militarization of the way we speak about American political life, in the same way that policy is largely spoken of in military terms: "the war on drugs, the war on poverty," etc.

In practical terms, when the prayers in the liturgy refer to "our president," I usually change them to "the president," or simply pray for the President of the United States by name. However, when we use the litany, I simply read the words as they appear on the page, as inaccurate as they are, lest anyone be scandalized or read a partisan political motive into it (which is not the case at all). But like Galileo who whispered under his breath "and yet it moves," I'm thinking something other than the exact words that I read on the page.

If you want a commander-in-chief, join the military. If you want the President of the United States to be "your" president, get a job in the executive branch of the federal government. And if you can't bring yourself to call Obama "your" president, that's just fine. You don't have a president. You have a King. His name is Jesus.

Presidents are not messiahs.

30 comments:

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Thank you for referring to "These" United States, as they originally were seen.

This is an interesting post, and I agree that people really act like we have elected a King, in fact, Obama himself acts like it. He acts like the people are his subjects. "I promise I will listen to you..." Well, duh. Isn't this self-evident?

Brian P Westgate said...

I've seen people writing on an internet message board (albeit railroad related) "All Hail President Obama!" That just makes me sick.

Past Elder said...

Well, the apocalytic rhetoric that he must be elected was certainly matched by apocalytic rhetoric that he must not be elected -- and, IMHO, was hysterical on both sides, not just one or the other.

Yes the President presides over the executive branch of government. But his title is not President of the Executive Branch, but President of the United States. (Or, as we say in certain circles, POTUS) The chief executive officer of the executive branch of government is also the head of state. That is wherein, under the separation of powers in the Constitution, we, not just the executive branch, have a president rather than a monarch.

For that matter, rather than a prime minister, wherein the executive is formed from the legislative rather than directly elected, the prime minister not being the head of state, but rather an elected president or a constitutional monarch who is the head of state but not of government or any branch thereof.

As the head of state, and me being a citizen of that state, he is indeed my president. Just as the Congress is not the congress of the legislative branch but the Congress of the United States, and is my congress.

As to the litany, the original wording is: ut regibus et principibus Christianis pacem et veram concordiam donare digneris; ut cuncto populo Christiano pacem et unitatem largiri digneris.

That Thou wouldst vouchsafe to give peace and true concord to all to Christian kings and princes; that Thou wouldst vouchsafe to grant peace and unity to the whole Christian world.

Not from a world where there were presidents, or rulers who were not co-religionists for that matter, and we pray for the same thing. No more remarkable than the absence of prayers for the Pope and bishops in the original either.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Paul:

I couldn't help keeping that pompousity in mind during Bible class last night (Isaiah 10). God may use a bad or wicked king to chastise his people, but when he has finished using the wicked king for his purpose, the king may well find himself disposed of unless he too repents.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Brian:

This is the problem when we elevate our political leaders into fuhrers, or seen as the lady on the YouTube video, as a savior who will put gas in their car and pay their mortgages.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Nice post, Father Hollywood. Thanks for your thoughts and insights.

wmc said...

So you aren't "our pastor" to your congregation, I guess.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear PE:

I agree with you that the hysteria was bipartisan. I can't believe that in this day and age where information is so easy to verify, people were still sending me alarming e-mails a week before the election that Obama is a Muslim and was actually sworn into Congress on the Koran. I got these from educated conservative Christians who not only should have known better than to trash a person's reputation (8th commandment) but should have been keen enough intellectually to check the facts. They *wanted* to believe these falsehoods for the sake of a political cause.

I mean, it's not like there wasn't enough true stuff to write about Barack Obama that his critics had to rely on lies.

But it's all said and done now.

And thanks for the Latin of the litany. Obviously, there is no talk of "our" king/president there. Maybe that came with Cranmer's English litany - which would make sense given the King/Queen of England's position as the head of the Church. I'm just thinking out loud, obviously.

I agree with you in the sense that the genitive case ("our" or "my") is sufficiently vague as to make it possible to say "our" president in the same way we might say "our" country or "our" bowl of Rice Krispies - not in the servile sense, but in the sense of a shared commonality. We all have the same head of state, therefore the president is "ours."

But that is not what is meant and implied in the current Big Government paradigm. This is painfully apparent when people who have never spent a day of their lives in the military speaking of "our" or "my" commander-in-chief, or scolding civilians from being critical of the POTUS since he is "our" commander-in-chief as though we civilians are under the uniform code of military justice and prohibited from criticizing our superiors in uniform.

The original title of the U.S. President was "The President of the United States in Congress Assembled." He is not a king, but a "presider" over (originally) the Congress. He was a parliamentary chairman who wielded a gavel when Congress was in session. He no longer presides over Congress (under the Constitution), as the VP does that. Rather he presides over the executive branch and serves as the CIC of the armed forces. Nothing more, nothing less than what the Constitution delegates to him.

The reason the founders used the title "president" is to ensure a functional view of the presidency (not an ontological view), that he *is* not a President, so much as he is a citizen who *presides* over one of the three branches.

This is lost in the current rhetoric, from both left and right.

And the "my president" talk is terribly divisive. For 8 years, Democrats endured the taunts of Republicans throwing it in their faces (the provocative "W - Still the President" bumper sticker that came out after President Bush's re-election comes to mind). Unfortunately, with this kind of trash-talking "gotcha" approach to politics, the worm always turns, and the other side gets "bragging rights." Expect the Democrats to less less-than-gracious in victory just as the Republicans were. Power is a heady thing.

In the current paradigm, the minority party is less of a "loyal opposition" and more of a predator waiting to pounce on the "enemy" for political gain, hoping they mess up, chomping at the bit for the country to fail under "their" watch. The motto of both Republicans and Democrats is in reality "Party First!"

By contrast, the founders created a government by citizen legislators, judges, and executives. A Congressman is really only a Congressman when Congress is in session. A President should really only be the President when he has something to preside over. But we have turned the presidency of the U.S. into an Imperium Americanum, a worldwide Caesarian office that the founders would be appalled at today.

And your blog post about the danger of political parties is an astute observation (I hope to comment on it if I get the time). Instead of the three branches being a watchdog over the other branches, we now have loyalty to party above loyalty to branch. So the Presidential henhouse will be watched over by the congressional wolf when Obama takes over, since Congressional Democrats will be more loyal to the party than to the Congress (which is the same thing the Republicans have done).

Instead of checking the power of the other branches, the boundaries are muddied as long as "our" party is in control. This is a road to fascism that the founders specifically wanted to prevent.

So, today, the Constitutional separation of powers is a joke. Again, we instead have division of parties while the branches actually collude with one another. And a fascist view of the presidency only serves the majority party, not the people.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear William:

"Our" pastors are indeed "our" pastors.

Pastors are shepherds of their people. Presidents are not shepherds of their people, but rather presiders over the executive branch of government.

Similarly, the district president does not preside over the congregation, but presides over the district apparatus. He has a legitimate authority over the congregation (according to the established rules/bylaws), but his relationship is very different between pastors vs. laypeople. "My" D.P. is not a layperson's "D.P." I think we need to keep those lines of authority clear.

Presidents of the U.S. are heads of state and we should pray for them, but the president can't order a civilian to do something the way that a pastor has the authority to call a sinner in his flock to repentance. Nor can the POTUS command a civilian the way he can command a soldier.

Past Elder said...

Well FH (that OK, I seem to be PE now across the blogosphere) we certainly agree far, far more than we disagree, whether on this subject, the economy, the church, etc.

You know what really bugs me, about all these matters? Most of what I learned about, say, civics, I learned in bloody grade school. Not graduate seminars, reading Hayek, or whatever, grade school (which in my case means through 8th grade). What in all free falling Judas in a wind tunnel do they teach now? I'm not sure an 8th grader could say which way Louisiana is from here (south) or why they call them parishes rather than counties, or know that right here (Nebraska) was once part of "Louisiana" let alone flew under the flag of Spain longer than, so far, under the Stars and Stripes.

Just as an example. So, in so many areas, it isn't only that we draw different conclusions across the spectrum, we don't even see the same spectrum or know there is one. Makes discourse damn near impossible. Also makes for people thinking the right president will either fill their gas tank or stop abortion.

Try reading some of Jefferson's writings about the Democrat-Republican party at the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner and see how that goes! You'd be hooted down before you could cite your source!

(That, btw, was about when I stopped being a Democrat, when I read what the party founder wanted it to stand for and agreed with it!)

Past Elder said...

PS and you are completely right on the whole commander in chief thing, greatly abused under Bush. We would also do well to ponder how essentially American it is that the same Secret Service agents that would give their lives for Bush will do so for Obama, not because it's Bush or Obama, but POTUS, our president.

Or that the generals loyal to Bush will roll out the tanks against those loyal to Obama.

Hoffster said...

The LSB prayer should include "Prime Minister". A Canadian, and I'm guessing anyone from a commonwealth country, would chafe that we are praying for the King/Queen while Americans are praying for the President. The British royalty have had zero direct influence for a long time on the actual happenings of these commonwealth countries. A translation of Luther or not, this prayer should be updated.

Past Elder said...

I would think that would come under "all in authority", the Queen being, bottom line, the head of state, even if the Governor General acts as head of state -- again, a difference between the American system and parliamentary democracy, where head of state is ceremonial and not involved in the actual governance.

On the flip side, that's one of the gambles with the American system -- not to have a head of state who endures through changes in governments. There's more here than just what happens at state dinners where presidents and prime ministers do not occupy the same rank!

Hoffster said...

Ah, but the Queen and Governor General are, bottom line, benign and useless figureheads. The prayer is intended for those leaders who actually have influence and the Queen and Governor General have none in Canada or any Commonwealth country.

Past Elder said...

God bless me sideways.

When the poor old prayer was written, the local royal or noble (who knows the difference between those anymore either) was head of state, executive, legislative nad judicial all rolled into one, or could be if he so chose and had the troops to back him up.

A head of state is a head of state whether ceremonial or not. In the US we have a head of state who is also chief executive of that branch and is therefore involved in governance but that doesn't make him head of state. So we pray for heads of state and all in authority.

Or, to go at it by anecdote, when my Aussie roomie married a Minnesota Lutheran girl over here, the Aussies balanced a toast to the Queen, not the Prime Minister, with a toast to the President!

Father Hollywood said...

I asked Mrs. Hollywood (a Canadian/canadienne) whom she would rather pray for in the Litany, and she agreed that the Prime Minister (as opposed to the Queen) would be more appropriate for Canadians.

I can't help but hypothesize that the old Book of Common Prayer included a petition for the monarch (who would likely be referred to as "our king" or "our queen"), and this idea of praying for the Crown seems to have staying power among commonwealth countries.

The 1928 Book of Common Prayer for use in the USA includes the following two petitions: "That it may please thee so to rule the heart of thy servant, The President of the United States, that he may above all things seek thy honour and glory" and "That it may please thee to bless and preserve all Christian Rulers and Magistrates, giving them grace to execute justice, and to maintain truth."

I could not help but have a little fun with my congregation and organist on Canada Day last year (July 1) which fell on a Sunday. Our organist played "My Country 'Tis of Thee" during the prelude. With a completely straight face, I thanked her most earnestly for playing "God Save the Queen" for my wife and for all of our Canadian brothers and sisters on their national holiday.

I was in an LCC church a few years back on Canada Day, and the congregation actually sang "O Canada" as one of the hymns.

But then again, a lot of American LCMS churches have a U.S. and a Confederate flag (sometimes referred to as "the Christian flag" which was really the battle flag of an Arkansas regiment during the War to Suppress Southern Independence) in the sanctuary and a lot of American churches sing the so-called "Battle Hymn of the Republic" - seemingly ignorant of what the lyrics are talking about. So I guess there is a little S.P.Q.R. and "Rule Britannia!" in the hearts of every Christian in Canada and the USA.

wmc said...

"Our organist played "My Country 'Tis of Thee" during the prelude. "

So at that point, she would not have been "our organist" but "your organist."

Father Hollywood said...

Dear William:

To paraphrase an internet meme: "Not yours!" ;-)

Past Elder said...

To some really finer points -- I had no problem, when in England, to stand when "God Save The Queen" was played before events. Yes, I'm not a subject of the Queen, and am a citizen of a country which threw off the Crown's authority, but as a mark of respect for the national anthem of the nation where I was, and for our historical origin from Mother England, I stood.

On the other hand, I refuse to stand during the Halleujah Chorus! It has been theologised over and over into some sort of assent to the lyrics, but the fact is, everyone stands because at its first performance the King stood then, and when the King stands, in those days, you stand, and the custom stuck, but guess what, the King ain't here!

As to national flags in the sanctuary, I'm agin it across the board!

Brian P Westgate said...

Wow! I had never heard about the origin of the "Christian" flag, and I love flags!

Brian P Westgate said...

By the way, any chance that flag originally had stripes? Because the church I grew up at once had a Christian flag with stripes.

Past Elder said...

Never heard that one either. The Confederate Flag was never the Confederate Flag. I love saying stuff like that. What that means is, the Confederate Flag you see is a battle flag, not a national flag.

The Confederacy had three of them. The first, the Stars and Bars, had its problems, mostly in its resemblance to the Stars and Stripes, which, apart from the symbolic significance, when the bullets start flying and things strat blowing up and people start dying and you wonder where your guys are or if those guys are your guys, and you don't have squawkboxes, GPS, and a bunch of satellites in the sky and guys on computers halfway around the world keeping track of all this stuff, can be a real issue.

Likewise the second national flag, which was the battle flag in the corner of a white flag, which if mistaken for just a white flag, can be a real issue too.

The third flag put a big red bar on the end of the white field, but it was pretty well over by then.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Brian:

I can't find the article (I will keep scrounging) - but it seems that a Baptist minister from New York observed Southerners that had a flag with a cross on it in addition to the U.S. flag in their sanctuaries. The flag, which the NY pastor copyrighted, was actually the battle ensign of a local regiment. It was placed in the sanctuary along with the U.S. flag during reconstruction as a silent protest (so the story goes).

He took the design to NY and sold it as a "Christian flag." If I remember correctly, the design is still under copyright, and the descendants of the preacher still make money on it.

PE is correct about "the" Confederate flag. There were three emblems of the Confederate government, and the latter two employed the popular rectangular "starry cross" (which also served as a naval jack). I find the third (or as a lot of my friends call it, the "current") national flag to be the most beautiful.

Christopher Gillespie said...

"Yes, we can!"

Who is "we"? (I'm pretty sure not me) and what can we do? (I'm pretty sure it doesn't include repealing abortion for example.)

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Thanks, Fr. Hollywood, & all, for this discussion. Re: the Litany, thank you, Past Elder, for bringing in the wording from the Roman Rite. It is interesting that Luther's Latin Litany varies from this in only a very mild way. Namely, instead of "ut regibus et principibus Christianis pacem et veram concordiam donare digneris," Luther's version has "Ut Regibus et Principibus cunctis pacem et concordiam donare digneris," which seems a bit more universal.

The next petition in Luther's Latin Litany does ask, "Ut Caesari nostro perpetuam victoriam contra hostes suos donare digneris." Yet, as has been discussed here, the American Republic is a very different thing than was the Holy Roman Empire.

Regarding the Book of Common Prayer, that is also a very interesting area. Let me share the pertinent part of the classic 1662 edition, in which we can see both how the Anglicans appropriate the Roman Rite, and how their their text influenced later Lutherans:

"That it may please Thee to keep and strengthen in the true worshipping of Thee, in righteousness and holiness of life, Thy servant (modern printings of the 1662 BoCP insert here the name of Elizabeth, and change pronouns to female) our most gracious Queen and Governor...That it may please Thee to rule her heart in Thy faith, fear, and love, and that she may evermore have affiance in Thee, and ever seek Thy honour and glory...That it may please Thee to be her defender and keeper, giving her the victory over all her enemies."

A few petitions further, I might add, it adds this: "That it may please Thee to give to all nations unity, peace, and concord," which, it seems to me, is a borrowing and universalizing, of the Roman Rite's Ut regibus et principibus christianis pacem et veram concordiam donare digneris.

One final thing. Though it may seem strange to some, from early on there has been an official Latin version of the Book of Common Prayer. The pertinent portion of which reads:

"Ut famulum tuum Georgium, Regem et gubernatorem nostrum clementissimum, in vero tui cultu, in justitia et sanctitate vitæ, custodire et confirmare digneris, Te rogamus audi nos, Due. Ut cor ejus in fide, timore, et amore tuo regere digneris, ut semper in te confidat, et in omnibus honorem et gloriam tuam quærat, Te rogamus audi nos, Due. Ut eam conservare et defendere, eique victoriam contra omnes hostes ejus concedere digneris, Te rogamus audi nos, Due."

The point being that, indeed, the possesive pronoun usage seems to come out of Anglican usage.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Br. Latif:

Thanks for these observations. In the back of my mind, I was thinking about a CD I have by the King's Singers, which has a lot of Latin motets on it - the only English song (at least as I recall) was a piece by William Byrd called: O Lord, Make Thy Servant Elizabeth Our Queen.

Again, I suspect that a lot of our English language Lutheran liturgical tradition nods to the BCP - including the "regalization" of the office of the American presidency.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

By the way, I can't help noticing that the Latin Book of Common Prayer has this at the end of the petitions: "Te rogamus audi nos, Due." I assume this 'due' is the text's abbreviation for 'Domine,' which is in neither the Roman nor Luther's litanies, both of which simply say, "Te rogamus audi nos." The Litany in our modern Lutheran books, then, follws the BoCP in this, as in so many other ways.

Past Elder said...

FWIW, since there are scholars here (I'm supposed to be one too, but I'm trying to recover) I should say that the two liturgical books I quote from are dated 1916 and 1950, which is before the 1962 text that is now the standard for the Tridentine Rite, in its Babylonian Captivity as the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

Ironically, the "father" of the 1962 text is the "father" of the 1970 novus ordo that replaced it and is now the Ordinary Form, Annibale Cardinal Bugnini -- the Bugman, Hannibal Lector of the Liturgy.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

You're right, PE. Archbishop Bugnini was a true innovator. The damage he did to the liturgy, and therefore the culture, was far greater, I think you would agree, in the 1970 than in 1962. I do not understand why Paul VI placed so much trust in him.

Indeed, though, you are right; the "Missal of John XXIII" also manifests a number of innovations, unheard of just a few years earlier. If you and I ever meet, I'd love to see your 1916 missal.

Past Elder said...

It's kind of a missal. Sort of a Catholic cross between the LSB and the TDP. The only reason I have it is someone gave it to my dad after he converted in 1940 from Methodism -- which at the time meant something closer to the Methodism Walther refers to than anything about the UMC now. In the pogroms after the Revolution it was hidden away while I hid in the synagogue. (Translation: my parents tucked them away in a cabinet in the hall and I renounced belief entirely as a non-convert believer in Orthodox Judaism.)

You may be able to find it online or at an antiquarian. It's called "Manual of Prayers", subtitle "For The Use Of The Catholic Laity: The Official Prayer Book Of The Catholic Church". It was done under the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore and first published in 1888 and again in 1916 by Clarence E. Woodman, and in 1916 also by John Murphy Company of Baltimore, Printer to the Holy See. The imprimatur was given by James Cardinal Gibbons himself! Even Mencken thought that meant something. Well, the Revolution has pretty well taken care of his Faith Of Our Fathers too. OK, let's see if I can still do this:

Manual of Prayers. Baltimore: John Murphy, 1916.

The other one, if you're interested, is just my own missal from those days, the 1950 edition of the St Joseph Daily Missal by Catholic Book Publishing Company of New York -- typically what you'd give a young person for his first real missal, now like something dropped by a spaceship, maybe part of the Roswell debris.

I've got other stuff too, but I generally can find what I'm looking for quickly in one of those two. You know you're getting old when you can remember the introduction of Communion on Good Friday (1955) being groused at as ruining the whole character of the day (which it does). Mass of the Presanctified indeed. Sounds like something by Wagner.

It puts the 1962 Roman Missal in a light to which the so-called traditionalists may not be comfortable, to recognise that it and the groundwork for the novus ordo were laid at the same time by the same man. Who knows why Paul VI trusted him, or John XXIII. Maybe they were all Freemasons after all! You wonder how the Bugman and Ahmadinejad would have gotten along if he were pro-nuncio to Iran now.

You also wonder how we got here from a discussion of the American presidency, surely a tribute to the vibrant forum of ideas that "Father Hollywood" is.