“Postcards from Babylon: the Church in American Exile”
Documentary review by Brad Jersak
“Come home. You’re better than this.”
—Daniel Dietrich, Hymn for the 81%
You had me at Brian Zahnd.
When the first seven days of 2021 had already trumped (sic) the insanity of 2020, and Christian nationalism had erupted in all manner of ‘prophetic’ blasphemies, I was neither surprised nor confused. That’s a lie. But I wasn’t bereft. That’s because I had already read the clear-minded social commentary of an actual national prophet—my friend and online pastor, Brian Zahnd. But what I pined for was that his sanity would be amplified for those whose heads are spinning. Cue the Postcards documentary.
A word about where I’m coming from. While I’m primarily known as a theologian, my Ph.D. was in political theology, exploring the intersection of political philosophy and our theology of the Cross. Politically, I’m a Canadian “High Tory” conservative who regards the entire American experiment (from far left to far right) as a violent exultation in freedom as self-will. That’s problematic for me as a Christian resident in a vassal state under the direct shadow of history’s most powerful empire.
But I don’t hate America any more than Jesus hated Rome. Indeed, most of my best friends are Americans and I find their enthusiastic hospitality and authenticity incredibly beautiful. It’s the ‘empire’ part that’s troubling—but particularly when faith is seduced by the powers “in the name of Jesus.” And that’s where Postcards is crucial. “Americanism,” says Zahnd, “is a rival religion to authentic Christian faith.” It’s an unholy harmonization of the American dream and some patriotic, nationalistic and militaristic aberration of the gospel.