In a Thursday evening press conference, President Joe Biden addressed the ISIS-K attacks in Kabul that killed at least 60 Afghan citizens, 13 U.S. Marines and a Navy Corpsman. Biden vowed that the extremists would be brought to justice, but raised eyebrows for invoking the Bible in his address.
Biden quoted Isaiah 6:8, when God asks “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
“American military has been answering for a long time. ‘Here I am, Lord. Send me,’” Biden continued. “Each one of these women and men of our Armed Forces are the heirs of that tradition of sacrifice of volunteering to go into harm’s way, to risk everything; not for glory, not for profit, but to defend what we love and the people we love.”
President Biden quotes the book of Isaiah in his speech addressing those killed today in Afghanistan: “Who shall I send?” “The American military has been answering for a long time, ‘Here I am, Lord. Send me.’”
— Emily McFarlan Miller (@emmillerwrites) August 26, 2021
The verse in question is taken from a vision the prophet Isaiah has of God, surrounded by the angels. Isaiah panics, fearing that witnessing the holiness of God has ruined him, but an angel touches Isaiah’s lips with a live coal, purifying him for the experience. It is only then that God asks “Whom shall I send?” to which Isaiah replies “Here am I. Send me!”
Thus begins Isaiah’s life of calling to a life of prophecy, which was spent calling the people of Israel to repentance. It’s a lonely and troubled life and, it should go without saying, has little in common with the work of the U.S. military.
But apparently it does need saying. There’s nothing new about the conflation of biblical prophecy and American policy in U.S. politics. Elected leaders of both parties are fond of using biblical imagery to baptize their rhetoric with a sheen of spiritual respectability or even divine right. But just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s OK, and American Christians have been far too willing to let the Bible be used as a political tool. Occasionally, it’s even been embraced by the American Church in a show of Christian Nationalism. But this is an abdication of the Church’s call to be a prophetic voice, like Isaiah himself, calling people to repentance and subverting earthly empires with the upside down moral logic of the Kingdom of God.
There are plenty of ways to honor the men and women of the U.S. military. But this isn’t one of them.