"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Monday, March 12, 2018

Not Giving Up Anything For Lent

rustypickup dropped this link in comments, and noted how the believers in the article seemed to think Trump is a messianic figure.   I'll get to that, but I want to start with this quote, because it is my lived experience of church and ecclesiology in a nutshell.  The context is the number of blacks attending majority-white evangelical churches (and I note already the reverse is not reported on, because it would be as rare as hen's teeth.  I have attended worship at two black churches in my adult memory; one of them because I was the guest pastor.  I have never been more warmly received nor attended a more loving worship service in my life, although I don't disparage by that the churches I have attended.  I simply mean I didn't feel out of place at all, though I can't say the reverse would be true for an African-American in the white churches I've attended or been a member of.)  The statement is this:

“We were willing to give up our preferred worship style for the chance to really try to live this vision of beloved community with a diverse group of people,” she said. “That didn’t work.”

And can I say that, as a pastor at my last church, I had conversations like this (though not exactly on this subject) which ended on the same note?

The woman explained that a Trump victory had been prophesied and handed Ms. Pruitt a two-page printout, which began: “The Spirit of God says, ‘I have chosen this man, Donald Trump, for such a time as this.’” Barack Obama, the woman continued, should never have been president, since he was not born a United State citizen. The visit ended with the woman suggesting that Ms. Pruitt’s discomfort at the church was God telling her it was time to move on. 
The main thrust of the article is that, whatever the congregation wants the pastor both provides and agrees with (the nature of evangelical non-denominational churches in a nutshell).  If you have "a $140 million ministry, drawing upward of 31,000 people a week to six campuses in the Dallas-Fort Worth area," with "a coffee kiosk serving a [church proprietary] blend...the worship music booming over a first-class sound system [and] robust programs for children, single parents and a host of other groups," you're not doing that by preaching jeremiads, or reminding people of the missions to the poor.  But what do I mean in concreto?

Three months later, Ms. Smith’s father, the Rev. Dwight McKissic of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Dallas, would introduce a resolution condemning the alt-right at the annual Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix. Unlike the resolutions condemning gambling and Planned Parenthood, his alt-right resolution didn’t make it out of committee.

Pastor McKissic was told that racism had already been adequately addressed by the Southern Baptists, that the resolution was inflammatory and that sympathy for the alt-right was not an issue in the church. Word leaked, embarrassing the convention, and a new version of the resolution was reintroduced and overwhelmingly passed, albeit with some language changed and with an added tally of the Southern Baptists’ past efforts against racism.
See no evil, hear no evil, there is no evil, and everybody is happy because white people are happiest when you don't disturb their slumber.  Nor do they really want to think about what they are saying:

“I wasn’t wrestling,” Pastor Morris said of his feelings in 2016, going on to explain that he was not wrestling now, either. “We were electing what we felt was the person who held the values that the church loves dearly the most. That doesn’t mean that he’s perfect. But I do believe after spending time with him that he really wants to learn, that he really wants to do a good job for all Americans. I really do.”

A man who can make such obscene remarks about women, who is now known to have paid for sex and silence, is a man who "held the values that the church loves dearly the most"?  Aside from Trump's open racism which Morris and others clearly don't see, how is that statement even possible?

I've encountered a fair number of disgruntled commenters (not here, elsewhere) who want to blame religious belief for the world's political ills, but there doesn't seem to be any religious belief in these people, except that belief that God agrees with them and that makes them happy that their political ideology lines up with the deity and the electoral outcome in 2016 (there's no mention of the losses since then, but apparently that doesn't matter.  Their grasp of how American democracy works seems as weak as Trump's, but that's another story.).  There's nothing really hindering or helping about religion for the people quoted in the article; well, the white people, anyway.  They like the way things are working out, God's in His Heaven and all's right with the world, so why wrestle?  Right?

Which makes the churches mentioned in the NYT pretty much private clubs rather than religious institutions.  I don't mean to condemn the churches by that, I just mean to say any kind of religious belief at all seems pretty tenuous next to their political convictions.  They are not challenged by religion, they are comforted by their position in American society and who is in the White House (no longer the black man who was going to do terrible things to them).  Clearly "the values that the churches loves dearly" are political ones, not ethical ones, moral ones, ones having to do with social justice, with concern for the poor, with the statement of Micah 6:8 about what the God of Abraham requires of you (which is rather a low bar, actually).  They are extremely comfortable and they want to stay extremely comfortable and they don't want to hear even a hint that God might expect something else of them except that they enjoy their comfort and that their preferred candidates hold public office.

And what is religious about that, I'd like to know?  I mean in the sense of being a significant difference from non-religious political ideologues?  Their convictions are political; it is the stain on their wood, so to speak.  Religion is no more than the varnish that makes the stain shiny.  The varnish wears away, and has to be reapplied from time to time; but the stain is permanent.  They may change the varnish a bit; the stain will never be altered.

One is fundamental; one is merely topical.  Their political ideology is permanent; religion is merely the sheen they put on it.  And if "religion is responsibility, or it is nothing at all," how are they religious?

So maybe they do think Trump is their messiah, their political savior.  He is only saving them from the discomfort of having a non-arch conservative Democrat in the White House.  But that is really all the salvation they seek:  salvation from the minor anxiety of the political ideology of the President of the United States.  What that President actually does, who that President actually is, is not even important.  As long as they are comfortable, and comforted, that's all that matters.

Which is not religious at all; it's just blind selfishness.


Blogger MarkS said...


7:25 PM  
Blogger rustypickup said...

Michael Gerson, Bush speech writer and from the heart of the Evangelical movement had this I see as thoughtful criticism from inside the movement. With my limited knowledge he seems to give an unbiased history of evangelism and the rise of fundamentalism over the last 150 years, and where he sees it going very wrong particularly with regard to Trump. There is plenty to disagree with but he lays out a path that leads to the consequences of the NYT article. As he points out, 80% of white Evangelicals voted for Roy Moore, and 95% of black Evangelicals did not.

10:07 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Thanks, more good stuff.

10:20 PM  

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