"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

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Asking For A Friend

A convenient negative example, because the best way to examine a question about what you are doing
 or should do is NOT to deflect responsibility onto anyone but yourself.

There is a risk here, let's begin by acknowledging, of judgment rather than analysis.  Let's keep in mind that the splinter in your brother's eye is a reflection of the log in yours, that one finger pointing at someone means four are pointing back at you.


Evangelicals long for a mythical Christian past, and Trump’s “Make America Great Again” mantra appeals directly to that troubled nostalgia. But Fea presses, “Christians should be very careful when they long for the days when America was apparently ‘great.’” Are we appealing to the post-war boom in church attendance, which occurred with Jim Crow in force and when marital rape was legal? And by embracing prominent evangelical leaders, whom Fea labels “court evangelicals,” Trump assuages evangelicals’ gaping wound—disenfranchisement—by granting them access to power. Readers will come away with a nuanced appreciation for fear, nostalgia, and power as fundamental elements of evangelical discourse.

"Fea" is Messiah College historian John Fea, a professor at an evangelical college and member of an evangelical megachurch.  I'm interested in his comment placing church attendance in historical context ("post-war boom") and cultural context ("Jim Crow" and "marital rape"), though I'm not sure those two contexts are necessarily connected (or applicable to each other, although both are elements of a mythic past Trump supporters want to recover, so there's that), but I'm intrigued by the reviewers statement in that last sentence:  "fear, nostalgia, and power as fundamental elements of evangelical discourse."

We have to be careful not to counter that analysis with our own assertion of power, as if their use of power were illegitimate, and ours pure and sanctified.  I'm subject to bouts of nostalgia, too, when the churches I knew were filled with reasonable people and led by pastors who appealed to the head and not the heart.  Even in the Baptist churches of my youth those pastors would today be considered "liberals" among evangelicals (evangelicals were distinctly the fringe even in Southern Baptist-dominated East Texas).  I've been back to one of the churches of my childhood and wasn't sure I hadn't stepped into a Baptist church, the preacher was so different in style and tone and even theology from what I knew there 50 years ago.  My fear and nostalgia is real to me, my desire for the power to return to what I knew as potent as that in evangelical discourse.  If I don't have the numbers to support it in the polis, I am no less driven by it, especially in my analysis of evangelicals.  Still, things are getting interesting among the evangelicals, who aren't nearly as monolithic as one might suppose:

In a hard-hitting lecture yesterday at Princeton University in New Jersey, Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said: 'So often in 2018 America, evangelicalism is associated more with Iowa caucuses than the good news of Jesus Christ.'

This is not new for Moore.  He's no fan of Donald Trump which Trump himself has noticed:

Let the record reflect that Donald Trump calling you "a nasty guy with no heart" is rather like being lashed with a wet noodle than with a barbed comment.  But Moore's comments are is interesting to me, because he's on solid theological ground there.  And I like his definition of "Evangecalism," even if I don't agree with the theology of that group:

Moore, who in recent years has distinguished himself among prominent Christian leaders in the US for refusing to offer unconditional support to Donald Trump, added: 'God does not need the evangelical movement; the evangelical movement desperately needs God.'

In the comments, reported by the Daily Princetonian, Moore defined evangelicalism as 'the link of renewal and revival movements which unite historic, conventional orthodoxy with the necessity of personal conversion and evangelism'.

He added that any true evangelical movement must be focused upon the Cross.

'An emphasis on the Cross is one of the hardest thing to maintain in any Christian group, and that includes American evangelicalism,' Moore said.

And he argued that many modern movements have strayed away from the values of the Cross, instead becoming 'market focused', preaching on topics that people want to hear about, but choosing to ignore other sins or issues in society that are less popular.
His "focus on the Cross" and my "focus on the Cross" would not look all that similar.  But his critique of "market focused" preaching is one I agree with, even if I think the focus of preaching should be on a very different kergyma than Moore would sanction.  I even like where he's going with this:

In contrast, Moore said, 'The Cross means that the gospel can thrive on the margins, because that is where it started.'

The president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission called for a pluralistic evangelical society and a government that does not 'adjudicate' on religious differences, but instead gives people the freedom to debate with one another.

He said: 'Those of us who are evangelicals should work for reform. For a multi-ethnic, theologically robust evangelicalism that can pass the torch to a new general with the message that we first heard down with the Cross.'
The vision of Brueggeman is ultimately a vision of the utility of the gospel, and I'm still not sure just how "useful" the gospel should be.  Nor is it just a matter of personal adherence and private choice, to be kept silent and so marginalized as to be non-public, like one's sexual or even sanitary habits (in some circles even sexual habits are allowed more public discussion than would be allowed to religious beliefs).  I resonate with Moore's idea of the gospel withdrawing to the margins in order to remain the gospel; but I agree with Brueggeman that the basiliea tou theou is not some pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye wish fulfillment that has nothing to tell us about how we should then live, or organize our society.  The more the gospel is used to draw near to power the more the kerygma is corrupted, but the more it withdraws to society's margins the more its truth is denied.  These are deep waters; and what of "fear, nostalgia, and power as fundamental elements of evangelical discourse"?  How much objective truth is in that, and how much of that can simply be a critique wielded like a club rather than like a scalpel?

Simeon tells Mary that, because of her infant son, "the schemes of many minds will be exposed" (Luke 2:25b, SV).  There have been many times in history when that could have been predicted, and this will be one now as the world struggles between old (represented by Trump) and new (represented by the future).  The Age of Trump will force us to face many harsh realities and assumptions and face just how hard it is to set aside racism and classism and even regionalism and parochialism, things we may never full set aside until we finally enter the basiliea tou theou.  I'm always talking in grand and sweeping tones, and then moving on to the next incitement and tweet-produced outrage, without putting the pieces together.  I wouldn't choose a starting place with a dissection of and disagreement with evangelical and fundamentalist theologies (for one thing, how negative is that?), but the hold of those groups on public consciousness is giving way, and the arguments of the atheists are not rising to replace it.

So maybe it's time to start something new, or different, or just calmer and more compassionate and even sensible.  But using what?  and how?

*And I quote from Raw Story because I've banned myself from RD.  I tend to be a troll when I get over there, and I've decided to lead myself not into temptation, at least on that website.


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