Friday, February 06, 2009

Down by the riverside

Pastor Dan, the Minister most Sinister, points me to this:

But what he misses in his plea for hard-edged debate is what I take to be the real purpose of this exercise, at least so far as some of the engaged progressives are concerned. With Thomas Frank, they see the culture wars as a massive means of distracting conservative church-goers from voting in their economic self-interest, and believe that if they can just create enough of a DMZ between the two sides, then there will be no problem getting the rest of the progressive agenda through. And the religious right sees it the same way, which is why it's so resistant to left-deviationism (cf. Rich Cizik). So if Pastordan would just agree to sell his abortion-and-GLBT-loving soul for a mess of Third Way pottage, we'd be all set, right? How about it, Dan?
I'm not interested in the ideological wrestling match, or in whether Dan or Mark Silk are wearing the light or, silks. No, what I picked up on was the "DMZ" reference; for here my troubles began.

Not to reiterate that tedious post that, once it was up, I realized no one would want to read (I didn't, either!), but to get on to this issue of metaphors again. I'm not arguing with Silk or his use of metaphor; I come to praise it, not to bury it. Because this is the real problem, IMHO, with these discussions:

We're still arguing about who's gonna be in charge.

Wassup with that?

I mean, I see signs of denominational decline everywhere. Every mainline denomination is fighting some kind of fight over what it means and what it stands for, and more and more the fights seem irrelevant both to those in the pews, and to those who've never sat in a pew or even sung a religious song. People are losing jobs at a rate faster than anytime in 34 years (or within the lifetime of many alive and aware enough today to be reading these words), part of an economic realignment that could well be as massive and fundamental as the global warming we seem incapable of stopping. Petrodollars are destroying countries like Nigeria, just as petroleum destroys the global environment, and the threat of starvation and drought and famine looms larger as the Green Revolution plays out and climate change threatens all that economic change doesn't. And yet here we are in the American Christian community still arguing (basically) over a mess of pottage.

Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton and Dr. King would be so proud.

So you're in charge. Or I'm in charge. Or they're in charge. And this matters very, very, very much. To whom? To the children of this world, who will welcome us all into the eternal homes? To the members of the basileia tou theou, where the first are last and the last first? I know I'm just howling in the wilderness here, but wasn't this precisely the genius of the Reformation? That where we couldn't all agree, some of us could agree, and we could then go our separate ways by agreement? Which didn't solve the problem of unity ("That they may all be one," as the UCC slogan has it, from John 17:21), but then maybe the unity is in Christ, not in agreement on what Christ meant, or is, or even taught and did.

This urge for unity is not ecumenical or even ecclesial; it is purely political. Which means it is of the polis; but not of the ecclesia. Sort of like "DMZ." And "enemies." And other metaphors drawn from warfare.

Maybe I should just withdraw to a cloister. Or a pulpit would be nice; a nice, quiet pulpit. Sure ain't gonna study war no more....

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