Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Say what?

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Let me start by saying I wanted to keep the context of Dan Savage's statement (toward the end, there), rather than focus on Brit Hume's bizarre assertion. Dan's summation is about right: Hume is offering a "Get out of Adultery Free" card. And I'm not picking on Dan Savage hereafter, but his comment is one I've run across before, and it really bugs me. I mean, I agree with him; I'd like to hear "moderate" Christians speak up, too. But if they did, who would listen?

Why haven't "moderate" Christians taken back the conversation from fundamentalist Christians? Well, part of the reason is that "moderate" Christians don't make news by being reasonable. Fred Phelps gets on the news by being outrageous and belligerent. Gary Bauer was/is closely allied with conservative, not to say radically right wing, political figures. Pat Robertson owns a TV network (one that has fallen from it's pinnacle of a few decades back, however). Joel Osteen runs the largest church in the world (reportedly), and gets lots of TV time. Rick Warren doesn't do much TV, but he pastors a mega-church and is a best-selling author who garnered enough power to get Barack Obama's attendance on Warren's stage. Jeremiah Wright is hardly a "moderate," but neither is he a bomb-thrower like James Dobson (who isn't a pastor at all), but Dobson has a popular radio show and runs a small industry devoted to the "Focus on the Family." Jeremiah Wright pastored the largest congregation in the United Church of Christ, a church with historical roots going back to Germany and to the Congregationalists of New England. He also made significant contributions to liberation theology, and his church did (and does) a world of good in Chicago. Ever heard of it, though? Ever heard of him, before he became known as Obama's former pastor? And why not?

Probably because Rev. Wright doesn't own a TV studio, run a radio program, operate from a city-state, or publish best-selling books; nor does the UCC. Nor do the Methodists, Lutherans, or Episcopalians (quick: who knows the name of the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church? And would you know if the TEC wasn't engaged in a struggle with the Anglican Communion over the ordination of gay and lesbian bishops?). There's a reason, in other words, that Dan Savage is not hearing from "moderate" Christians, and it's because the very news shows like he was on, don't interview them.

The UCC issues press releases constantly out of Cleveland (where it is headquartered). Ever hear of them? Not on Keith or Rachel, not even on Democracy Now! (where I often get news no one else is reporting). Not on BBC World Service (another excellent news source). Nowhere. I never see them reported, except by the UCC newsletter, and who outside the UCC (or inside, it, for that matter) reads that?. The same is true for the Lutherans, the Methodists, the Episcopalians: if they bother to issue press releases, who republishes them? As Arianna Huffington pointed out on Countdown last night, Dick Cheney only issues a press release condemning Obama's efforts in the "war on terror," and Politico published it and over a week later, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow were still talking about it. But a press release from a mainline denomination?


So it goes, actually. That's the nature of the world. Or at least of a Jeffersonian culture where we have always valued the separation of church and state (even the "liberal" Guardian of Lond regularly publishes columns, opinion, and information, about religion, and especially about the Church of England). But it's one of the qualities of "news" that what is published, broadcast, bandied about, even discussed on the internet, is only "news" if someone somewhere says it is. And for all the interest in "religion" I see even on the internets, there's precious little real interest in the subject or in the nature of the mainline churches. Everyone prefers either the self-promotional caricatures of Joel Osteen or Rick Warren or James Dobson or Pat Robertson (all of whom have something, or sometimes many things, to sell) or their own desultory (and uninformed) opinions over the actions and statements of Geoffrey Black or Katherine Jefferts Schori.

And frankly, I'd rather the latter do the ministries of the gospel, to vying for public approval in the marketplace of ideas. You want to write a best-seller, may God bless you. But I prefer the advice of St. Francis of Assisi as guidance for Christians: "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words."

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