Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Massacre of Innocence

Back in the day, I got in fights with Pastor Dan  (I don't think he noticed much, and they were hardly epic battles) when he ran an offshoot blog of the Great Orange Satan.  Not serious fights, just disagreements about his optimism and hopefulness for what he would be able to achieve with his fervor for Christian ministry and leftist politics.

I admire Pastor Dan if only because he made it in the ministry, and I didn't.  I admire him for other reasons, too; but none of this is sour grapes or gloating.  In fact, I'm a bit sorry to see I was right; but Pastor Dan has, shall we say, aged.

So no, there isn’t really a Religious Left to emerge beyond the groups mentioned in the Reuters piece pushing out press releases and holding rallies in D.C. They may have been “astounded” when 300 clergy showed up to protest the AHCA, but that does not a movement make, sorry. Nor can the number of churches offering to provide sanctuary to asylum-seekers and undocumented workers, since communities of all stripes—conservative and liberal—heed the call to provide shelter from ICE goons. Nor does the cited diversity of the coalition prove much; a small slice of many different faith segments is, after all, still a small slice.

And if that's a bit out of context and not too clear, here's another bite:

The abolitionists weren’t really leftists. Some of them were racists, and the same broad stream of activism helped bring us eugenics and the often anti-Catholic temperance movement. The Civil Rights movement wasn’t run by the Religious Left so much as the black church, underwitten by the National Council of Churches and mainline denominations. I can’t think of a damn thing the Religious Left did to end the war in Vietnam that wasn’t named Berrigan. And while Pope Francis is an inspirational figure on economics and immigration (I love the guy), try asking some Catholic feminists or the LGBT community how liberal they think he is. I mean, at least cite Dorothy Day here!
I'd have put it differently, and I did, once upon a time, with more references to Niebuhr (Reinie) and Derrida, and probably some Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard thrown in somewhere.  But, you know, he's right.

Take this, for example, which Pastor Dan cites.  All I can say is:  quelle surprise?

What do pastors think about social or political issues?

Americans don’t particularly want to know.

Only 8 percent of adults say they are interested in hearing pastors’ views on issues such as same-sex marriage, LGBT rights, abortion, guns, tax policy, climate change, drug policy or religious freedom, according to the Barna Group’s State of Pastors study, released Thursday (Jan. 26).

And that supports one of the study’s biggest findings, Barna President David Kinnaman said during a webcast about the study: “There is a huge amount of skepticism and indifference to today’s faith leaders.”

I knew an extremely nice man in another congregation than the one I was shown out of, who told me once quite heatedly that he had it on good authority that the panhandlers under the nearby freeway overpasses made easily $30,000 a year.  He clearly thought this both a princely sum, and a reason not to offer them a thin dime, since they weren't truly "needy."  Did I explain to him my ministerial practice of giving money to people who asked (some came to the parsonage door, which was on the church grounds) without doing a financial check first?  I knew pastors who would only give coupons to fast food joints, so the money wasn't spent on liquor; I still consider that both condescending and an invitation to diabetes.  But did this man care what my views on social issues was?  Only if they conflicted with his.  Which has pretty much been true for as long as I can remember, and I remember pastors who didn't speak up about the Civil Rights movement because they didn't want to get fired.  Just read Dr. King's famous letter; the more things change, the more they remain the same.  And what King identified goes almost as far back as there have been pastors.

Franklythis revelation about Pastor Dan makes me a little sad.  Still, it's something all pastors have to learn coming out of seminary, be they right wing and supported by major portions of the national culture, or left wing, and supported by almost no one:  it really isn't up to you to change the world, or even to bring about the basiliea tou theou.  As they taught me in seminary, that is already here:  it's whether you see it and live in it, that matters.  Bringing it about really isn't up to you; otherwise it wouldn't be the "empire of God," would it?  Not unless you think you deserve to sit at the right hand of the throne.

True humility is damned hard to learn; and the lesson can lead to cynicism, and even arrogance, if you aren't careful.  And heaven knows, I've never been all that careful.....

1 comment:

  1. Man, you are posting like crazy. Getting hard to keep up.

    I guess it's natural for someone who goes by PastorDan to think of political activities by the religious in terms of religious activity by the clergy.

    Christian teaching about how we should treat each other certainly has political effects. It provides ends, but only very rarely means (other than forbidding certain means, like murder). So, for example, if I think that market forces will block the poor from getting adequate food, I'm going to try to overcome them with government action--taxation, welfare, mandatory insurance, whatever. Some sort of socialism. Someone else may say that centralized resource control risks a tyranny, that truly free economic activity will produce enough wealth so that fewer people will be poor, and that enough surplus will be left over so that the remaining poverty can alleviated through private charity. I don't buy it, but I can't deny that if someone did, in good faith (in other words, he wasn't just disguising his avarice), then it would be difficult to say that he was not trying to act as Christ commanded.

    Maybe an awkward example, but I'm trying to suggest that the inevitable motivation that religion provides for political activity--that is, for promoting the public good--doesn't mean that religion is politics, or that religion demands a certain political stance.

    So in that sense the religious left is just the left that's religious, and the religious right is just the right that's religious, and the people on the left and right may well be members of the same religion, but have differing ideas about matters that religion doesn't address, like what motivates people to act, how effective carrots are in relation to sticks, how much danger collective action may present, what the role is of shame, guilt or personal responsibility, to what extent force is warranted, and to what extent conformity is to be harnessed for social goods.

    Which to me suggests that the Churches don't lead political charges, but form the consciences of those who do. That's not quietism, but a recognition that the Church, per se, doesn't have a dogma concerning how goods are optimally distributed.

    Even the old Religious Right, I think, wasn't so much their people following the leaders as the leaders basking in the advantages of telling their followers that what they believe already is God's will.

    And if we go back to Martin Luther King, Jr., a clergyman of immense political importance, his clerical status was almost incidental to his political role. HIs religion gave him his conviction, and his profession gave him some prestige (which might not be the case today), but his model was not Jesus or Constantine or Francis, but Gandhi, the deeply religious man who applies his convictions about what he thinks God is calling us to do collectively in a new and exciting way.

    So Christians should undoubtedly be political, because we live in the world and are called to love one another. But as an institution the kingdom that the Church proclaims is not of this world, and it has gone most wrong in history, I think, when it has confused the earthly kingdom with the kingdom of God, and failed to distinguish the things of Caesar from the things of God.

    In that sense, it's good that the Religious Right, as an arm of churches, is diminishing, and that the Religious Left, as an arm of churches, seems to have hardly begun. I may be immensely pleased that Obamacare is still the law of the land, but I'll hesitate to say that God's will has therefore been done.