Tuesday, July 19, 2022


Well, it could be worse: Confused? This helps: (I haven't seen those kinds of diagrams since high school. Good to know ideas never die, eh?)

Christianity will have to address the enormous heresy of the anti-egalitarian "evangelicals" who are so enthusiastic about Republican-fascism and its like.  They are heretics, certainly those members of evangelical churches, Catholics, etc. who really do take what Jesus said seriously feel if not admit that there is something extremely wrong with that parody of Christianity that is pushed by the media as "Christianity."  You cannot both vote for Trump or the Republican-fascists and believe what Jesus said was true anymore than you can that natural selection is true and believe in the Gospel.  That house, divided like that, cannot stand.  
So I'll come back to where I started, and peruse the Vice article:

This story is not unique to Grace Church. Politics and culture wars have crept into pulpits and pews across the U.S. in recent years. It’s not just the Evangelical church, whose ties to the GOP have been the target of heavy scrutiny for decades. It’s churches and parishes across denominations, state lines, and socioeconomic status. 

Christians from around the country who spoke to VICE News said they’ve witnessed their congregations lose focus and slide into Christian nationalism. 

I will start by saying I'm hard pressed to remember churches which openly supported Dr. King's civil rights movement (nor could he find many); or women's liberation; gay rights; the American Indian Movement; even the anti-war protests.  The latter was an issue of nationalism and Christianity just as much as "Christian nationalism" is today.  So I'm not sure things have changed, because any pastor who openly supported Dr. King or opposed the war (as Dr. King did, too) would have soon found himself (they were almost all "he" back in the day) out of a job.

No, this is not new; this is as old as Protestantism itself; or should I say Christianity?

The church's relationship to power has always been a fraught one, especially since the church is the people, not the hierarchy.  I suspect (but cannot prove) that the power of the Church in days gone by was not what it is presumed to have been, and it was power mostly because it was aligned with the principalities of the world, who were backed by the guys on horseback with spears and swords.  What was the point of dissenting?  Aside from the distinct fact that the "individual" was a very different concept before 1798 than it has been since.  When your identity is bound up with you family and subjects (of the kings, princes, etc.), you don't too much stick your head above the parapets.  It doesn't even occur to you.

On the first point, there is ample evidence Shakespeare was very careful in his plays, even his comedies but also his tragedies (not excluding his histories) to keep in mind there were powers that were always to be respected.  So the Duke in "Midsummer Night's Dream," and Oberon (even though Titania is his match, a nod to the Queen of England), as well as the Duke in "Twelfth Night" or "Othello," is not a person to be mocked. "Othello" is a study in proper leadership.  Othello is not wise enough to reject the counsel of Iago, but the Duke of Venice is wise enough not to allow Iago into his counsel.  The Duke in "Twelfth Night" is confused by the costume of Viola, but he is not mocked for his gullibility.  Leave the mockery to Malvolio, who thinks he has the ear of Olivia; but she is noblewoman, and so too smart for Malvolio.  Shakespeare may now all the intrigues of the human heart and the court, but he is wise enough to never expose the foibles of the rulers.  The closest he comes is Macbeth, who is a pretender to the throne and the line from which comes James I, and Lear is a figure of ancient history who, in the end, is more sympathetic and sinned against than sinner.  The Queen, after all, had the Tower, and the bridge upon which hung the heads of those who displeased her.  There was enough turmoil over church and crown in Elizabethan England to teach Shakespeare the lesson:  know what to kiss, and when.  Expressing his express individuality in anything but love poems would have cut his career short, indeed.

Luther's movement prospered because German noblemen gave him sanctuary, and his ideas sanction.  Jean Cauvin ran the city government in Switzerland; the Puritans protested the British rule over the church and fled the country to finally come to America and try their hand at governance by their lights.  Their aim was to establish a culture and a society (what else is government?) suited to their needs.

So it has ever been.

So are evangelical churches becoming hotbeds of Trumpism?  Or are they losing members because they are hotbeds of Trumpism?  Give it twenty or thirty years, and we can start to answer that question.  50 years ago Jerry Falwell was just getting started:
And yup, they were happy to wear masks to avoid getting AIDS.  Falwell was quite sure, at the height of his power, that his reign was from everlasting to everlasting, and that he represented the "real America."  I sometimes wonder if he can see what his son has done with that legacy.  His son succumbed to the world, one should note.  O, the irony!

But what was Falwell, except a racist sexist pig wrapping himself in the flag and the cross and declaring himself holier than thou?  He led with that message, until he didn't.  And unsurprisingly it was a cult of personality.  Falwell's power is gone with him, must as Oral Roberts lost his authority, just as Jim and Tammy Faye did, and Jimmy Swaggart, and Pat Robertson.  Towering titans of religious broadcasting, everyone one of them.  Technology today would have been enough to undo them.  We speak of Steve Bannon being a threat to democracy; all he has is a podcast almost nobody's heard of if they aren't on Twitter, and a criminal trial where he promised blood and vengeance, but where his lawyers are reduced to whinging their client doesn't have a defense (hint: he never did.  The judge simply declined to allow his court to be a circus for Bannon's insanity.  See if the judge is right when the D.C. Circuit gets the inevitable appeal.).  Robertson was so popular he ran for the GOP nomination (and got nowhere.  He wasn't THAT popular.)  All of these men commanded cable channel attention back when cable was the internet of America.  Now?  The only people watching cable are old people who don't understand how to use Netflix or who haven't discovered the 200 channels now available on broadcast (thanks to digital transmission) where they could feed their nostalgia for the shows they knew as children, for free.  FoxNews is only on cable because of cable fees.  Don't expect it to be around too much longer.

Could those men command the attention of millions today?  No.  Small wonder then the evangelical churches they fired are turning to the last well-known public figure as their avatar.  It was never Jesus of Nazareth.  Jerry Falwell never preached care for the poor and visiting the sick and release of the captive.  He preached poverty was the wages of sin and jail the proper place for criminals and especially the Biblical benefits of segregation.  None of them preached "love your black neighbor as yourselves," but they all preached money, money, money. πŸ’°  Some more blatantly than others, but all of them shilled for dollars.  What, you thought Joel Osteen was sui generis? And whatever happened to Joel?  Even here in Houston I don't hear about him anymore.  He's another preacher filling an otherwise empty hour on Sunday morning on some station (usually digital one, not one of the four main).  His church won't outlast him, and I wonder how well he's doing at bringing in new members to replace the ones leaving on a regular basis.  That's the model of mega-churches:  they have to take in new members rapidly, so many leave every week. 

Take the example of Grace, where the congregation is dwindling.  But they weren't there to learn about Christian humility and the first being last and feeding their brothers and sisters, or clothing them, and so doing serving God directly (also the lesson of Abraham at the oaks of Mamre; what Paul would call entertaining angels unawares).  They were there to learn how much God loved them.  But honestly, how long can you preach that?  I don't mean the heart of  Christianity is not the love of God; but how many times do you tell your congregation God just loves the shit outta you?  When do you change the record?  And to what?  God wants you to seek out the homeless and give them shelter, the hungry and give them food, the naked and clothe them?  Bit of a jolt, isn't it?  Far easier to say God wants you to engage in battle with the world.  Ministry to the world is hard, especially if that ministry means offering caring.  Warfare with the world is much easier.  At least easier to preach.

When the German forebears of the United Church of Christ came to this country in the 19th century, they needed medical care for each other.  They established Deaconess Hospital, which still operates in St. Louis.  They needed an orphanage, because parents died.  That orphanage still operates in St. Louis County.  They needed mental health care; that facility is still in operation.  They needed care for the sailors and shipmen who worked the barges and ships down the Mississippi to the Gulf; that facility still operates in Biloxi.

They were not rich and they were not powerful, but they knew people needed to take care of each other.  They understood that to be their Christian duty, and their human, social, obligation.  So there are alternatives to Christianity bound to the culture, bound to the principalities of this world, as the KJV puts it.  They were not unique in that.  Such examples abound in the history of Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic church and the Orthodox traditions; in Judaism and Islam, and all of the world's religions.  The real golden thread is care for people.  That needs always to be central.  The temptation is always to use whatever power the church provides, the power of many people, to do the work of the world.  You may say caring for each other is the work of the world; and it should be.  But it so seldom is.

It certainly should be the work of the church.  And when it isn't; well, it's a matter of definition, isn't it?  Of who's to be the master, you, or the word?  Church should be identified with caring for people, not for ideas, not for things.  When it isn't, should we call that organization "church"?  No; definitely not.  But standing around arguing over definitions is not helping people either, is it?

The way of Chrisitianity, the way of religion, the way of wisdom, is not to dawdle over arguments about definitions.  That is doing; that is praxis; but it's not the praxis the world needs, or that God points us to.

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