Sunday, September 25, 2022

Well, Yeah, But...

This is not a First Amendment issue. At. All.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I mean, I agree, wholeheartedly, that the First Amendment has preserved the church (or "religion," if you prefer; actually a more appropriate term here) in America.  And yeah, this is "ironic": 

But let's identify the number of pastors who were silent, silenced, or forced out of their churches in the Civil Rights era. The days of Dr. King and protest marches and Freedom Riders and the KKK burning churches and killing people. As I've said before ("We know, Grandpa!"), King's famous letter was written to Christian and Jewish leaders who wouldn't speak out for civil rights and freedom in 1964.  I was a pretty steady church attendee in East Texas at the "liberal" (i.e., non-Southern Baptist) churches, and I never heard anyone preach about Dr. King or voting rights.  That was a sure ticket to losing your pastorate, and was it a hill you wanted to die on?

Speaking as a pastor who was chased out of two pulpits decades later without ever saying anything that controversial about a subject so inflammatory (I guess "CRT" and "drag queens" comes closest today, but I'll note a Christian Church (no, that's the denomination, not an adjective) in Katy (hardly a liberal hotbed) held a drag queen bingo fundraiser for children (charitable, IOW) just this weekend, which caused a bit of a stir. So times have changed, somewhat.).  It's easier to piss off a congregation than you might imagine, and a pastor with a family might think twice about being suddenly unemployed (especially if the house he/she lives in belongs to the congregation).

So, really, are the lastest fundies "enacting exactly what founding generations feared"?  The mainline denominations did that quite well for a century or so.  The lesser churches (in numbers, I mean), such as the fundies (an early 20th century American sprout) and the "evangelicals" (maybe 50 years old now, and not necessarily Southern Baptists, all; that group is far older, but still not as old as the "mainlines" who reach back to Europe), were quite jealous of separation of church and state, precisely because they enjoyed no real social power (that, too, is a recent phenemenon for them, and already a rapidly diminishing one).  The mainline churches identified the church with the state, but only (and especially only after WWII) the state as protector and securor of liberty and freedom; for white people.  I've written before about national flags in the worship space.  That's more a standard decoration of American Protestant churches than not, and an obvious marriage of church and state most congregation members think good and right, Mr. Madison's opinions notwithstanding.  Does that mean the First Amendment and the protection of the church from the state was threatened then, too?

Yes, actually, it does.  What it means more than anything is, "T'was ever thus." And it's becoming less important to "mainline" churches in America precisely as they lose their social position and social authority. The churches feeling their oats in these matters, mostly evangelical and fundamentalist (both/and), are starting to feel as the churches of my youth did:  that the state belongs to them because they commandeer the state.  Much of the opposition to the civil rights movement was not blatant white supremacy, but simply small "c" conservatism:  defending the status quo, because most of us see society as a zero-sum game.  If you win, I lose.  So mainline white Protestant denominations did not answer Dr. King's ringing call because it could mean loss for them, and being so invested in the social status quo, they could not easily dis-invest.

Now the fundies and the evangelicals find themselves with the same problem.  They wanted the boss's job, and they got it.  Now they find out it ain't the job they thought it was.

But separation of church and state has always been a moving target and an ideal more honored in the breach than in the keeping.  Children prayed in school (a Christian prayer, whether you were Christian or not) and the people who didn't like it (atheists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jews, etc.) were just SOL. Then the Supreme Court declared the "wall" between church and state, and people were quite upset.  Until they weren't.  Same thing happened with gay marriage.  Remember the clerk who refused to do her ministerial duty on religious grounds?  I dunno, maybe after Hobby Lobby she has a case (though the Supremes still seem to distinguish between government employees and private employees), but aside from Clarence Thomas (who probably tipped his hand too early), who cares anymore?  Honestly, if the Supremes even hint at taking up a case that could overturn Obergefell, I expect Biden would lead the charge to add 3, maybe 4, more Justices instanter.

"Under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance because godless Commies couldn't make that pledge.  Apparently it would make their tongues burst into flame, or something.  "In God We Trust" was put on the coinage to remind the godless commies Gott Mit Uns; or something.  We open public meetings with Christian (rarely Hindu, Muslim, or Native American, to name a few) prayers.  I'm pretty sure those are all 20th century, and mostly post-WWII/Red Scare era, developments.

I'm not quite sure that caused church to decline; but I'd be pretty comfortable asserting the proposition and feeling I could back it up with some research.

I do my own research.

So, pastors forced from churches because they aren't Trumpian enough?  Old news.  This kind of nonsense sweeps through the people like wind through grass ("All flesh is grass!"), and like the wind, goes who knows where?  It doesn't hang around.  It's a ridiculous reason to dismiss your pastor, but the "good" reasons (dipping into the church funds, dipping into the church secretary, or the boy's choir, etc.) are actually few and far between.  That's why those cases make the headlines.  Dismissing pastors for not lining up with the congregation's preferences?  Even the NYT has to attach it to Trump, and treat the cases en masse to generate one news article.

The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.

Ecclesiastes 1:6-11.

Just a cheering Biblical thought for your Sunday afternoon.

No comments:

Post a Comment