Would We Have Taken Part in the Sins of Our Ancestors?

protestIf you have been tracking with me around here or on social media, it is no secret that I am vehemently opposed to our current president and his vision of America as a barricaded, militarized state which feels like home to a privileged white Christian male few and a segregated hell on earth to everyone else.  I believe that Donald Trump represents a unique threat to everything we are as America and as Americans.  I believe that history will one day look back on this moment and demand of each of us, to know which side we were on.

But before we go any farther down that road, allow me to direct your attention to a piece by Mallory Ortberg at The Toast which appeared around this time last year and which will guide our thinking today, sort of.

In a hilarious and snarky way, Ortberg hits upon one of our most natural human tendencies:  to reflect upon the great struggles and moral crises of history and imagine that, if we had been alive back then, we would have been on the right side of things.

The truth of the matter is that we probably would have done no better than our ancestors in the moral struggles which they faced.  We would probably have been right there with the people who were burning witches in Salem.  We would probably have been contributing in our own way to this grave injustice.

And here is where I have to get gut-level honest with myself:  A huge part of the reason why I now stand with #TheResistance is that it costs me very little to do so.  For the price of a Coke or a six-pack of Bud or a one-night stay at an Airbnb, I can commit an act of political defiance.

But if that state of affairs were to change, I would probably be rethinking things a bit.  If Donald Trump were to start jailing political opponents (could happen–I certainly wouldn’t put it past Steve Bannon or the new attorney general Jeff Sessions), you could probably expect me to start toning things down around here.

Because, like Ortberg, I am the sort of person who places a high value on physical safety and comfort.  If the cost of resisting Donald Trump were to get too high, I would probably bail.  I would like to think that I’m a better person than that.  I would like to think that I would stay and fight for the right no matter what.  But I am not there yet, and I have a long way to go to get there.

You see, despite what I have said here and in earlier posts about being on the right side of history, we really can’t worry about that.  Our job and calling in this age is the same as it is in any age:  to resist the injustice of our present age, whatever form it may take.  We can look to the past for guidance, but it is not our job to fight their battles or to imagine how we would have fared if we had lived in their times.  As soon as we do that, then we are in danger of missing the injustice that is right in front of us every day.

Jesus had some not-too-kind words for the Pharisees of his day, who imagined that they would not have taken part in murdering the prophets of Israel had they lived in the days of the prophets (Matthew 23:29-32).  Their eyes were closed to the injustice that was happening right there in front of them, that they themselves were about to perpetrate against the one who was greater than all the prophets.

So I must fight on.  I must resist.  It is not my job to worry about being on the right side of history, or about if I would have been on the right side of history in the great moral struggles of the past.  It is not your job either.  Our job is to resist the injustice of our present day.

I will not do it perfectly.  Lord knows, if the cost gets to be too great, I may not do it at all.  Like Ortberg, I place a very high priority on my physical safety and comfort and there is probably little if any limit to what I will compromise if these things are at stake.  So I can have no illusions about being a hero or being on the right side of history.

But at the end of the day, there is still a battle to fight.  There are people out there who fear–legitimately–what the future holds for them in a Donald Trump presidency.  These people need to know that they are not alone.  There are people out there who hear the name Christian and for them it is inexorably linked to the Republicans and the KKK and the Neo-Nazis and many other things which are completely opposite the character of Christ.  These people need to know that this Christian does not approve.  These people need to know that when 81 percent of evangelicals act as if they are perfectly OK with Donald Trump and his racist, homophobic, misogynistic, Islamophobic agenda, they do not act in my name.  I may not fight this battle perfectly, but not to fight–that is not an option.

Morgan Guyton: How Did Defenders of Truth Become Post-Truth Ideologues?

Today I direct your attention to a post by Morgan Guyton, a college pastor in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Guyton blogs at Mercy Not Sacrifice.

Guyton, who grew up in the same evangelicalism where I have spent the vast majority of my collegiate and young adult existence, asks a poignant question.  In the evangelical world I remember, it was all about absolute truth, but the notion of absolute truth was presented like this:  There is an objective universe out there that exists, regardless of the myriad of vantage points from which people perceive it.  Objective facts matter.  You don’t get to make up your own reality.

This is how we differentiated ourselves from all those godless liberal relativists who believed that each person got to make up their own truth.  Now here we are, and don’t look now but we’ve become the exact same thing that we used to (and still do, in some places) accuse those godless liberals of being.  How did we get here?  It all started as a reaction against Bill Clinton and the excesses of his administration–somehow it was OK to cook up absurd conspiracy theories about a morally sleazy politician because his sleaziness justified it, and when those conspiracy theories are debunked just cook up a whole shitload more.  From there it snowballed, and now here we are.

Guyton posits that this is due to another way of defining absolute truth–not as the existence of universal truth but as obedience to an infallible authority.  Evangelicals claim that this authority is the Bible but the way it works out in reality is that the true authority is those who interpret the Bible and the doctrinal/theological framework within which they interpret the Bible.  Apply this to a partisan political platform and it’s no surprise that evangelicals are all about Donald Trump.

The biggest mistake conservative evangelicals make is to extol obedience for its own sake. Obedience is the lifeblood of fascism. It is the primary way that sin reproduces, because obeying the crowd is a lot easier than critically thinking for yourself. Most of the time when obedience happens in our world, people are not obeying God; they are obeying an idol whether it’s a political hero or the forces of the market or a sinful lifestyle goal. To actually obey God in a world filled with liars, narcissists, and conmen both inside and outside of the church requires constant vigilant disobedience. That’s what cruciform resistance looks like. Obedience in and of itself is not a virtue.

…I believe in absolute truth. That’s why I refuse to accept easy explanations or mass-produced bumper-sticker doctrines. It’s why I’m very distrustful of people who valorize blind obedience. It’s why I work out my salvation with fear and trembling like the Bible tells me to do (Philippians 2:12).

Read:  How Did Defenders of Truth Become Post-Truth Ideologues? by Morgan Guyton

I Stand With the Resistance

protestHistory is replete with times when horrible people did unconscionable things with power and were able to do such things with impunity, unleashing untold amounts of suffering into the world, because otherwise good people sat back and did nothing.

Our nation is entering into just such a time.

In the future, history will look back upon this and demand to know which side you were on.

So let the record reflect that I stand with the resistance.

I did not support our president when he was running for office, and I sure as hell do not support him now.  I refuse to get behind his vision of America as a barricaded, militarized state that feels like home to a rich white Christian male few and a segregated hell on earth to everyone else.

I do not support the pro-choice agenda.  I thought Obamacare was a bad idea, and still do.  I believe that most of the criticism of school vouchers and charter schools comes from unaccountable teacher unions and others who stand to gain way too much from our public education system remaining in its presently broken state.  I remain committed to the conservative position on a number of issues.  Of course, none of this counts for anything in the eyes of those who support Donald Trump:  because I will not shut up and get in line and support their Donald Trump, I belong in the same box with Hillary and Bernie and all the devils of hell.  Never mind that you, Trump supporters, forced me to this by robbing me of all other conservative options.  But all that is beside the point here.

This is bigger than politics.  This is bigger than abortion, Obamacare, school vouchers, gun control, or whatever your political issue du jour may be.

This is about basic humanity.  This is about the sheerest, basest, most virulent form of rank inhumanity now spewing forth on a daily basis from the highest office in the land.  In the name of basic humanity, this must be resisted.

This is about basic Christianity.  This is about 81 percent of American evangelicals supporting someone who is the complete opposite of the character of Christ, knowing full well that he is the complete opposite of the character of Christ, and saying that their Christian convictions compel them to do so.  (Mr. Grudem, your phone is ringing.)  In the name of basic Christianity, this must be resisted.

This is about love.  This is about those who insist that what love requires of us is to support a leader whose message is nothing more than anger and hatred.  This is about those who, speaking in the name of Jesus Christ and on behalf of American Christianity, insist that our relations with those who hail from foreign birthplaces, with those whose skin is darker than our own, be characterized by fear and anger and hatred.  This is about those who seek to remake Jesus Christ in the image of a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, Islamophobic bigot.  In the name of love, this must be resisted.

Every person you will ever come eyeball-to-eyeball with is a person for whom Jesus Christ died.  Yet our current president has made it abundantly clear that the vast majority of these people–at least those who are not rich white Christian males–count for absolutely nothing.  I cannot and will not support this.

So count me in with the resistance.

Those of you who don’t like the political posts on here and on Facebook:  tough.  This should have been over after a few weeks in the summer of 2015.  It wasn’t.  This should have been over when the election ended.  It wasn’t.  It still isn’t.  So you can expect to see plenty more of this in the months and years to come.  You can expect to see plenty more snide comments about Donald Trump on the Facebook feed.  I suspect that one thing this demon cannot endure is to be mocked, and I am more than happy to oblige.  It is not over yet, and I will not shut up until it is.

Because when Donald Trump enacts his racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, Islamophobic agenda, he does not act in my name.

When 81 percent of American evangelicals act as if they are perfectly OK with Donald Trump and his racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, Islamophobic agenda, with the fear and hatred that he relentlessly perpetuates toward those with foreign birthplaces and/or darker skin than their own–people for whom Christ died, I feel compelled to note–they do not act in my name.

History will look back on this and demand to know which side you were on.

So let the record reflect that I stand with the resistance.

I stand with those who oppose Donald Trump and his vision of America as a barricaded, militarized state that feels like home to a privileged white Christian male few and a segregated hell on earth to everyone else.

I stand with those who affirm the dignity of all those for whom Jesus Christ died, people whom Jesus Christ commands us to love, regardless of race, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation.

I stand with the resistance.

Carrie Underwood Got Trolled by the AFA

underwoodICYMI:  Carrie Underwood put in a surprise appearance at Passion 2017 this past week, taking the stage with David Crowder to perform her 2014 country/gospel hit “Something In The Water”.  Never ones to let an opportunity to promote their culture war agenda and generate publicity for their pet causes go to waste, the American Family Association published an open letter to Passion founder Louie Giglio expressing their concerns over Underwood’s appearance.  Why?  Because Underwood has come out publicly in support of gay marriage.  AFA does not.  ‘Nuff said.

Some choice quotes:

I was very frustrated that you would allow her to help lead thousands of people in worship. My frustration quickly turned to disappointment and then to sadness. Carrie Underwood encourages and supports homosexual marriage which the Word of God does not…

With the many Christian artists who believe and teach the full counsel of God’s Word available to lead worship at Passion, why would you choose one who publicly states homosexuality is not a sin?…

The Word of God is not a preference, but principles God has spoken. God is right about marriage and Carrie Underwood is wrong.

As Christians it is our calling to show love and care for the real, flesh-and-blood people in our lives.  This is not that.  It is fixating upon a minor point of Scripture and making it suddenly the linchpin of faithfulness to God’s Word (The Bible is clearly against homosexual behavior yet devotes an astonishingly small percentage of text to it–priorities, people).  It is reducing the Word of God to a list of principles and the people around us to nothing more than right or wrong in relation to said principles.  Especially if said people are LGBTQ or have ever had a kind word to say regarding those who are LGBTQ.

For your viewing pleasure I have linked the video of Underwood’s performance below:

I am Not Ward Cleaver, And Will Probably Never Be

wardcleaverToday I direct your attention to a short video from Prager University, a conservative think tank, extolling the virtues of Ward Cleaver.

Ward Cleaver, the father in the 1950s sitcom Leave It To Beaver, is an iconic figure; a man of his time, yet timeless in some respects.  He takes care of business without making excuses, whining or brooding in defeat.  He knows that hard work and persistence will win the day, even if it is not this day.  He has no interest in perpetuating his own adolescence, but instead has long accepted marriage and fatherhood as part and parcel of adult life.

The Ward Cleaver archetype is all over the place in TV shows and movies of that era:  Ozzie Nelson of Ozzie and Harriet, Jim Anderson of Father Knows Best, and George Bailey of It’s A Wonderful Life.  These were individuals who survived the Great Depression, fought in WWII and/or the Korean War.  The archetype transcends that era with Steve Douglas of My Three Sons, Mike Brady of The Brady Bunch, Harold Cunningham of Happy Days, and Heathcliff Huxtable of The Cosby Show (that last one might not be such a great example).  All of these characters are flawed, yet solid and dependable; in a word, responsible.

According to the video, what women want in a man (at least those women who have outgrown their adolescent preoccupation with “bad boys”) is, while they would not say Ward Cleaver, someone who shares Ward Cleaver’s character traits:  reliable, trustworthy, smart, confident but not smug, funny and capable of laughing at himself, successful at work but not a workaholic, one who loves children but is not a child himself, and devoted to his family.  In other words, a masculine figure:  this is what women want and what children need.

In Ward Cleaver’s era, men were expected to work hard, be good husbands/neighbors/friends, raise children, and act as role models for the next generation.  Getting married, becoming a father, and working toward owning a home were the best things that the vast majority of men could expect to happen to them in their lives.  Men don’t regret attachments and commitments to other people, as if these things tie them down.  What they regret is the lack thereof.

The closing observation of the video is that if all the adolescent slackers of the world were to disappear tomorrow, the video game industry would collapse.  But if all the Ward Cleavers of the world were to disappear tomorrow, civilization would collapse.

Okay.  Couple of things here.

First, the video’s analysis of Ward Cleaver as a studly figure relies on a number of horses that have long since left the barn.  For one thing, it is no longer possible for the vast majority of people to attend college without incurring massive amounts of debt.  And the jobs that are available nowadays generally do not pay as well or offer as much potential for advancement as jobs that were available in Ward Cleaver’s era, except for a fortunate few.  Plus the average cost of a home relative to average income nowadays has risen to a point where homeownership is all but inaccessible to all but a fortunate few, at least in the early postcollegiate years.  For these reasons, many young people find themselves having to postpone marriage, family and homeownership until much later in life.  In Ward Cleaver’s day it was possible for a high school dropout to score a well-paying union job with the factory or the railroad and parlay that into a respectable middle-class existence.  Good luck with that nowadays.

Also, the video seems to operate on the assumption that the sexual revolution, the rise of feminism, and the other cultural shifts of the sixties and seventies never happened.  In Ward Cleaver’s era a man could count on eventually marrying at or near his own level; economic/cultural reality which necessitated the dependence of women upon men was on his side, and persistence and patience would win the day.  Nowadays, not so much.  The rise of feminism has all but shattered any sense of dependence upon men which women once felt.  In this day and age women are free to drop all pretense of economic necessity, making their own way economically while holding our for the most attractive man they can find, or no man at all.  Meaning that for someone like me, persistence and patience will not necessarily win the day.

The video also assumes an order in which the man is, well, the man of the house and the woman is perfectly pleased to go along with that.  This plays right into complementarian notions of how the world ought to be ordered; you can see these notions for yourself in John Piper’s diatribe against women in combat and Owen Strachan’s diatribe against that “Dad Mom” Tide commercial a few years back.  I argue now as I have previously that these notions amount to an absurd legalism that reduces masculinity and femininity to a set of prescribed rules and roles and behaviors.  Besides, that is yet another horse which has already left the barn.  The new reality of our era is that in some marriages the man will never in a million years equal the earning power of his spouse and some men are passionate about serving the family by staying at home and raising the children.  What are we to do with that?

Next, are these the only two options on the table here?  Ward Cleaver, or the terminal slacker in his parents’ basement who does nothing but play video games all day?  This is typical of conservative discourse on a number of issues:  Reduce all the options down to only two and demonize all who do not go along with the preferred alternative.  The election of Donald Trump was an example of this par excellence.  We also see it in young-earth creationist handling of Scripture, where it is either us or godless, nihilistic, atheistic evolution.  The Neo-Reformed make a living at this on virtually any issue they engage with:  us or [insert name of favorite liberal theologian here] and all the devils of hell.

So are these the only two options on the table here?  Are there not other expressions of responsible adulthood that don’t necessarily fit the Ward Cleaver mold?  Or are marriage, family, children, and homeownership so inextricably tied to responsible adulthood that without these things it is impossible to be anything other than a terminally adolescent slacker?

I am not Ward Cleaver.  I don’t think I would want to be Ward Cleaver even if I could.  The suburban American dream of the big house and the family and kids does not appeal to me.  Any marriage I enter into would likely be an arrangement where roles and responsibilities are determined by gifting and personality and not by prescribed notions of gender roles, much to the complementarians’ chagrin.

I am not a slacker and don’t plan on being one.  Working for a living, being a productive and contributing member of society and using such influence as one has to make one’s community and the world a better place beats the alternative.  But I am not Ward Cleaver and will probably never be, and even if I could I probably wouldn’t want to.

Advent Week 4: We All Need Advent

advent4We are now in the final week of the Advent season.  This is what we do around here during the Advent season:  Pick an Advent-related topic and talk about it for four weeks.  For the past couple of weeks we have been coming around this question:  Who needs Advent?  The short answer is that we all do.

Advent takes us back to before the first coming of Christ and takes us through the story of the people of God all the way up to the first coming of Christ, with a heavy emphasis on the Messianic prophecies which pointed to his coming.  This enables us to get the whole story in mind, so that when Christmas comes we can celebrate it with the whole story in view.  Because if you take the events depicted in the gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke all by themselves, what you have is a fantastic, unbelievable, perhaps even nonsensical story.  But put it in its proper context within the larger story of God’s people, and it becomes a remarkable yet believable story.

As noted early on, the Christmas story began over two thousand years prior to the first Christmas, with God’s promise to Abraham that he and his wife would have a child and through them all nations in the world would be blessed.  That story stretched on for two thousand years through the history of God’s people Israel and it continues today, even though the thread is at times difficult to trace and even appears to be completely lost.

And at just the right time, when all hope was lost, when everyone had long since given up and no one was expecting it, a young couple in backwoods Palestine, the stinking armpit of the Roman Empire, turned up pregnant.

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about:  His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.”

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son.  And he gave him the name Jesus.  (Matthew 1:18-25)

When Matthew speaks of “the prophet”, he is referring to a prophecy which appears early on in the book of Isaiah (7:14).  This came at a troubled time in Israel’s history.  Israel and Judah divided after the reign of Solomon, and they were not exactly on the best of terms thereafter.  Ahaz, king of Judah, was in trouble because Aram and Israel, his neighbors to the north, had made an alliance and were coming after Jerusalem.  To face this threat, Ahaz contemplated an alliance with Egypt.  But Isaiah counseled him to do no such thing and trust God instead.  God offered to give Ahaz a sign to show he could be trusted.  When Ahaz refused, God said, “All right, fine.  I’ll give you a sign anyway.  The virgin will be with child.”

Matthew, looking back on this long-forgotten prophecy several centuries later, saw it as pointing to Jesus.  But why?  Why introduce the notion of a virgin birth into the mix?  The Hebrew word which was translated “virgin” is a word which could refer to any young woman, regardless of whether she has ever been intimate with a man.  And the young woman who gave birth back in Isaiah’s day was not a virgin.  The word which we recognize as “virgin” did not enter the mix until the Jewish Scriptures were translated into Greek.  Plus, the whole idea of an actual virgin birth was foreign to Jewish thinking.  This was the stuff of Greek mythology, where the gods were always getting with human women and giving birth to these semi-divine people like Hercules and Helen of Troy.  As for the Jews, they were expecting their Messiah to be of the line of David, born of a descendant of David, not born of a virgin.  So adding the virgin birth to the mix would certainly not have helped the story and would probably have hurt it.  Matthew had nothing to gain and much to lose by introducing the element of the virgin birth.  Unless it actually happened.

So here we are, with Mary and Joseph pledged to be married, and Mary unexpectedly pregnant.  What to do with her?  In prior generations she would have been burned alive or perhaps stoned.  They weren’t doing that anymore, because under Roman rule it was illegal for Jews to impose the death penalty.  Plus, Mary was going on about how this child was fathered by the Holy Spirit, and you can’t stone a crazy woman.  Still, the Jewish law provided for certain things to be done.  Joseph wanted to uphold the law, but he did not want to expose Mary to public disgrace, especially since she was a crazy woman, so he intended to just divorce her quietly and be done with it.

Then an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, reassuring him that everything was OK and the child was truly from the Holy Spirit, as Mary said.  Now the name we know as Jesus actually appears in the Jewish scriptures as “Yeshua” or Joshua.  Just as the first Joshua led Israel into the Promised Land and overthrew the Canaanites and all the other nations of that time, so the coming Messiah was expected to be a military leader and deliverer in that same vein, throwing off Israel’s oppressors and reestablishing the kingdom of Israel in the Promised Land.  So when the angel said that Jesus would save his people from their sins, one can imagine that Joseph did a double-take.  You see, it was Rome that needed to be saved from their sins, and Israel needed to be saved from Rome.

Yet there it was.  And when an angel tells it to you, you don’t question him.  You just do whatever he says.  And that is what Joseph did.

Now we tend to hear “save his people from their sins” and mentally replace “save” with “forgive”.  But if we do that, we are shortchanging ourselves and missing out on an awful lot of what Jesus and Christmas are all about.  Paul, one of the most prominent early Christians, said that “the wages of sin is death”.  Meaning, every time you sin, something dies.  Forgiveness in and of itself is not enough to bring it back to life.  What’s more, our very notion of sin is askew in that we associate it with problematic behavior that can be fixed with some simple behavior modification.  Instead, sin is a condition in which the very human spirit is curved in on itself.  We see the evidence of this all around us every day.  Forgiveness alone is not enough to restore a human soul/spirit that is curved in on itself and unable to see anything past its own needs/wishes/desires.  For that, we need a savior, a deliverer.  We need nothing less than God Himself, come to earth to take on human flesh, whose coming we will celebrate in just a few days.

So after all this we now come all the way back around to the question:  Who needs Advent?  And the answer:  We all need Advent.