Those of you who are not millennials or otherwise well-versed in the ways in which millennials express themselves via texting/social media have probably never heard the term “ghosting” with respect to interpersonal relationships. But you can get an idea what it means: To vanish like a ghost, suddenly and inexplicably, from another person’s life.
As noted in the previous post, today’s political/religious climate demands 100% agreement with every item of your respective party’s ideological platform because there are numerous special interests out there to enforce this and ensure that you feel the consequences if you dare to deviate. In many parts of conservative evangelicalism, one of the consequences is “ghosting”. This has been perfected to an art, long before ghosting ever became a thing in the broader culture or took on that name. If you dare to deviate from your faith community’s party line on whatever issues are deemed to be of paramount importance (like gay marriage, abortion, or women in church leadership), it is not unheard of for close friends to cut off contact with you and vanish like ghosts from your life. Some of you probably have stories to tell about this.
Today we are going to look at Benjamin L. Corey’s story. Corey blogs at Formerly Fundie. Corey was “ghosted” by his best friend and the Christian community of which they were a part. It was a conservative, fundamentalist church community and Corey had begun to shift toward some positions which were at variance with the community’s ideology. They couldn’t handle it, so they left him, and of course he was left having to deal with it himself and explain it all to his children.
For those of us who have tried to live out the Christian life while being open to allowing new information to shape and stretch what we believe, the reality is that at one time or another, we have friends who will ghost us.
Somehow, someway, too many Christian circles have failed to realize that we don’t have to be in complete agreement to be in a complete relationship.
And so, when theological agreement is not in harmony, there’s always at least one family who feels like some evil magician made their life disappear without notice or even a preemptive “abracadabra” to give us a bit of warning that life is about to change.
While we can’t control the actions of others, I do think we can do two things:
We can refuse to be the ones who do the ghosting.
And when it happens, we can practice praying, “Forgive them Father, for they don’t have the slightest effing’ clue as to the damage they’ve done.”
Read: Christian Ghosting: The Destructive Christian Practice We Don’t Talk About by Benjamin L. Corey
Today we are going to talk about Eugene Peterson.
ICYMI: Eugene Peterson has been in some hot water lately. About a week ago he gave an interview in which he was pressed for his views on same-sex issues and offered what some took to be an endorsement of gay marriage. Needless to say, this landed him on conservative evangelicalism’s shit list. He later issued a retraction/clarification via his publisher which landed him on the shit list of progressives who took his prior comments as an endorsement of gay marriage. So at this point it’s safe to say that Eugene Peterson is on everybody’s shit list.
That is where we are in evangelicalism and in Christianity at large. Just like our nation’s current political climate, we have lots of ideological camps and special interests which all demand 100% adherence to every point of their respective agendas, and if you fail to comply you will experience the consequences. Conservative evangelicalism is rife with those who demand unquestioning adherence to their way of looking at things with respect to abortion, gay marriage, and women in church leadership. On the other side of the aisle there are groups which demand unquestioning adherence to their way of looking at things on gay marriage, women’s rights, racism, climate change, etc.
In this climate there is no room for those whose thinking on an issue such as gay marriage is marked by nuance and complexity and motivated by basic human kindness and love of neighbor. If Peterson says yes to whether he would in some circumstances officiate a gay wedding, it cannot be taken as an expression of basic human love or pastoral concern for the people standing directly in front of him but must instead be taken as a sweeping endorsement of gay marriage. Let him feel the wrath of those who oppose gay marriage in the name of biblical truth. Should he then seek to clarify his remarks and/or offer some nuance to his views, let him feel the wrath of those who support gay marriage and now count themselves abandoned by the celebrity whom they deemed an ally.t
Today I direct your attention to a quote which appeared on Franklin Graham’s Facebook page.
First, to all you Donald Trump supporters out there: Feel perfectly free to comment as you wish, if you wish to do so. Just know this: My views on Donald Trump are clear to anyone who has been tracking with me regularly. They have been clear ever since all this began and they have not changed; if anything I am now more convinced in my position than I ever was before. There is nothing you or anyone else can say, nor any way in which you can say it, which will cause me to suddenly see the error of my ways and join you in your wholehearted and unwavering support of Donald Trump. So you will basically just be exposing yourselves. If you’re okay with that, then hey, have at it.
Now then. The quote:
This whole debate about Russia influencing our elections is a giant smokescreen. The progressive socialists had plans for our country and Donald J. Trump disrupted those plans. They were sure he would lose the presidential election. They are still infuriated and want to keep President Trump and his administration distracted so they will not be able to pass the tax reform, healthcare reform, and immigration reform we need so badly. They also want to keep the American people distracted. They would rather see the country spiral downward than for problems to be fixed.
I shall now translate for you: Hey liberals (and by that he means anyone who is not a wholehearted, unwavering Trump supporter), GET THE HELL OUT OF OUR WAY and let our Donald Trump enact his policies because the only thing that can solve our problems and the world’s problems is a good hard dose of Donald Trump.
As to the Russia thing: The idea of a foreign power being able to influence our electoral process ought to at least give us pause. It didn’t affect the outcome of the election this time (we lucked out), but next time it might. We have got to make sure there is no next time.
But this is bigger than Russia. This is about a prominent Christian leader saying to a large group of the American populace, in effect, “You are the reason for the problems which our country faces today. You are trying to keep us distracted and keep our country distracted so our guy cannot enact his agenda. You would rather see our nation spiral downhill than see problems be solved.”
People: Think about this from the perspective of “What does love require of me?” Can you make a convincing case that what love requires of Franklin Graham is to accuse a vast segment of the American populace of being the reason for our nation’s problems and wanting to see these problems get worse instead of be fixed, because they do not share his wholehearted and unwavering support of Donald Trump? (We have already covered multiple times the question of whether love requires you to support a leader whose agenda is one of unmitigated anger and hatred for all who are not privileged white straight Christian males. Answer: No.) Can you make a convincing case that what love requires of you and what love requires of me is to support prominent Christian leaders who make statements like Franklin Graham’s?
Didn’t think so.
Today I direct your attention to a piece by Charles Featherstone entitled “Church, Flagellate Thyself“.
One of the recurring themes in Featherstone’s writing is community and belonging. In this piece he focuses on progressive Christianity (because that is the universe in which he lives) and the implicit assumption of many liberal churches, specifically Episcopal and Lutheran, that anyone with an ounce of sense would want to be part of their churches and if people don’t it is only because they have excluded them or failed to welcome them. He cites the example of an Episcopal church where a conversation about adding a wheelchair ramp morphed into an outpouring of self-reproach for all the sins of white Christendom down through the ages.
Reality check: Not everyone is called to be an Episcopalian or a Lutheran. These churches can be as welcoming as they possibly can, and it still won’t alter the fact that not everyone has it in them to be an Episcopalian or a Lutheran.
Reality check, on a more fundamental level: Not everyone has it in them to live the respectable bourgeois dream. Believe it or not, some people live out on the margins of society because they actually want to be there. It is where they feel safe. It is where they feel like they actually belong.
The truth is, there are many reasons people do not want to be ELCA Lutherans that have absolutely nothing to do Lutherans failing to be welcoming or inclusive. It’s not necessarily about us. Even if we say we get the gospel right, in the end, people make choices for reasons that honestly have nothing to do with us.
Maybe some folks live on a margin because that’s where they feel comfortable, safe, and welcome. Because that’s where they know they belong. Margins should be safe, and not abolished.
Liberalism and progressivism, however, in its many forms, cannot abide marginality. And it cannot abide separateness either. All must belong to the one true community. Eventually, the progressive reaches for the cudgel. To force others if it can.
And if it can’t, to scourge itself.
Read: Church, Flagellate Thyself by Charles Featherstone
With our recent discussion of the American civil religion that is rife in evangelicalism, especially at this time of year, I wanted to return to a couple of posts Charles Featherstone has written on the subject of American civil religion that I have linked previously.
In “The Problem of Modernity“, Featherstone’s jumping-off point is a PSA from the 1950s urging Americans to go to church because the world is in a chaotic state and in need of morally strong individuals and because church can be a place of comfort during difficult times in one’s life. The focus here is entirely on the individual and the nation. No mention of the Church, of God, or of Jesus Christ, except as an assumed but unimportant presence. There is nothing distinctively Christian here as by that time Jews were full participants in the American civic faith.
In “Belonging…Or Not“, Featherstone critiques a David Brooks piece written in reaction to Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the national anthem. Brooks’ big idea is that the national anthem is one of the rituals of the American civil religion that binds us all together as a people. Failure to participate in this ritual undercuts the very thing which holds us together as a people. Thus Kaepernick was basically biting off the hand that fed him because his actions undercut any sense of obligation that other Americans might have felt for him, and thus any platform by which he might have been able to agitate for social change. Brooks’ argument fails to take into account that American civil religion is built upon exclusion of some class or other, and that for those who are excluded there is no possible repentance, sacrifice, or restoration to community. You can say the Pledge of Allegiance, stand during the national anthem, etc. all day long, but at the end of the day you will still be excluded if the powers-that-be in American civil religion have decided that you are to be excluded. There is nothing you can do to change this status.
In the end, American civil religion has no power to save. It reduces us as the Church to a mere pawn of the state whose sole raison d’etre is to produce good citizens, not necessarily good Christians. It tells an alternate story in which our story, the story of God’s plan to rescue a fallen humanity via Israel which reached its shocking and unexpected climax in the person of Jesus Christ, takes a backseat to the story of science and progress and democracy and America as a Christian nation. It is distressing to see that civil religion has gained such a foothold in American evangelicalism, because it is causing us to forget our story, to forget who we are and whose we are.
ICYMI: First Baptist Dallas was lit this past week.
Many evangelical churches have a patriotic service on the weekend of July 4. But First Baptist Dallas didn’t wait; they had theirs last weekend, complete with fireworks, a ginormous choir, and a full-on military processional. Jonathan Aigner at Ponder Anew gives a rundown on how it went down, and he even has a link where you can watch it for yourself if you care to.
This is not surprising. As noted in the previous post, FBC Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress is an inveterate Donald Trump supporter. His preaching is a steady diet of sermons to the effect that America is a Christian nation, with a few snippets of Scripture thrown in for good measure.
This is not Christianity, people. Never has been, and never will be.
What about those for whom the American dream has not worked out quite so well? As noted in the last post, the American dream has a seamy underbelly. Many people still bear on their backs the scars inflicted by prior generations. Would they have recognized anything Christian in what happened at FBC Dallas this past week?
What about those who are not from America? Would they have recognized anything Christian in what happened at FBC Dallas this past week?
What about those who are not Christian? Would they have recognized anything Christian in what happened at FBC Dallas this past week? Would they have felt anything remotely resembling the call of the Holy Spirit to turn to Jesus Christ? For that matter, would Jesus Christ have been anywhere remotely within the vicinity?
Think of this through the grid of “What does love require of me?”. I refuse to believe that what love requires of me is to believe and proclaim a version of Christianity that puts America first above all else, with a vision of America that excludes all but privileged Christian white males.
This is not Christianity, people. Never has been, and never will be.