Charles Featherstone: Church, Flagellate Thyself

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

Another Look: Charles Featherstone on Civil Religion

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.

Civil Religion Is Definitely Back

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.