28 January 2016

Christian politicians and Rosemary's ice cream

Several of my friends posted links to an overheated essay by John Pavlovitz, "Maybe I'm Actually Not a Christian After All," on Facebook today. Here's his point:
As our American political process unfolds, and as respected and high-profile evangelists and preachers and Christian speakers endorse candidates and take to social media with ever more bigoted, hateful, alarmist claims—and as millions of pledged Jesus followers gleefully rush to celebrate and defend and accompany them in their crusades, I’ve come to find myself estranged; pushed to the furthest periphery of "God’s people".

And I think it’s my fault. I think I’ve been deceived.

You see, I’d been led to believe that the greatest spiritual aspirations I could ever have, were to love God and to love others as I desired to be loved; fully, sacrificially and without condition. I must have been mistaken, because that doesn’t seem to the prevailing theory ruling the day.
I say "overheated" because it's obvious that Pavlovitz isn't about to grant that "the prevailing theory" ought to determine his attitude toward his own faith. His observations are right, of course; it's just that, generally, a sarcastic response wears thin pretty quickly.

And I'd like to argue with the idea that the demagogues' Christianity actually prevails and rules the day. Maybe it will, however, if the rest of us just shrug in our private faith and become passive. This is not the season for passivity.

Politicians wrapping themselves in piety and patriotism is not a new phenomenon. (Although I also remember when John F. Kennedy had to assure voters that his Catholic faith would not compromise his performance as the U.S. president.) Any particular politician's actual relationship with God is that person's own affair, but we often seem to see politicians calibrating their religious persona for political advantage. Knowing that reality in advance, our first response might be to stay centered in our own relationships with God, and to pray for the politician whose representation of our common faith seems distorted to the point of heresy.

But, according to our gifts and discernment, we can't stop there. Not necessarily for our own sakes; we may have to grit our teeth sometimes when we see centuries of Christian social teaching and our own Quaker values dismissed in favor of civil religion drenched in pious cliches, but we'll probably survive. My bigger concern is the politician's impact on non-Christians and "nones" -- who already have plenty of evidence of the sort of Christianity that comes (borrowing from Mark Twain) "with its banner of the Prince of Peace in one hand and its loot-basket and its butcher-knife in the other." Christian politicians (or anyone, for that matter, we included) who forget the evangelistic imperative in favor of enemy-baiting have much to answer for. With humility and persistence -- and without engaging in the same savage rhetoric -- let's require those answers, in full view of the public.

Back in the Friends World Committee's 50th anniversary year, 1987, several weighty Quakers from various parts of the world traveled in the ministry all over North America. As a staff member, I served as host and driver for several of them. I'll never forget hearing Rosemary M. Elliott speak on Christian witness in South Africa. Among many other things, she challenged us to confront the apartheid South African government's claim to be a bulwark for democracy on its continent. She said (paraphrasing from memory), "You already know what ice cream tastes like. If the South African government gives you a bowl of something white and calls it ice cream, you have a perfect right to taste it and decide for yourself. It's the same with democracy."

We may be properly shy about judging someone else's faith, even a politician's, but in this present political season, it is the politicians who have made public claims about Christian faith and put them on the table. If we taste nothing of that sweet faith that has torn down the walls of enmity (Ephesians 2:13-16; context), we should say so. And to the limits of our ability, we should combine to say so as far and wide as the lie has gone.

Rosemary's ice cream, part two

A spokesperson for the U.S. Treasury Department has gone on record with a BBC reporter to say that Russian president Vladimir Putin is corrupt, as shown by his massive wealth and crony-centered governance style. I watched that reporter's BBC Panorama documentary today, and was disheartened by the way the BBC tried to make their case.

I'm not a fan of any power politician, Putin included, but the topic was important enough that a television program (by the mighty BBC, even) ought to be scrupulous about presentation. Instead, we got the same sort of "exposé" treatment we've come to expect from the main Russian channels: flashy graphics and caricatures, ominous music, quick glimpses of supposedly incriminating documents, testimony from Putin's opponents without any serious inquiry about the axes they might be grinding, gratuitous shutter-clicking of fake surveillance photos, wiretap recordings, and so on, and a complete absence of a serious interview with anyone who might have an alternative view.

Every allegation in the program might be true for all I know, but the production values screamed "propaganda." BBC, you can do better.

Terry Mattingly on the coming and going of the Washington Post's heretical hyphen.

Why the church is a bad sport. ("... The morality of the collective is justice.")

Gary Wills on the triumph of the hard right. ("To be on the right is to feel perpetually betrayed.")

If Matthew MacWilliams asked you what most defines Donald Trump supporters ...

Ann Jones on why we're not Denmark and other areas of possible American ignorance.

The holy and great synod will take place on Crete in June 2016.

Once more on religion in Russian public schools.

Kirill Medvedev: Let’s not view each other as wretched sovoks and obnoxious kreakls. ("The main thing is to not take cultural and stylistic differences for class conflict.")

A rerun.... "Let me be your harber, give you shelter from the storm." Two of my favorite songs, performed by Hans Theessink, who wrote "Shelter from the Storm." ("Way Down in the Hole" begins at 9:09.)

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