Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Independence Day 2018

Happy Independence Day!

It is a strange feature of America right now that one segment of the population--almost entirely white, heavily evangelical, older, and middle/south country--thinks that America is finally back on the right path to becoming great again. Probably a majority of the country--those of other ethnicities, younger, coastal and big cities--think our democracy is in serious danger. If it weren't so important, it would be fascinating. I hope I will be able to look back on these days in fascination.

What are the points of disagreement?

Race and Immigration
1. Given many comments made on the campaign trail, the majority of non-whites in America do not feel like the current President has a particularly positive view toward them. Accordingly, racist views that people knew to keep to themselves before (or at selective water coolers) are now said openly. Ironically, refugees fleeing the violent to our borders are painted by the president as being the very people from whom they are fleeing.

Since most whites--especially older whites--are mostly blind to the experiences of non-whites anyway, the promotion of norms that favor a white majority is not experienced as injustice but as "making America great again." In truth, America had actually been on a slow process toward becoming greater. Slavery lasted almost a hundred years into our existence, but was abolished at great cost. Jim Crow laws were a backlash in the south that lasted almost another hundred years, but the civil rights laws of the 60s did make America a greater nation by getting rid of them. America had been moving toward a more level playing field.

Evangelicalism does not have an untainted history here. The Southern Baptist Church was explicitly founded to stand for slavery against the northern baptists. The modern states' rights movement that Jerry Falwell fused with abortion in the early 80s has deeper roots in opposition to the civil rights movement--that is, its roots are in southern racism. The linkage with abortion has only made it seem righteous.

2. The current administration represents a nativism that we have seen before in our history against Irish, Italians, Polish, Catholics, Chinese, etc (remember Polack jokes?). The statements are there from the president, for example, portraying all illegals as rapists or gang members. These things are as plain as day to millennials but somehow play into the fears and/or prejudices of older whites. They do not fit the spirit of the Old Testament toward the stranger in the land or the Parable of the Good Samaritan or the inclusivity of Acts and Paul. There is no biblical ground to stand on here, although the ingenious twist the Scriptures to fit their inklings.

Apt is the phrase, "make America hate again." Ask a person of color. It's not for a white person to say, "No, you're wrong about what you're experiencing." And the church will pay a price for it, regardless of its motives. "I didn't realize" won't cut it then. There will be consequences and already are. It will prove an obstacle to evangelism. Smiling white Trumpists trying to spread the gospel and shocked at the doors slammed in their faces and the steadily declining overall attendance in their churches. "What did I do? I only wanted to share the good news with them?"

As a millennial who isn't attending church told me recently, "I bet only conservatives go to church now."

The Rule of Law
3. The president is under investigation. It is the consensus of those across our government and in the governments of our allies that Putin tampered with our election. This is not surprising as we no doubt have tried to tamper in their business as well. What is at first surprising is that it has been very difficult to get our president to admit it.

Indeed, while our president says bad things about pretty much everyone--probably more about our historic allies than our historic enemies--he has never a negative thing to say about Putin. The Republican platform was altered in this regard. You get the gnawing feeling that he owes something to this guy. And somehow the segment of the American population that was most anti-Russia in the past is not alarmed at our sudden coziness with Putin.

This is not a little bit frightening. Former military generals sound the alarm. Former intelligence leaders sound the alarm. But for some reason these people are dismissed. Indeed, the fever of support for the current president among evangelicals reminds me of end times teaching I grew up with where "even the very elect" are deceived by the antichrist.

The Justice Department, full of Republicans appointed by the president, find themselves the object of his smear campaigns and of previously unknown inquisitors in the House, finding their moment in the sun by becoming attack dogs for the president. It's like the Justice Department is expected to serve like the lawyer of a mob boss, not as an independent balance of power.

4. Republican leaders in Congress say little until they decide to retire and aren't running for re-election. Then they speak more freely in critique. Again, this dynamic is striking. We get the impression that the problematic nature of the situation is known but unspoken. Meanwhile, when a John McCain speaks up, he is smeared. And somehow his own people buy it.

Why don't more Republicans in Congress speak? At first they didn't speak because they were getting things they thought they'd never get, like tax cuts that accelerate the gap between the incredibly rich and the incredibly not. Rules on businesses meant to keep us from another Great Recession or worse are pealed back. The EPA is dismantled and business is booming without the cost of protections to keep things like Flint, Michigan from happening.

But now they don't speak because the shrinking Republican party has become incredibly unified behind the president. This man whose deadly sins were once seen for what they are--lust, greed, pride--has been sanctified as a baby Christian who sins just like we all sin. Meanwhile, formerly staunch Republicans are becoming independents or Democrats, people like Joe Scarborough and Steve Schmidt. Nicole Wallace is just one example of a commentator who was in the Bush administration and is soundly Republican but is so clearly alarmed by the current administration.

Schmidt, a staunch supporter of Republican values, in what no one could have anticipated two years ago, declared that the Republican party was now the party of Trump and had become "corrupt, indecent, and immoral." The zero tolerance policy at the border was the last straw for him. Laura Bush also mourned what was happening at the border. These are not Democrats. These are life-long Republicans. Reason suggests that there is a reality here that can't be dismissed by a conspiracy theory or by blaming Democrats, who have no power whatsoever at this moment in time.

The rule of law is only as strong as the people. And it is only as strong as the people in power are willing to enforce it. With the current Republicans in office, paralyzed by constituencies under the spell of a charismatic leader, the rule of law is teeter-tottering. de Tocqueville foresaw these dangers. The tyranny of the majority is when the majority uses its power to run over the interests of minorities--or to ignore the Constitution.

5. I love the Constitution. I love the Statue of Liberty. I love the ideal of the Republic, a representational democracy with a Bill of Rights. But we are sick right now, and half the country is in denial, including vast portions of the church. We are in a moment of decline because we have lost our sense of the Constitution, the Statue of Liberty, and the Bill of Rights.

Is it to reverse Roe v Wade? Mike Pence would serve as well to do that, so it is no excuse. Indeed, by any standard Mike Pence is the more likely Christian of our two current leaders.

God has used these last two years to try to free me of the idol of America. He hasn't completely succeeded, for I haven't lost all hope yet. But he is telling me we are just another nation in thousands of years of the salvation story. Why should I think he loves us more than the believers in China? He is telling me we aren't always going to be a shining beacon to the world. God can bring justice to the world through Canadians and Germans just as well as through Americans. What right do I have to live in a place where these ideals of equality and freedom prevail? Most Christians in history haven't lived under such circumstances. I've been spoiled by growing up in the era I did.

I have not lost hope for our future, although I have had moments of despair these last two years. I pray the Lord will indeed make America great again. But if he doesn't, Jesus is Lord, not Caesar.


Patrick Bowers said...

Ken, I am always glad to see your thoughts on things, even when they may not be popular in the circles you travel. And I totally agree with everything you say, but one point which I think you and many churches really need to come to terms with sooner than later. There is no support for the idea of a nation being righteous after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Through Jesus, God called out a people from amoung the nations, a people we call the church which is to be the witness of God's coming kingdom to the world. Christians must stop ignoring the mandate of witness of a peoplehood.

I mourn the evangelicals for loving the law more than loving others, and thinking the only way to bring God's world is by controlling "the powers" instead of being a witness to them. I mourn the liberals for loving "rights" over loving others, and thinking the only way to bring God's world is by controlling "the powers" instead of being a witness to them. I do not see either the Christians who are seen as pledging their allegiance to the left or right as any different, in the end they are worshiping a false god. Until the each church, one at a time, comes to grip with the mandate of God's witness as a people, the world will continue the same cycles.

Greg Logan said...

Great word thanks

MDLeamon said...

Thank you.