Evangelical Survival: It’s just business

In Sunday’s NYT, Ross Douthat offers an interesting take on the relationship of the business community and the Trump administration. Business seems to be ok albeit with a catastrophically dysfunctional presidency, or in Dothan’s words,  “a White House that can’t hit a target with a Super Soaker from six inches away.

There is historical evidence for this proposition, in the sense that the link between political and economic crises is more uncertain than direct. … If Trump is impotent or if he’s impeached, there is precedent for the markets simply shrugging, for the economy to keep chugging right along.

Indeed, if anything, it is the assumption that the administration will not make good on its more outrageous proposed economic plans, such as its tariffs, massive spending, or the reworking of a tax code to make a new set of losers and winners. That is, there’s a bet on the lack of linkage, in essence, on the continued gridlock and dysfunction.

This same lesson might apply to the Evangelical community as well. Like the business community, the Evangelicals are better off if the Trump administration does not get its act together. They have a vested interest in the dysfunction — certainly an odd place for white evangelicals to take.

The Evangelical community faces a twin challenge: of all the religious communities, theirs is the one that is actually shrinking in public acceptance, in part given their overwhelming support for the Trump presidency. In this condition, a Trump administration that has its act together, that acts on policy, poses greater risk to Evangelical standing, than the administration’s incompetency. The latter remains the fault of the participants — supporters always can hope for more. However, were the administration to be successful on some of its goals, say stripping people of healthcare, or massive deportations, or military conflict with Iran or China then the Evangelical would be at risk; they become tied to the policy.

Thus the paradox, the Evangelical can get most of what it really wants — more restrictive abortion measures, more flexibility in the public square, better relations in schools — without tying into the larger policy proposals. Just like the business community, it does not need the larger policy proposals, and in fact may actually consider those policies counter productive to its own interests.

And the dysfunction offers one more important point for Evangelicals: the very dysfunction, the incompetency offers easy occasions for expressions of regret. In doing so, one does not risk the core values, while at the same time one can also open a distance between Evangelical conviction and the corruption of the current regime.

 

Memories of the Ford Administration

Is the President as bad as some say? David Brooks suggests that all depends…. While the administration collapses or perhaps reverts to a plutocratic mean, how does one resist, or think about the day after, the n+11? Much depends on whether one sees this administration as something altogether new, an Americanized version of hard right kleptocrats everywhere, or as an echo of another era. Is this the regime of Jackson or of the Gilded Age?

Brooks opts for the latter. What is needed is the restoration of sound government, of good government, of the Mugwumps (though he doesn’t use that word). In short, a government that Jerry Ford could love.

How Should One Resist the Trump Administration?

 

Students and Self-Determination

This fall the Cal State system will be without its InterVarsity groups. This is  no accident, but one of policy, part of a deepening movement at a variety of higher educational institutions (see this report from The New York Times on similar policies at the highly selective Bowdoin College)

While it is easy to think of this as one more outpouring of anti-Christian (or better, anti-evangelical) animus, the bitter fruit of the gay-religious traditionalist battle, structural considerations also seem to be in play. Two stand out.

First would be  the particular form of American para-church ministry. Para-church is an offshoot (I suspect, fundamentalist offshoot — another story) to the civil religion of the mid century and its ecumenism. Structurally, the para-church does not have any other authority it can appeal to except itself. This autonomy is its great strength, but leaves it open to institutional actions, as it is both “within” and “without”. By contrast RUF do not have this problem since leadership is locked in with the ordained leader.

Secondly, there is the more philosophic question as to how any organization maintains its mission. How does it guard against missional drift? All kinds of organizations, secular and religious, have a vested interest in preserving their internal mission; campus provides one setting, but one can see the same phenomena with other NGOs in society e.g. foundations.   The Cal State position assumes that such preservation is associational in nature rather than structural. Campus groups are whatever they decide to be; this aligns with present-day libertarian and public choice ethos. Groups are what we decide them to be. Period. Practically, this reduces the horizon for any campus group to the school year, but of course, any number of groups plan for longer term since their mission is broader than simply that of student chocie.

Student organizations especially (but not exclusively) represent not only choices, but finally commitments. Being of like mind is the structure, the embodiment of how any association grows.

— a version of this post appeared as a comment in Facebook discussion with Matthew Loftus.

Schools and the Middle Class

As noted on The Salon (a closed FB discussion site), the New York Times has an interesting article on the growth of inland cities with better housing values. Oklahoma City is the champion, but on the map is also our fair city, too.

One of the comments on the article reflects

If we could draw this new Middle Class to invest in our #GRMI Public Schools as parents and citizens, we will again have a truly vital city. Otherwise we are just another doughnut on a plate.

In fairness, the educational environment within the city is a mix of essentially four vehicles: the privates, principally religious (tho’ Stepping Stones); the charters; the schools of choice (most of the SE side, and the NE n of Knapp go elsewhere); and the GRPS schools. That doughnut on the plate is one of poverty, not a failure of schools. As Dustin Dwyer’s report on Congress School also revealed, the doughnut is also one of culture, that the middle class did not want to send children to what by all accounts was a school filled with energetic, focused, successful teachers.

The good news is that the leadership of GRPS understands the need for this middle class connection, and in fact has been doing some interesting things to remedy it. The remedy for a school and city with high concentrations of poverty is to find ways to inject social capital, in effect, to dilute the impact of that poverty. This is a bit on the long-term side, certainly with respect to today’s parents.

Near term, a better solution would be for schools throughout the region to think of collaborative strategies to maximize the opportunities for our kids. This also would have the impact of adding to the attractiveness of the region as a whole.

However, the best long-term solution for GRPS will lie not in its internal programs, but in the development of a diverse, broad-based economy. The role of the community college, skill-development programs, and that of regional transit cannot be emphasized enough.