On the Religious Right

Matthew Lee Anderson picks up the issue of the Religious Right, and in particular its connection to racism. Is it, as Randall Balmer, Sarah Posner and others, linked to racism — is it the color line that drives its animus? Anderson has his doubts.

While evangelicals indisputably have a less-than-exemplary record on questions of race, their own history within the South is not necessarily identical or equivalent to the history of the Religious Right. The most charitable interpretation of Bob Jones is that the Religious Right defended the wrong practice for the right reasons, namely, the freedom of religious institutions to govern themselves.

It may not be race at all.

Ballmer’s thesis appears to underplay the impact of S California in the formation of the Religious Right. This sis the territory mined by Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sunbelt. Politically active Christian nationalism emerged from two deep streams: that of southern white protestantism, and the new right synthesis in Orange County. The latter grew from “Okie” immigration of the 30s, which brought Church of Christ fundamentalism and Southern Baptists together — what is most interesting for this story is its relative lack of racial animosity, It was not the color line but anti-communism and the embrace of free markets that shaped the thinking. This is the stream that found Goldwater and put Ronald Reagan into office . To Orange County and the Deep South, we can add the conservative upper Midwest, with its mix of Lutherans (LCMS and Wisconsin) and the Dutch Reformed communities. The Upper Midwest allowed the bridge-building to Catholics that the other two streams lacked.

Finally, one should note the role of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), as a sort of connector to all these strands. The PCA brought a mix of Midwest Presbyterianism from Reformed Presbyterian-Evangelical Synod of Francis Schaffer, a strong push to suburban evangelical ministry, and a more problematic heritage with the church square First Churches of the deep south that stood by segregation. It was from the PCA that we got the culturally assertive forms of faith, from christian education to Hobby Lobby, forms derivative of theology first developed by the Dutch Reformed. .

To add a further nuance, we can consider Peter Beinart’s article, “Breaking Faith” in The Atlantic. recent article on the Trump supporters. He notes that the President draws support from those who are culturally of the Religious Right, rather than from those who regularly worship. And there, the hypothesis that this population would end up in the alt-Right seems at least plausible.

 

Mom goes missing

The always eloquent and gracious Matthew Lee Anderson takes on the question of why pro-life focuses so exclusively on the baby. At it’s core, it is something akin to a marvel at the promise of this life, a promise which we must then honor. As noted, he is nothing if not eloquent. It is a thing of wonder — wonder, which Abraham Heschel reminds us, is at the core of our approach to the world. And in its own hidden way it also informs our politics.

Within the pro-life outlook, the hiddenness of the fetus is a microcosm of our social relations. As Gracy Olmstead observed, the Women’s March on Washington’s proclamation that “defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us” perfectly distills the pro-lifer’s beliefs. “Defending the voiceless, the vulnerable, the marginalized, is priority number one,” Olmstead suggests

Yet this eloquence has a blindness: the mother goes under-addressed. If the embryo presents a society in all its tentativeness, the  social setting of the mother is no less important. She is not only the bearer, but an active agent, too.  Wonder cannot negate agency. Further, there remains the question of our relationship to our bodies an the control that I may or may not exert with  respect to my body.

These are not a counter to the essay so much as limning, an edging. There is yet more to be said. In that score, the term “pro-life” is an attempt to get a more fully-orbed sense of the issues, not only that of the embryo, but of the mother, her setting, and yes, her body. To stop at the baby is to leave the topic smaller.

Chesterton, is that you?

Matthew Lee Anderson has a bone to pick with Donald Miller (he of Blue Like Jazz) over this quo

Personalities like Chesterton, C.S. Lewis and Kipling are gone now in the Christian world. Or at least they are unknown. Christian thinking is dominated by Americans who choose simplicity over reason. We like thinkers who pick an enemy and attack them. Lost is the humor, a winsome nature and even a robust intellectualism. The same figures who demand “thought” are hardly thinking at all, and instead attack those who do because they won’t submit to their linear, black-and-white view of life.

It may be Anderson’s own work on Chesterton, or something more hidden, but perhaps there’s more.

 it strikes me as, well, surprising that Miller is commending Chesterton so highly to us.  Especially given that in the same paragraph he chastises those inclined to exhort people toward thoughtfulness for attacking people because they “won’t submit to their linear, black-and-white view of life.”  Such titans are gone indeed, but Miller’s own approach isn’t going to bring them back.

This strikes me far more as an argument with a shadow that haunts Anderson’s path. Frankly, Miller’s purpose seemed much lighter than the reaction it provoked. This was not advanced as an argument so much as an introduction to a video, where Miller explained why he found it interesting (and why a reader might, as well).

That this should be read as a sort of casual introduction is further underscored by the commonplace nature of the observation as to evangelical polemicists. Simplistic, bombastic, lacking humor — maybe it’s the Reformed circles, but that critique sees to come with the territory. And one doesn’t have to look far to find the casualties. What  is more, such critics invariably do clothe themselves with the posture of a Chesterton or some other Valiant-for-Truth type.

Miller writes, Anderson aims to guard the walls, or at least fight a rear guard action as a later comment reveals.

Or consider this bit, which Miller has recently sent out and which fits Chesterton’s way of doing things about as well as wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt to the LA Phil:
The fundamentalists want me to trust their truth. But I don’t. I look for truth. They sell confidence. Truth won’t make me proud.
… Miller’s exactly right that the truth won’t make us proud, but he’s exactly wrong that it won’t make us confident.

Here, Anderson mistakes Miller’s purpose.  When polemics are  framed as a one-way conversation then the speech easily turns to externals of the message, a sort of nominalism that easily decays into externals, hence one sells confidence. It’s partisanship. By contrast, what good apologists like Chesterton or Lewis do is to open up a space for the other by wit and graciousness. Our thoughts, our words, our lives must all finally co-inhere.

Culture buildling as a political act

Matthew Lee Anderson takes stock of the election,

What people want is not handwringing when things don’t go “our way,” but hope.  And a sober and serious assessment of how things look along with something like a strategy to turn them around that stays true to our principles.  Or maybe I speak too broadly.  So let me narrow the scope:  that is what want from an evangelical leadership, not the sort of handwringing that we are currently experiencing.

Still, it’s not as if Evangelicals will abandon the Republican Party. The first reactions are less about policy than they are about disappointment and real grief. And in understanding  that this still part of a grieving process, several points come to mind.

As political scientists will remind us, political identity is rather stable; culturally evangelicals will continue to be a part of the Republican coalition, particularly in the South. That cultural identity is a trap as to the real transformational goals of the faith community (and this is what I hear you struggling towards). In this light, Evangelicals face something of a choice whether to reinforce this cultural and political identity, that is to take part as a political community, or to take part in something akin to culture-making.

I would opt for the culture making approach.

Evangelicals in the last election voted more intensely GOP than in 2008. If there is an electoral failure, it is not for their not trying. What is missing is their ability to find allies in the center. Here, the deep cultural identity as a wing of the GOP played against them, particularly in the polarized electorate and an election framed as a cultural war, a war the Right lost (per Jonathan Chait).

To advance a transformational approach will it seem, call for different approaches than those previously advanced. At the least, as you suggest, it calls for something like a cheerful engagement. I would suggest that you especially pay attention to Peter Leithart’s concern for justice; a second place to turn would be the sober approach of Alan Jacobs’ thinking on information deficits and global warming.

And Leithart is right in this also: culture making can only take place in the context of a deep faith in the sovereign God who claims our lives at the Cross. Sovereignty and sacrifice walk together, indeed are the proper fuel for hope. But if such hope were easy, we would have it already, wouldn’t we?

Partisan? Post-Partisan? Give me the Cross

Matthew Lee Anderson returns to the question of partisanship without being captive to the “partisan mind.” He is probably a little easy on his Republican friends. (And should note the partisan  snark on Rep. Stupak misreads how politics work among the Dems — another issue).

The better path of partisanship is not a wholesale defense of partisanship but rather the understanding that we have a strategic alliance that will break the moment the Republican party ceases to be friendly to our concerns.  We can take that approach, I think, while recognizing that there are substantive differences between the party platforms and their their environments (blessings on you few pro-life Democrats, but the failure of Stupak effectively killed their prospects for the season),

You were going so well until the last paragraph. I would encourage thinking this through a little more carefully, especially from the spiritual dimension. Partisanship is a spiritually destructive mindset; it cripples. Talk to your politco friends and see how many get jaded or jump. We really can only participate in politics as we understand it as under the cross, as judged. The moral energy that gives us conviction can easily drive us off the cliff through demonization of the Other. We easily forget that if Christ died for anybody, he died for the SOBs who are our political opponents.

At a more practical level — far more practical, actually — the reality is that most participate in politics for tribal reasons. I vote D in part because I grew up in a university town, and because my parents came from the prairies hammered by the Depression and rescued by FDR. If that is how people actually vote, then the proximate alliance with one party or the other is simply an erecting of barriers to other “tribes”. And on this eve of Pentecost, it’s hard not to remember that we are commissioned to be witnesses to the Samaritans and Romans, as well as the safe guys in Judea. When evangelicals make the too-easy identification with one party, they shut off the conversation that must go on if we are to be serious about the Good News.

Partisanship is your deep enemy, a proper Principality (in honor of W Wink). At the same time, some — many– of us will be called to again pick up the craft of politics and policy; there’s no shame in that game. But we do it best, seeing it under the judgement of Christ, who came not to make enemies, but to reconcile enemies by his blood (cf. Eph. 2:13f.).

Gospel Politics

Matthew Lee Anderson is thinking about this recent post from Rachel Hyde Evans, and wondering about the future of the cultural war.

 Jesus first concern is government, but the point has implications for all those creaturely realities that we might be tempted to exalt above the Kingdom of Christ.   Like Caesar, “culture war Christianity” has become an object of either devotion or rebellion, a matter for defense or denial by evangelicals both young and old. We  have not yet escaped its grasp.  And we only will when we can begin our political theologies by speaking of something else.

Perhaps being older, I read RHE in a somewhat different light: this is not the first time that some one noted how engagement in the cultural wars pushed non-believers away. For that, one might want to consult Amy Sullivan’s writing in 2004, another time of intense conflict. If the public thinks that Christians public position is to be defined as rejection of homosexuals (this is the point RHE cited, from Barna), then at the least you have a marketing problem.

You also have something more: a millstone problem.

Public speech, including political speech, must be that which is seasoned with salt as Paul says; we are to speak with graciousness and we are certainly to work to invite people to the Gospel. But if the non-Christian only sees us by what we hate — and that a side show in Scripture — what is this, but the sort of barrier, the burden we are warned against? Jesus is pretty explicit that we are not to work to gain the world if it means losing our soul.

Moreover, when Evangelicals are especially silent about other things that Scripture is utterly not silent about (hint: $$$), how then does this witness have credibility? Again, there’s a Gospel lesson here: log and speck.

Lastly, to speak as a politico and a Christian, I think that folks underestimate just how spiritually stressful politics can be. It summons up passions; it focuses on the concerns of the ego; it constantly tempts with the exercise of power, of lordship instead of servanthood. This is tough work. And the battles of the cultural war trivialize it, or worse pretend that such harm will not touch us.

Pro Life Metaphysics

Matthew Lee Anderson at Mere Orthodoxy

The metaphysics of the matter–the matter of the fertilized egg, to be specific–have to be evaluated and our ethical reflection and public policy brought into line accordingly.  Even within a liberal democracy, where our differences of opinion apparently extend even to our own minds, we must resolve the question of who will be admitted.

I’m interested in this link between metaphysical status and moral obligation. Things are messier than what apparently is assumed. First, the metaphysical status of the new life is initially not directly known; we may assume that status of the fertilized egg understood generally, but we are blind as to status of any particular egg in the woman’s womb. And this blindness as to the actual state of the developing life continues into the early weeks of the pregnancy.

This it seems raises the second question, that of the nature of the moral obligation. When is it properly and consciously assumed by the woman, that is, when does she become a moral actor? Or more generally, can I have a moral obligation which I am fundamentally and physically unable to know about?

And in turn, this brings in the State and its coercive power. Obligation to the State (i.e. public policy) properly ought to flow from what can be seen, tested or validated. This is the principle of equity. If there exists a general class of “fertilized eggs” that ought to be protected, then how do we effect the State’s gaze, this the prerequisite for any action? The blindness as to the actual state of the pregnancy in the earliest days seems to bar State action apart from the most dystopian policy. (Indeed, in reductio absurdum if we follow the logic that metaphysics must determine policy, do we not end up with the State literally in the bedroom making sure that every act of sex be seen as creating legal obligation and so justifying intrusion?)

To summarize, it is not at all clear that metaphysical status generates the practical moral, let alone legal obligations.