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.

 

Christian politics

William Willimon takes a cautionary, high-Hauerwasian look at politics, and its temptations.

I have met the political enemy, and he is… me and my fellow Christians, who find it so hard to embody our convictions, and who, even in our left-wing protests, unintentionally give credence to political scoundrels. If we are going to worship a Savior who is determined to tabernacle among us, to show up and thereby disrupt our settled arrangements with Caesar, then we can’t avoid the mundane, corporeal work of having meetings, forming a congregation that becomes in its life together and its way in the world a visible, breathing, undeniable bodily presence of Christ.

Useful, but preaching the Gospel, understanding that it is in fundamental conflict with the powers of the age really only goes so far. Such a gathered community can avoid the sweep of sheer political madness, but then what?

What goes missing is that those gathered will in fact have to act politically in the world. The Church by her preaching opens a space for politics, it frames our thinking. Yet on Monday, one will need to go out into the  world, take part in the world as a citizen, influence and also be subject to the powers as a citizen. The church exists to free from this binding, the false teaching that we are what we are in society.

Missing too, is the element of the Supper. The Table stands between us and the world; we eat and drink as a gathered people; we return as a bruised people; we receive the promise that there is more in our lives, more in God’s live with this world, than we can see.

 

A Great American Tradition

Far from the blowhard, Donald Trump represents something of a throwback to older, Protestant ideas. At least so says Carmen Fowler DeFarge. She’s no conservative but she’s on to something here.  Trump’s appeal lies somewhere other than in the ideological, it’s more American — it’s the gospel of positive thinking that has been knitted into our cultural fabric, from the Transcendentalists forward.

Still, DeFarge notes, Evangelicals don’t seem to care.

Trump’s “Evangelical” supporters are the Christmas-church-going, Protestant work-ethic, Manifest Destiny believing, can-do capitalists. They are in every denomination and none. They think of themselves as Christians but they see no real need to have every aspect of their lives aligned with an arcane morality. Trump is tapping into the spirit and power of positive thinking that pervades the teachings of modern cultural evangelists like Oprah Winfrey and Joel Osteen.

Trump never comes right out and says that he’s running on a “Protestant work ethic/Spirit of Capitalism” platform, but that’s the infrastructure undergirding his mammoth personality. … The reason he gets away with so many things that are considered non-politically correct is that he’s saying so many other things that ring the deeply ingrained “Protestant work ethic/Spirit of Capitalism” bell that Max Weber identified more than 100 years ago.

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/trump-the-power-of-positive-thinking-and-american-evangelicalism-143903/#2sejo27wvvB8JJIB.99

Freud and mom

In the Dukakis family, it was Mike’s  brother, Steilan, who seemed to have it all. His psychotic breakdown at college had the family pull in, and Michael’s mom, Euterpe, bore the weight.

freud2

“She felt everyone was looking at her. And they were. That was the state of psychiatry at the time. The doctors looked nowhere, save to the home, the dysfunctional family, the mothering … it was the dogma of the day: momism. The child got sick, the cause was in his rearing—had to be early on—bad mothering … a psycho-pathological mother. There was no comprehension of biochemical dysfunction, there was no credence for inborn instability: there was only one cause—Mom.”

(Richard Ben Cramer. What It Takes. iBooks. https://itun.es/us/QsbWA.l)

On Minimum Wage

Noah Millman points to some basics about the role of the minimum wage as part of a conservative approach to a more just society.

In principle, any kind of “one-nation” conservatism has to care about inequality as such, and particularly about the weakness of labor’s bargaining power in most of contemporary America. Right-wing individualism is often conflated with a conservative approach to governance in contemporary American politics, but that conflation is a profound error. As a practical matter, I’m convinced that wage stagnation is the deep reason for the financial crisis. The Bush-era answer to stagnating wages was cheaper credit. That papered over the problem for a while, but it teed America up for a terrible crash. … Avoiding a repeat requires fixing the structural drivers of widening inequality, and particularly means raising wages at the low end of the scale. In that context, a legislated rise in the minimum wage should absolutely be on the table for discussion.

He concludes,

Wage stagnation is a serious economic and social problem with far-reaching consequences. You don’t get to say “I don’t care about that problem” because your ideology doesn’t have a ready-made answer. That applies to free-market-oriented conservatives and client-service-oriented neo-liberals alike, because solving the problem is going to require solutions from the “left” and “right” side of the policy box, and these solutions may be more complementary than contradictory.

In short, there’s something for everyone to contribute.

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?