Slipping Into Darkness

Read on conservative side of the Religious Right and one can catch a whiff of an anti-democratic spirit, a longing for something other. Is just the patriarchal longing by another name? Is something else at work?

On her Facebook page, Kristin Kobes DuMez ponders this in light of a new article at Sojo (currently paywalled) by David Gushee, “The Trump Prophecy.”

This is something I kept seeing in my research that caught me off guard—the lack of support for democracy in conservative evangelical circles. When you believe in a patriarchal, authoritarian chain of command, democracy doesn’t make sense. Plus, for presuppositionalists, why would you want corrupt ideas holding sway? The question I struggled with is how influential/pervasive these ideas are within evangelicalism more broadly. More prevalent than I one thought.

So I don’t see this as an after-the-fact turn to justify support for Trump.

This emerging taste for hierarchy is certainly culturally different from the traditional culure of the Plain Folk, or the Scots-Irish that have so nurtured the Religious Right, which in turn leads me to wonder if this perhaps is a continuing capture by (conservative) Catholic social teaching? On Right to Life, the Catholics won the narrative, so Evangelicals started talking about “Natural Law” and likewise got up in arms supposed abortifacients (even got Calvin to sputter about Plan B as I recall). Also look for the use of subsidiarity by Evangelical political thinkers. In this framework, Trad Catholics lean away from representative democracy so it’s not surprising that the ties to representative government also get loosened.

As an aside, we can note the use of “Natural Law” as a sort of catchall in the desegregation debate. C.f. G.T. Gillespie, “Segregation is one of Nature’s Universal Laws” in Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise, Zondervan 2019. p. 133. Further, the authoritarian turn may also be an instance of what Michael Lind describes as Southern Bourbonism politics with its aristo-oligarchic, Big House style authoritarianism; another dark shadow of the Cotton Kingdom.

The authoritarian turn also destabilizes Evangelical theology. The suspicion that is built into the Reformation and especially its Baptist wing gets dulled. To reverse the James II “no bishop, no king” we instead have “king, so bishop.” And to the degree the authoritarian is shadow of the Cotton Kingdom, it becomes a white box, a substitution of the Evangelical proclamation of good news for all into a good news (only) for some.

Christian Politics? Nothing social about it.

Over at The Twelve, Jason Lief pushes back against those who see the call for Christian engagement on social issues as “the social gospel.” For him, the Christian community is called to oppose the ideologies, the powers of this age, starting wtih Jacque Ellul’s thoughts about money or Mammon. Following Ellul, Christians are called to bear witness, to speak on behalf of the weak and voiceless. And they are called to listen

The Christian community must listen to the voices of the oppressed, the poor, and the marginalized. We must oppose every form of hatred, every form of racism and bigotry, and every attempt to silence. This begins with confession—listening to the poor and the oppressed, and confessing our participation in sinful systems that pay homage to the idols of power and wealth.

But is he right, here? Is this the path for Christian engagement in politics?

After all, most of us take our politics from the sociological community where we live, so a person from Ann Arbor has a certain politics, and the Dutch dairy farmer has another political framework. We’re embodied, and the challenge for us within the scope of our own life is to manifest and promote the reign of God. The press of acting justly towards our neighbor or of acting for the good of our community is common. Likewise the resistance to the powers of this Age is common to us in our varied sociological settings. E.g. we all struggle with Ellul’s technology (techinque) as it actively seeks to stop our growth into Christian maturity. And technique is but one of the Powers with which we must engage in conflict.

So if we face a common task, albeit expressed differently, what is the role of confession? Isn’t that a form of perfectionism, my need to be absolved before I can speak: one more leftover of individual pietism, of me and Jesus?

So, too, consider the notion of opposition, itself an inherently reactive stance. If I oppose I do not really have to change, the problem is always with the Other. And to the extent we oppose abstract causes — those general national, international problems– we are only importing our own pre-existing values. Our sociology reigns.

Rather than think in terms of the political, why not think in terms of diverse voices, that the task of God’s People is to pursue justice and the good of the neighbor in the context of their particular sociological settings? We are open to the seduction of power, money, and the other idols and principalities of the age, what we need is not opposition, but a common cause, a commitment to confess Christ in our public lives as well. This will look different depending on where we are, and I would think that’s ok, perhaps even what God seeks. This finally why opposition doesn’t work, it muffles the summons to proclaim and act on Resurrection.

Berning down the house

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Bernie Sanders traveled to Mississippi to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death. Along the way, he got distracted, turning his attention to the failures of the Democrats and President Obama

“The business model, if you like, of the Democratic Party for the last 15 years or so has been a failure,’ said the Vermont Senator.

“People sometimes don’t see that because there was a charismatic individual named Barack Obama. He was obviously an extraordinary candidate, brilliant guy. But beyond that reality…”

There’s a fundamental question of (lack of ) political intelligence at work here: What we know about 2016 was that voters who voted for Obama ended up for the Orange Man.  Dissing Obama doesn’t help with that basic calculus, if anything it reveals an arrogance about the so-called progressive cause, an arrogance that is altogether too white.

Second, the Bernie comment simply feeds the separation of the progressive left — largely a suburban phenomena — and the urban communities of color. if there is one sure way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, this split is it. In Michigan in particular, the two communities need to work together to take back the key state offices, otherwise we get Gov Schuette.

Nothing to fear?

Rod Dreher goes on a snark about the youth rallies


Considering the varying meanings of fearless (often as a synonym for “bold”), this sort of objection is rather crabbed. But consider the cowardliness of politicians, the craven response to the gun lobby that renders them incapable of doing anything. Why? For fear of funders, of being pilloried, of being kicked out of the tribe. Fear is baked into conservative politics. The march of the students, if nothing else, reminds us what can be done when one puts aside the political fear.


Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 7.04.50 PMThe one truth about the Russian indictments is that the President has nowhere to go. Before, the  claims of “Fake News” could be used as a way of keeping a backdoor open, a certain (im)plausible denial. David Remnick quotes Jake Sullivan to spell this out

“This is a direct rebuke of the President’s ‘witch hunt’ narrative, that it was all invented from the start,” Jake Sullivan, one of Clinton’s closest policy and campaign advisers, told me. “These are meticulous criminal indictments showing that there was a campaign of interference to support Trump and to hurt Hillary. This also establishes a predicate crime, a criminal conspiracy—and that means that, if there were U.S. persons, or U.S. persons connected to Trump, involved, then they will be criminally exposed. What Mueller has done is to establish a criminal conspiracy.”

The only question now is who else is within the ramparts of the besieged White House? And will the king by some connivance, escape?

Mueller’s Indictment Ends Trump’s Myth of the Russia “Hoax”

All Woke Up?

Charles Blow highlights one of the saddest truths about the Russian interference with the 2016 electoral cycle: the dampening of the minority, and especially the millennial black vote. They may have been woke to their cause, but they went to sleep as to their interests.

According to a May Pew Research Center report, “The black voter turnout rate declined for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election.” The report said that the number of naturalized citizen voters was up from 2012 and the turnout rate for women was mostly unchanged from 2012. And while the percentage of eligible millennials who said they voted in the last election rose among every other demographic group, it fell among black millennials.

This is a version of “What’s the Matter with Kansas” only on the left. In the name of ideals, one votes against one’s own interests. The result, not surprisingly, is a sort of sideways movement of despair, a righteousness of the put-upon and the defeated.

The righteous, solitary vote can convey virtue when it is the subject of reflection and affirmation of ideal, but what happens when what looks like our opinion is the result of manipulation? As Blow has it, “what we do now know with absolute certainty is that in making their electoral choices, black folks had unwanted hands on their backs, unethical and illegal ones, nudging them toward an apathy built on anger.”

Sometimes Woke is not woke.


Character before Policy

The continuing question of Evangelicals and their “moral mulligan” to the President remains in discussion.
Harry Lew notes
It’s one of the ploys in the Democrat playbook used against practically every Republican candidate running for national office. As for the mistreatment of women, Bill Clinton has a longer record of abuse with Hillary defending him by attacking his victims. I’m not excusing Trump or the Clintons. I’m only tired of what I see as my leftist friends’ sanctimonious one-sided judgment against their fellow believers who support Trump’s policies. The truth is a politician’s policies can be better than her or his character, and vice versa. The more substantial debate should be on policy.
Maybe a politician’s police can be better than his character. Maybe. Nonetheless I think this problem of character is more substantive. Policy takes shape in a political space shaped by character. It’s not that we need moral persons so much as we need the social norms, the practices shaped by character. the character of the participants — their personal morality, their trustworthiness as to their word, their fidelity to common standards and patriotism — these all help shape a set of norms, the tacit quality that lets policies be enacted. For the evangelical in particular, the elements of character also include items such as graciousness, a willingness to listen and such (all fruit of the Spirit). It’s not that we make political decisions based on character, but that we as a society have long known that attention to character yields better results for the whole.

The difficulty with the current President is not this or that “moral mulligan” but rather the entire stuff of character itself, and with that, the violation of the norms of our nation. As many observe, the character is that of a soft authoritarian, the sort that would make the instruments of government into the personal fiefdoms of the executive. Some nations operate that way, historically we haven’t. Why? again because of the particular religious and moral character. This in part is why we want to be cautious about the challenges as our society negotiates the sexual and gender politics, or why Evangelicals are proper to be concerned about certain elements of religious liberty as these undercut the existing norms.

But throughout, character counts. This is the stuff that builds the soft power, the norms that enable policies to be enacted (and be accepted). To step over character for the sake of policy is inevitably a short-term gain as inevitably policy changes. And then, when there is a ruler “who knew not Joseph” the appeal to character rings hollow, if it is heard at all.

It’s the thought that counts

Evangelicals may not like President Trump the man, but they surely like President Trump the champion — their champion. All this became agonizingly clear in the recent Politico interview with Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council.

What’s remarkable in the interview is the abandonment of a Christian idealism for the realism of politics, the kingdom of this world.

Evangelical Christians, says Perkins, “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”

What happened to turning the other cheek? I ask.

“You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins says. “Look, Christianity is not all about being a welcome mat which people can just stomp their feet on.”

Franklin Graham adds his own take on Evangelicals and the President

“I appreciate the fact that the president does have a concern for Christian values, he does have a concern to protect Christians—whether it’s here at home or around the world—and I appreciate the fact that he protects religious liberty and freedom.”

What Graham and others are doing is to place an imagined outcome — the thought — in place of the actual performance.


Tony Perkins: Trump Gets ‘a Mulligan’ on Life, Stormy Daniels

Habits of Mind

Whom communities vote for is largely structural in character; we can think of it as a sort of central tendency. So university towns lean one way, traditional CRC communities  consistently lean another way, and President or no, there is little reason for them to vote differently. The variability will be in their enthusiasm expressed in voting, funding, and volunteering – the stuff of retail politics.

For the Dutch community, who they vote for is less important than minding their own understanding of what holding political office means. This comes to the fore because of  the President and his highly transactional value system which corrodes approaches based on principle, or for that matter, custom. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Dutch involvement in politics in Michigan has been the willingness to hold to broader goods than just partisanship. At its best, this resulted in a more rounded, more three-dimensional approach to politics and the societal problems politics sought to address.  This value system with its sense of the public good is something that should be nurtured, even as the approaches that would corrode it (e.g.. a certain President, or a tendency to identity politics) be resisted.