On the Marginalized and the Oppressed

 We hear the term all the time as a sort of political trope, but can we recover something else, something more substantive from it?

For me, the political/social stance starts with practice: the public is built on the acts and practices in our own life. We can’t stand on the side of the marginalized and oppressed if we don’t also understand that wrt God we are most certainly marginalized, oppressed, rebels with no hope until God acted in our lives; we who were strangers have become friends of God. Pietist that I sometimes can be, becoming a friend of God is not forensic, or the broccoli before we get to the good stuff, rather it is the start. 

But I have also been thinking about the different ways that standing on the side of the marginalized and oppressed actually looks like:

• Giving the job to the ex-con for the third time

• Standing there in court, alongside, knowing that without your help they are in deep trouble…

• Guiding your construction company to create job training programs for kids in the city

• Visiting the irascible widow, the one whose son did not tell her that she had cancer….

Standing alongside is an act of solidarity and mercy.

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.

Haunted.

Adam Copeland is a haunted man, haunted by the memory of where he once was, who he once was, who interacted with hinm on the road to faith. The result? He doesn’t really go to church, even though he has a part in the church as institution. His article in the Christian Century considers this circumstance:

… frankly, the church of our future may not be as life-giving as those of our past. More likely than not, it will be in decline. It may be experimenting—badly—with ways to attract millennials. It may not have hit its budget target in years. It may struggle with mission beyond its doors. It may be somewhat uncomfortable, even painful, to visit and to join.

This closing thought has it almost right: we have to settle for the imperfect, rather than pursue the ideal. The point of having great memories of life-changing congregations is to treat them as the gift they are. They not only have shaped you to be the person you are, but also are a sort of gift to be shared with others. Keeping them only to yourself, refusing the messy and imperfect, does not keep the memory fresh it only curdles it.

And it’s Lent: what are we called to do but lay aside our own self for the sake of others? How can that be done alone. Only with the messy and imperfect can we have the mind of Christ who emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant. Only with the messy and imperfect can we open ourselves to being surprised by God’s goodness in the face of another.

Finally there’s the Table: how does one come to the Table except in the context of the messy and imperfect?

My recommendation? Talk with the custodian at the school, where does she go to church? Go there.

Adam Copeland, “I’m a ‘church leader’ who doesn’t really go to church” The Christian Century. March 28, 3029

M-o-m!!

Hope43

It began with Scott Culpepper attacking the American syncretism of “Christianity”. An important discussion but one that left out a key detail. As Cyprian noted, “one cannot have God as Father who does not have the Church as mother.” Christianity, however understood, must come with an ecclesial structure; the problem with American syncretists may not be their thinking but their lack of groundedness in the Church.

Enter reader RLG who complains

 It’s the church that has gotten Christianity into so much trouble, from the beginning to the present. The Jewish mentality was, you weren’t a true Jew unless you belonged to the Jewish community. And Jesus, certainly, did not support such a concept. How many verses can we quote that suggests that a Christian believe and be a member of the church and he/she will be saved? How many can we quote that suggests, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved? It’s kinda like saying, you need a marriage certificate to really be married.

Contrary to this, the question is whether we can live separately, apart from each other; we are constituted as social beings. Individual commitment stands as part of an ongoing life of the community. Not only are we linked to each other in the present, but we are those who also remember; memory and imagination connects us across time. So we read a Calvin, an Aquinas, an Augustine in part as our contemporary even as we understand them to be distant — this is what empathy, imagination and memory produce. And if we’re honest, we also understand how our current life has been shaped by this remembered past.

Christianity then is not some sort of free-floating, perhaps Kantian entity, but an embodied reality. We start there.

Here’s where Scot is correct. The Christianity is always deeply permeated by cultural assumptions. Always. The Church, tacitly or explicitly functions as a counterbalance to this cultural capture; thus, we cannot speak about Christianity without speaking about the form that Christianity takes. (Note also, the idea that we can drop the label — apart from its rhetorical impossibility — belies the fact that even in disobedience we remain with our identity; it’s much stickier than that.)

And while Scripture may not prescribe the exact nature of this community, there is no doubt that we exist together, linked, a church. Take the vine and branches in John; consider Psalms, “I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the House of the Lord” (and all the Psalms of Ascent); consult Hebrews where we are not to  forsake the gathering together. Or simply consider the plural when Paul addresses his letters. It’s all there. We belong together, and that shared life informs and on occasion challenges the cultural form of faith we understand as Christianity.

The counter to a syncretistic American Christianity is not a countering piece of theology, but a better church.

 

Scott Culpepper, Let’s Stop Calling it Christianity, The Twelve.

Remember?

Jeff Munroe considers the ways of memory and forgetfulness at The Twelve. Over against our forgetfulness, is God’s remembering. As he concludes:

Our value in this hyper-cognitive world doesn’t come because we remember, but because we are remembered. Certainly we hope in a material way our families remember us as we age. More than that, Christian hope is in God’s memory. The scripture says “God remembered Noah,” “God remembered Abraham,” “God remembered Rachel,” and “God remembered Hannah.” He remembers you and me, too. We are remembered. Therefore, we are.

This leaves me wondering. To nudge Jeff, is this really Christian hope?  After all, when Scripture speaks of God remembering it often comes in response to the fear that somehow God has forgotten, that we are left alone, stuck in our exile, our oppression, or in the prison of of our own bodily weakness. Remembrance comes with an act, God delivers. Christian hope does not lie in the idea that God remembers, but that God has remembered and come to us as Savior (cf. Luke 1.54). In the wake of that, we are called to remember, to make memorial; the sign that God has remembered us is the Feast. And there, no one is forgotten.

Flat Earth?

Over at The Twelve, Joshua Vis keeps exploring the theme of Lent but not Easter. That is, we all have a tendency to read Easter back into the story, to think of Easter as a miracle that does not really touch our lives. (Put another way, even the resurrected Lazarus still dies — miracles are not forever). Here is how addresses the issue:

The message of the triumphal entry is that we should reject the idea of a fantastical and mercurial God who occasionally breaks into our world to save someone from pain and suffering. Likewise, the cross says “no” to that version of God. Instead it asks us to find the courage to hope in each other, in our acts of love, mercy, and kindness toward one another—not because God has abandoned us, but because God has empowered us.

God urges us to choose to love one another. God will not be experienced through miraculous interventions. Rather, God will be experienced through acts of justice, graciousness, kindness, mercy, and love.

On level, he’s right, God is not experienced through miraculous interventions, but seen another way, the experience of knowing God does leave open the possibility of the miraculous. While the narratives of rationalism (per Hume) or of apophatic theology want to rule out divine intervention, the people of God have also held other narratives where God in-breaks, and where that in-breaking is known. Vis only gets to his position by starting with an assumption about what narratives are to be listened to.

The embodied life of faith knows that the universe has a surplus of meaning, that there is more to our lives than our own particular frame. “Miracle” is one of the ways that this reality gets proclaimed, that “justice,” “mercy” and “love” are in fact possibilities for people generally and not simply for our kindred. Indeed, justice requires an open universe, one larger than the imagination of the status quo, for only in that universe can forgiveness be shared and the wrongs be restored.

So today, on Palm Sunday, the Triumphant Entry is not so much a hope of cheap grace, but a prophetic act, a pointing away from the Palace and the Temple to the purposes of God. There is another story being written, a good story: God’s purpose for us and for our communities is not played out.

 

Pyrrhic Victory?

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 3.00.26 PM

The twentieth century struggle in American Protestantism was defined along the Fundamentalist/Modernist front. While the mainline reigned at mid-century, by the closing decade the conservatives had the upper hand, at least in professed believers. Some part of this growth was a Boomer phenomenon and the shift of population to the Sun Belt. One can mix in a bit of sexual anxiety that was the subtext of the 80s and90s — the prime family years of  the Boomers.

This religious growth was widely spread but it came with a catch: the growing conservative wing of Protestantism was also the wing for But something else was in the wind. Thsomething of a puritan movement had taken place.

these forces had been part of the fundamentalist community, particularly those in S California (see Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sun Belt). It was a potent stew: highly separatist adherents, a militant anti-communism, a Plain Folk distrust of elites; this was the gift of Orange County to the world.

But once you get past Reagan, what was the impact of this religious nationalism? More respectability, yes, and a new name (Religious Right) but still largely a failure argues George Hawley

(The Religious Right) was an effective fundraising tool for Republican politicians, but its lasting victories in terms of social policies are difficult to name. Stopping the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 1970s was perhaps the movement’s sole permanent achievement. And that victory occurred before most of the major institutions of the Christian Right were even established. On abortion, gay marriage, prayer in school, and other social issues, conservative victories were typically fleeting.

But if it was a failure politically, it was worse for Christianity as a whole. The very political energy of the movement drove out the moderate  and liberals, not simply sending some to the mainline congregations, but completely out of the religious game. To the sidelines. As Hawley notes, “the finding that it expedited the decline of Christian identification and affiliation is a damning indictment.”