Tag Archives: politics

“Separation” in the age of Bannon

I haven’t thought about “separation” much since leaving Fundy-land, a less-than-magical place where every decision I made as a Christian had to be run through a sieve of questions to be sure I wasn’t running afoul of the Doctrine of Separation.

Separation from sin is what defines Fundamentalism from Evangelicalism in their minds (and I’d say that’s essentially accurate, though it’s not the entirety of the difference).  It boils down to this: if someone is “sinning,” and you call them on it, and they don’t stop sinning, then you don’t hang out with them or do ministry with them or whatever. This idea extends to individuals, to entire churches or denominations, and to whole movements (basically any group in Christendom that doesn’t interpret the Bible the same way the Fundamentalists do).

Because Separation is THE critical doctrine in Fundy practice, Fundy Christians have to separate from people who don’t separate. The hall of mirrors is infinite. And no one can escape it once they’re labeled “someone who must be separated from.”  It’s one of the reasons my husband and I left the BJU orbit in our late 20s: with apologies to those who attempt to defend this as a legit biblical doctrine, it doesn’t hold water.

Here’s the most fair defense I can find of the doctrine of separation, as explained by Fundamentalist pastor Mark Minnick. I have a lot of respect for Minnick and sat under his teaching for several years. He’s a careful expositor. Though I disagree with his conclusions, he presents the best of the Fundy arguments here:
Mark Minnick on Separation (9 Marks-audio interview)
Article by Minnick on Separation (Frontline magazine)

I could have a whole ‘other discussion of how separation and legalism are related, and how separation is — at its core — a critical misunderstanding of how sin works.  If you’re interested, I wrote some posts about it a few years ago:  On Sin and On Sin Revisited.  I believe the central flaw of Fundamentalism in general and all Evangelical legalism is the rejection of Paul’s teaching at the end of Colossians 2: you can’t make enough rules to make yourself holy. Sin is on the inside, if you accept the traditional doctrine of the Fall and of sin, and as such it’s something that must be changed by God via redemption and Grace. Sanctification is active and ongoing, but it is also internal as much as it is external.

Fundamentalists talk a lot about how sin is inside us all, but they ACT as if it can be regulated and “solved” through shunning, excommunication, and rule-keeping.  [Side note: if you read that last sentence and thought, “Huh, that sounds like the tactics Evangelical conservatives are using to drive the narrative of a ‘culture war’ within American politics,” then you may understand why I think Evangelicalism has lost its Grace, and why I don’t want to be in that tribe anymore.]

In the end, Fundamentalism boils down to a lot of gate-keeping by the tribe to make sure everybody is following the rules, although not all rules are equally accepted…. and thus you have many small islands of Fundamentalism rather than a monolithic whole.  My BJU experience was qualitatively different than that of someone who attended PCC or Ambassador Bible College or Hyles Anderson or Northland or Detroit Baptist Bible Seminary or the Free Presbyterian Church’s seminary or ….  All of these little islands have their own rule book. Fail to play by the rules, and you’re voted off the island.  It’s been 100 years (or so) since Fundamentalism really came into its own as a movement, and most of those islands have merged into a few larger camps.

It’s important to note that “preserving a good testimony” is the club used to control people within Fundamentalism if there’s no clear biblical rule against doing something.  Take movies, for example.  Moves are BAD EVIL HORRIBLE NOOOOOO in Fundamentalism because of sex, language, violence, whatever. Mostly sex.  So no good person would dare set foot in a movie theater, right?  Even if you were going to see The Incredibles 2, how do people at the theater not know you aren’t there to see Slenderman or Sexx69?  So you’d better not go.

If you just spewed your coffee, I sympathize.  I lived this stuff, folks, and I thought it was Gospel truth well into my 20s.

Your “testimony” is everything in Fundamentalism because it’s about the only currency you have to gain prestige or power.  If someone can mount a credible accusation against your testimony, especially if you’re in ministry, you’re done.

Well, maybe.  There’s a stunning irony here that isolation + patriarchy + misogyny + ignorance + authoritarianism tends to work to the advantage of pedophiles and serial abusers, and that’s rampant in Fundamental churches.  (See my post about the GRACE Report at Bob Jones for a wee taste of that delightful topic.)

What’s separation got to do with Steve Bannon?

This morning, I read John Scalzi’s interesting post on the situation with Bannon and the New Yorker.  It’s a good take, and I recommend you take a minute to go read it. (Scalzi is a sci-fi writer and his blog Whatever is always a great read.)

The Whatever Digest, 9/4/18 (Scalzi)

Here are two paragraphs that grabbed my attention:

As a former journalist, I can understand Remnick’s thinking on this one: He’d been angling to interview Bannon for a while, and the idea of getting that festering lump of white “supremacy” on a public stage where he couldn’t equivocate or finesse his way out of his shitty racist ideas seemed like a good one. The problem was that Remnick was thinking with his journalist brain and not his event coordinator brain. The event coordinator brain should have realized that inviting Bannon to a New Yorker-branded “festival of ideas,” complete with travel expenses and honorarium, was in effect paying Bannon to take on the New Yorker imprimatur for his ideas. It’s not reportage; it’s the New Yorker saying “these ideas are important enough that we paid to get them on our stage.” And note well that Bannon was meant to be the headliner.

Which is of course the New Yorker’s, and Remnick’s, privilege — it’s perfectly within its rights to book a fascist piece of shit to its festival and hope people pay to see Remnick chat that fascist piece of shit up on a stage. But Remnick’s event coordinator brain should have probably realized there was going to be a backlash to that. It’s not just the New Yorker’s brand associating with shitty fascism up there on that stage; it’s the personal brand of everyone else on the program as well. Strangely enough, a fair number of other people didn’t want their brands smeared with shitty fascism, and theywere perfectly within their rights not to participate for that reason. Remnick’s problem then, as an event coordinator, was realizing that soon his “festival of ideas” would be nothing but shitty fascism unless he dropped Bannon. Oh, and that his staff hated it. Oh, and that social media hated it too.

Huh.  That, my friends, is the EXACT argument made by Fundamentalists (though for different reasons and with zero curse words) for refusing to share the stage with Billy Graham, and for then refusing to share the stage with any pastor who had shared the stage with Billy Graham.

If you’re new to all this and that example made zero sense to you, well, lucky you for not growing up in the weirdness that is Christian Fundamentalism and separatism.

Also, it’s worth noting that even the most moderate of Christians who doesn’t believe in The Doctrine of Separation™ as it’s practiced by Fundamentalists still holds to a line that he/she will not cross, though in general progressive Christianity is much more likely to take someone’s faith claim at face value and treat them like a brother/sister in Christ unless there’s evidence to the contrary.

It’s usually the Evangelicals and Fundamentalists who demand receipts before they will accept someone as legitimate.  This might explain the shocked and horrified response of many moderate Christians to James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr, Eric Metaxas, and other Christian “leaders” who have rushed to affirm Trump as a baby Christian despite zero evidence to this being true (and plenty of evidence that Trump is using them for political power but they’re too stupid or power-hungry to see it).

Vox has a really good explainer on this, and it’s fair to the Evangelicals IMO.

And Metaxas got dragged hard on Twitter last week for playing into this ridiculous charade by Trump instead of seeing it as outright pandering to a group of people willing to trade away their conscience for the sake of some political power. But I digress….

Anyway, back to Scalzi….

John dives deeper into the question of when it’s right for an author to bail on an event to avoid appearing with someone distasteful like Bannon, and when it’s probably a poor decision.

Again, I was somewhat stunned to see the exact same style of argumentation happening here as was discussed in my ministry classes at BJU. How far is too far?  When is an author’s “testimony” on the line in the age of Bannon, Trump, and alt-right fascism?

Scalzi takes time to parse out which types of people would provoke him to withdraw his presence from an event (separation from the event because of the presence of others) vs when he’d be wiling to attend but not be on the same panel (personal distance) vs just avoiding being on a panel with someone because it would generate into a mess (or the person is a jerk).

Notable:  Scalzi defines his rules based on a mix of factors, and he progressively intensifies his “distance” (and the lengths to which he would go to enforce that distance) from someone based on how reprehensible their ideas are (or their actions as a person).  So, for example, he has no desire to be anywhere near Ann Coulter (and I agree with him, having heard her speak myself) but he wouldn’t pull out of an event just because she was there.

The question I’ve been chewing on today:  is this qualitatively the same species as Fundamentalist separation, or different?

It’s common in Fundamentalism to reject anyone outside the tribe because of their loose moral code and “anything goes” associations (and thus loss of testimony).  I think Scalzi is a great example of how this simply isn’t true. He’s got a clear and well-organized set of principles plus a clear plan for implementation and flexibility to judge things case-by-case.

Why do I reject Fundamentalist separation but laud Scalzi for his “separation” from alt-right fascists?

I think it boils down to this:

  1. Scalzi isn’t pretending he’s gaining brownie points from a higher power because of his rules.  Legalism can be defined as using my actions (especially rule-keeping) to gain favor with the Higher Power, and it’s linked to self-righteousness. It operates on both the personal level and the group or institutional level.  Do progressives fall prey to self-righteous legalism? Oh, hell yes. I’ll take that up below.
  2. Scalzi owns the pragmatism of his rules. For example, he’d avoid being on con panels with particular authors because he thinks they’re jerks or annoying or whatever, not because they’re morally evil people.  Fundamentalism had no categories for something in the grey area, a simple preference. It’s “rock music is evil because Satan invented it and also a bunch of racist ideas about African beats!” rather than being honest about not enjoying a particular genre of music or the subculture around it.  Again, liberalism is in danger here…..
  3. Scalzi increases distance in proportion with the nature of the offense. I never understand why Christians can’t make strategic alliances to accomplish a greater purpose. How many discussions did I have at BJU about whether it was wrong to, say, cooperate with Catholics to run a crisis pregnancy center?  Even at the time, I had to shake my head at some people’s inability to weigh some issues as more critical than others.  Life is all about strategic compromises. To pretend that you can live as someone separate from all the bad and dirty stuff is just arrogant.  On the other hand, boundaries are healthy and helpful. Everybody needs them. Just avoid turning your personal boundaries into a statement of what everyone else needs to do.

Takeaways for these turbulent times

My colleague (and former headmaster) Dennis used to talk about wisdom a lot, about how Wisdom gives us  a framework for making well-informed decisions in the grey spaces in between moral laws. Wisdom enters into the questions where we aren’t sure what we’re supposed to do to ensure that a “judgment call” is based on something sound.

I’ve had a thousand discussions with my friend Jack about how there’s an intellectual fundamentalism on the Left that’s corroding people’s ability to enter into discourse with anyone who isn’t already allied with liberal ideals.  Problem is, you’ll never win anyone over to your way of thinking if you can’t even find a way to talk to them, or if you start screaming at them as soon as you realize your views differ.

Are men wrong to not enjoy every argument a feminist throws at them on Twitter? Is every man “mansplaining”? What does justice and redemption look like in the wake of the #metoo movement?  Do we burn bridges or extend a hand?  Does the Democratic party have room for socialists just like the GOP made room for Tea Party libertarians? Will the result be just as caustic?

See also:  America in 2018

I think we can learn from Scalzi (and many others like him — I’m using him as an example because of his post this morning) and avoid the errors of American Fundamentalism.

But that leaves us with some really difficult judgment calls, like….

  •  It’s all well and good to say “punch Nazis in the face,” but there’s a relativism in that approach which breaks down quickly as soon as the mob decides some other group is equally deserving of face-punching. Progressives lose pubic arguments (about immigration, for example) because they don’t “fight dirty,” because “when they go low, we go high.”    We can learn from Scalzi that it’s ok to implement different standards for different fights (if you will), and to raise the stakes if the situation demands it.  But we also need to acknowledge that we’re on dangerous ground here — just like when Lincoln suspended habeas corpus or FDR took America into a total wartime economy.  The Constitution doesn’t protect us from evil men who might refuse to hand power back to the people once the crisis is over. And mobs never give power back.
  • How do you engage in civil discourse when the other person’s presuppositions disgust you, repel you?  Scalzi notes the critical error of the New Yorker journalist: this event would have handed an alt-right POS a microphone and a mantle of respectability.  Idiotic.  The Press has been doing this for Trump’s ideas for a few years now. It’s frustrating, and it deserves a whole separate conversation. But if we get to the point that we cannot find ANY space for discourse — a smaller, more private one-on-one conversation where there’s less shouting and piling-on and “performance” for the sake of one’s tribe — then I don’t think democracy will survive.
    As more and more issues explode (like sexual harassment, or the sex abuse scandals in churches, or deciding what America’s health care system should look like), we’re going to be left with a lot of ad hoc line-drawing if we aren’t smart enough to realize what’s going on.
  • Universities must find a middle ground to allow conservative faculty and students a place in the tent, and not a begrudging one.  But that doesn’t mean letting just anyone and anything into the tent of Intellectual Discussion. Someone is drawing boundaries, practicing separation. The problem is, universities aren’t honest about who holds that power or where the lines are.
  • Intellectual authoritarianism and stifling questions are close cousins to healthy boundaries and “taking a stand.”  Only wisdom and experience teach us the difference.  Therefore, we need to be charitable toward those in our camp who draw those lines differently, and reject the Fundamentalist habit of writing off someone because they “soiled their testimony” in our tribe by allowing or rejecting something we want to see as good or sacred.   On the other hand, some ideas need to be thrown out of any public sphere anytime they’re offered as a serious alternative.Educational spaces should run by a different set of rules.  I never support banning or censoring books like Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird for using the n-word. Students need to confront those books as the authors wrote them, or not read them at all.  Students need space and time to reason through their views on an issue, even if I find their views ill-formed, just plain wrong, or dangerous.  Depending on the level of danger (or foolishness), I might be more or less direct in how I point out those problems to students. However, people don’t change their minds because we yell at them hard enough to change.  It takes patience, time, careful explanation, and – above all – kindness. 

I want to dig into that final point a bit.  This is the crux of the problem for Democrats, progressives, etc right now in 2018.  It’s what Hillbilly Elegy was trying to communicate to us.  It’s why I’m worn out by all the NYT think-pieces about Trump voters (which probably need to stop) but also feel committed to remaining friends with people in my life who hold very different political views than mine.

If America is going to own up to its racist, ugly history and find restoration and healing, we must find ways to talk about it honestly.

If American democracy is going to survive past 2020, we need to unite around core ideals that are larger than the tribalism that’s torn us apart.

If you’re going to convince your cousin to see immigration in a better light, you can’t throw facts at her. You’ve got to locate her anger and fear, figure out what’s feeding those emotions, and defuse them before your arguments will stand a chance.

And if you decide that you need to draw the boundary and walk away, don’t cloak your separation in self-righteousness. Acknowledge it for what it is: a personal boundary that exists for your emotional and intellectual health.

Good Times, Bad Times

So, are humans a disease to this planet or demigods of power, possessing nearly unlimited strength and resilience?

Am I the only person wondering if the human race has long outlived the patience of any divine being?

2018 is weird, man.

*****

I was raised in conservative Fundamentalism, a sliver of Christianity that’s thankfully grown much smaller since the 20th century.  A lot of people like to define Fundamentalism by its strict code of rules, a feature which drew sharp lines around my desires, behavior, and dreams as a kid. But I think Fundamentalism is better defined by its warped understanding of sin and Grace. Perhaps those both arise out of a core misunderstanding of God, one that shaped my view of the universe well into my mid-20s.

The Fundamentalist God is a jerk, honestly.  As a child I envisioned God as a lot like my dad: a good person at heart, but easy to make angry, and dangerous when he was mad.  I knew God hauled around the cosmic baseball bat of Consequences™ that we always heard about in sermons, how “be sure your sin will find you out,” and how maybe God could be bargained with if you showed you were serious about abandoning sin for the straight and narrow.  “Hey, God, if I promise to never do this again, could you maybe not let my cat get killed this summer?”

An abusive Father who accepts bargains. That’s the Fundamentalist God, no matter how much pastors talked about “grace” in sermons.

One of my friends in graduate school came to me sobbing one evening to confess that he’d cheated off my quizzes throughout undergrad. He was terrified that his girlfriend wasn’t going to marry him – she’d said as much –  and as part of his holy dealmaking, he was coming clean and confessing his sins so God might bless him and not take away his chance at being a husband.  (They eventually got married. I don’t know if he even remembers doing this.)  I’m glad he got his cheating off his chest, but even at the time, I was taken back by the blatant economics of the whole situation.

What’s odd to me about Fundamentalism is how badly it misunderstood sin. I guess it makes sense for a movement founded on a concept of purity to redefine sin as both a horrific impulse that defines humanity at its core, AND an external influence that can and should be avoided at all costs.  I’ve written about this before, here and here and especially here, so read up if you’re unfamiliar with those thoughts.

The critical point is this: properly understood within Protestant theology, sin is an internal impulse, a flaw in the human system, like someone beat a steel rod into a 90 degree angle and then tried to straighten in out again.  The Hebrew words for ‘sin’ are fascinating: words like “pollution” and “twist” and “guilt.”

We humans are bent at the core, and we can’t unbend ourselves well enough to work out the kinks. The entire Story of Redemption expands from here.  God the Father sacrificed God the Son, who lived a perfect human life free of sin and its pollution and twistedness, so that we can be given – as a free gift – the right-ness we humans do not possess since the Fall.

****

I’ve come to doubt nearly everything Creationist that I was taught, mostly because astronomy and evolutionary biology have mountains of evidence on their side, coupled with my long study of how literature works (and Hebrew itself). I mean, we went to the Field Museum in Chicago last summer and I saw — no lie – half a dozen fossils that could easily be the “missing links” that Answers in Genesis people mock. When the evidence is staring you in the face, it’s hard not to realize that literally 24-hour, 6 day creationists are doing argumentative backflips to maintain a highly literalist interpretation of 3 chapters of the Bible, mostly because they’ve also built a theological house of cards that uses literal creationism as a keystone to the entire house of literalist evangelical bullet points. Pull out the keystone and their structure collapses.  (Not that Christianity itself collapses. Evangelicalism is a mere blip within a two-thousand year history of the Church. Thank God.)

http://www.instagram.com/p/BU7edPQg8Hr/

 

That aside, and truly that’s a discussion for another day, I have no problem believing in the special creation of Adam and Eve, of humans being created in God’s image (though we’re not really sure what that means), of God giving his special creation a level of choice with unparalleled and destructive consequences.

I am a firm believer in the Fall, of humanity given a choice to trust God or no.  From this flows the whole problem of evil.  I don’t have an answer for you. Go climb the wisdom of the ages and seek for yourself. It’s complicated.

It’s because I believe that God gave Man a choice, and we failed in that choice, that I believe firmly in Redemption, in Grace, in Love, and in genuine Evil. (Thanks to Milton, the Fall is a fascinating moment in the story of mankind, and Satan should be ever thankful to Paradise Lost giving him such a rich character. “Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.”)

And that Fall, that permanent twist in the soul of every human who’s ever lived, this is on my mind a lot in 2018.

*****

Let me tell you, 2018 has been an experience.  A rip-roaring ride through the best and worst that I’ve seen of humanity with my own two eyes.

Let’s see. In the past couple weeks, I’ve seen people vilify immigrants and justify that by raising American border laws to the level of a moral code. Those same people have shrugged at the separation of children from their parents in the same of “discouraging illegal immigration.”  I’ve witness a profound ignorance of the effects of American foreign policy on other regions of the world. (Short version: why is life so bad in Latin America? Go read up on imperialism, colonialism, and the American war against communism during the Cold War years, then the War on Drugs in the past 30 years. If you just read about the history of the 20th century till now in Latin America, you’ll get the picture.)

I’ve read the news from Syria with one eye open, barely. It’s devastating. Also South Sudan, Yemen, the massacre of like 150 Mexican candidates for election.  We’ve got wars in several spots of the globe. Meanwhile, our president is punching every ally in the eye as he lumbers through a NATO summit on his way to meet with Putin, the latest Russian strongman.

I’ve watched multiple reports of Americans screaming at people they think are immigrants to go home — as if Americans didn’t steak every single scrap of this nation’s land from the people who were here already.  We glorify rich men, men of power, puss-grabbing men who lie boldly and get away with it.

Our planet is heating up. Our love for red meat and fast cars and air conditioning has spread to the developing world, where the overrun of environment impact from these Western practices will likely raise the oceans and flood island nations and costal cities globally by the 22nd century.

But hey, we’ll all be dead then, right?

Why care for the poor when we can blame them instead? Why provide health insurance when we can instead make it easier for insurance companies to make money off of death and disease? Why tip the balance in support of workers rights when capitalism runs off exploiting labor for the benefit of owners and stockholders?

****

Nobody warned me that my 40s would be a time of such…. anger.

I watched two particularly well-written episodes of GLOW last night (season 2, episodes 4 and 5). It’s a light Netflix dramedy about an early 80s women’s wrestling show, based on historical events. I love the acting and the casting, and the story’s been solid through both seasons.  The two episodes we watched last night tackled first the “exploitation” nature of the wrestling show and its use of racial and ethnic stereotypes as entertainment. You could argue (as I’ve learned from my hubby, who’s been absorbing movie criticism on YouTube) that such shows provoked people – those with an already developed sense of irony – to recognize the actual exploitation that made such shows work. But it’s still hard to watch a black woman throw herself into the ring under the moniker “welfare queen” and not hear the dogwhistle of racism in Reagan’s (and Nixon’s) politics which made that character so relevant to the early 80s.

Episode 5 showed us a Weinstein-esque encounter between a central GLOW character and a station executive. I cringed the whole time. I felt sick to my stomach. I felt angry. Look, I have almost never attracted sexual attention from men during my adult years – I chalk it up to being fat and not particularly attractive. But I know this is what so many of my sisters put up with every day at work. Whether it’s getting catcalled or hit on or treated to the soft misogyny of low expectations as a woman or dismissed or talked over during a meeting or having our ideas absorbed by the male manager who brought them up to someone up the power structure, a power structure we didn’t have access to …. we women know what these things are. We’ve lived them.  I’m angry.

*****

Lately my attitude has been pretty dark. Not as in “not hopeful,” though I have no reason to assume America will drag itself forward rather than backward.  I do tend to think that history progresses, and I’m thankful that many people are actually aware of concepts like white privilege, soft racism, or the highly negative mental health impact of constantly telling LGBTQ+ people they’re either sinning or an abomination or (at best) a mistake. That’s progress.

But I’m thinking it’s good that God promised not to do another worldwide Flood. Because I’m ready to burn the whole thing down, right here and right now.  We humans are a piss-poor example of the Divine.  I’m tired of the exploitation of the poor and weak by the strong and rich.  I get the imprecatory Psalms now, much better than I did when I was a young person.

Psalm 5 NIV
from Bible Gateway

The myth of conscience voting

To what extent should we prioritize our individual discomfort, our “duty” to follow our own moral code, above concern for the consequences that our choices may have on others?

Many, both religious and those whoa re simply passionate about their political views, have argued in conversations about the 2016 election and its aftermath about “voting your conscience” against “voting pragmatically.”

The argument seems to boil down to this: some folks, faced with a Trump vs Hillary choice, elected to vote in support of a 3rd party candidate in order to avoid giving direct support to a candidate whose positions imply (or directly require) contradicting one’s moral code.  Others, faced with the prospect of two candidates they abhorred, may have filtered their “lesser of two evil” choice through a singular moral lens: for the typical Evangelical, this seemed to revolve around abortion or holding onto a SCOTUS seat for the sake of overturning Roe v Wade. For Bernie supporters, their vote for Hillary perhaps stemmed only from a desire to preserve some particular progressive value like access to abortion or Obamacare.

Either way, on both sides of the spectrum, people were defending a vote for a flawed candidate on moral grounds. In my newsfeed, at least, the more religious the voter, the more the defenses dragged in the name of Jesus in ways I find — at best — uncomfortable.  I think I reached peak “Oh for pete’s sake!” when Evangelical leaders tried to argue that Trump had found Jesus and was a baby Christian. *rolls eyes*

Those who advocate a more practical approach to voting in American elections point out two things: voting 3rd party in a national election will always be a throwaway vote, until those outside parties can break into the system. Second, if one of the two mainline candidates is truly atrocious, failing to vote against that person or splitting the vote of the opposing candidate (as happens when libertarians abandon the GOP or the greens/socialists walk away from the Dems) ends up being a de facto vote for the candidate you hate.

Further, running your candidate through a singular moral lens forces you to ignore a critical element: the aftermath of the policies a candidate espouses.  Put simply, I find it appalling (galling?) that Christians voted for Trump in order to  “prevent” abortion while ignoring (and continuing to ignore) horrific abuses against many currently living humans who are being negatively affected by the decisions he and the Republicans have made over the past 18 months.

I long who gave up the one-issue voting stance as unhelpful and short-sighted. No decisions that involve humans can be truly 100% good or totally horrible. I’ve never met anybody (intelligent or educated or even just basically informed) who could wholly endorse one party’s entire platform.

It’s time to drop the euphemism “voting your conscience” and call it what it is: voting your priorities.

Because that’s what voting is here in America.

Most of us have too little money (and therefore no power) to influence any given election. It’s true that state and local races can come down to a handful of votes. So this discussion targets larger races where my one vote in a SC district genuinely matters only a feather in the whole situation. If at all.

The polls and data continue to confirm strong Evangelical support for Trump as a candidate in 2016 and as a President now.

I heard a lot of FB timeline voices offering their reasons either for a 3rd party vote (understandable) or voting for Trump.  But labeling one’s reasons for voting a certain way as “conscience” or “pragmatic” gives us too easy of an excuse for the fallout of any given election. Acknowledging that a vote is, instead, a statement of ranked priorities forces us to be honest about what matters to us.

When we allow ourselves to detach from the visible and real human consequences of the entire gamut of a party’s political platform, we can pretend it’s ok because WE did the only right thing we could. WE “voted our conscience.”

No. You voted your highest priority, the single thing (or three) you can’t live with (or without). That’s it. Plain and simple.

When we make a particular vote about individual holiness, it takes our attention away from the collective and institutional outcomes of various policy positions.

Here’s the issue: your individual “conscience” isn’t more important than the trade-offs your vote will empower.

I’m not suggesting a paralyzing level of fear that my vote somehow has outsized effect on any given political system. It doesn’t. But if I run the decision regarding what candidates I will support through only an individualistic filter, I may miss critical elements of the moral and social calculus that drives our voting decisions.

It seems to be a weakness of the American mindset to prioritize the individual too much over the collective / society / community.  By recognizing that my vote indicates my priorities and preferences, rather than some moral statement about the universe, I might be able to see the consequences of public policy more fairly.

I think that would be a win for all of us.

James Dobson Has ALWAYS ‘Sided With Patriarchal Oppression in the Cause of Political Power’

Hello everyone, I’m Dr. James Dobson. You know, last November I believe God gave America another chance with the election of Donald J. Trump. But he now needs the presence and leadership of Judge Roy Moore to make America great again. And that’s why I’m asking my friends in Alabama to elect Judge Roy Moore to the United States Senate. Judge Moore is a man of proven character and integrity, and he has served Alabama and this country very, very well. I’ve known him for over 15 years, but recently I’ve been dismayed and troubled about the way he and his wife Kayla have been personally attacked by the Washington establishment. Judge Moore has stood for our religious liberty and for the sanctity of marriage, when it seemed like the entire world was against him. I hope you’ll vote for Judge Roy Moore for United States Senate.

via James Dobson Has ALWAYS ‘Sided With Patriarchal Oppression in the Cause of Political Power’

Reason 6648394756 “I can’t even” with Evangelicals anymore.

  • Donald Trump is an immoral man, a man who uses words viciously to cut down everyone around him, to belittle women and immigrants and the disabled. He’s a liar. His riches come from family inheritance plus immoral business dealings and dumb luck. Back in 2016, if you claimed you supported Trump because he was against abortion or some similar trope, I rolled my eyes at you and shook my head at your foolishness. But now? In 2017? When you’ve seen what we’ve seen? You’re no longer a fool. You’re a wicked person grasping for political power instead of living out the Gospel.
  • Roy Moore was batshit crazy before the pedophilia allegations rolled in. (I’ll deal with those in a minute.) His definition of “religious liberty” makes sense only if you’ve lived in M. Night Shyamalan’s Village for the past 3 decades, listening only to Rush Limbaugh froth at the mouth while jerking off to NRA magazines. He’s not heroic or patriotic or Christian in any fashion that’s good for the outside world or the people of Alabama. Running him as a candidate was obnoxious. The Alabama Republicans who stamped approval on him during the primary are just as guilty and just as deluded.
  • Pro tip: If you’re accused of sexual abuse in 2017 after the fall of Harvey Weinstein in the middle of your Senate bid, you should step down. Full stop.
  • If you’re still supporting the GOP because they’re the party against abortion and gay marriage while they’re also dismantling our social welfare system in the name of a libertarian fever dream of “small government,” at least have the balls to claim that political ideology on your own, without dragging Jesus into it.
  • You can’t have Jesus on your side for abortion or the definition of marriage, and then shove him under a bushel for everything else: feeding the poor, assisting widows and orphans (or foster care kids), addressing systemic oppression of the poor or minorities, attacking a private prison system that abuses those who are incarcerated, pursuing a “war on drugs” that disproportionately harms black and brown people while allowing the opioid addiction crisis to run unchecked in rural areas. Go read the goddamn Old Testament for once, especially all the prophets.

Seismic inequalities

Great investigation of how the world has shifted around us, pinching many in a vice grip of poverty and income inequality. This piece is about Millennials, but I see many of my Gen-X peers here too.

What is different about us as individuals compared to previous generations is minor. What is different about the world around us is profound.

via Millennials Are Screwed – The Huffington Post

The Crisis of Public vs Private Discourse in the Social Media Age

The other day, driving home from rehearsal, I chuckled to myself at a thought that I would probably say to friends in my living room but would never post to a public forum. It involved a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall sitting next to an overly enthusiastic Christmas decorator who seems to take extra joy at installing new holiday lights at this time of year.

Does my unwillingness to write a joke here about that irony make the thought bad in itself?  I’m not JW and I like my holidays, so it’s funny to me.  I have zero JW friends, so the risk to me personally of giving offense is slight. Yet as soon as this blog post hits the Internet, my private musings become public discourse, and they carry much more weight.

* * * *

I’ve been blogging for over ten years now. Surely at some point I’ve said things I’d now disagree with. Am I held to today’s standards for what I wrote in 2005? Should I blow up everything I’ve ever written to ensure that Future Me won’t pay the price for Past Me’s immaturity or ignorance?

And if so, what’s the point of writing anything now?  What benefit does the “average person” gain from engaging in any social media or digital discourse that might outweigh any risk of being misunderstood (or rightly understood but on the wrong side of prevailing consensus)?

Though many science fiction writers predicted we’d have global communication, only Black Mirror (the British TV series) seems to grasp how horrific mass communication can be as it engages the darkest of human nature.  In the 90s, early netizens skirted around pedophiles in chat rooms across the world. In the early 2000s, AIM kept us awake late at night (“bing!”) with 17 message windows stacked across the screen. (And we were still trying to avoid predators.)

But I don’t think any of us realized what we were getting into when Facebook opened up to public membership or when Twitter invited us to encapsulate thoughts in a space smaller than a standard text message.  We live our lives publicly now, via Instagram histories of meals eaten and trips taken, alongside Facebook shares that mingle cat videos with political fights.

The Internet is a rough rodeo. Read any comment stream and examples of Cunningham’s Law quickly surface (the fastest way to the right answer on the Internet is to post the wrong information). It’s exhausting to be corrected non-stop for pedantic elements inside a larger post. But even Cunningham couldn’t have predicted the rancor and hate which accompany those corrections or disagreements. If you can’t handle someone insulting your grandmother and suggesting that you have incestuous relations with your mother on a regular basis, you probably shouldn’t post a comment in any public discussion.

What kind of world have we fostered, then, by moving the public square into cyberspace? A lonely, nasty, and dark one (if 2017 is any indication).

Our public and private spaces have bled into one confusing sphere.  What I think to myself in the car, I might choose to say to friends who share similar backgrounds and who would not be offended. But what I write – anywhere – is publicly owned in this 21st century, subject to scrutiny and the infinite memory of Google and internet trolls.  No conversation takes place within a limited audience anymore.

 *  *  *  *

As a person grows in their understanding of the world, certain forms of humor stop being funny. And other observations move from public sharing to private chuckle. Hopefully I’m more aware of why some statements are offensive rather than merely a “joke in poor taste.”Yeah, this. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t laugh at anymore. #cringe 

Reputation (or notoriety) is critical for a society where the driving currency of fame is likes, clicks, views, and ad revenue generation.  I recall a moment in a recent episode of The Orville (a Star Trek knock-off helmed by Seth MacFarlane that’s way better than I expected it to be).   Like in Star Trek, the Orville economy doesn’t require money because people have access to free material synthesis/replication for food, clothes, or supplies. The first officer comments to a junior officer that once money ceased to be an issue for people, reputation emerged as the primary currency of value.

From the imdb character page for Lt. LaMar found here: http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0585874/quotes

Except that our new desire for protection also shuts down conversation when we need it most.

We all maintain an inner discourse rife with thoughts we’ve learned not to share because the risk is too high, even if as a society we usually benefit from airing thoughts, having them challenged by competing experiences, and growing in our understanding. (I had to add “usually” to that sentence because I’m not convinced, in a year when we saw real, live Nazis and bigots marching proudly in the streets, that all discourse is useful or helpful. Some public platforms degenerate discourse. But that’s a thought for another post.) 

Our swirling political discourse occupies a minefield of prejudice, racism, political correctness, philosophical disagreement, political theory, and religious tenets.  We face critical conversations about what freedom of speech and belief mean when white supremacists are insisting on a seat at the table.  So a little prudence about what thoughts escape my mouth into the air is probably justified.

I have grown to realize that my life as a white, WASPy female includes privileges of someone with advanced education and white skin alongside the consequences of my parents’ actions and my own. I’m the product of my upbringing and my experiences, but I’ve also learned – often through conversation with others or reading which force me to consider other perspectives- that my experience is not the yardstick by which reality is measured. 

The conservative Christianity that raised me pinned the label of evil onto a lot of concepts that a pluralistic society embraces: women holding positions of authority and power; freedom of personal expression and sexual expression; self-determination; non-traditional family groupings; non-Christian religions.  As I navigate what it means to be both Christian and American, those circles don’t nicely overlap.

For example, I have to face the implications of a patriarchal authority structure in the church and its negative effect on women, including rampant sexual harassment and abuse within Evangelical churches – a reckoning that’s yet to come. (Not that the Catholic church has succeeded much better. Toxic patriarchy is way worse when it’s located within enforced celibacy.)

I recognize that while my understanding of morality may guide which policies I support, not all people share that same perspective as they act out their values in the voting booth or public discourse. I’ve learned that some of my goals for others ought to be chosen by them for themselves, not enforced, in a pluralist republic like the United States. 

 *  *  *  *

These are confusing, difficult thoughts. I’ve been angry for ALL of 2017, nearly llivid by this point thanks to the legislative malpractice circus that led to the passage of a tax reform bill no Senator has even read, on top of six weeks of continual allegations and revelations of sexual abuse and harassment. I have zero chill right now about this stuff. 

But I know many of us are confused and secretly worried about what we’re going to wake up to once the dust settles in 2018.

I’m thrilled that chronic sexual harassers are finally getting it but also scared for my male friends who I know are good and kind people, who may have at some point set their hand on a woman’s knee or mentioned how nice her blouse looked. I don’t want to see them punished for an honest mistake that could instead become a teachable moment for better behavior int he future.  And I want us to develop new vocabulary to describe the range of actions humans can take toward each other. A hand on a knee might lead some men toward engaging in sexual abuse but it is not the same as rape or abuse. We need places to discuss this, to hash out the language and the consequences.

We can’t use a sledgehammer to solve every problem in public life, yet it seems that the collapse of public and private discourse leaves us little else.

My point is this: we’re all caught in a messy web of ideas and half-baked thoughts and assumptions which form the foundation of how we see the world. And right now, social media is making it worse. 

I’m not longing for us to return to some mythical good ol’ days. But it would be foolish not to recognize how much of a mess this is. There are few safe spaces to ask potentially explosive questions or to express doubt because no conversations are private anymore.

Perhaps, as with many of these problems, the solution lies in the Great Commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. That starts with building an actual relationship with “neighbors,” whether in digital or physical proximity.  The hard work of community development lies at the heart of diffusing the social and political rancor we’re experiencing.  I do not believe we will gain ground any other way but by building relationships. 

Loving your neighbor means supporting institutions

Great editorial by my fav philosopher, James KA Smith:

…[T]he Gospel has implications for all of life and … being a Christian should mean something for this world. Jesus calls us not only to ensure our own salvation in some privatized religious ghetto; he calls us to seek the welfare of the city and its inhabitants all around us. We love God by loving our neighbours; we glorify God by caring for the poor; we exhibit the goodness of God by promoting the common good.

But here’s the thing: if you’re really passionate about fostering the common good, then you should resist anti-institutionalism. Because institutions are ways to love our neighbours. Institutions are durable, concrete structures that—when functioning well—cultivate all of creation’s potential toward what God desires: shalom, peace, goodness, justice, flourishing, delight. Institutions are the way we get a handle on concrete realities and address different aspects of creaturely existence. Institutions will sometimes be scaffolds to support the weak; sometimes they function as fences to protect the vulnerable; in other cases, institutions are the springboards that enable us to pursue new innovation. Even though they can become corrupt and stand in need of reform, institutions themselves are not the enemy.

Indeed, injustice is often bound up with the erosion of societal institutions. For example, Nicholas Kristof’s reporting from Africa constantly observes that tyrants and warlords flourish precisely in those places where their rogue armies are the only durable institutions, preying upon the absence of any other institutions that might resist.

The destruction of institutions actually makes room for injustice…..

If you care about the welfare of your city and your neighbour, take ownership of the institutions around you.

Source: Editorial: We Believe in Institutions