Saturday, August 04, 2007

Impeachment, revenge, and liberal Christians


For myself, I've given up hope for an impeachment of Bush or Cheney or even that pathetic lickspittle, A.G. Gonzales. After all, our Democratic legislators have just voted to give the Bush administration a blank check to spy, without court approval, on any U.S. resident who has the effrontery to be in contact with someone abroad -- that's the meaning of the new F.I.S.A. law. So I certainly can't expect them to formulate an indictment against the Bushies for their numerous violations of law and bring the thing to trial. (That's what an impeachment is, in case the "news" media have managed to obscure that for you.)

Mostly, I frequent the political blogs, so the arguments against impeachment I'm accustomed to seeing are prudential: "we don’t have the votes." But this morning, surfing randomly, I found myself belatedly reading a July 19 post by the progressive Christian commentator, Diana Butler Bass, in which she calls impeachment: "revenge politics rather than constructive policy."

Jesus, save me from your followers. If I were looking for the perfect specimen of how privileged Christianity comforts the powerful, this post would fit the bill.

Bass establishes her critical credentials and states her case:

I do not like George W. Bush. I never voted for him. Following Sept. 11, when Bush had a 95 percent approval rating, I was one of the skeptical 5 percent. ...

Progressive Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims ought to engage more than policy concerns. We also bring to the table dispositions and practices of faith, ways of being that strengthen the polis—things like mercy, charity, love, forgiveness, hospitality, and justice—that create more generous, loving, and honest community. ...

Impeachment is the politics of retaliation, a tool of political violence that should be used in the most extreme of circumstances (and something that was wrongly used against President Clinton). Religious progressives should not practice tit-for-tat politics.

One hundred twenty comments quickly took apart the logical fallacies in this -- it wasn't hard. Bass seems to write out of a complete ignorance of what impeachment is: a solemn trial, full of safeguards both legal and political, that enables the enduring body politic to come to a judgment about whether its most fundamental legal and ethical underpinnings have been culpably broken.

But far worse, she writes out of the central fallacy of liberal U.S. religion: that God calls us to be "nice", to make "peace" without demanding justice.

We are supposed to be peacemakers, agents of forgiveness, and those who build bridges across human divides. ...

As a Christian, and as a religious progressive, I must move beyond revenge politics to reach deeply for spiritual dispositions and practices that nurture God’s dream for shalom.

I read this as idolatry: it makes "God" an apologist for an unjust status quo.

Don't these people read their scriptures? The psalmists say it over and over; here's one (71:33) instance: "For the Lord hears the needy ..." God has picked "a side." And it is not the side of the comfortable and the powerful. In Scripture, God is with the afflicted, the widow, the orphan; woe to those who harm them.

Yes, even comfortable, middle class, liberal Christians are enjoined to love our enemies -- but if we were honest, we'd admit we have very few enemies who afflict us personally. Our far harder calling is to place ourselves alongside those who do have real material enemies: the poor, the outcast, the national enemies of the moment, who are afflicted by our personal and systemic bigotry, greed, and violence.

And yes, we are called to "love" George W. Bush. That is, we are warned not to let our repudiation of him consume us, not to let our revulsion against the lying, bullying self-absorbed little warmonger become a vicious enjoyment of his wrongness that ratifies our rightness. Hanging on to that sort of hate would warp and destroy us. But we don't have to like him -- and we certainly don't have to absolve him from the ordinary secular consequences of his behavior. (Remember impeachment?)

This kind of namby-pamby Christian liberalism sure reminds me why most of my conscientious contemporaries run screaming from the Church. For folks whose founder was tortured and killed for simply following his truth, we liberal Christians have become a mighty equivocating lot.

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