Sunday, November 20, 2016

Resistance: cries from the heart as we are forced to clarify values

In a democracy, citizenship is always, at least in part, an ethical test. Do we use our tiny smidgen of political influence for the common good? What values inform our notion of the common good? Some of what some people consider "values" -- Ayn Randian maximization of personal benefits to oneself; forcing women to have unwanted babies -- feels criminal. Some people consider my highest values -- kindness, equity, and respect for all -- to be betrayals of their highest values which put the safety of their tribe over all else. Almost everyone claims to occupy the high ground.

Where do those values come from? It used to be, that's where churches (and less frequently in the USA synagogues, mosques and whatever) came in. People belonged to some religious tribe, even if only by inheritance and custom. They would likely say their values came from their religion. But affluent consumer capitalism eats conventional religion for breakfast and comes back at lunch to slurp any remaining tidbits. Some of us, myself included, still find wisdom in ancient rituals and teachings. But that old time religion ain't what it used to be for most.

For many of us, the unexpected catastrophe of a venal autocrat elected to presidential office might send us to check in what the religious values "professionals" are saying. After all, they say church attendance increased briefly after other recent traumas -- 9/11 and the Charleston massacre for example. And November 8 was certainly also trauma.

So I've collected some religious reactions here. It's all from people located somehow in the resistance chorus; I'm not interested in the chortling from the homophobes of Colorado Springs, Franklin Graham, or Jerry Falwell Jr. But I did want to see how some "religious leaders" were applying their values. There's a lot of pain in what follows.
This one came to me from a family member who often finds politics just too confusing to contemplate. The Rev. J. Gary Brinn is a UCC pastor in a small community in Maine (white people land). He's not sure his congregation has his back.

Many have rolled their eyes during recent years as I have named the pervasive hate and racism in this country, when I remind them that the lynch mob never went away, it simply got a badge. Some are worried about what I might say in this pulpit, worried about what people might think. Many are tired of me speaking of the broken brown body of Jesus. Yet, like Paul, I can only do one thing, and that is to preach Christ, and him crucified, foolishness to the Greeks and a scandal to the Jews.

I was a gay civil rights organizer in Jesse Helm’s North Carolina. I know about risk. I was gay-bashed by a group of men in England, a group that knew that I was working for cash under the table and dare not turn them in. Friday, for the first time in many years, I feared for my safety. As young white laborers worked in the Parsonage yard, I wondered if I would be safe if they knew I was gay. ...

I will fly my freak flag and tell the world that I am one of those people that those in power hate, one who has no rights under the sharia rule of the Christian Taliban. ... I will make some of you uncomfortable. I will lead you, with courage and humility, if you will let me.

But the pastor is not the church. You must decide which church you will be. Will you walk on by, turn your eyes away from the bodies in the ditch and pretend not to see? Will you, in your bubble of relative safety, downplay the threat? Will you worry what others might think? ...

Since I practice religious observance within the Episcopal Church, I was particularly happy to read what the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings had to say. Her values led her (she's a big wheel in this quasi-hierarchal denomination) to admonish anyone inclined to easy accommodation.

Christians who voted for Trump may claim policy or economic reasons for having done so. But by electing a man whose words and actions support and incite hatred and violence, the church has failed the country, and we have a lot of soul searching to do.

We might begin by examining our default response to conflict. The desire to foster “reconciliation” is deep in Christians’ bones, and it crops up in just about every statement about the election I have seen from a mainline church leader, but too often the church preaches reconciliation when what we really want is to avoid unpleasantness or get approval from worldly powers and principalities.

President-elect Trump’s rhetoric and his behavior indicate that he does not regard significant numbers of other Americans as his equal, or even as fully human.

Reconciliation, then, may be out of reach, and it may be pastorally inappropriate for the church even to suggest it to people who now have legitimate reasons to be afraid.

... our own limitations do not free us from our promise to resist evil. When the agendas of the president-elect and the new Congress scapegoat people of color and Muslims, deprive our fellow citizens of control over their lives, desecrate God’s creation or enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor, we must oppose them. This is not a partisan political statement; it is a confession of faith. ... Reconciliation is holy work. Resistance is too. ...

I've been unable to find a convincing report of what percentage of white mainline voters chose our budding autocrat. I would expect this was a majority (even if a small one) -- white mainline Christians are, after all, white. And often relatively privileged, the apparent profile of a Trump voter. Jennings certainly got plenty of pushback on this article which appeared in the denominational press.

The people who are really hurting are Black evangelical Christians. Their white co-religionists voted by a margin of 81 percent for a man with a documented history of racial hatred. Eighty-one percent! That's pretty convincing evidence of something rotting. I've collected two of their cries from the heart. Dr. Yolanda Pierce teaches at Princeton Theological Seminary and is the Director of Black Church Studies.

... I watched as 81 percent of white evangelicals and born-again Christians voted for someone who in his acceptance speech did not mention “God.” Not one time. Not even to thank God for his victory or to suggest that “God bless America.”

I lament that, for white evangelicals, my brothers and sisters in Christ (some of whom have joined me in the work of racial justice), the very real lives and experiences of black and brown peoples, Muslims, immigrants, and so many others were apparently not on their radar. People whose highest commandment is to love God and then love your neighbor.

There are real people on the other side of these lies and racism and misogyny. There are Muslims who face physical assault because of an Islamophobia that is being embraced and celebrated in this country. There are women who are raped or sexually assaulted, and who will never seek justice, since sexual assault has been reduced to merely “locker room” antics.

... How can I believe that racial justice is possible when dealing with those who are quick to forgive the president-elect’s egregious moral lapses, while simultaneously supporting his contention that black and brown youth are inherently criminals deserving of constant surveillance?

As a descendant of enslaved persons my ancestors have been in the United States longer than almost any other group besides American Indians. I am not going to leave the country my ancestors built with their blood and uncompensated labor. And I am a Christian – a faith that was birthed in an African cradle. I am not going to leave the faith bequeathed to me by my foremothers and forefathers. But I will always speak truth from my lived experience as an African American living in a nation in which the structural sins of racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression are clearly evident even in the body of Christ.

... Something has been broken for me; a fragile hope that the work of racial and gender justice will be embraced by the larger church.

Dr. Pierce questions her fully developed career path; Brandi Miller is a young campus minister in Oregon. She's through with the white church.

... the white evangelical church has now committed adultery with its own moral values, and sacred texts for the socio-political power that [Trump] offers — at the expense of marginalized people, specifically people of color.

Evangelicalism has, in this election, set itself in opposition to the best interests of my people whom it claims to wish to evangelize. I refuse to hitch myself to a collective of religious people who actively vote to say that my life doesn’t matter and then quickly turn to share supposed good news about a God now represented by a demagogue and his people.

So I’m done.

White Catholics can claim to belong to a church whose adherents did not give a majority of their votes to Donald Trump -- and they did, so long as you subtract out Latinx Catholics. Pew reports 60 percent of white Catholics voted Trump. At the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters excoriates the complacency of Catholic bishops who apparently don't mind.

... the biggest immediate issue the bishops face is the prospect of mass deportations of many of our Catholic parishioners. The night before the meeting began, Donald Trump floated the number of people he intended to deport at 3 million. He suggested he was only going after the criminals. If the bishops do not stand up to this bully, and soon, before he gets the wind at his back, before the inauguration, before more people in Washington fall within his power, it will be too late. Throughout the primaries, people said, "He isn't going to get away with saying what he is saying," but he did get away with it. Countless times, people said, "Surely, he has gone too far now," but it was never too far. The annals of history are littered with evidence of well-meaning people and well-meaning clergy thinking that evil people will not really act upon the evil they have promised, and then it is too late to stop that evil.

The bishops need to find their voice, and fast. What was said in Baltimore [at a bishops' meeting] the past two days was totally unequal to the threat a Trump presidency poses to millions of our fellow Catholics.

I am not suggesting that we should only be concerned with the plight of Catholics. I am suggesting that if we are not prepared to demonstrate we will protect our own, Trump and his team will get the signal that they can do what they want.

No wonder the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, religiously speaking, are Millennial Nones, a cohort that finds its values without reference to religion. I suspect that the Trump era will force on them, especially the white ones, a need to clarify their own most rooted impulses. What matters to them? What guides their ethical choices and defines how they live? Hard times demand reflection on these seeming abstractions. This may occur without reference to religious leaders. Or Millennials may find new forms. I wish them the best.

Resisting what our fellow citizens have done remains a question of finding sustaining and orienting values somewhere. As a wise friend reminded me:

The worst consequences of capitulating are to the soul as even I, an atheist, understand.

1 comment:

Kip Wheeler said...

This is really, really good! I've been wondering why we haven't seen anything in which Trump = Mephistopheles and Trump voters = Faust. Basically, Trump voters sold their souls for the promise of economic relief. That deal has always come a cropper in the past.

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