Monday, July 31, 2017

Christian whiplash: an "ecumenism of hate" and Republicans meet the nuns

Checking in at the National Catholic Reporter, I was fascinated to see that my Roman Catholic comrades in progressive Christianity were buzzing about an extremely plain spoken article in an Italian Jesuit magazine denouncing an "ecumenism of hate." The practitioners of this hate are U.S. evangelical fundamentalists and extreme conservative Catholics united in our domestic right-wing. Such characters as Steve Bannon are named offenders.

Discerning the significance of this article requires a little Vaticanology (that's like Kreminology or Trump-White-Houseology -- the study of the powers behind particular instituional pronouncements.) NCR commentators insist the authors, editor-in-chief Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa, an Argentine Presbyterian pastor who leads his country's edition of Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, are close to Pope Francis.

They mince no words; right-wing evangelicals and Catholic "theoconservatives" are leading the Christian faithful in a terrible direction:

The panorama of threats to their understanding of the American way of life have included modernist spirits, the black civil rights movement, the hippy movement, communism, feminist movements and so on. And now in our day there are the migrants and the Muslims. To maintain conflict levels, their biblical exegeses have evolved toward a decontextualized reading of the Old Testament texts about the conquering and defense of the “promised land,” rather than be guided by the incisive look, full of love, of Jesus in the Gospels.

Within this narrative, whatever pushes toward conflict is not off limits. It does not take into account the bond between capital and profits and arms sales. Quite the opposite, often war itself is assimilated to the heroic conquests of the “Lord of Hosts” of Gideon and David. In this Manichaean vision, belligerence can acquire a theological justification and there are pastors who seek a biblical foundation for it, using the scriptural texts out of context. ... There is a sort of “anesthetic” with regard to ecological disasters and problems generated by climate change. They profess “dominionism” and consider ecologists as people who are against the Christian faith. They place their own roots in a literalist understanding of the creation narratives of the book of Genesis that put humanity in a position of “dominion” over creation, while creation remains subject to human will in biblical submission.

... Theirs is a prophetic formula: fight the threats to American Christian values and prepare for the imminent justice of an Armageddon, a final showdown between Good and Evil, between God and Satan. In this sense, every process (be it of peace, dialogue, etc.) collapses before the needs of the end, the final battle against the enemy. And the community of believers (faith) becomes a community of combatants (fight). Such a unidirectional reading of the biblical texts can anesthetize consciences or actively support the most atrocious and dramatic portrayals of a world that is living beyond the frontiers of its own “promised land.”

... Both Evangelical and Catholic Integralists condemn traditional ecumenism and yet promote an ecumenism of conflict that unites them in the nostalgic dream of a theocratic type of state. However, the most dangerous prospect for this strange ecumenism is attributable to its xenophobic and Islamophobic vision that wants walls and purifying deportations.

The piece goes on to combat the preposterous theological edifice that is the Prosperity Gospel whose promise that seeking riches is godly harmonizes the Christian message so comfortably with our capitalist system. These writers insist:

The theopolitical plan that is truly Christian would be eschatological, that is it applies to the future and orients current history toward the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and peace. This vision generates a process of integration that unfolds with a diplomacy that crowns no one as a “man of Providence.”

... [Pope] Francis radically rejects the idea of activating a Kingdom of God on earth as was at the basis of the Holy Roman Empire and similar political and institutional forms, including at the level of a “party.” ...

This is not the sort of pronouncement we expected from the Vatican before Pope Francis -- there's much here to ponder for all American Christians.
And yet, reading the excited commentary on this article, I was reminded of another approach to the meaning of varieties of Christian belief in U.S. life. This one comes from another segment of the theological spectrum. Fred Clark, the Slactivist, grew up in an evangelical home and worked for years at Evangelicals for Social Action. In the linked post, he explains how his community moved from a (narrow, but historically recognizable) Biblical perspective on the purpose of human activity to believing that their sole imperative most be to accumulate enough power to end legal abortion.

Sixty years ago and 30 years ago, white evangelicals instinctively evaluated every cause or “issue” by weighing it against the paramount concern of proclamation evangelism. Today they seem to demonstrate that same instinct, but it’s no longer proclamation evangelism that they worry may be undermined — it’s opposition to legal abortion. ...

... white evangelicals may be permitted, conditionally, to consider some other, tangential causes — “creation care,” or “racial reconciliation,” or “human trafficking,” or whatever you like — but only to the extent that these things do not distract from the absolute, paramount duty white evangelicals have to support the election of Republicans to every branch and every level of government in the hopes that they will eventually pack the Supreme Court with enough anti-abortion justices to overturn Roe v. Wade.

That’s a starkly blunt way of putting it ... All those other causes, you see, may be laudable and commendable in and of themselves, but they’re all also vaguely liberal-seeming. And it’s dangerous to permit ourselves to have too much sympathy for liberal-ish causes because that might undermine our resolve to vote for the kind of anti-liberals we need to support in order to fulfill our paramount obligation of criminalizing abortion. ...

Clark locates the "ecumenism" involved in alliances between fundies and right-wing Catholics in their shared determination to limit women's control of our bodies. My NCR comrades can't go there, but I can.
In the midst of all this criticism I'm passing on about the political antics of conservative religious groups, I should also celebrate the Roman Catholic religious women who are putting themselves on the line for health care and economic justice. The other night I had the privilege of hearing Sr. Simone Campbell (pictured above with friend Miguel Bustos) speak about the work of the Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne reports on the protest these nuns issued against the Republican attempt to kill Obamacare. He rightly admonishes secular progressives not to forget the nuns!

Their plea was a reminder, particularly to more secular liberals, that religious witness in politics is not confined to the political right, that Christianity has long had a lot to say about economic and social inequities, and that pushing prophets inspired by faith out of the public square would be harmful to progressives as well as conservatives.

In speaking out as they did, the socially minded nuns — who do the work of justice and mercy every day in hospitals, clinics, homeless shelters and schools — made clear that depriving millions of Americans of health coverage truly is a moral outrage.

Wherever we come from, we need to make peaceful moral outrage effectual.


Rain Trueax said...

Religion and where it leads people is one of those things that today mystifies me. Most 'religious' folks pick and choose what suits them from their religion and hence can blow up people or ignore some tenet that another considers critical to the religion. I get it that it gives the member an identity and a feeling of empowerment that their god is behind whatever they personally believe is right. Having been in a fundamentalist church (not political but Biblical), I've seen how not being baptized properly is reason to disavow another church and yet greed can be made into a virtue.

I like Gandhi's quote on Christianity “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” So you have a Mother Teresa who gave her life to the poor but it is said was demeaning to those who worked for her-- the unfortunate reality of many humans. But when it's all put onto the human, that's one thing, but when it's supposedly the god, who wants them to do whatever it is, it's another. And that can mean taking money from the poor to build a mansion/cathedral/political cause-- or blow up innocents. At this point in my life, I miss the sense of camaraderie and purpose (which I remember the feeling well) but for me to be in any religion would be hypocrisy.

Classof65 said...

This post has opened my eyes to those "Cafeteria" Catholics like Paul Ryan and to their ultimate agenda. Thank you for sharing this with me.

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