Christianity in the Age of Trump

I attended a panel discussion on Saturday at the American Academy of Religion in which scholars and activists discussed the election’s impact on the academic study of religion and the role of scholars of religion in this new time. Robert P. Jones, author of The End of White Christian America, pointed out that for all the talk of white working class voters or the split between urban and rural America,  the best predictor of what states went for Trump was White Christianity. It wasn’t just White Evangelicals who supported Trump (81%); White mainline Christians split between Trump and Clinton (each got 44%) and a majority of White Catholics supported Trump as well.

As Jim Wallis, another panelist, put it, “White identity has replaced Christian identity.”

This is a scathing indictment of American Christianity, not only its current incarnations but its entire history. We have much for which to repent; we have much to lament. We also have a great deal of difficult work to do.

Wallis, of Sojourners, offered 10 commitments of Resistance in the Trump Era.

I hope this will be a starting point for our conversions and action in the coming weeks and months.

Troubled over events in Syria?

I am, too.

Once more, the neo-cons, the media, the usual suspects, are beating the drums of war. Our president (remember the Nobel Peace Prize?) seems to be planning “surgical strikes” by way of retaliation and punishment. The consequences of our intervention and the long-term effects on Syria and the wider Middle East, seem not to be taken into consideration.

George Packer summarizes the debate and the futility of it all:

What are you saying?

I don’t know. I had it worked out in my head until we started talking. (Pause.) But we need to do something this time.

Not just to do something.

All right. Not just to do something. But could you do me a favor?

What’s that?

While you’re doing nothing, could you please be unhappy about it?

I am.

Where are the Christian voices speaking out against violence as a solution to violence?

Here’s one:

From Jim Wallis of Sojourners:

It’s natural to feel moral outrage, and there is no doubt that the Assad regime is responsible for more than 100,000 civilian deaths. But a moral compass must guide our moral outrage.

Christians, both who identify as pacifists and those who subscribe to a just war theory, can agree that rigorous criteria and conditions must be applied before there is any decision for military intervention. As part of that process, we must first ask if military strikes are a last resort. Have we exhausted peaceful, multilateral solutions to the conflict? Will military intervention have a reasonable chance of success, and how would we define that success? And does military intervention comply with international and U.S. law.

We also need to consider the unintended consequences of U.S. military action in Syria both at home and abroad. Our involvement could add fuel to the fires of violence that are already consuming the region. It could exacerbate anti-American hatred and produce new recruits for terror attacks against the United States and our allies. Military action could also increase refugee displacement, further risking regional destabilization.

From  Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (speaking in Parliament today):

I feel that any intervention must be effective in terms of preventing any further use of chemical weapons. I’ve not yet heard that that has been adequately demonstrated as likely. That it must effectively deal with those who are promoting the use of chemical weapons. And it must have a third aim which is:  somewhere in the strategy, there must be more chance of a Syria and a Middle East in which there are not millions of refugees and these haunting pictures are not the stuff of our evening viewing.

The Archbishop was participating in something that doesn’t happen in Congress anymore: debate over military action. That debate has slowed down the rush to war but it probably hasn’t prevented it.

A piece by Maryann Cusimano Love examines the proposed action in light of Just War Theory.

God, MLK, and Guns–updated

Jim Wallis has this to say:

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said this as his response to the massacre of children at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Conn.: “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

That statement is at the heart of the problem of gun violence in America today — not just because it is factually flawed, which of course it is, but also because it is morally mistaken, theologically dangerous, and religiously repugnant.

The world is not full of good and bad people; that is not what our scriptures teach us.

Apparently Rush Limbaugh contends that if civil rights activists had had weapons in the 1960s, they wouldn’t have been beaten or killed: “you think they would have needed Selma?”

To which Rep. John Lewis responded:

“Our goal in the Civil Rights Movement was not to injure or destroy but to build a sense of community, to reconcile people to the true oneness of all humanity,” said Rep. John Lewis.  “African Americans in the 60s could have chosen to arm themselves, but we made a conscious decision not to.  We were convinced that peace could not be achieved through violence.  Violence begets violence, and we believed the only way to achieve peaceful ends was through peaceful means.  We took a stand against an unjust system, and we decided to use this faith as our shield and the power of compassion as our defense.

“And that is why this nation celebrates the genius and the elegance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s work and philosophy.  Through the power of non-violent action, Dr. King accomplished something that no movement, no action of government, no war, no legislation, or strategy of politics had ever achieved in this nation’s history.  It was non-violence that not only brought an end to legalized segregation and racial discrimination, but Dr. King’s peaceful work changed the hearts of millions of Americans who stood up for justice and rejected the injury of violence forever.”

Then there’s the outrage that during this weekend with MLK Day, a day in honor of the assassinated civil rights leader (if he’d been packing heat, he could have shot back!), the NRA and its supporters have declared January 19 to be Gun Appreciation Day. Among the sponsors, (apparently since scrubbed from the website) is a White Supremacist group.

Oh, and this: “They are used to defend our property and our families and our faith and our freedom, and they are absolutely essential to living the way God intended for us to live.” — California Rep. Tim Donnelly (R), talking about guns on The Bottom Line.

The mind boggles.

Jesus said,

 ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Mt. 5:38-45).

Christians duking it out

There’s quite the dust-up going on over Sojourners Magazine’s decision not to run an ad from Believe Out Loud urging congregations to welcome gay families to worship.

Here’s the response from Episcopal Cafe. Here’s Susan Russell’s take 1 and take 2.

Religion Dispatches never misses an opportunity to comment on religious conflict (especially when it involves Evangelicals, even “progressive” ones).

whether Wallis actually represents a movement that could be described as the religious left is highly doubtful. First, Wallis himself has rejected the “religious left” label. Moreover, many who would consider themselves on the religious left reject Wallis as their leader.

I find all this rather amusing. Jim Wallis, to my knowledge, has never claimed to be a voice of progressive Christians or a leader of the Religious left. His roots are in conservative Evangelicalism and Sojourners has consistently opposed abortion, to take one example. Sojourners has distributed bumper stickers that shout: God is not a Democrat or a Republican.

Quite apart from the merits of the ad campaign and the importance of the inclusion of GLBT individuals and families into churches, it should not surprise anyone that Sojourners refused to run the ad. The issue of inclusion is as hot-button in more conservative denominations as it is in mainline ones, and we Episcopalians have reached no consensus on it. To see how it is playing out in one such denomination, check out gaymennonite.wordpress.com.

More importantly, I think it is important to admit that “progressive” Christians were quite willing to accept Jim Wallis as their spokesperson, because he high visibility and access to the halls of power and the media. They were happy to downplay significant theological differences and ethical/moral differences (a woman’s right to choose) and let Wallis speak for them because of his visibility. Wallis tries to make clear his reasoning here. Here’s another piece from Sojo, written by Tim King.

Such conflict provides media outlets with something more to write about. Controversy sells–witness the Rob Bell phenomenon. At the same time, the whole incident reminds me of the controversy a couple of weeks ago having to do with the law firm that was going to represent the House of Representatives defending DOMA in court. We have a tendency to want to damage, destroy, or silence those with whom we disagree. Whether or not one supports the Sojourners editorial decision, one ought to recognize their right to make it and hope that it is consistent with their editorial and theological positions. We should also hope and pray that in time their positions will evolve to what we believe are ones more in keeping with the Gospel and the Love of Christ.