Thinking Out Loud: Religious Certitude

”You know, it’s not just Calvinist who insist upon absolute certitude. The concept that God’s providence controls everything, therefore we need not doubt His “plans,” goes quite a way back. While I think this certitude in divine providence is especially true of Calvinists, it is part and parcel of evangelicalism as a whole. It not only applies to the insistence on an inerrant original text, and therefore dogmatic certitude in knowing what the Bible means, but often laps over onto discernment of God’s working in natural events, political events and history.
Case in point. While European theologians and political pundits of the day could scratch their heads about our civil war over slavery, none claimed to “know” God’s will or direction in the conflict. Yet, almost to a man, American evangelicals, on both sides of the struggle, knew pretty much exactly what God was doing. They were certain of it. God was on their side.
Flash forward to our present American culture wars, and a similar theme presents itself. Most White evangelicals “know” with complete confidence that Trump is God’s man for the hour, while “crooked Hillary” and President Obama before were not. It is interesting that so many evangelicals can claim certainty, without a doubt about the outcome of an election, about God’s providential design for America, yet fall back on mystery when questions are raised about things like slavery, ownership of women, violence in the Bible, etc.. “We’ll just have to ask Jesus when we get to heaven.” “His ways are not our ways, yada, yada.”
And then we have natural disasters. Obviously caused by the Gay Rights movement, or the removal of prayer in schools, or bakers having to cater Gay weddings…how about it’s simply a natural disaster? You see, for many evangelicals the thought that God is somehow “in control” is comforting. How that can be twisted into divine providence, for example, in something like the holocaust is beyond me. Personally, I’d rather think God had nothing to do with the holocaust and man had everything to do with it.“

See “Dear Calvinists: Try Having Mercy On Those of Us Who Doubt”
Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/newsflash-calvinists-were-not-doubting-because-this-is-fun-for-us/#CkRu3tMgwAqLKR6d.99

I’m Back, and Retired! Just Checking In

So, it’s been a few months since my last post. Who would’ve known preparing for April retirement would be so labor intensive! So many forms to fill out, so many phone calls, so many emails to confirm this and that. But it’s finally here and I it’s beginning to sink in that this is my new reality. A lot has happened so far this year. Yet again another school shooting leaving 17 dead. In desperation, the trolls for the NRA have vilified the young survivors that have called for sane gun legislation. The corruption of the current Republican administration continues to make the news as the Mueller probe digs deeper. “Draining the swamp” seems to entail mainly the Trump cabinet. Misogynists have no where to hide as the “Me Too” movement gains momentum. Conservatives have moved from Gay-bashing to Trans-bashing. The administration fights an ongoing war with the states over illegal aliens, or as progressives prefer, “undocumented immigrants.” The saber rattling continues between two ego maniacs: Trump and Kim Jong-un prompting Trump to request a huge military parade. Trump has continued his “bull in the china shop” foreign trade policies prompting a tariff war and has sent military to guard our borders against a country he seems to think we are at war with. The president with numerous sexual assault allegations and hush money payed to a porn star declares National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Oh, the irony!

I think the midterm elections will be very interesting. We just finished watching the lengthy series, “The Roosevelts,” on PBS. So proud of Teddy, FDR and Eleanor and the legacy of Progressivism that has followed. The fight goes on. But, politics aside, as you know from my bio, I grew up evangelical, attended evangelical churches for years and graduated from Fuller Seminary, an evangelical school. I grew up in the evangelical bubble, largely insulated from conflicting world views and protected from “liberal” views like historical criticism. But, all that has changed over the past half-dozen years for me as I stepped outside the bubble and critically assessed evangelical orthodoxy and the legacy I had inherited. The evangelical insistence that “Christian” businesses could legally refuse services to gays set off red flags for me, even though, at the time, I was not gay-affirming. The parallels to Christian businesses in the South during segregation and the Southern Baptist resistance to desegregation was just too obvious.

So, where am I today, 6 years later? Oddly enough, still attending an evangelical church. It is not a good fit, as I am no longer evangelical, but it’s my 94 year old mother’s church, and we take her there. It is also the church my wife grew up in. We have a new pastor, who has been influenced to some degree by the Emerging Church Movement: “You can belong before you believe,” so I have been guardedly optimistic. Becoming a church member is out of the question for me as I am at odds with much of the Assemblies of God denominational affirmations, such as the infallibility of scripture and the “biblical” definition of marriage. In many ways, my growing rejection of evangelicalism has created an “outside looking in” situation for me and the church I attend…not ideal.

I do enjoy singing and worship there, but… For the most part our pastor is non-controversial, no political statements and light on theology, which, if you knew me, is a bit disappointing. No discussion of gun violence, no discussion on Police treatment of Blacks, no discussion of misogyny in society, no attempts to reach out to Gays, in short, no social gospel. It’s as if the Sermon on the Mount never happened. He is a nice guy and sincere, but follows the usual White, evangelical road map. Although the church practices “outreach” to the community in a number of different ways, English classes for immigrants, help with applying for citizenship and an Easter egg hunt that included special needs children, the church programs center around personal discipleship. In other words, like most evangelical churches the goal is getting people “saved” then keeping them happy they made the right decision by constantly affirming them.

A personal relationship with Jesus is the tantamount theme, which, if it resulted in a realization of responsibility to society would be ok with me. But instead the goal is to try and get as many people “saved” as possible in as short amount of time. Evangelism always seems to end up being an exclusive club, where once in, we congratulate ourselves on our good fortune. Nothing is done for purely altruistic reasons. The reason behind everything from missions to Easter egg hunts is, basically a sales pitch for Jesus, or at least the evangelical version. No wonder Amway has done so well in evangelical circles. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying following Jesus or learning to be Christlike is a bad thing, but it seems like evangelical churches are immature in their faith, inward, self serving and overly concerned with a personal “walk with Christ” that ignores too much of society and its problems.

As I have grappled with my own doubts and questions, and engaged in (sometimes very lively) conversations with evangelicals online, I have come to the conclusion that evangelicalism in its dominant form is probably not redeemable. It is too closely aligned with dominionism and White Christian Nationalism. As we saw in Nazi Germany in the 20s and 30s when religion and state marry, the ends justify the means and Christians are willing to look away when the state tramples individual rights. That so many evangelical leaders see The Donald as God’s chosen, anointed leader to lead us back to a Christian America is further proof of how far white evangelicalism has strayed from Christ’s example. It is a worldview, that quite frankly, scares me. I don’t think evangelicalism will have the last word, however, despite an uptick in fundamentalism within it’s ranks. Time will tell.

 

 

Sh**hole Countries and Nationalism

As of late, the President, as well as the Republican Party as a whole, has made it very clear, through their policies on immigration, expensive border walls, refugees and breaks for the wealthiest Americans, that they are “tribalists.” Tribalism is America’s “original sin,” brought over to the Colonies from Europe and perpetuated by our Founding Fathers and clearly seen in the American ideal of Manifest Destiny and America’s attempts toward global domination, both economically and militarily. You will often hear that racism is America’s original sin, but that is really a manifestation of tribalism.

In America, as in many other nations, tribalism is wrapped in the guise of patriotism, flag waving and anthem singing. Nationalism is tribalism on a grand scale. Nationalism, as President Trump’s recent comments on refusing immigration from “sh**hole” countries, reflects the elitism that accompanies nationalism, i.e., you can’t believe America is the “greatest nation on earth” and not look down on “lesser” nations.

While keeping our nation safe, securing borders and protecting our interests abroad is one of the primary functions of government, it is not the function of the church. In fact, most of the functions of government are DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED to the Kingdom of God. This is why it is so dangerous for the church to identify itself unreservedly with nationalism and patriotism.

No one is more “patriotic” than a Franklin Graham or a Jerry Falwell. Theirs and many other evangelical leaders like Wayne Grudem’s unabashed support of Trump and republican politics puts evangelicals in the awkward position of standing behind and supporting Nationalism, racism and in opposition to basic human rights. I am not saying that Christians should be non-political but clear distinctions should be made as to what we as Christians wish to represent. Do we clamor for war or work for peace, for example. In the case of Trump’s attitude towards non-white immigration and refugee admittance, do we stand on the side of the oppressed and poor…even if our nation does not benefit directly, or are we to be known as siding with a self serving government.

Of course, not all evangelicals, nor, indeed all Republicans indorse or are happy with President Trump. Nor does wishing to secure America’s borders or have immigration reform immediately label one as as a Nationalist or a right-wing supremest. But when evangelical leadership repeatedly makes excuses, is silent or outrightly agrees with Trump’s posturing the message the world receives is that evangelicals are racist and xenophobic.

If evangelicals wish to counter this perception, there is work to be done. The same outrage and relentless condemnation evangelicals showed the last president, a respectable black man, needs to be shown the current president, a wealthy, sexist and racist white man. Currently only a minority of evangelicals seem to be grasping this fact, even while republican politicians are having second thoughts about Trump. Whether this is indeed possible remains to be seen. If evangelicals can hold their leadership more accountable, calling them out when they are clearly in conflict of the teachings of Christ, the evangelical community may repair their image problems.

In conclusion, progressive Christians are often accused of pandering to current social movements, thereby losing the ability to confront the evils within society. While there may be some truth to that, evangelicals need to realize that complete identity with white conservative politics also removes objectivity and the ability to have a prophetic impact on society.

Christians and the 2nd Amendment: An Unholy Obsession

April, 2008, Barack Obama, angered many conservative midwesterners by saying

“They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

At the time I was still processing what would later become a rejection of conservative Christianity, but at that particular moment I was still “clinging” to a fair amount of my conservative heritage. Like many conservative Christians, I was outraged by the comment. Since then, and many mass shootings since, I have become acutely aware of the truth in President Obama’s observation. American Christians have an unholy obsession with the second amendment. Owning a gun for the majority of Christians and conservatives in general, has shifted from a hunting hobby to a perceived need for “protection.” (1)

The merger of conservative Christianity and conservative American political ideology is so complete, it has become increasingly difficult to tell them apart. While my conservative friends and my nemeses on the blogs will be quick to point out that my Christian support of liberal causes is no different than their support of conservative ones, there is a difference, however. Conservatism and conservative Christianity preserves the status quo, it stifles change and resists reform. In short, conservative Christianity has joined the powers of Babylon. As Brian Zahnd has observed,

“America is many things. It’s a country, a culture, an empire, and a religion. As a country and culture America can often be respected, admired, and celebrated. But as an empire and religion, America is a rival to Christ. One of the reasons that Christian discipleship is so difficult in America is that we are trying to make disciples of people who are already thoroughly discipled into a rival religion. You can either operate under a governing philosophy of America first or you can seek first the kingdom of God, but you can’t do both. To claim otherwise is to either tacitly or explicitly claim that Christ is a servant of the American cause. But as Karl Barth (who knew a thing or two about the dangers of Christian nationalism) taught us, Christ cannot serve some other cause, Christ can only rule.” (2)

On the other hand, liberalism is never satisfied with status quo, nor is it ever “at home” with the current political regime. Progressive Christianity is counter-cultural, regardless of the naysayers who accuse it of bowing to current cultural ideology. It is subversive to those movements which seek to bolster abusive power structures.

One such power structure is the NRA and the American gun lobby. The NRA has identified itself so successfully with the dogma that owning a gun is patriotic, that conservatives opine that any talk of restricting that ownership is tantamount to treason. Since patriotism has become so completely entangled with Christianity among conservatives, they follow blindly along with the narrative. This toxic blend of blind patriotism and gun ownership among Christians has created a dangerous climate in America, the ugly results of which we see on an almost daily basis.

Instead of seeking a reduction of the vast arsenal of guns in the hands of civilians, conservative Christians claim more guns will make us safer, despite the evidence to the contrary. For example the recent statement by Jerry Falwell, Jr. that students should be allowed to carry guns on the Liberty campus:

“…if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in, …I just wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course, Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.” (3)

Not only is this rhetoric contrary to the calling to be peacemakers in the Bible, but it is based on faulty evidence. The research relied on by the NRA is too small a sample and too old to be reliable:

“The rhetoric that credits guns with reducing violence draws largely on a 1995 analysis titled ‘Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun’ by Gary Kleck, a criminologist at Florida State University. Kleck estimated at 2.2 to 2.5 million the occasions when a gun might have been used in self-defence. That 2.5 million is the figure most often quoted by the National Rifle Association. It’s the data that forms the scientific bedrock for VCDL, and organizations like it, to claim that guns save lives. But are its data and conclusions reliable?” (4) the estimate was based on a telephone survey of less than 5000 people, 213 of which claimed they’d used a gun in self defense. Based on that small sample, Kleck estimated there were up to 2.5 million self defense cases a year involving firearms.

On the contrary, gun proliferation has been shown to INCREASE rather than decrease gun violence in most studies. The 2010 Violence Policy Center study showed that in 2010 for every defensive gun use there were 36 criminal uses. According to the long range study by the Boston University School of Public Health conducted between 1981 and 2010, the states with higher levels of gun ownership showed significantly higher numbers of gun related deaths. Researchers in an article for the American Journal of Public Health predicted that if Mississippi’s gun ownership rate went down from 76.8% to 57.7%, it’s gun related deaths would decline by 17%. (4)

What conservative Christians fail to to understand is the corruption behind the gun lobby and the NRA. There is a dark side to all the talk of patriotism and constitutional rights:

“That wholesome public relations veneer masks something deeply sinister and profoundly destructive. There is no other way to say this: The N.R.A. funds domestic terrorism.
A shadow government exists in the world of gun sales, and the people who write gun regulations are the very people who profit from gun sales. The N.R.A. would like to keep it that way.
Just this week, the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on a measure that would loosen restrictions on gun silencers and armor-piercing bullets (the vote was indefinitely postponed after the Las Vegas massacre). It’s not hard to learn about how millions of N.R.A. dollars have spread throughout Congress to influence that vote.“ (5)

The church needs to stand up to those that facilitate violence, to speak with one voice against the organizations and businesses that seek profit over public safety. The church needs to separate itself from Babylon, as Brian Zahnd reminds us:

“From birth every American has been formed by the dominant script that Walter Brueggemann identifies as “technological therapeutic military consumerism.” But Christians are those who have embraced the subversive counter-script of the cross. It’s not the task of the church to “make America great again.” The contemporary task of the church is to make Christianity countercultural again. Once we untether Jesus from the interests of empire, we begin to see just how countercultural and radical Jesus’ ideas actually are:

Enemies? Love them.
Violence? Renounce it.
Money? Share it.
Foreigners? Welcome them.
Sinners? Forgive them.

These are the kind of radical ideas that will always be opposed by the principalities and powers, but which the followers of Jesus are called to embrace, announce, and enact. The degree to which the church is faithful to Jesus and his radical ideas is the degree to which the church embodies a faith that is truly countercultural.” (6)

 

1 http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/04/24/5-facts-about-the-nra-and-guns-in-america/

2 https://brianzahnd.com/2017/10/postcards-from-babylon/

3 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/12/05/liberty-university-president-if-more-good-people-had-concealed-guns-we-could-end-those-muslims/?utm_term=.582485e01081

4 https://aeon.co/essays/the-us-gun-lobby-says-that-guns-save-lives-do-they

5 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/03/opinion/rosanne-cash-country-musicians-nra.html

6 https://brianzahnd.com/2017/10/postcards-from-babylon/

Is Evangelicalism a White Nationalist Movement?

I am appropriating a post by Fred Clark that he posted on Patheos’s Slacktivist blog just after last year’s election of Donald Trump, who’s only qualifications for POTUS were that he was White and wealthy.

Original post here:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2016/11/09/white-evangelicalism-is-white-nationalism/#disqus_thread

While I know a good many wonderful conservative evangelicals who would not dream of calling themselves “racist,” having grown up in the evangelical environment I have seen my fair share of racism, usually disguised as a concern for “law and order” or the belief that non-whites are somehow lazier than Whites. Due to a certain degree of cognitive dissonance, White evangelicals are very resistant to any suggestion that racism, both implicit and explicit, has played a part in the development of conservative evangelicalism. This is due in large part to both ignorance of the history of evangelicalism/fundamentalism in America, and the acceptance of the evangelical revisionism of American history as a true account.

The degree to which individuals share in the racism behind the evangelical movement, of course varies with individuals and their awareness of said racism. I, for example, as an evangelical, fell into many of the standard reductionist views of Blacks and poor people that my conservative evangelical friends and fellow parishioners held. I, like other evangelicals, was almost totally ignorant of anything other than a White world view.

America is rapidly changing, and it is not a White America that we are seeing arising out of it’s racist past. For many Whites this is deeply troubling, for a chapter of American history where Whites controlled everything is coming to a close. In the future there will not be a White America, period. It is this realization that has fed the xenophobic election of Mr. Trump, a last ditch effort to shore up a crumbling edifice of isolationism, nativism and White privilege.

As Fred Clark has stated: “White evangelicalism yesterday performed the purpose for which it was designed: It elected a white nationalist as president. This was not a failure, but a success. This was not a side effect or an accident or a collateral consequence. This was not the end of white evangelicalism, but the culmination of its purpose, its origin, its intent. White evangelicalism is white nationalism. This is what it is, and always has been, for.”

Mr. Clark then goes on to argue convincingly, that when overt racism within the fundamentalist and evangelical camp became too obvious prior to Jerry Fallwell’s Moral Majority (and Bob Jones University I might add) in the 1970’s, a change of focus became necessary for evangelicals to claim the moral higher ground, as building on a history of resistance to civil rights became increasingly difficult to sell to America. Hence, anti-abortion became the new crusade and litmus test for true evangelicalism:

“But then came calamity — the Civil Rights Movement turned America upside-down and exposed the disgraceful evil of segregationist white evangelicalism for all to see…White evangelicalism was laid bare as white nationalism in all its ugly glory. It’s claims of moral authority and moral superiority were proved to be a sham. White evangelicalism lost all credible claim to the moral high ground, and that dealt a heavy blow to its political agenda of white nationalism.”

I would add, the election of a Catholic President, JFK, in the 1960’s had cut off access to the Oval Office by evangelicals, a privilege they had enjoyed for decades. Something had to be done. Evangelical influence in Politics was slipping.

As Mr. Clark puts it, “The only thing to do, then, was to change the subject. And so, with stunning abruptness, white evangelicals adopted a second, and suddenly non-negotiable defining doctrine: anti-abortionism.

“This was new and alien. White evangelicals had mostly applauded Roe v. Wade, regarding anti-abortion views as a peculiarly Catholic mistake. The prevailing attitude among white evangelicals, on the rare occasions they thought about it at all, was similar to the prevailing attitude in Judaism — that a developing fetus has great value and moral significance as a potential person, but that this value and significance did not equal the full personhood of infants or adults”

“That belief — the majority opinion among white evangelicals as recently as the mid-1970s — was soon to become anathema. After Nixon’s failed presidency failed to reverse the losses for white nationalism, white evangelicals pulled a 180 and embraced anti-abortionism as their path to regaining moral legitimacy. This would be their ticket to reclaiming the pretense of the moral high ground while still continuing to promote a political agenda of white nationalism.
It’s simple, really: Redefine abortion as baby-killing and you redefine everyone who supports it as a baby-killer. And you’re always guaranteed to hold the moral high-ground compared to a bunch of baby-killers, even if you’re a white nationalist. Who’s worse? Segregationists? Or baby-killers? The baby-killers, obviously. They kill babies. It’s murder.”

“No white evangelical born before 1970 grew up believing this. No white evangelical born after 1980 grew up not believing this.”

“So now white evangelicals were no longer in the morally indefensible position of explicitly defending segregation and white nationalist politics. Now they were able to regard and portray themselves as moral champions battling against Satanic baby-killers, just as earlier generations of segregationist, pro-slavery, white-nationalist white evangelicals regarded and portrayed themselves as moral champions battling against those who disrespected “the Bible.”

Clark continues: “…white evangelicals again voted for white nationalism. They supported a candidate who explicitly and unambiguously made white nationalism the centerpiece and driving passion of his campaign. The fig-leaf for this support was abortion. And once again we are asked to believe — after centuries defending slavery, segregation and Jim Crow — that it was only about abortion, and that the 100-percent correlation between this anti-abortion politics and white nationalist politics is just an unfortunate and unforeseen coincidence.”

Unfortunately, many good, loving people were duped by the shell game performed by the Republican Party. In the remote chance that Trump would appoint a SCOTUS that would turn Roe v Wade around, a Faustian bargain was made that ignored the poor, refugees, women, minorities, the LGBTQ community and rights for the disabled and other disenfranchised individuals. America will remember this deal with the devil for decades to come. It does not bode well for evangelicals.

 

Why Autocrats Fear LGBT Rights

I ran across this very insightful article this morning posted on Facebook. I thought it presented a clear statement of the underlying reasons for homophobia in the world. The article is by Masha Gessen and can be found here:
http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2017/07/27/why-autocrats-fear-lgbt-rights-trump/

“July 26, 2017, was a personal anniversary for me: one year earlier I had written a piece in which I argued for setting aside the idea of a Trump-Russia conspiracy (yes, this idea was with us a year ago) for the much more important task of imagining what a Trump presidency might bring. I wrote that Trump would unleash a war at home and while it was difficult to predict the target, “my money is actually on the LGBT community because its acceptance is the most clear and drastic social change in America of the last decade, so an antigay campaign would capture the desire to return to a time in which Trump’s constituency felt comfortable.” This was a thought exercise; even as I made an argument that I believed to be logical, I could not believe my own words. On Wednesday of this week, one year to the day since I made that prediction, President Trump announced, by tweet, that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the US military—a policy reversal that would directly and immediately affect thousands of people.

Many commentators immediately branded this move a distraction, an attempt to draw attention away from the Russian-conspiracy story, the health care battle, or anything else they deem more important than the president’s declaration that a group of Americans are second-class citizens. This is not only a grievous insult to transgender people but a basic failure to understand the emotional logic of Trumpism. This is a logic that Trump shares with most modern-day strongmen, and it was this logic that made his attack on LGBT rights so predictable, even while he was literally draping a rainbow flag over his body last year.

Trump got elected on the promise of a return to an imaginary past—a time we don’t remember because it never actually was, but one when America was a kind of great that Trump has promised to restore. Trumps shares this brand of nostalgia with Vladimir Putin, who has spent the last five years talking about Russian “traditional values,” with Hungarian president Viktor Orbán, who has warned LGBT people against becoming “provocative,” and with any number of European populists who promise a return to a mythical “traditional” past.

With few exceptions, countries that have grown less democratic in recent years have drawn a battle line on the issue of LGBT rights. Moscow has banned Pride parades and the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” while Chechnya—technically a region of Russia—has undertaken a campaign to purge itself of queers. In Budapest, the Pride march has become an annual opposition parade: many, if not most, participants are straight people who use the day to come out against the Orbán government. In Recep Erdoğan’s Turkey, water cannons were used to disperse an Istanbul Pride parade. Narendra Modi’s India has re-criminalized homosexuality (though transgender rights have been preserved). In Egypt, where gays experienced new freedoms in the brief interlude of democracy after the 2011 revolution, they are now, under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s dictatorship, subjected to constant harassment and surveillance and hundreds have been arrested.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel is a telling exception to the rule: the government has touted its record on LGBT rights precisely to assert its otherwise tattered democratic credentials—a tactic the writer Sarah Schulman has termed “pinkwashing.” In other words, queer rights are anything but a distraction: they are a frontier, sometimes the frontier in the global turn toward autocracy.

The appeal of autocracy lies in its promise of radical simplicity, an absence of choice. In Trump’s imaginary past, every person had his place and a securely circumscribed future, everyone and everything was exactly as it seemed, and government was run by one man issuing orders that could not and need not be questioned. The very existence of queer people—and especially transgender people—is an affront to this vision. Trans people complicate things, throw the future into question by shaping their own, add layers of interpretation to appearances, and challenge the logic of any one man decreeing the fate of people and country.

One can laugh at the premise of the Russian ban on “homosexual propaganda”—as though the sight of queerdom openly displayed, or even the likeness of a rainbow (this claim has been made) can turn a straight person queer. At the same time, in Russia queer people make an ideal target for government propaganda because the very idea of them serves as a convenient stand-in for an entire era of liberalization that is now shunned. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, queerdom was unthinkable. Afterward, it became possible along with so many other things: the world became complicated, full of possibility and uncertainty. It also grew frightening—precisely because nothing was certain any longer.

This fear cuts across geographic borders; it feels much the same in countries that were never Communist and in societies that were never apparently closed. The precipitous loss of economic security, the disappearance of lifelong careers, the rising sense of a world transformed by the movement of people across borders have all coincided with the growing visibility of LGBT people. In America, too, the sight of a queer person can conjure the fear of change.

Trump’s campaign ran on the word “again,” the promises to “take back” a sense of safety and “bring back”  a simpler time. When he pledged to build the wall or to fight a variety of non-existent crime waves (urban, immigrant) he was promising to shield Americans from the strange, the unknown, the unpredictable. Here, too, queers can serve as convenient shorthand. By tweeting that he has decided to ban transgender people from the military, Trump shows that he is the autocrat that he was elected to be: he can control people by issuing an order. The order juxtaposes the military—the symbol of Americans’ security—with transgender people, who make so many Americans feel so anxious.

Looking at a person who embodies choice—the possibility of being or becoming different—can be like staring into the abyss of uncertainty. In this sense, seeing a Pride march or a trans person can make a straight person feel very queer: it demonstrates possibility, making the world frightening. It speaks to the modern predicament the social psychologist Erich Fromm wrote about in his book about the rise of Nazism, Escape from Freedom: the ability to invent oneself. One is no longer born a tradesman or a peasant, or the lifelong resident of a particular quarter, or a man or a woman. This freedom can feel like an unbearable burden. No wonder the most notorious piece of American anti-transgender legislation—the North Carolina bathroom bill—focused on the birth certificate as the most important document. In mandating that people use public bathrooms in accordance with the sex assigned at birth, the law created a situation where some people who looked, acted, smelled like—who identified and lived as—women were required to use the men’s bathroom, and vice versa—but it established that one’s position in the world was set from birth.

For the last half-century, the American LGBT movement has bent to accommodate the belief that a person’s identity is already present at birth. “Born this way” has been the mantra that has enabled many of the political advances and much of the cultural acceptance for LGBT people, even as it has pushed out of view many queer people’s lived experience of choice. But no amount of reassurance that LGBT people “can’t help it” can alleviate the anxiety brought on by the spectacle of people transgressing gender roles. This is the kind of anxiety Trump addressed as a candidate and has addressed again with his apparent promise to purge transgender people who are already serving in the military. This is no distraction: it is the very heart of Trumpism.”

Freedom vs. Love: When Freedom Prevents Us From Loving

I am reading Bradley Jersak’s “A More Christlike God, A More Beautiful Gospel” (https://www.amazon.com/More-Christlike-God-Beautiful-Gospel/dp/1889973165). In chapter three he contrasts two competing values in Western Culture: “freedom” and “goodness.” He makes the point that of the two, one will always be dominant over the other. Where we have recently seen this most dramatically portrayed in America is in the flack over building a border wall, Muslim immigration and in the so-called attacks on “religious freedom.”

In each of these three cases the safety of our personal freedoms and “rights” is the overriding principal governing protest and the push for legal protections. And in each circumstance someone else’s situation is negatively affected by the insistence on safeguarding our own personal freedoms.

As Jersak puts it, “We live in a culture that so totalizes freedom that anyone who presents an obstacle or becomes a hindrance to what I want is attacking my freedom. I will perceive intrusions on my way of life as the enemy, whether it is a family member, a foreign militant or a government regulator…impositions on my freedom are considered offensive and immoral–attacks–because my personal autonomy (self-rule) comes first.”
…”On the other hand, Christ commands us to love our enemies and to overcome evil with good. He calls us to make love our first allegiance–and his love frees us to do so. Freedom in Christ, ironically, is freedom from the tyranny of our own paranoia-producing self-will and fear-driven self-preservation, which we’ve tragically mislabeled ‘freedom.'” (P. 51)

When self-preservation and personal liberties are promoted by the church as a moral imperative, the result is a Gospel that ceases to be “good-news,” and the church loses it’s “witness” to the Love, Grace and Mercy of God. Extreme examples of this can be seen in the proposal to allow “open carry” on the Liberty University campus and the desire to build a shooting range there. Another sad example can be found in the recent un-Christlike comments of a well-known evangelist towards Muslim refugees fleeing the horrors of war in Syria and the bigoted and false statements made about transgender people by the Right in an attempt to deny safe bathrooms to them.

These are examples of how the church can slip into a self-serving frame of mind and lose sight of serving others first. In most of the recent conversations I have had with conservative Christians they have invariably supported blocking refugees, mass deportations and legislation against Gays on the grounds of preserving our freedoms as Americans and Christians. The argument goes something like this: “the government’s job is to protect us, the church’s job is to minister to others. The government has no business doing the church’s job.” While there may be some truth in that, the church on the Right, unfortunately, has not counteracted with an attitude of selfless love, but has applauded and encouraged self-centered actions by both church and state. In reality, the grasping for “freedom” becomes a bondage that hinders the true freedom we have in Christ to serve others.

Oddly enough, the insistence on my rights taking precedence over other’s rights is almost always couched in terms of “majority” or ‘who’s in control’ rights. Again the over-emphasized concern with majority freedoms at the cost of marginalized individual rights becomes a hallmark of a selfish church. The recent recension of transgender rights by the current administration was hailed as a triumph for the “privacy rights of all of the students who attend their schools” (Kerri Kupec, Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian group). As can be seen, the “freedoms” referred to are not truly freedoms for “all” but freedoms for those who are currently in control.

The church then becomes merely a defender of the status quo rather than a defender of the helpless and disadvantaged. Again, an odd development considering the Evangelical insistence to be seen as a disadvantaged minority, at odds with current society. At the center of this victim mentality is a core resistance to be inconvenienced in any way by the needs of others who are “different” than the traditional status quo, seeing it’s own “minority” needs taking precedence over other’s minority needs, all of which underscores the Right’s weaknesses in the areas of empathy and mercy.

While this can be understood from a political standpoint, it is hard to find justification for it among Christians. So what is the practical upshot of all this? As American Christians how do we wish our government to be perceived? Is it to be generous or does America hoard it’s resources, keeping them to ourselves? Do we expect America to only help others only when it is beneficial to her? Does the church “act magnanimous” while expecting the government to do the “dirty work” of discrimination and marginalization? A lot depends on whether we are selfish or selfless Christians and whether we see America as self-serving or not.

How can the church do it’s job of defending the helpless and those on the outskirts? For one, the church can step back from it’s current support for political actions that marginalize women, minorities and immigrants, remembering that it was once a persecuted minority and in areas of the world it still is. Political action should never simply be in terms of status quo or what makes us feel “comfortable.” Likewise, our fears should not be a primary focus on denying others help when they desperately need it. Ways to adequately meet the needs of the disenfranchised while remaining practical should be sought out. Absolute honest self-assessment needs to take place among America Christians to weed out those attitudes that are based on fear or loss of control.

In conclusion, it would be helpful to remember that Christ did not put his needs above others but calls us to a life where we “lay down our lives” for the benefit of others, family, friends, neighbors and even enemies (1 John 3:16, Mark 12:31, Matt. 5:44). The church cannot fail when it follows the example of Christ, the head of the church.