September 15, 2019

Tuesday with Michael Spencer: The Tactics of Failure

The Right Way and the Wrong Way. Photo by Stephen Percival at Flickr. Creative Commons License

Note from CM:

From 2006, this is an edited excerpt from Michael’s diagnosis of why evangelicals are increasingly drawn to the culture war. It’s not, he says, contrary to what the rhetoric wants us to believe: because they have a Jesus-shaped mission to the world, caring passionately about the issues Jesus cared about. No, it’s a bit less flattering. He is suggesting that spiritually empty, poorly led and poorly taught evangelicals are mistaking the Kingdom of God on earth for the victory of their political and cultural preferences. The Culture War is a poor replacement for the mission of the church as a Jesus-shaped community, pointing to the eschatological Kingdom of God.

And if you want some clear examples of how bad it has gotten since Michael wrote these words, check out the articles about evangelicals on the iMonk Bulletin Board.

• • •

An edited excerpt from:
The Tactics of Failure: Why The Culture War Makes Sense To Spiritually Empty Evangelicals

Everywhere one looks, evangelicals are becoming the religion of the culture war. Liberals vs evangelicals almost defines America these days, and evangelicals don’t mind at all. The more intense it gets, the more we seem to know our place.

Increasingly, major evangelical ministries are becoming more interested in the culture war than any other topic. Take Baptist Press, the former press outlet for the Southern Baptist Convention. These days, fully half of the articles and columns coming from Baptist Press are culture war related, particularly dealing with abortion, homosexuality, feminism, stem cell research, support of the War in Iraq, displays of the Ten Commandments and politics in general. The SBC itself is, on some days, fortunate to get 1 or 2 articles on its own press service.

The SBC mounted a thinly veiled GOP-friendly voter registration movement in this past Presidential election., calling it “I Vote Values.” The SBC’s leading theologians are becoming secondary voices for the Republican party, with radio programs and press releases echoing the daily talking points from the RNC. SBC churches are more politicized than ever, and vigorous defenses of a political, culture war interpretation of discipleship are common. Younger culture war pastors, invigorated by the examples of SBCers like Jerry Falwell, Christian America historians like David Barton, and political preachers like D. James Kennedy, are making increasingly brash statements in the pulpit about what views on the culture war are compatible with being part of SBC churches.

The recent national story of Minneapolis pastor Greg Boyd losing over a thousand members in response to his stand against typical conservative culture war issues — such as the display of the American flag during a Christian worship service — points out how strongly many evangelicals feel about the culture war. They see the culture war mission as the critical component of living as a Christian in America. While no one denies that issues of life and sexuality are part of any Christian’s commitment to truth and compassion, the identification of these culture war issues with the myth of a Christian American is disturbing. Where is the gospel?

I believe the upcoming Presidential election cycle will bring about an unprecedented amount of Christian culture war rhetoric. The likely candidacy of Hillary Clinton will energize many American evangelicals as never before. Christians will be subjected to endless reminders that the “Salvation” depends on the defeat of Clinton. Clinton’s likely appeal to her own faith and to younger, anti-Bush, anti-war evangelicals will make the rhetoric among evangelicals even greater.

Of course, it would be hard to beat what one can hear right now from a Rod Parsley or Richard Roberts. A recent Roberts’ message that I overheard openly stated that the Bush re-election was God’s victory over Satan, and that it was the church that elected Bush. Such rhetoric is wrong and spiritually dangerous, but it also indicates a level of evangelical failure that is seldom discussed.

I wonder if evangelical leaders have contemplated what the effects on the “soul” could be with a political message and a culture war Gospel being sold by trusted leaders to a church often devoid of a Biblical mission.

Perhaps the evangelical lust for success in the culture war tells us more than we see it at first; perhaps it tells us about a more profound and troubling failure.

The Failure of Spiritual Formation

The most basic aspect of any religion is the ability to pass on its DNA to converts and the next generation. That DNA contains the essential beliefs, texts, stories, theology and articulation of the religion, but it also contains the “shape” or “form” of how that religion is lived out in the world in the lives of its believers.

For example, Islamic beliefs are easily summarized by any high schooler with Wikipedia, but what about living the Islamic life? There are already major divisions in the religion regarding religious practice, but fitting Islam into the modern, globalized and secularized world is the greatest challenge of all. Resurgent Islamicism is, in large part, a struggle to change the world to fit Islam because of the threat that Islam will be diluted and changed by the world.

Evangelical Christians face a similar challenge. The DNA of our religion can be passed on in books and other forms of written communication, but how do we live the life of a Christian? This is the question of “spiritual formation,” a much talked about subject among practical and experiential theologians and practitioners. How do we “form” our children into disciples? How do we bring them to the place of choosing Christian identities? How can we influence them toward the forms of Christian life, practice and worship that bring authentic Christianity into this generation, and prepare to move it on into the next?

Spiritual formation has, traditionally, been the work of the Christian family and of the church, particularly its teaching and pastoral ministries. Most evangelicals are aware of aspects of spiritual formation, even if they have never heard the word. Quiet Time. Personal Worship. Accountability. Discipleship groups. Mission trips. Choosing a Church. Knowing God’s Will. Prayer Life. Scripture memory. Personal retreats. Revival. Evangelism training. Re-dedication. These are some of the ways that evangelicals have talked about and attempted to carry out the important work of spiritual formation.

American evangelicals can point to hundreds of publications and programs aimed at some kind of spiritual formation result. The fact is that any honest, but generous judgement would say that after a century of moderate success, the twentieth century and beyond have witnessed an unparalleled failure of evangelicals in the area of spiritual formation. In other words, evangelicals are increasingly spiritually empty, and they are susceptible to a message that the world needs to be changed rather than themselves.

Both families and churches struggle in turning out disciples. American churches specialize in an consumerized, gnostic, experiential Gospel that is increasingly inseparable form the culture in which that church exists. American evangelicals have become as much like the dominant culture as it is possible to be and still exist at all. In fact, evangelicals continue to exist, in large measure, because they have mainstreamed the culture into their religion so that one’s Christianity hardly appears on the radar screen of life as any in any way different from the lives of other people. We are now about values, more than about Christ and the Gospel.

Evangelicals should come to terms with this: they are in every way virtually identical to suburban, white, upper middle class American culture. They are not as bad as the worst of that culture, but they are increasingly like the mainstream of that culture and are blown about by every wind of that consumerized and materially-addicted culture. In fact, go to many evangelical churches and the culture is so present, so affirmed, preached and taught that one would assume that there is nothing whatsoever counter-cultural about the affirmation that Jesus is Lord.

Spiritual formation is no longer interesting to most evangelical churches. Pentecostals want experience and megachurches want activity and support. The point at the end of it all is the expansion of the churches themselves and the ability of individual Christians to live in support of the church as the proper end of the earthly Christian life. The missional goal of most evangelical churches in America is the further growth of the church.

Eugene Peterson has written for years on the loss of the pastor as one who directs the spiritual formation of Christians through the Word, prayer, community and the sacraments. He has lamented the ascendancy of a “pastoral” model that is, in reality, a church growth technician, not a spiritual leader. Peterson has been a true prophet, and we can only hope that younger evangelicals are going to reread and finally hear his warnings now that they have all come true.

My Conclusion

I am suggesting, therefore, that the increasing interest in the culture war among evangelicals is not an example of a reinvigorated evangelicalism remaking its culture. Instead, I believe the intense focus by evangelicals on political and cultural issues is evidence of a spiritually empty and unformed evangelicalism being led by short-sighted leaders toward a mistaken version of the Kingdom of God on earth.

The Culture War makes sense to Christians who have little or no idea how to be Christians in this culture except to oppose liberals and fight for a conservative political and social agenda — an agenda often less than completely examined in the light of scripture, reason, tradition and experience. Those evangelicals — like Greg Boyd — who have challenged or broken the identification with the political right can testify to how they are immediately viewed. Dissenting evangelicals are labeled as pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage and pro-Democrat instantly. The rhetoric of the culture warriors is relentless in associating dissenting evangelicals of every kind with the issues of abortion and homosexuality. No one could be blamed for believing that evangelicalism was a modestly spiritual movement with the goal of banning abortion and gay marriage. (I predict the comment thread of this essay will demonstrate exactly what I am saying.)

In this scenario, there are a number of bizarre takes. The SBC’s most well known theologian doesn’t write books of theology. He hosts a daily talk radio program on cultural war issues. Rod Parsley may preach about miracles, but he uses his influence to elect candidates and promote political causes. Politicians elected by evangelicals get re-elected by appealing to the hot button culture war issues, but their positions on issues like gambling or Aid to Africa are unpredictable and often unknown. The Left Behind movies become video games where the godless are shot by Christians defending themselves. Ann Coulter appears on TBN, promoting her take on why evangelicals ought to care about the influence of real “godless” liberals.

Where is the gospel? Where is the missional calling of the Christian? Where is the church’s ministry of spiritual formation? Where are ministries of Word and Sacrament? All of these are increasingly buried under doublespeak and culture war rhetoric. Evangelicalism is being betrayed by many of its leaders who are building their “ministries” by the appeal to anything but the Gospel and compassion of Jesus.

The culture war agenda increasingly makes sense to evangelicals who are spiritually unformed, distracted and misled.

Comments

  1. So much for the accusations of some that you have taken this blog in a direction alien to Spencer’s vision, making it more political (liberal) and less Jesus-shaped, CM. This post shows that you are moving along the same lines that Spencer was, that you are being faithful to his vision, and that if he were alive today he would be saying many if not all of the same things you have been saying. His critique of where the American church is today regarding the culture war and politics would be even more pointed and emphatic than this post, because things are much farther along the same trajectory that he is decrying here.

    • senecagriggs says

      Rod Dreher’s thoughtful article.

      As a Trump-voting Christian lawyer I met recently said to me, “Donald Trump is going to embarrass me every day of the year, but unlike the other side, he doesn’t hate my faith, and seek to do me harm.”

      https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/evangelicals-trump-shield-2020/

      • He has already done more harm to Christianity in this country than any president in recent memory, and there’s more to come.

        • +1000. And if the winds suddenly changed and gays (or some other group) became more powerful or numerous than evangelicals, and could tolerate Trump, he would turn on a dime.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Yet to Culture War Christians, “HE IS LOOOOOOORD!”

          • Christiane says

            HUG, have you read any of the Falwell Jr. ‘prophet’s pronouncements about Lord T, the Annointed One

            hard to imagine a ‘university’ fielding something like this . . . are they getting ‘paid’ by the trumpists to put themselves on the line this way?

            I feel badly for anyone who in good faith thought ‘Liberty Univ.’ was for real. I think Jerry Falwell has exposed it for what it truly is. A good friend, a teacher with three boys, worked very hard to put them through Liberty University, and now, for what? For what?

            It’s the innocent people who got scammed by Falwell 2 that I hate to see suffering when all of this falls apart. . . . .

      • Drehre is not a Trump lover. An excerpt from comments from the linked article;

        OldPeopleYouAreNext! • 5 days ago

        I’m a regular reader of this blog and I’m having trouble here. Which current and topical policy of the Democrats does Rod prefer vis-a-vis Trump? Put aside the grotesque rhetoric and tweets for a moment and let’s just talk policy.

        Rod Dreher Moderator OldPeopleYouAreNext! • 5 days ago
        General competence, stability, and improved demeanor would be a big improvement over what we have now. For starters.

        Rod Dreher Moderator JDV • 5 days ago
        I agree with you. Every president we’ve had, whatever their flaws personally or politically, knew how to behave as a president. I wouldn’t call Trump “an abomination as a human being,” but in many ways he is the embodiment of everything I train my children NOT to be.

        The point that I take away from the article is that Jeffrees holding to much the typical Premillenial Dispensational eschatology sees Trump “as maybe a respite, a pause in” the loss of fortunes of Evangelicals.

        IMO that downward spiral of Evangelicalism results much from inward rot.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          “Typical Premil Dispy Eschatology” = Hal Lindsay & Left Behind = “It’s All Gonna Burn”.

          So WHY ARE THEY SO HELL-BENT ON POLITICAL POWER (“HAIL TRUMP!”) WHEN “IT’s ALL GONNA BURN ANYWAY”?

          Years ago, I read a rationale for this paradox online:

          1) Christian Reconstructionism/Dominionism began among PostMils; the idea was a long slow march to Theocracy, step by step, winning Hearts and Minds until the populace would willingly accept Theocracy. The actual takeover and Restoring a Christian Nation would be the LAST step in this long game.

          2) Then as Culture War Christianity gelled, this cross-fertilized/cross-contaminated with the Rapture Ready/Any Minute Now crowd. “Any Minute Now… WORK FOR THE NIGHT IS COMING!”

          3) Since “Any Minute Now” trumps the Long Game, Dispy Dominionists had to scrap the long-range prep and go straight to the endgame — the Takeover. NOW.

          P.S. Jeffress the Flatterer really needs to dress in a micro-miniskirt and pompoms:
          “RAH! RAH! TRUMP!
          RAH! RAH! TRUMP!
          (squeeeeeeeeeeee)!”

          • Burro (Mule) says

            Reformed Dominionists of the Rushdoony school were used to speaking and thinking in terms of dozens of generations.

            The Seven Mountains crowd are a different story.

            • Christiane says

              those Seven Mountain people are frightening, Burro

              isn’t there some saying about tyranny coming to our country bearing a Cross and wrapped in the flag?

              • “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” – Sinclair Lewis (AKA the OTHER Lewis)

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says

              Going straight to the endgame: COUP (followed by Cleansing).

      • Please note: I did not bring the name Trump into the conversation, you did. We are talking about something bigger than that person; he is a symptom of a disease on American Christianity that is worsening and metastasizing, he is not the decease itself.

      • How do you know he does not hate the faith? Evangelicals are loyal to him, as you state yourself and others have, not because of his Christian character or his life’s track record, but solely because he delivers conservative court judges and slanders Democrats. And if you think it’s not solely transactional on his part too, you are deluding yourself. The only thing Trump cares about is Trump – he is the personification of C S Lewis’ essay on Pride. He doesn’t care a whit about God or you – and if it ever became politically expedient for him to drop you all like a hot potato, he would do so with a smile.

        And speaking of slander… There are plenty of Democrats and progressives who do not hate the faith – you interact with some of us here. There are many others. We don’t believe exactly what you believe, but we are ultimately answerable to Jesus for that, and not you.

        And chew on this… If you think that there aren’t many other highly placed right-wing culture warriors who actually do scorn God, that too is fooling yourself.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Evangelicals are loyal to him, as you state yourself and others have, not because of his Christian character or his life’s track record, but solely because he delivers conservative court judges and slanders Democrats.

          i.e. The Metrics that define a Culture War Christian:
          Clinton Derangement Syndrome (negative polarity) mated with Trump Derangement Syndrome (postitive polarity).
          ENEMY OF MY ENEMY IS MY FRIEND.

      • What’s that old saying about dogs and fleas?

      • Of course he hates the faith – whatever he says with his mouth he negates with his behaviour.

        I’m almost speechless that anyone could put this forward as an argument – especially when you have President Carter living humbly with his only wife who he has been married to for 73 years, & STILL out there building homes for the poor with his own hands at the age of 94.

        Democrats don’t hate the faith, they just don’t pretend to privilege it over other faiths,or none, much like the actual constitution.

        • Christiane says

          I think our President Carter is a ‘living saint’ and honestly this country will be very remiss not to honor him when he passes . . . may the good man live a long time with us here because his example is sorely needed.

          • thatotherjean says

            I’m agnostic on good days, but I agree with you, Christine. Jimmy Carter practices what he preaches, and works more for the common good than for himself, unlike most people who call themselves Christians. If there are bodhisattvas, or perhaps living saints, he counts as one of them.

      • –> “Donald Trump is going to embarrass me every day of the year, but unlike the other side, he doesn’t hate my faith, and seek to do me harm.”

        Ah, and there it is. “As long as he leaves me alone, I’m good.”

        Boy, has he got you fooled!! (And that’s about as un-Christian as you can get!)

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Ah, and there it is. “As long as he leaves me alone, I’m good.”

          “First they came for the Jews, but I wasn’t a Jew, so…”

      • Christiane says

        senecagriggs,

        I encourage you to take a look at this article and think about it for a while:
        https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/08/ben-howe-evangelical-christians-support-trump/596308/

      • Given that more than 50% of Democrats are Christians, I don’t understand why any Christian would think that Democrats “hate my faith, and seek to do me harm.” Many Democratic politicians are Christian, and some (Obama, Buttigieg, etc.) are quite outspoken about their faith and clearly far more conversant with Scripture and Christian tradition than, say, Trump.

        Granted, most Democrats won’t have a favorable view of the particular *kind* of Christians who twist the faith into an excuse for racism or adultery or whatever, but that’s far different than hating Christianity as a whole.

    • As Martin Luther said, “I didn’t leave the church, the church left me.”

      • Martin Luther didn’t ‘leave the Church’, he walked away from the corruption. That is a big difference.

  2. Andrew Zook says

    Wow, is this ever prescient! – on the part of Spencer… I definitely see the lack of good praxis and theological formation in my context. Now where I’m at, in a Mennonite church, the culture war appeal is somewhat mitigated because of a historical/cultural apathy towards political involvement… but: the spiritual formation is just as poor and many congregants rely on the same culture war media outlets and leaders for parts of their “spiritual” diet, and therefore they think/believe/feel like all the rest of their evangelical co-religionists. They may not act on it quite like their SBC brother/sister, but they’re essentially in the same boat. Someday it’s going to catch up to us…

  3. “The culture war agenda increasingly makes sense to evangelicals” because evangelicals believe in a violent god who demands redemptive violence.

    • Tom, since the rise of Trump I have thought about and reread Capon’s exposition of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. Evangelicalism has yielded to those very same temptations for decades and now they are reaping a whirlwind.

      • Yes.

        Power. Prestige. Possessions. (Or, as James puts it; lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life.) Ever-present temptations to us all.

        • But now it appears to have morphed into dogma for large swathes of evangelicals.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            More than Dogma — INERRANT SCRIPTURE!

            • Christiane says

              ‘The Bible says this because I SAY it says this’

              so it goes that the pastors who buy into this ‘inerrantist’ thing begin to take on their own ability to know the mind of God and interpret it for everyone else

              it means what they say it means because THEY SAY IT, and that’s that: oh the depths of human pride

    • Just saw Jim Bakker’s TV show (came on when the news ended). They are pushing a book called ‘Why God Hates Open Borders’. Unbelievable!

      • thatotherjean says

        What? Whatever happened to “Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” It strikes me that the Culture Wars have moved rather far from the Bible, and in the wrong direction.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Because God now Hates (with a Perfect Hatred) the exact same things (and people) Jim Bakker does.
          And Franklin Graham does.
          And James Dobson does.
          And Jerry Falwell Jr does…

          • Oh. . .right. I’ll bet a lot more people listen to that bunch than actually read the Bible.

            • Christiane says

              they forget . . . . Our Lord was a refugee into the land of Egypt, as the Holy Family fled from Herod having been warned by an angel

              taking ‘asylum’ is something we cannot, as Christians, speak against or have contempt for, no

      • –> “They are pushing a book called ‘Why God Hates Open Borders’. ”

        Because THEY hate open borders, and what THEY hate, God must hate!

        Ugh. Lord have mercy on them. And me.

        • Christiane says

          Are these men knowledgeable about the Holy Gospels of Our Lord? Maybe they need to read some in them.
          And they would find this, from the Holy Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 2:

          “an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.
          “Get up!” he said.
          “Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt.
          Stay there until I tell you,
          for Herod is going to search for the Child to kill Him.”
          So he (Joseph) got up, took the Child and His mother by night, and withdrew to Egypt ”

          I don’t understand these people who have SO MUCH CONTEMPT for asylum seekers.
          I don’t get it.
          (?)

  4. “The most basic aspect of any religion is the ability to pass on its DNA to converts and the next generation. That DNA contains the essential beliefs, texts, stories, theology and articulation of the religion, but it also contains the “shape” or “form” of how that religion”

    That “shape/form” is key. From my experiences in evangelical churches, that “shape/form” consists almost entirely of daily prayer and Bible reading, church attendance and tithing, and keeping one’s nose clean (no cussing, porn, and/or various other boundary behaviors). If you’re really spiritual, you can attend a home Bible study, support missionaries, and cook a meal in a shelter once a month. And that’s about it. Now, I am NOT saying that that is all that all evangelicals do – many do so much more. What I am saying is that this is what the evangelical culture sets as its expectations. And as Michael said, it’s not very demanding from a white middle class suburban perspective. And right now, we all need so much more than this.

  5. We are watching the collapse of American evangelicalism. Their theology is driving the collapse. The sooner the better.

    • While I no longer can call myself a Christian, I do have trouble cheering the collapse of a movement that formed whatever positive character traits I might still possess. Perhaps American evangelicalism’s sickness is indeed unto death, but judging from the beautiful people I met this past weekend back up in Indiana at a family/church celebration, I’d prefer to hope for a wave of reform… however unlikely that seems to be at the institutional level.

      As with so many diagnoses of religious ailments, however, they point to broader pathologies. A lack of spiritual formation in churches that no longer seem distinguishable from the wider culture is for that very reason also an indication of that larger culture’s hollowness. We secular types often have little to offer beyond an individual emancipation that might or might not allow a person to step into the water and wade out a little bit deeper. Sure, it’s easier to swim without shackles, but your arms are still going to get tired eventually.

      We all – or at least most of us – seem to be missing that “thickness” that fills the soul. Neither culture wars nor Paine-grade Common Sense quite do the trick. We’re all bobbing in the same water. The smell of cooked frog legs isn’t reassuring.

      • Trevis, I understand what you are saying. It is the system of American evangelicalism whose collapse I cheer, not the folks in the pews. I too, have kind and gracious friends and family who still adhere to that system. My exit from their ranks gave me the space to remain a Christian, though a poor one. I hope you find that “thickness for your soul”. I’m almost certain you will. Peace.

    • thatotherjean says

      I don’t think I’d call what they’re following “theology.” It’s more like giving in to the worst of their tribal impulses, circling the wagons (did the pioneers ever actually do that?) and defending themselves from every effort to show them where they might be mistaken.

      • They claim their beliefs are biblical and that they reflect an accurate view of God and His will for us. That sounds like theology to me. But I do agree with your sentiment.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Theology as Cosmic-level Justification for What I Wanna Do Anyway.

  6. What Christian denomination in America is actually growing in numbers and influence? The analysis that Mr. Spencer did of evangelical Christians is still relevant to a large extent. If seems the evangelicals have lost the culture war in regards to their opposition to gay marriage, abortion and traditional conservative social norms. I wonder what Mr. Spencer would think about the mainstream religions and the direction of their organizations. I believe that apathy and non involvement by the general voting public have led to a vast number of those who have no firm conviction on either side of the religious and social spectrum and the “true” believers on the conservative and liberal sides have hardened their positions. I am not sure how I feel about the lost of influence of Christianity in the secular affairs of the world as it will be a new norm. I was not able to vote in due to moving and my own neglect and used that as an excuse as I could not vote for either candidate which I guess is a form of voting. I wonder what Mr. Spencer would think of those voters in 2016 were not evangelicals or even Christian who voted for Trump? As the majority of the country , historically, was white and Christian the main driver of the sea level shift in politics is demographics and America has had the luxury of success. I ponder how much Christian beliefs are driving the events in Hong Kong and if that is a good thing. I would guess that Mr. Spencer would be pleased that the comments on this site are certainly not hostile now but mainly supportive of his narrative. I may live long enough to see how it works out it with none being the majority religion. Mr. Spencer was a thoughtful, honest and intelligent broker . I am sorry for his passing as I personally would have like to see how his journey in this world would have unfolded. Politically , socially and religion wise we are in uncharted waters.

  7. It’s easy to be dismissive and more than a little angry at them but I still feel a great deal of sympathy for the Trump Evangelicals. Perhaps because this group includes some of my own family. They feel lost and are daily confronted with a larger culture they feel alienated from. They can’t rely on the privileges enjoyed by their own parents. They listen to folks they shouldn’t listen to, who assure them there’s an easy way to solve all their problems. When Trump is gone they’ll be even more alienated from the political process than they are now. This is dangerous because frightened people are capable of doing foolish things.

    I wish the Democrats weren’t as addled as they are.

    • Perceptive comment, Stephen. I hope what I say tomorrow will address your thoughts as well as others.

      • Christiane says

        I look forward to your blog tomorrow, Chaplain Mike. (sigh) somehow the pieces of all this current nightmare must come together to be healed and Stephen’s compassion is a sign that it may be possible

    • –> “I wish the Democrats weren’t as addled as they are.”

      The Dems aren’t doing us – or the country – any favors. I fear we’ll be faced this next election with the same choice of two poisons that we had last election.

      Lord have mercy on us. If it’s in your will, that is.

      • Burro (Mule) says

        I do not want to cast another vote in despair.

        If we are subjected to Trump – Booker/Warren/Harris/Beto/Biden/Buttigieg, forget it.

        Funny thing, I know we need Universal Health Care, and the government is the only entity large enough or catholic enough to administer it. It will suck, have all the efficiency and compassion of the Department of Motor Vehicles, but that’s true enough already unless you’re part of the donor class.

        War and peace is also very important to me, more so even than abortion. I cast three Democratic votes in the last twenty years hoping against hope we wouldn’t embroil ourselves in more senseless wars and occupations, and now the drums are heating up against Iran. That’s the stoopidest idea yet.

        Sen. Klobuchar and Gov. Bullock seem pragmatic enough to avoid the usual Democratic excesses, but the Democratic candidate who really is attractive to me is Marianne Willamson. If her rhetoric was more overtly Nicean Christian rather than New Age, she’s be nigh-on perfect. If she chose Jim Webb as her running mate,,,

        • Christiane says

          I love Amy Klobuchar . . . she’s so down-to-earth mid-western ‘nice’. We need her kind of character and common sense in Washington now.

    • The Democrats are stuck in a place of fear, loss, and alienation, too, as progressive members of my family demonstrate regularly in their constant hyperbolic messages about how Trumpism=fascism, Naziism, et cetera and how they manage to insert their obsessive fears about “the current American nightmare” in every conversation. One member of my family seems pretty terrified that God will soon strike down the entirety of America simply over its immigration law.

      When all of the evangelists are gone, who will tell the frightened people about the One who said, “Fear not”?

      • Christiane says

        Hello sarahmorgan,
        may I show you WHY dems MIGHT think that Trump is Nazi-cozy, aside from his ‘both sides’ fasco?

        Take a look:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1o6-bi3jlxk

        • Christiane, I come from a family of Germans who lived through the Nazi regime & war and thankfully escaped from it, so to me, most of the noise about the current administration=Naziism is hyperbole. And I doubt it will influence your thinking in any way, but nonetheless will answer your link with another, just to provide a different perspective. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2019/03/21/trump_didnt_call_neo-nazis_fine_people_heres_proof_139815.html

          • Christiane says

            we all heard him, sarahmorgan . . . it is what it is

            https://youtu.be/W_L3sMAj_iE

            when all the people saw and heard that first time, here’s what I believe is true:

            ‘you can fool some of the people all of the time
            and you can fool some of the people part of the time
            but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time’

            DT tried to ‘walk back’ his intitial comment, but people saw and they heard . . . . for themselves

            and in the end, people make up their own minds about what they witnessed and that’s good, because this is the United States of America, and my brother and his children have houses in Charlottesville, near the University, so I care very much about a comment that suggests ‘moral equivalency’ between my family and those who marched with neo-Nazis . . . . my family were at the later vigil with candles to protest the neo-Nazis and the killing of that young woman . . . . my family KNOWS that ‘fine people’ don’t march ‘with’ the torch bearers

            My husband’s grandparents came from Germany. His family are good people, so when I oppose neo-Nazis, I am not denigrating the German nation, no. If anything, what happened to Germany ought to be a red light to any free country that, under certain circumstances, all civilized, cultured countries may fall into trouble, so we do need to be vigilant here and ‘never forget’.

            Those torch-bearers? It’s a free country, but Heather Heyer is dead, who once was a decent American girl living in a lovely university town filled with citizens that the whole country can be proud of, and the neo-Nazis came into that town and NO WAY would anyone march ‘with’ them who were ‘good people’ . . . . so much for trump’s ‘both sides’ nonsense. We all heard. We all saw.
            ‘when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time’ wrote Maya Angelou, a great American poet. I think she was right.

            Thanks for interacting with my comment.

  8. Burro (Mule) says

    The Netflix series Fauda is about the lives of a group of Israeli undercover anti-terrorist operatives and their Palestinian counterparts and targets. Despite a perceptible pro-Israeli bias, it is a worthwhile watch, even if if the violence and mayhem does get extreme. What strikes me, though, is how often the characters reference their children as the motivation for what they are doing; the tough Israeli counter-terrorist operatives have kids that they are trying to keep safe, the ruthless Hamas and ISIS partisans have kids they want to grow up in an unoccupied country. All of them, the committed, the compromised, the self-absorbed, the selfless, all gave the excuse that they were doing it for their children.

    Yet their children were the ones who suffered the most. In their pain and confusion, you could see the kids starting to take the first steps towards maintaining and nuturing the conflicts their fathers had inherited from their grandfathers.

    It is our family’s practice to attend services at two different churches on alternate Sundays. At the Greek Orthodox Church the motto is to leave your politics in the Narthex. As the Orthodox Church is small-c catholic, there are likely all (these days, it is getting more accurate to say “both”) opinions represented among the laity. The Orthodox Church is officially both anti-abortion and pro-refugee and supports both causes financially, so if you don’t like that, there’s the door.

    On the other hand, the congregation my wife feels comfortable with is very much a Jesus-hippie outpost that is like a time capsule from the late 70s. They set up shop in what was then one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in Atlanta and started doing “street rescue” which is exactly what it sounds like. Their evangelism was strong on the repentance-and-altar-call side, but also included food, shelter, and training for longterm street denizens. It was a recipe that worked until the neighborhood started to gentrify and their target audience started to face eviction and relocation. Now, they are kind of an island of squalor in an increasingly uprent world.

    Last week, they had a guest speaker, one of these itinerant prophetesses who seem increasingly endemic in Pentecostal circles. Her message was one of almost undiluted politics as she “shared” her recent “ministry” in Washington DC. Some of the big Evangelical names she dropped would be recognizable to people here, but as the “bad guys”. She spoke about the need to “take authority” over the “demons” energizing the Democratic party and the fury that God was treasuring up because of their promotion of homosexual behavior and abortion.

    I looked over at the pastor, a big ex-biker type who spends weeks at a time on the rough streets looking for the one lost sheep he could bring back into the fold. He is not a man who is easily cowed or buffaloed. His face showed no sign of either approval or disapproval, although I was becoming acutely uncomfortable with the speaker’s rhetoric. It clearly had no place in this man’s vision, because when the speaker closed her remarks, he made no reference to anything she said but reminded the people that this next week there was to be a children’s outreach in one of the (increasingly distant) housing projects.

    Now, what bothered me was how close the woman’s rhetoric was to that of the Islamicists on Fauda. True, she stopped short of advocating violence, preferring to have Christians pray that God inflict it instead, which to me is the same thing. One of the things that disturbed me about Fauda was the disappearance of all middle ground as anyone on either side who supported any kind of negotiation with the other side immediately became a target themselves, and I fear we are well on the way down that road now.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      One of the things that disturbed me about Fauda was the disappearance of all middle ground as anyone on either side who supported any kind of negotiation with the other side immediately became a target themselves, and I fear we are well on the way down that road now.

      At which point, There Is Only One Way This Can End.
      To The Death.

      • Burro (Mule) says

        Even back in the 70s, I was so disgusted by the Israel/Palestine issue that I was attracted to the Albigensian solution to the problem – wall up the whole former mandate, pass out the guns and ammo, last one standing gets it all.

  9. senecagriggs says

    Rubber meet Road:

    “Craig and Mullins visited Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, in July 2012 to order a wedding cake for their return celebration. Masterpiece’s owner Jack Phillips, who is a Christian, declined their cake request, informing the couple that he did not create wedding cakes for marriages of gay couples owing to his Christian religious beliefs, although the couple COULD PURCHASE other baked goods in the store.”
    ____________

    So I-monkers, do you believe Jack Phillips should be forced to make wedding cakes that celebrate a marriage of two homosexuals or do you think his theological convictions should allow him to say NO to using his cakes to endorse behaviors he sees as sinful?

    [ On which side of the issue would the current Democratic candidates stand? I don’t think they’d support Jacks’s religious freedom. I think they’d say, “You bake the cake or go out of business.”
    I think Trump would would support Jack’s freedom to not bake the cake.. ]

    BTW, should Israel bakers in the U.S. be forced to produce cakes saying “Mohammed is THEE Prophet”?

    • I think that if Jack Phillips wants to sell wedding cakes to the general public, he should sell to *everyone* – he doesn’t get to discriminate between who gets a cake and who doesn’t based solely on HIS beliefs. If those beliefs insist that he can’t/won’t serve everyone, then he shouldn’t open a public business – he could start a private church-only catering service instead.

      This is a SECULAR republic we live in, not a theocracy. And I might add, historically speaking theocracies do not do well either in the human rights side of things, nor in the political stability side.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        This is a SECULAR republic we live in, not a theocracy.

        YET.

      • senecagriggs says

        I never doubted which side you were on Eeyore.
        ____

        Now, does the Jewish Baker have to make a cake for a Muslim that says Mohammed is THEE ONLY Prophet?

        • Then why ask the question? Or better yet, answer us this – do you believe that non-discrimination is a good thing? Or is it a one-way street where only Christianity gets the benefit of the doubt?

        • –> “Now, does the Jewish Baker have to make a cake for a Muslim that says Mohammed is THEE ONLY Prophet?”

          My guess is, he/she probably would bake that cake.

          • And I’m guessing many and agnostic or atheist has baked a cake for a Christian/Muslim/Jew that they didn’t agree with the writing on top or the celebration it was being used for.

            • thatotherjean says

              I don’t doubt it. Most atheists and agnostics don’t care what you believe, and will be happy to write whatever you want on your cake, provided they don’t have to believe it, too. You’ve never heard a story in which an agnostic baker complained that he/she couldn’t bake a cake for a gay wedding, have you?

          • senecagriggs says

            My guess is “Hell No,” “Go elsewhere.”

            • So, Seneca, does the hotel owner who does not believe in racially mixed marriages, based on his understanding of the Christian faith, have a right to refuse a room to such a couple?

      • Everyone seems to forget that Jack Phillips was not simply asked to “bake a cake”, and he did not simply refuse to “sell a cake” to the couple. There was a lot more nuance than that. What his conscience could not allow was creating a custom work of – yes, edible – art.

        Agree or disagree, there has to be room in our society for people to follow their consciences, or we are in an even ***worse*** place than any of us thinks we are.

        Dana

        • And if peoples’ consciences would have them cause harm to others?

          • No harm was involved in this case. And that’s exactly the legal question: Under what conditions does the State have the right to step in and force things? Consider carefully before you answer.

            The Phillips case was an example of a very “first world” kind of a problem that did not have to end up in court.

            Dana

            • “Under what conditions does the State have the right to step in and force things?”

              I’ll put the same question to you that I put to Burro below – is “all people are created equal” a good social/political principle? It it is, then it is within the bounds of the State to step in and force compliance to it.

              • Yes, it is. (And before it was a social/political principle, it was a Christian one.) Again, what constitutes that boundary was exactly the question the Court was asked to decide.

                Phillips didn’t refuse to sell the couple a cake; he offered them one of his generic ready-mades. He didn’t throw them out of the store. He didn’t try to prevent them from getting married. He has refused other custom commissions because of subject matter. He didn’t treat them unequally, and that’s what the Court found.

                I don’t know if I would do what Phillips did were I in his situation, but I have refused to do things for conscience’s sake. It’s not easy.

                Dana

                • …and as Mule noted below, the Christian principle was based on brotherhood – something arising from within, as a result of gratitude, not something imposed from without.

                  During the Paschal Liturgy and throughout the season we hear this several times:
                  “Let us call ‘brothers’ even those that hate us, and forgive all by the Resurrection.” That is something that transcends the power of the State, and cannot be touched by it.

                  Yes, I think there is also a component of certain chickens coming home to roost. Putting trust in princes – in whom there is no salvation – always comes back to bite Christians in the butt.

                  D.

                  • Forgive me for asking, but… would you have the same reticence in asking the State to criminalize abortions? If not, why not?

                    • Yes. In this, as with other culture war issues, I keep thinking back to the Christians who lived in the Roman Empire before Christianity was legal.

                      Nobody in the Greco-Roman culture thought twice about abortion – and leaving unwanted newborns at the edge of town so that the elements and wild animals would kill them. Christians had no way to stop these things by means of legislation, and didn’t protest to the authorities (although when they found the exposed babies – some even seeking them out – they took them home and sheltered them, raising them if they lived and burying them if they died – I believe I read that most of the children were girls, and I assume that they also probably included infants with birth defects). People being the same then as now, I’m sure Christian women talked to non-Christian women who confided in them regarding an unwanted pregnancy, and I’m sure the Christians did what they could to save the child, including taking the child into their own homes. Christians were notorious among the people in the midst of whom they lived for doing things like that.

                      We’re not – and that’s why I believe the violence of abortion, against the woman as well as the child within her – is ultimately the responsibility of Christians in this country. If Christians would adopt all the available children, especially those with special needs, and sacrifice their own resources to support pregnant women with what they need to raise a child – including physical and psychological support, jobs/job training and quality child care – and, since we now have that opportunity, support government policies that are actually family-friendly – then the instances of abortion in this country would be negligible. We American Christians don’t want to make those kind of sacrifices. (There are a number who do, but again, they don’t get press. And God bless that dear Muslim man in the LA area who adopts and cares for unwanted infants who will have very short lives. Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.)

                      I also am among those Christians who don’t want my lifestyle disturbed very much. I do something, but it’s the very minimum – I give money regularly to Catholic Charities, who do a really good job locally with the kind of support I described above. I’m a coward and a hypocrite too. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, and on us all.

                      Dana

            • thatotherjean says

              In this religious/political atmosphere, could it end up anywhere except in court? Tolerance has not been a Republican/Conservative Christian hallmark for quite some time, and it has gotten much worse under Trump.

              • It was the couple who brought suit, not Phillips. I don’t know what his political leanings are.

                Dana

                • And it was Rosa Parks who sat down in The Wrong Seat. Sometimes, if those in power won’t come to “Brotherhood” via their own consciences, someone has to make some trouble.

                  • You’re right to put “brotherhood” in quotes. If it’s forced, it’s not brotherhood. Rosa Parks and other black people who sat in the front – she wasn’t the only one – acted in a non-violent manner, not simply to “make some trouble”. Read Dr. King’s last Christmas sermon, especially the section that begins, “I’ve seen too much hate…”

                    https://onbeing.org/blog/martin-luther-kings-last-christmas-sermon/

                    Dana

    • Burro (Mule) says

      According to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I’m afraid they have to bend the knee and bake the cake. Of course, I’ve not all that big a fan of that particular piece of legislation.

      • “I’ve not all that big a fan of that particular piece of legislation.”

        Neither were the segregationists whom it was implemented to thwart. But since the South wasn’t going to stop being racist on its own, some not-so-gentle pushing was needed.

        • Burro (Mule) says

          True that. The white South was basically bludgeoned (“when will you iggerant peckerwoods learn to obey us smart people?”) into accepting the hypocritical Yankee narrative. I’m no fan of Southern racism, but my politics make for some strange bedfellows.

          I can guarantee that not one single heart was changed by this legislation, and the South (or the North) hasn’t stopped being racist.

          Go back and read Dick Beck. He gets it. The State is not our savior. I’m glad I won’t be around when the sinews of the State stop being nourished by the flow of hydrocarbons and things begin to devolve to a more local level of organization.

          • It’s not our savior, but it can at least force us to face the issues. Do we really believe that “all people are created equal” or not? If we do, should we not uphold that standard by law, even if imperfectly? If we don’t, let’s just set up that white theocratic Gilead-clone and have done with the hypocrisy.

            • –> “(The State is) not our savior, but it can at least force us to face the issues.”

              The problem is, the State then CHOOSES which issues to force us to face and which it decides we can ignore. If there’s one element of the conservative right’s angst that I understand, it’s this one. (Of course, after years of the Christian right trying to force its own issues onto the nation, this could be a bit of “you reap what you sow.”)

              • senecagriggs says

                The problem is, the State then CHOOSES which issues to force us to face and which it decides we can ignore. If there’s one element of the conservative right’s angst that I understand, it’s this one – True R.Ro

              • “years of the Christian right trying to force its own issues onto the nation” – well, that’s the rub. Conservatives didn’t discover “freedom of conscience” until it was THEIR policies under scrutiny. As long as the State was on THEIR side, it was fine.

              • Burro (Mule) says

                Ah well, who gets to decide what “harm” is?

                In my wife’s country [Peru], the unelected President was met by huge street demonstrations (600,000+) when he attempted to incorporate illustrations depicting the hydraulics of gay sex into the fifth grade public school curriculum.

                I would not want the hydraulics of straight sex outlined in a fifth grade curriculum, but hell, when dogs, dwarves, diapers and pliers are available at the flick of a finger on a smartphone, I know I’m beating a horse that’s not only dead, but decomposing.

                • “I’d call him a sadistic, hippophilic necrophile, but that would be beating a dead horse.”
                  -What’s Up, Tigerlily?

      • it’s not about the ‘cake’

    • I’m very poorly informed on all the nuances of the culture wars because I am not engaged so I may misspeak but on the face of it that whole scenario is out of hand and fueled by the culture wars. Private baker? He doesn’t have to make a gay cake. He doesn’t HAVE TO make ANY kind of cake. I’m a painter. I don’t have to paint for anyone I don’t want to and there are people I have turned down because I knew them to be so particular that it was as important to them to find fault with my work as it was that they got a good paint job. No one is taking me to court. My gay friends, go to a different bakery or have him bake a regular cake and put your own top on it. Why this was not resolved, literally, in a matter of moments is symptomatic of our culture. The essentials of civility and kindness were probably not prevalent in the exchanges. I could be wrong. This seems like an overstep by the customers but there is often intransigence and indignation on both sides. How it was handled probably played a role. Everyone with their dander up and standing for the righteousness of their cause. Stupid.

      • Burro (Mule) says
        • When people stop being bigots on their own without being sued, then that subset of people can find other work. Until then…

          Yes, I’m being repetitive, but I want you to see that by making the lines of arguments you are making, you are (whether deliberately or not) aligning with racists and misogynists. If that’s deliberate, fine, but I won’t let it stand unopposed. If it isn’t, you may want to rethink your positions.

          • Burro (Mule) says

            According to the law as it currently stands and the interpretations of that law dispensed by the courts in the last 55 years, yes, the bakers needed to bend the knee.

            I just wanted to point out that it was the knee that was being bent, not the head or the heart.

            I find people like Yanick just as objectionable as you find bigots, and while I am not fond people who dislike African-Americans just for being African-American, I do not know whether I could endure a room full of Yanicks longer than I could endure a room full of Klansmen. Unfortunately the law is flowing in Yanick’s favor right now, so I’ll give him and his tribe a wide berth, and find a legal way to have as little to do with them as possible.

            • “I just wanted to point out that it was the knee that was being bent, not the head or the heart.”

              Fair enough. But if a person’s heart does not agree that “all people are created equal”, that does not entitle them to thumb their noses at that law and that principle. Not without a fight at any rate.

              • Burro (Mule) says

                “No man was ever created free and no two men were ever created equal. The comity of peoples in groups large or small rests not upon this chemerical notion of equality but upon fraternity, a concept which long antedates it in history because it goes immeasurably deeper in human sentiment. The ancient feeling of brotherhood carries obligations of which equality knows nothing. It calls for respect, deference, and protection, for brotherhood is status in family, and family is by nature hierarchical.”

                There. You flushed the fox, and you will get your fight. It will be as perpetual as that between Yahweh and Amalek.

                • Consider the fox flushed. Let the audience now judge who is closer to Jesus’ teachings on this matter.

      • “I’m a painter. I don’t have to paint for anyone I don’t want to and there are people I have turned down because I knew them to be so particular that it was as important to them to find fault with my work as it was that they got a good paint job.”

        That’s not discrimination based on race/belief/sexuality/gender/age. Discrimination based on those categories is not legal. Civility might have avoided a particular lawsuit, but the refusal of service is still illegal.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        Both parties in these cases are being tendentious, but the plaintiffs have a point. This is a reprise of the “public accommodations” provisions of the Civil Rights Act. Back in the day (i.e. sixty years ago) many businesses in parts of the US refused to serve blacks. A black man had trouble finding a restaurant to eat in and a hotel to sleep in. There were special guidebooks published listing establishments that *would* serve blacks. These were necessary for blacks to travel in these parts of the country (yes, meaning the South, though not exclusively).

        The Civil Rights Act included a provision outlawing this practice. This was very controversial. Outlawing racial discrimination by the government was one thing. That was the government telling itself what to do. Outlawing racial discrimination by private businesses was seen as another matter entirely: an outrageous intrusion of government into private affairs. The counter-argument was that this was all about a citizen’s right to function in society, even with excessive melanin.

        We don’t hear about public accommodations much nowadays, in the context of race. No one admits today to being a racist. This doesn’t stop them from lots of racist stuff, but it is hard to rationalize away as something else while refusing to eat in a restaurant serving black patrons. You occasionally see the argument made by self-identified libertarians, but it doesn’t have much traction outside that small, albeit loud, bubble.

        The gay rights debates of today are a replay, nearly word for word, of the civil rights debates of the 1960s. This is despite the best efforts of the conservative faction to steer them in a different direction. This is the underlying point of the claim that being gay is a choice, or at best a condition to be rectified through conversion therapy. This casts homosexuality as a disease to be cured. This is in contrast to casting homosexuality as simply what someone is, just like being white or black. While there is still a rear-guard action defending conversion therapy, the practice is past being tenable to any but strict doctrinarians. The culture at large has come around to regarding one’s sexual orientation more like one’s race than one’s medical status.

        The gay plaintiffs in the bakery case are being tendentious in that yes, they could just go down the road to another bakery, that would be happy for their business. We do not in fact need special guidebooks (OK: they would be apps today) to find businesses willing to serve gays. But they do have a point, that this is the same debate we had a half century ago with regard to race.

        • Burro (Mule) says

          I’ll admit to being a racist. Subconsiously, I do feel that North Sea Europeans and their cultural constructs are kind of a Gold Standard for humans.

          Admitting this to yourself has the same salutatory effect as confessing it to a priest.

      • Chris, you make a good point by observing that both sides in many of these situations are failing to love neighbor or practice civility and generosity.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Teh Fag Card is now officially in play.

    • David Cornwell says

      senecagriggs:

      As followers of Jesus, we should side on the side of hospitality. Jesus would sit at table with them. On that table there might be a cake.

      Sometimes when I’m eating with Pharisees who attempt to entrap people with legalistic questions, I get indigestion. Not a warm heart, but heartburn.

  10. Richard Hershberger says

    Anecdatum: My wife teaches high school social studies. This includes discussions of world religions, including Christianity. So one lesson included a discussion of Jesus and his teachings, just as another might discuss the Buddha and his teachings. One of her students–white middle class–was amazed to learn about this Jesus guy, and the Christians were supposed to follow him. The amazement came from this student having long attended a Christian (generic non-denominational) church. So he asked his mother, who asked the pastor, who assured them that yes, this Jesus guy was a thing.

    Do I believe this story? Were I to hear it more indirectly, I would be deeply skeptical. I absolutely believe the student told this to my wife. I cannot rule out that the kid was pulling her leg, but if so, it was done well enough to convince her.

    • Christiane says

      somewhere in the ‘we despise these other sinners’ rants that pass for ‘sermons’, there is no room for Jesus Christ

      I believe the boy also

    • That falls in the category of “too difficult to believe to NOT be true.” LOL.

  11. Richard Hershberger says

    Culture wars and Jesus-shaped spirituality: Culture war issues are almost never Jesus-shaped, because they are inherently legalistic. Look over their history and they are always (with one notable exception discussed below) at best irrelevant to Jesus’s mission, and often directly contradictory to it.

    Take my go-to example of a defunct culture war issue: Sunday baseball. This was a specific case of the broader issue of Sabbatarianism. This is almost entirely relegated to the scrap heap of history, with just a few vestiges like Chik-fil-A being closed on Sunday. But it was a bulwark of Protestant respectability, back in the day. So what did Jesus have to say on the subject? Just the opposite. He broke the Sabbath, and defended breaking it.

    We can run down the list. Prohibitionism was another mainstay. This is more sympathetic, as alcoholism was a devastating problem. The urge behind the movement is entirely understandable. But it was, inevitably, cast as Christian dogma. So what does the Bible in general, and Jesus in particular, have to say about alcohol? It is pretty enthusiastic about it, really. You have to perform some pretty amazing exegetical gymnastics to get around this.

    Dancing? I don’t recall Jesus commenting on the topic, but the Old Testament does, and again is quite enthusiastic. (See also: instrumental music, for those churches that eschew it.)

    Nowadays the culture war issues that still have some real juice are mostly the pelvic issues. So what does Jesus have to say on them? Not much. The one thing he does say is to condemn divorce. Well, that’s embarrassing. Fifty years ago, divorce was rare enough that divorced people would be othered, and divorce condemned full-throatedly. That is a lot harder now. Even people who have never divorced often have family members, or at least acquaintances, who have. It is a lot harder to other as Bad People your friends and family; and while some people are up to it, this strategy limits church growth. So mostly the subject is discreetly avoided. I once listened to a talk on divorce from my local Baptist wanna-be megachurch. The pastor circled around it at great length, avoiding actually coming to grips with it. There was relieved laughter when he digressed to “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Adam and Steve are getting harder to other, for the same reason as are divorced people. It is fascinating to watch how this goes.

    That notable exception I mentioned above, of a Jesus-shaped culture war issue? Abolitionism. This was a practical application of Jesus’s injunction that we love one another. It split American Evangelicalism, and the Abolitionist half was later reclassified as Not Evangelical.

    • “what does the Bible in general, and Jesus in particular, have to say about alcohol? It is pretty enthusiastic about it, really. You have to perform some pretty amazing exegetical gymnastics to get around this.”

      Like claiming that Jesus turned the water into grape juice? No joke, I heard Tim LaHaye say that, explicitly, from the pulpit once.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        There is a long, contrived argument that there was a process whereby grape juice could be stabilized, so it wouldn’t ferment. When the Bible, the argument goes, talks favorably about wine, that is what it is talking about. When the Bible talks unfavorably about wine, it is talking about the fermented stuff. I can only stand back and admire this argument, as purest bullshit, making words mean what we want them to mean and, for extra credit, declaring this to be “literal.”

        • Okay, so someone can literally believe Jesus hung on a cross for a day, died, and rose again, YET ALSO GO TO GREAT LENGTHS to declare that it wasn’t literally WINE he turned the water into?!?!?

          Oy vey!

          • Richard Hershberger says

            There is a reason I roll my eyes at people who lecture me about reading the Bible literally.

          • If it was grape juice we might read something about how disappointed the wedding guests were. Rather we hear about how surprised they were that the best wine was saved until the end.

    • “The one thing he does say is to condemn divorce. Well, that’s embarrassing.” But consider that back then, divorce was almost entirely a one-way street – the man could divorce the woman, but not vice versa, and for the most trivial of reasons. On top of that, divorced women were pariahs and outcasts, forced into poverty or worse. So yes, not surprising that Jesus was against all that.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        Oh, sure. I would never use this passage to wag my finger at anybody. It is like many passages that are actually about social and economic justice, once you scratch beneath the surface. But my point is that culture warriors have no such compunction. Their discretion about this passage is not due to a careful study of the cultural context of first century Palestine. It has much more to do with maintaining the revenue flow.

      • Iain Lovejoy says

        I’ve looked into this, and although the man had to sign the actual divorce certificate, Jewish law allowed a woman to gonto court to require her husband to sign, if she had good grounds for doing so (cheating on her, abandonment, cruelty etc) and the court could order the man fined or even beaten if he refused to grant the divorce.
        Most commentators take Jesus’s condemnation of divorce as being directed at the fairly recent and controversial form of divorce where a husband could divorce his wife at will, rather than only for good cause. This divorce “at will” was a reinterpretation of a section of the Law previously understood as permitting divorce only for a wife’s sexual infidelity, which, so the understanding goes, is why Jesus says that divorce is permitted for adultery only – he is only asserting the narrow “adultery” interpretation of this passage over the “at will” interpretation, rather than condemning divorce for other good grounds.
        There’s also a possible interesting understanding of Matthew 5:31-32 when related to Jewish divorce law. Under Jewish law a divorced woman was (and is) entitled to remarry as she wished, even if divorced on grounds of her adultery. The only exception is that if she has committed adultery with a man, she may never marry the man with whom she committed adultery – the marriage would be invalid and the children illegitimate. It is therefore possible that Matthew 5:31-32 is actually related to 5:27-28. Vv27-28 say that if a man looks at a woman with lust he has already committed adultery on his heart. For it to be adultery, the woman would have to be married – if she wasn’t it wouldn’t be adultery even if they actually slept together. This may then link vv27-28 and vv31-32, with 29-30 an interjection. What Jesus is saying is that if a man desires another man’s wife it is adultery even if before they sleep together the husband grants her (or is persuaded to grant her) a divorce to make it “legal”. It doesn’t then have any impact on the legality of divorce generally.

  12. Dreher has reported on conversations he has had with professors at Christian colleges of many denominations. They have all told him that more and more incoming students do not know the basic tenets of Christianity, and they have had basically no spiritual formation training. They’re practicing their faith on a “youth group” pattern of fun activities, and when they get to the **Christian** colleges away from that model, they are completely at sea spiritually, not to mention intellectually. We all know the stories of young people who lose their faith when they go to public universities; these students don’t even **have** a faith to take with them to Christian institutions of higher education.

    Dana

  13. senecagriggs says

    I discriminate every, single, day-of-my-life people. And if you’re honest; you probably do to.

  14. Iain Lovejoy says

    I’ve read the judgment of the court. He refused to bake *any* wedding cake for the couple: as soon as they said it was for a gay wedding he refused to bake any kind of cake.
    There are three ways you can go on this. You can allow anyone providing services to the public to discriminate against groups they personally don’t like or disagree with: which means the end of protection against discrimination in services and “whites only” restaurants and “No Jews, No Blacks, No Irish”. You can establish your own preferred religious beliefs as being or being above the law of the land, and allow only discrimination as permitted / required by the established state religion (which is senecagriggs preferred option, I think) or you can enforce laws requiring people operating in the public, secular sphere to treat all persons equally regardless of their personal views. If their religion prohibits the equal treatment of gay people then unfortunately they will have to suffer the loss of income that results from not providing a service to the public of making wedding cakes. Such is the price of faith.
    It’s not true BTW that Jack Phillips refused to provide a specifically “gay” wedding cake, or anything endorsing any particular view: if he had agreed to provide the exact same cake he would have provided to a straight couple he would not have fallen forul of US law: as soon as he heard the cake was for a gay couple he refused to provide any kind of wedding cake.
    It’s also the case that no-one in the US is required to make religious (or any other) statements they don’t agree with: that’s in your constitution as the right to free speech, and the Jack Phillips case made it clear that it still stands, whether written on a cake or otherwise.
    “Religious freedom” means the freedom to practice one’s religion within the law, and for the state not to pass laws that discriminate against people of any particular religion or none. Privileging the practice of a particular religion so as to be above the law is theocracy.
    There are a lot of out-and-out lies being told about this case.

  15. An outstanding article from Michael Spencer, CM. This is why I continue to read IM every day. Jesus shaped spirituality is still the best definition of Christianity I have ever heard of. Please keep going!

  16. Michael was prescient. I miss his writing even though I think CM is doing a great job of continuing his legacy.
    We are now much farther along the trajectory Michael saw, and it really isn’t looking good for evangelicalism in terms of spiritual formation. Recently white evangelicals were found to be the one group most likely to not welcome refugees. In a separate news piece, I read that a significant majority of evangelicals would go along with theological statements that are actually heretical. Those included some really basic stuff like belief in the trinity and the divinity of Christ.
    I don’t think these things are a coincidence or unrelated to the culture war. Quite the opposite. They have sown bad seed and now they are reaping bad fruit from it. And many don’t even realize it.

  17. One of today’s posts by Rod Dreher examines the point Michael Spencer was making about how Christian formation is lacking: “In Defense of Evangelical Cultural Pessimism.” He’s responding to a piece by David French.

    Dana

  18. And the last word from me today: words from Fr Stephen in one of his comments following his latest post. He’s not saying we should do nothing in terms of taking care of people or voting, etc. He’s trying to refocus on what exactly it is that makes a difference in our lives.

    “…the passions do nothing to further the work of the Kingdom of God, neither does voting or any such political activity. There’s lots of history to be cited – all of which have passed into the dust. Only the Kingdom of God abides. That reality was birthed into the world and manifest in the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Christ. It is unassailable.

    “Oddly, I spent time on the Holy Mountain [Mt Athos in Greece] a couple of years ago and found the monks at peace and prayer. According to the witness of the Fathers, such prayers sustain the world in its existence. In America, politics only sustains the world in the chaos of the powers that be. There are no righteous leaders out there working for the purposes of God. Sorry.”

    Dana