Friday, March 14, 2008

Politics and Living Communally: The "Consensus Thing"

This was a response to friend and fellow JPUSA community member Chris Rice's blogging on "
Consensus." Very slight edits, and it almost stands alone... so here it is.

I agree with you on your point re JPUSA’s refusal to issue “policy statements” on Iraq and many related issues. Yet we have "officially" spoken out on some issues. There has been consensus on homelessness and issues such as low-income housing connected to it, race (here and in South Africa during the 70s and 80s) and so many issues connected to it, abortion and "pro-life" issues (though in a larger sense than that term is often used). In the future, issues we haven't yet found a unified voice in I think we may one day find. Which illustrates some of the nuances of life, I suppose…

So. I do not wholly share your disdain for consensus, even while admitting you make very good points re its dangers. Let me go a bit more personal than communal here.

In our evangelical subculture, at least, I am so often faced with — forgive the term — clueless members of the political right that I in fact need a little “shelter time” with people who disagree with that bastardized version of Christianity. The Right has Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. I have Keith Olberman, whom I tape religiously and watch each night as an act of self-soothing.

But more importantly that choosing one’s consensus partners from the media, I also find it very comforting to find one’s consensus partners within my and your local body of believers here at JPUSA. (I would do likewise if in another fellowship.)

Let me explain. When I am talking with someone about a presidential race, and they bring up the middle name of Barack Obama as a reason to vote against him (no, this didn’t happen at JPUSA, thank God — just an example), that conversation is over. There is such an intellectual and spiritual disconnect that happens I no longer can have meaningful conversations with that person. Should I force the issue, pushing them on their illogic and even xenophobia? Sure I should. Maybe, in some cases, I would. Sometimes, I have! But at some point, after a few strange encounters where it is obvious they are feeling toward me the same state of disconnect I am feeling toward them, I almost without fail realize it is not a good idea to continue the conversation.

This leads to further problems, in that while I can stand with them in some things, I am unable to share the tremendous angst I feel over what the Christian Right has done to this country. I cannot share with them the fact — a plain fact it is to me — that George W. Bush won both his terms in office *only* because of the Christian Right. Once he was there, and especially once 9/11 legitimated his immoral, illogical, and utterly without foundation in reality assault on Iraq, along with the “Patriot Act” and other erosions of freedom here and abroad, it became apparent that evangelicalism and even Christianity itself would never be freed of the blood stains his arrogant, poisonous policies caused.

I need consensus in order that I don’t go mad. I need friends whom I can rant with, discuss with while being one at heart and mind, and finally even to weep and pray with. I cannot do that with people who don’t “get it.” Why cause both myself and them pain -- the pain of dissonance caused by two immovable beliefs coming into contact? Isn't loving my neighbor at that point also being quiet? So I am. I have that circle of friends who see as I see, who think similarly (though not identically) to me. And to them, my heart of hurt, anger, and even grave doubts and confusion can be opened.

And yet, I do also recognize the need not to become insular — which is just what the Christian Right seems to have done. I do need to hear from the other side… *sometimes*. But again, I also need to feel the comfort and shelter of those who do indeed think more as I do and see the world through lenses less colored by the Right’s tired rhetoric of “Family Values” or “Moral Agendas.” I have a family. I have morals. And I will always and forever repudiate what to me is the doing of dirt to families, morals, and most of all Jesus Christ by those involved in the Christian Right.

Sorry this is long… but one more thought. I grew up in a very relativist church theologically. And there I learned the danger of so-called “liberal” theology, which I as a non-believer mocked as vacuuous. When I met Christ, the real, historical Christ, I for a time blamed “liberalism” for this bad theology I’d grown up under. But today, I think liberalism gets a bad rap. It is the Right which exercises relativism in its most sinister forms… whether in dealing with the Middle East or in dealing with just what “pro-life” means. My investigative journalist days looking into Satanic Panic, Mike Warnke, Lauren Stratford and that whole gawdawful mess of lies which was upheld by Christians and led to many innocent people being jailed for crimes they did not commit... I was left little ability to keep my mouth shut when confronted with Christians doing the devil's work for him -- which is spreading lies and causing division and dissension, of course.

What point am I making in all this? God knows. (Siiiiiiggggghh.) I guess in the end what I would say is that — as an extreme for instance — President Bush may have met the same Jesus I met. But as for whether I could comfortably fellowship with President Bush, or feel that we had any deep resonance together, I don’t think we would or could.

Sometimes it comes down to positionally being in the same family (whether our biological family or the Family of God) vs. relationally being in the same family. Even that is too stark; there’s not an either/or exactly there. But I do think that true community in some very deep ways requires resonance on the deep things. We would say “Jesus” or “love” or “doctrine” might be these deep things… and we could convince ourselves that we agree on so much there. But then comes the existential reality, the fact that in a concrete world, faith is what faith does. In that light, I often feel closer to “leftie” non-christian acquaintances than I do to my Christian Right fellow believers.

I could say way more, but have said too much already.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for dropping my name in three posts! I just want to add that my blogging went on regarding consensus, even though as you told me, it wasn't as compelling. As soon as I break down the definition of consensus and the nitty gritty of meetings and preparation the eyes start to gloss over and roll back in the reader's head. I think two people have read these now.

I would like to hear your thoughts on Butler and Rothstein's book on the topic, "On Conflict and Consensus":

and then we'll have a meeting about it today, you pick the time, place, proposals and refreshments. Oh yeah, and when are we going to have that costume party/political consensus/pie fight? I think you should come as Condi Rice!

Jon Trott said...

Pie fight! Yes!

By the way, speaking of Condi Rice, that doll company also has a Condi Doll. But she looks more like a Conrad Rice than Condi... they don't do females well.

And where is your response to my Obama doll post, as long as I'm bringing it up?!