Thursday, September 04, 2008

Just Wondering: Why Do Evangelicals Embrace the Republican Party's Demonization of Others?

My life, unremarkable as it is, has since 1973 been dedicated to trying to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I believe the gospels are historically accurate as well as revelatory gifts from God. I'm an old-school Jesus Freak -- even live in a "commune" started by Jesus People and called Jesus People USA. We're in many ways vanilla-flavored Evangelical Christians -- looking to the Old and New Testament Scriptures as our primary guide in all matters of faith and practice. (In 1989, we joined an egalitarian, woman-positive denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church.) We also share the American experience and many American distinctives culturally, and realize how intertwined (for good and for evil) America's history and Evangelical history have become.

I have a novel idea for Evangelicals. Let's look at evil as conceptualized by the Republicans of 2000-2008. Evil is postulated as a "them" problem. Remember George W. Bush's comment that we were going to eradicate Evil in the world? This view puts evil out there, as a "them" problem. But biblically speaking Evil is an "us" problem. WE -- individually and corporately in our various communities of faith, social networking, and national identity -- are the place where Evil exists. Further, more often than not, Scripture specifically speaks to "us" and "I" rather than "them" and "he" or "she." The Bible is a relentlessly personal book addressed to us / me.

Here' s another novel idea, building on the above. Let's look at history as evidence. That is, history will reveal to us our own complicity in the Evil of our world. Consider, for instance, racism. Evangelicals show a remarkable and commendable eagerness to dismantle any remnants of racism. Yet, I gently suggest we often do so while far under-estimating the breadth and depth of racism's legacy in these United States. I am old enough to have personally watched a bigot dancing -- literally -- on his lawn, celebrating one warm April morning the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. "They shot him -- they shot that commie nigger Martin Luther King!"

And who created the historic context and social rationalization for slavery in the United States? Christians. No, there's no dodging it. Just as South Africa built a sophisticated God-frame around apartheid, their torturous system of color and class, America did so. And Christians rationalized with proof-texted Scripture (as they do now in regards to oppressing women in churches and in marriage). Christians bought slaves, whipped slaves, destroyed black families by selling parents from children and wives/husbands away from one another. Christians raped slaves, using the Old Testament stories in an a-historical manner to justify these "relationships." Our Constitution, for a convoluted set of reasons, defines a black slave as "three-fifths of a person." The largest Evangelical denomination of today, the Southern Baptists, came into existence as the result of a church split with northern Baptists over slavery.

Regarding history and Evil, human beings have a funny way of not seeing its most obvious lessons. For instance, as another Christian leftie co-worked said to me recently, "When we look at Nazis as inhuman monsters instead of human beings inspired by their own sense of right, we are on the verge of becoming Nazis." That is, he continued to explain, when we recognize Evil in others yet fail to understand the commonality of that Evil with all humans throughout history, we risk endlessly repeating history in a demonically naive manner. We "other" the other. This is true of all of us, this writer included. As much as I loathe George W. Bush's thinking, policies, and acts as President, believing he's the worst President this nation has ever suffered, I suspect he's quite a nice guy in person. That is, a lot like me.

That raises the possibility that I could, given the amount of power a President has, create and activate deeds of Evil as a Christian every bit as horrendous as those he's committed in Iraq. And maybe worse... who knows? Fortunately for all of us, I'll never hold such power.

But in light of the above, there's yet another issue we as Evangelicals have to confront. That issue is nationalism. The previously spoken, more often now unspoken, assumption regarding America is that it is God's chosen nation. There is no biblical basis for that idea. Only Israel -- not modern-day, but Old Testament Israel -- is called by Scripture "God's people." And, as any Jewish scholar will tell you, it appears that being God's people usually involves a lot of pain.

We Evangelicals assume a lot of things about our centrality in God's plan, our expectation of material blessings, our belief that militarism is not only a necessity but a positive good. And much more. But beneath all of that runs a river of arrogant pride. We often fall into the root error of believing in our own goodness, our "deserving" blessings both material and relational.

And here is where history and the present collide. The Republicans sell us two things successfully. Fear and Anger. What are we to be fearful of? The Evil in the Other, that evil that our President promised us we would defeat and destroy. What are we to be angry with? The resistance of the Other to our goodness and rightness.

Jesus was murdered by people who thought that way.

People like us.

And Jesus continues to be murdered. "As you have done to the least of one of these, you have done it to me." Those Iraqi mothers and children and fathers and sons who died via American bombs, missiles, and bullets died at the hands of America. And America is us.

Yes, I believe the gospels to be about Jesus in history and (as Kierkegaard warns) even more about the contemporaneity of Christ. Jesus is here now, calling us now, consistently reminding us of our absolute need of Him. He is Love, and His Way does not include pride but rather the crucifixion of pride. We are not a Christian nation and should not expect to be a Christian nation. We as Americans are a nation of individuals and groups of people with thousands of differing beliefs. As Christians we are citizens not primarily of this world but of a coming kingdom.

That kingdom is to be rooted in Jesus' command: "Love one another." This idea is not historical -- that is, it rarely appears as an actuality in history. It is a dark thought with which I end this rambling. But I think that true love can only be actualized by people who see their own Evil, and capacity for Evil, most or all of the time. This is not the way Republicans think these days. Evil is Other, Good is Us.

Fear sells in this setting because we are truly afraid, we have not yet laid our lives down in surrender to Christ the way we think we have. Anger excuses our fear, legitimates it. Anger is the illusion of being righteous, the emotional ace that overrides the suffering heart. To love is to suffer.

History's lesson is that especially in recent years since 9/11, the Republicans have taken this fear/anger paradigm to incredible lengths. Democrats in the past have done the same thing. But Democrats have not tried to sell Evangelicals a bastardized version of the Bible. Obama is a committed, regenerate Christian, yet more importantly than that his attempts to integrate faith and politics are impressive in their cautious humility.

I, as one Evangelical, cannot agree to uphold the Republican Party. The crimes of Iraq -- one million more times worthy of impeachment than a former president having his penis sucked by an intern and lying about it -- will never be punished on this earth. But I am damned if I will support a party, or a candidate, who uses the same language, the same cynical reliance upon god-fearing people, to garner power. Damned because how can I love my neighbor while caving in to the Christless hate and arrogance such language and actions reflect? For the past two elections, we Evangelicals have helped elect an administration rooted in the godless, ultra-elitist ideas of Leo Strauss.

Will we do it again? Will we?

History says we will. The gospels say history is important, but the present potentially even more so.


Marty Phillips said...

It is politics, everyone demonizes Everyone. Democrats do the same thing. anyone that wants to have that power to be President something is wrong with them, Red or Blue.
Give us some more choices why are there only 2. I choose the less of 2 evils...I choose McCain. For the protection of my country I love.
Have you seen what Obama's voting record is since he has barely been in office?? Take a look. Red Chrtistian Marty/JPUSA

JMJ said...

What a thought provoking article. I hope you don't mind ( I guess it's too late now), but I have reposted your thoughts on my own piece of the cybersphere. It's already generating a bit of discussion.

@bdul muHib said...

Marty- I think we are called to work for the protection of the Kingdom that we love. Nations are meaningless, if we are following Christ. In this both candidates are at fault, for they are patriotic, which you must be if you are going to be elected President. Sure, Obama's voting record to me displays more Kingdom values by far, but I remain committed to Kingdom first, Obama second.

Jon Trott said...

Marty, I honestly think you need to carefully listen to the Republican attacks on Obama vs. Obama's speeches re McCain. Obama over and over has said that he believes McCain to be a patriot. Further, he specifically says that he believes McCain cares and cares deeply about our country. He then asked McCain to stop attacking his patriotism and love of country... which did not, as you know by watching the Republican convention, stop.

Obama wants to talk issues. McCain has attacked Obama as avoiding issues, yet avoided them himself last night. Further, he's nominated the absolutely least qualified V. P. candidate in the history of American politics, banking on her draw with some women and a whole lot of Evangelicals.

I worry sometimes about Obama's nationalism (that is, he's too American and not Christian enough, my same critique of Evangelicals). But I don't worry that he's not American enough, not smart enough, and most of all not wise enough, to lead. I do worry about John McCain on those last two points... and worry very much. His choice of Palin as VP leaves me much in doubt of his own good sense and fearful that he can make decisions hastily and without thinking through the long-term consequences for this country. He's 72 years old now... if he dies, an Alaskan mayor of a city of 7000 and Gov. for a year and a half will take over this nation's leadership role.

I'm a feminist. I love the idea of a woman president... but just as I would probably have not voted for Jesse Jackson for President (I like him but don't see him as able to do that job), I won't vote for a woman who very well could become President without qualifications or proven wisdom to do so. Obama's campaign seems to me to have proven he is an incredibly wise man, as well as amazingly able to make tough decisions. (His response to the Jeremiah Wright issue was to offer one of the more compelling documents and speeches on race in my lifetime, for instance.)

I don't see McCain making such decisions. Quite the opposite. And with his demonizations of Obama -- which are coming from HIM and not just his party -- I think he's also proving to be a man of smaller vision and heart than Barack Obama is.

Just the way I see it here on Blue Christian... I surely ain't inerrant!


Lucas Stone said...

Hi Jon
I've been reading your blog for a while and I absolutely love much of your writings. As an American living and raised in Canada and a Political Science major I have found this current US election facinating.

I couldn't agree with you more that the acceptance of the US vs. Them rhetoric is unChristlike. It does nothing but discourage love and understanding.

I fully believe that the biggest issue facing America right now is no the Iraq war, The economy or terrorism. Instead it is the extreme divisiveness that drives people into "Liberal or Conservative", "Republican or Democrat." This division that demonizes the opponent and declares only their side as "Good". I believe both sides are culpable but that the strong ties surrounding the "Religious Right" deserve a special anger for those who claim to represent God. It is not our Job as Christians to hold the rest of the world accountable to our morals but we damn well can hold those who claim to represent Christ accountable.

Like you I was really excited to see Obama (haha Firefox says Obama is a spelling error) enter the scene. His rhetoric speaks directly to the issue of divisive politics. And his speech in Philadelphia regarding Wright was the wisest response and the most significant speech given in my lifetime. However, Since tying up the nomination I have not seen Obama do much to act out his rhetoric. He seems to be spending more effort on appeasing Clinton's supporters (whom I believe follows the same tactics as Bush of divisive politics in the pursuit of power) to win their vote and in the process seems to be getting gobbled up by the very system he has opposed. I may be wrong but that is how it looks right now. He really disappointed me in his VP pick, he had a chance to walk the talk and pick someone who can help bridge the divide but instead gave into criticism of his experience and picked a typical democrat.

I think that is why McCain is gaining again. His insistence of Lieberman at the convention and his voting record both lend credence to the theory that he is a maverick. His choice of Palin was really disappointing and again he seems to be getting gobbled up by the same system that he worked so hard and long to oppose.

This election has so much potential, Both candidates have the capacity and potential to bridge the divide and help end the "US vs. THEM" worldview that is poisoning America. Obama has the ability to blow it out of the water, but it will take more than speeches to do it. I hope and pray that we will see at least one of them live up to the potential and help heal the rift.