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26 July 2004

Discourse or diatribe?

As I walked around downtown Boston yesterday afternoon with BF in tow, picking up my
credentials, reading the 9/11 report, and generally appraising the
messiness that exists before the convention starts, I noticed a few things.

Most prominently, because it was displayed on the sidewalks around BF’s
church (RC) and the Park Street Church (evangelical), was lots of chalk
signage of the ilk of  “Abortion Kills Children”, “John Kerry is
NOT a Catholic”, “You can’t be Pro-abortion AND Catholic”, “John Kerry
— Do you know abortion kills babies?”, “Abortion, the new holocaust”,
“Kerry, Kennedy, and Clintons — Stop Mocking God”, and so on.  I
also noticed
that many of the protestors who were still hanging around appeared to
be 15 or under.  (In fact you can see some pictures of the left
and right protests here, at Burnt Orange Report.)

Here’s what I’m curious about.  These were ostensibly written by
Christians who have a strong opinion on the matter of abortion. 
(Duh.)  And they were written outside of Christian houses of
worship.  The language is that of war and conquest and vitriol.

Even if they are right on the issue of abortion, such language and
tactic violates the spirit of the Gospel purportedly proclaimed by
Christ’s followers.  The Christian right’s major mouthpieces have
often declared that a war for the soul and spirit of America rages on
against the pollution (of liberals, humanists, mainline Protestants,
and “cafeteria Catholics”) from within.  They spout Bible verses
and bad history to support their claims.

One can’t help but think that they are pretty un-Christian, especially for Christians.

On the left of the debate, something different yet similar often
occurs.  Earlier this year, John Kerry got a lot of backlash when
he gave a sermon before a black congregation and, quoting from the New
Testament’s Epistle from James, he questioned the President’s faith,
saying to the New Northside Baptist Church in St. Louis, “We see too
many people hungry in a country where food is
abundant—and too many working families living in shelters, when a
living wage should provide them with a place to live. The scriptures
say: ‘It is not enough, my brother, to say you have faith, when there
are no deeds.’ We look at what is happening in America today and we
say: ‘Where are the deeds?’   Kerry received near-instant
criticism from the White House
in regard to this speech: as Killing the Buddha put it, “Bush spokesman
Steve Schmidt criticized the senator for hypocritically exploiting
‘scripture for a political attack.'”  (KtB’s article on the dust-up is a good one.)

All too often, we on the “other side” of religion, the so-called
“liberal” side fall too quickly into the pattern set by the political
culture at large.  (BTW, in a religion, why are there
“sides”?  Are we really at war with our sisters and
brothers?  And if we are, what real good has that religion done us
in approaching the Kingdom of God?)  We fire back at our
conservative spiritual siblings with scripture and all the other
“weapons” we can muster.

So, as I was at Eucharist at the monastery that I frequent this last week, one of the verses we heard in the lectionary for the day was this:

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

One of the monks was the preacher for the day, and he, in talking about the passage noted the following:

…It is easy, too easy, for those of us who might describe
ourselves as justice Christians – that is to say, Christian women and
men who are prone to be active in the public spheres of both the church
and the secular culture – it is easy to take the condemnations the
prophets hurled at the nation of Israel and to sling them at our own
government when it institutes policies which we believe to be unjust,
when it sets in motion bureaucratic practices that are cold and
unsympathetic to the plight of the poor, and when it engages in wars
that we believe to be immoral.

But we should be careful. As useful as these texts seem to be for that
purpose, our government is not the audience for which they were
intended. These are texts that are for the people of God, not the
secular world. …there is enormous danger for us, particularly in the
United States, in appropriating the language of chosen people for our
political identity. It is a national temptation with which we have
struggled almost from the beginning. It is a legacy of the early
European settlement of this land, and truthfulness on this point is
slippery. We should be quick to ask ourselves questions whenever we
find the language of Scripture informing the identity or understanding
of the secular state.

So we might ask, is it not true that we are a powerful nation, blessed
by God? Yes, of course it is – though less so than in the past (we know
now, for instance, that we really are not invincible). Or we could ask,
is it not true that we are a “city set on a hill?” That one’s a little
harder, but no, I don’t think so, however useful such rhetoric is for
public speech, whether it’s from the mouth of John Winthrop as he and
his band of religious dissenters approached the shores of Massachusetts
in 1630 or from Ronald Reagan in his inaugural address in 1980, quoting
John Winthrop (and quite possibly unaware that he was a secondary

I am confident that the first-century author of the Gospel according to
Matthew did not have in mind the foundation of a political super-power
– or any kind of nation, for that matter – on North American soil.
Matthew was speaking to the people of God about the people of God and
about their role as a beacon of hope in the larger society in which
they were inextricably lodged. We need to be reading Scripture in the
twenty-first century, be it the prophets or the Gospels, with a similar
baseline. These are not texts, however well suited they may seem, to be
used in secular political discourse. These texts are for insiders. They
are for us. They are texts that are for those of us who by virtue of
the covenants which God has established, be it through Moses and the
Law or Jesus Christ and baptism, those of us who understand ourselves
to be people of God, resident aliens, strangers in an even stranger

We need to understand that Micah and Jesus are speaking to us, and if
what they say has some relevance to the culture in which we live, then
the most likely way the message will be heard by that culture will be
by the way we live – as just people, as merciful people, as humble

The prophets are unflinchingly fierce champions of right worship of the
Lord God and the care of those who are on the margins of society –
orphans, widows, the sick, the homeless, those in prison, the poor, the
stranger. We as the people of God in turn rightly represent these
interests in the political process through voting, through lobbying
those elected to represent us, and by our full participation in civic
life, but at the end of the day, as the people of God, the issues are
ours, not the states. …It is not, he says, about the grand and
glorious things we achieve in this life, even those things we do for
God. It is, rather, about the evanescent and ephemeral acts of kindness
and mercy and humility that ultimately matter….

So John and George (and based on past experience as well as the fashion
of his brand of American Christianity, George moreso) will talk about
God and country; justice, mercy, and humility; power, patroitism, and
blessing; and all sorts of other “good”, “right”, and “godly”
stuff.  And little, if any, of it will actually have anything to
do with God, God’s will, or the fulfillment of the Kingdom of
God.  It will be more indication that our politics has become like
our religion. 

As Mark Twain once noted, “On the sixth day, God created Man in His own
image.  And Man, being a gentleman, kindly returned the favor.”

Right now, there’s more of rage than religion, more of fear than of faith.

Posted in Politicks on 26 July 2004 at 1:12 am by Nate

Nationally syndicated columnist Mark Shields…

…showed up at John Kerry’s (and my boyfriend’s) church tonight. 
There were only about 50 people at the evening Mass, and Shields
dropped in a little after the service began, and popped out a little
before it ended.

Incipient research?  Will he gain insight into John Kerry by seeing where he and his wife worship when at home in Boston?

In case you don’t know, he’s one of commentators on News Hour with Jim Lehrer.  Always entertaining.  At least, I think so.

Tomorrow, the madness begins.

Posted in DeeEnCee on 26 July 2004 at 12:51 am by Nate