Wednesday, November 23, 2016

More thoughts on Resistance, the Church, the Election of Donald Trump, and Conversations that Matter about Matters that Matter

Stacy Guinto-Salinas took this picture of a clothespin that was put on one
of her Latino/a youth at a 4000 person UM youth gathering. On the other
side was written "I love Trump." 
So, it has been two weeks since the election of Donald Trump. It is the eve of Thanksgiving and many of us continue to be deeply disturbed and distrustful that our fellow citizens could knowingly elect a man who used vehemently racist, misogynist, and hate-filled language. Moreover, his rhetoric has inspired and encouraged hateful actions and speech among some of his supporters against churches, mosques, and individuals in schools and other institutions across the nation.

One of my former students took a group of young Latinos/as to a youth conference where they were confronted by cowardly acts by high school aged supporters of Donald Trump.  When my former student, who is currently and MDiv student at Duke Divinity School, addressed the conference and shared her testimony about how she found the church and her call while growing up as a child of Mexican immigrants,  hundreds of youth and their leaders walked out. Such actions are deeply disgraceful and a stain on the gospel. Another of my students, also Latina, has shared her deep concerns about the church's response (or lack of it). In spite of calls to the contrary, the church remains deeply divided. I am ashamed to say I am not terribly surprised.

I am not surprised, in part because I have struggled mightily to know how to respond myself. To me, this election feels like a betrayal, a betrayal of what I thought were commonly held values of decency, truth, and mutual respect, a betrayal by many within the church of the gospel of love, hope, and grace. The past several weeks have been a time of sorrow for me. It has also been a time of introspection. It feels deeply personal. I have been in mourning.

Days before the election, I deactivated my Facebook account for a week. Since the election, I have posted only once on Facebook with a link to this blog. I needed a break. I intend to keep my account open for now, but be far less engaged in the day to day posting and sharing of links. I have taken all Facebook related apps off my smartphone and tablet. For the first week after quitting Facebook I truly felt like I was struggling with an addiction. I realized how dependent I had become on touching my phone or tablet to check on the witty responses from my friends to my clever posts. I think that my brain was craving the "hits" of social media approval. I came to realize that I had probably been checking my phone hundreds of times per day. It had changed my patterns of communication. It also likely has done damage to some of my relationships, while allowing me to sustain a social network of hundreds of people spread around the world.

I am coming to realize that the old adage "the medium is the message" is indeed true. Facebook and Instagram are great for cat photos. Instant messaging and texts are great for asking the wife what kind of ice cream she wants, sharing an inside joke with a colleague, or arranging to meet up with friends at the movies. These are not the media we should be using for political and social discourse, much less for maintaining friendships in any meaningful sense.

Don't get me wrong, social media are fine for keeping up with pictures of friends' children, pets, gardens, and other diversions. True friendships, however, need the kind of rich communication that is provided through intimate and honest person to person conversation, or the exchange of full and thoughtful letters. The danger of social media and its dominant form of communication is that it looses us from historical, social, gender, religious, family, and ethnic contexts, etc. It substitutes the superficial vacuity of the moment for the complex inter-subjective narratives we absolutely need to be entirely human. It is a kind of forgetting. I think Adorno was warning us of something like this when he wrote of the reification of the mind. Indeed, I fear social media may be bringing about the reification of our souls.

In a very real way I have come to recognize that I myself have done damage to others, objectifying them, reifying them, using them as objects for my own fulfillment by taking far too immense pleasure from the addictive stimuli provided by their "likes" and comments on social media. Indeed, since I am posting this link on Facebook, I have probably objectified some of you who are reading this blog. I do hereby own my violence and apologize.  I deeply regret what I have done; and am sadder, lonelier, and more broken indeed for the person I have become on social media.

What I am calling for, and what I hope for in my own life, is for all of us to embrace real conversation again. Those of you who are in the church, this is the task we have before us. I am part of a team that is forming at my small university. We are planning to sponsor some conversations that "matter about matters that matter." Some of these may be difficult conversations on race, gender identity, bullying, and the like. For churches and other church related institutions, there are many helpful resources for guiding such conversations.

I hope also that we might have some conversations about our lost capacity for dialogue, discourse, and critical engagement that fully recognizes that we are bound and interwoven to one another in deeply complex narratives. My hope is that we as individuals, groups, and communities recognize our storis as embedded in stunningly interwoven histories, and embedded in gender, ethnic, religious, family, and social realities that go far below the surface that we can see. I know that sounds crazy. However, I think that is the first step we must begin to take if we are going to have any hope of resisting a discourse that cheapens our complex identities, and pushes us towards words and deeds of objectifying violence. The violence, I fear, is afoot. My hope is that we can work with our youth, our friends, and our colleagues, even those with whom we disagree, to move towards honest, deep, and complex conversations that matter about all kinds of matters that matter.

In the course of such conversations, I hope and pray that our churches and communities become active advocates for the cause of those whose lives and families are deeply threatened by Trumpism and the likely policies of his administration. The time may come for all of us to take a stand. My contention is that we cannot do so effectively without first examining our patterns of communication and relationships.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

More thoughts on Barmen, the Confessing Church, the Election of Donald Trump, and Resistance Moving Forward


Image result for martin niemoller and karl barth
Martin Niemöller and Karl Barth
So I have had a few days to reflect further on the election of Trump, what it represents, and how the church and believers in Christ should react. I still believe that the confessing church movement in Germany in the 1930s may shed some light on our current situation and perhaps provide us with a way forward. As I understand it, the main theological point of the Barmen declaration was to call out the idolatry of the so called "German Christians" who had come to align Nazi ideology with their faith, but in so doing had lost focus on the central convictions of Christianity, that Jesus Christ is Lord. Where Barmen shows us a way forward is that so many American Christians supported Trump and Trumpism, in spite of his hateful, misogynistic, and bigoted language. Of course the parallels with Barmen and the particular situation of the Protestant church in Germany in the 1930s break down somewhat. I'm not certain that the Trumpists organized to formally co-opt the American Evangelical movement in the same way that the Nazis attempted to do so with the formal appointment of Reichsbischof Ludwig Müller. Evangelicals in the United States context are formally separate from the state and do not have the kind of episcopal structure that the German Protestant church had. Nor do they have the four hundred year history of church-state connections that the German Lutheran church had. Still, at least in this blog post, there are two things that I think we can glean.

First, conservative evangelicals like Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham who supported Donald Trump did so knowingly and with full awareness of his hateful rhetoric. They persuaded many of their followers to follow through and vote for this man, in spite of his obvious moral flaws, and language, rhetoric, and campaign promises that were the very antithesis of the gospel. In so doing, these hypocrites have finally demonstrated that they no longer represent Christ in the public sphere, but have become team-players for an anti-Christ. So, in the spirit of Barmen, it is time for us as Christians to proclaim that Christ taught love and not hate, included outcasts in his ministry, and broke boundaries to love those who differed in ethnicity, religious worldview, and gender. This is central not only to what we as progressive Christians believe, but all Christians. 

We must stop calling those who do not hold these central convictions "evangelicals." They are not. Euaggelion means good news. For millions, there is nothing good about the news that a Donald Trump victory heralds. We must stop calling the right wing cultural and political movement that supported Trumpism "evangelical;" for it no longer has anything to do with the good news of the gospel. At best we can call such folks "cultural Christians," at worst, anti-Christs. In any case, we must call them to repent from their idolatrous adherence to Trumpism, and confess no other Lord than Jesus.

Second, one major critique that can be made against the confessing church movement in the 1930s was that it was so focused on internal issues related to German Protestantism, in that it did not go far enough to stand with full conviction in opposition to the violent Nazi oppression of Jews and other minorities. Progressive Christians cannot afford to make the same mistake! We must organize in solidarity with the 11 million immigrants who are fearing the violence of being forcefully deported, while seeing their homes and property taken away from them, while seeing their families ripped apart. This fear is real and realistic. In recent days Trump has said he his only going to focus at first on the three million or so "criminals" who do not have legal papers...THREE MILLION!!! Another American holocaust is about to commence. The church cannot, must not, should not remain silent in the face of such evil! Hate breeds hate.  Given the violent misogyny of his campaign, we'll surely see policies enacted that will do violence upon women's bodies. Further his policies will endanger the safety and sanity of LGBTQ folks, and threaten the well being of minority and other faith communities. If the church is to be true to the gospel, it must stand in solidarity with all of these people and engage in active and nonviolent resistance to any policies that threaten to do our neighbors harm.  
The time is now. Those of us who are Christians must now reexamine our core values and our core beliefs and realize that we cannot proceed in the haze of happy and lazy churchgoing, as we have in the past. More thoughts on what this may look like to come...

Friday, November 11, 2016

Thoughts on the Barmen Declaration at the Election of Donald Trump and the Rise of Trumpism in North America

I like many others am feeling deflated, frightened and concerned at the election of a man who made bigotry, hatred, and misogyny the centerpiece of his election rhetoric.  I am deeply disheartened by the many in our country who failed to recognize the dangerous moral and ethical qualities of this man, and chose to vote for him in any case.  I am particularly disturbed that anyone who confesses Christ as savior and Lord could with any conscience cast a vote for Trump or support Trumpism.
Image result for trump hitler

There will be judgment upon our land.

I can only turn to the words of the Barmen Declaration for comfort.  These words, written in 1934, are the response of an ecumenical group of Christians in Germany who responded to the "German Christians" who had lined up behind the Nazi takeover of Germany. This was surely a dark time for the church in Germany. As we who are committed to Christ and the Word of God, let us remember that this can be part of our confession too.

I am including selected portions of the latter part of the confession. I invite you to read it.  Consider it. If you feel so moved, pray on it and confess it with your own tongues.

This is the sole form of resistance I can offer now. I don't have strength for anything else.

Barmen Declaration 3, 4, 5, 6
3. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together.” (Eph. 4:15–16.)
The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and Sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.
4. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” (Matt. 20:25, 26.)
The various offices in the church do not establish a dominion of some over the others; on the contrary, they are for the exercise of the ministry entrusted to and enjoined upon the whole congregation.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the church, apart from this ministry, could and were permitted to give to itself, or allow to be given to it, special leaders vested with ruling powers.
5. “Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (I Peter 2:17.)
Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The church acknowledges the benefit of this divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to mind the Kingdom of God, God’s commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commission, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the church’s vocation as well.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State.
6. “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt. 28:20.) “The word of God is not fettered.” (II Tim. 2:9.)
The church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of the free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and Sacrament.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.