The relationship between theory and practice is always tricky, but when it comes to politics it can get so out of whack that you really do wonder what motivates people after all. For instance, why are Southerners all Republican now? It was the Republican party who served as the aggressor (at least in the Southerner’s eyes) during and after the Civil War. My grandfather swore that he would never vote for a Republican, and I’m pretty sure he kept that promise. Even growing up in the 1990s, in my small Mississippi town, I remember that all of the city and county officials were Democrat. There usually weren’t any Republicans even on the ballot. And yet, by some magical twist of history, almost all the Southern states vote Republican on the national level, and almost all conservative-minded Christians in the South believe that the ideals of the Republican party are more or less consistent with a Biblical world and life view and philosophy of governance. Is this change simply because of Civil Rights? It’s hard to say.
Again, there’s the case of my grandfather still voting Democrat late into the 20th century and even until the start of the 21st century, and he was hardly a progressive-minded man, at least when it came to social issues. And most Southerners are not just Blue-Dog Democrats or Dixiecrats, opposing the Civil Rights’ issues but still retaining older Democratic values of labor protection, agrarian values, and suspicion towards unchecked corporate power. Not at all. The Republican transition is mostly complete, especially on the fiscal matters. And yet, Mississippi still manages to bring in more Federal subsidies than any other state (at least I think it’s still #1 in that category). As I said, it’s a very strange world. The moral issues probably have as much to do with the transition as anything, as the Democrats did kind of become the party of revolutionary morality, but even here there are a lot of questions that could be asked.
I should first say that I am not a full-time pro-life activist or counselor. I’m not trained in crisis management. I don’t think I’m even particularly good at “on the street” scenarios. But I have gone to abortion clinics in Jackson, MS and now Lakeland, FL on a semi-regular basis to pray, sing psalms and hymns, and try to speak to the folks in the parking lots and offer them help and other options.
I grew up in a politically moderate household. I won’t tell you how everyone voted, but I was raised to believe that abortion was a pretty tragic situation which women would only ever consider if all other options had been exhausted. I was taught that we needed to be careful not to berate them, judge them harshly, or fail to show them compassion. Based on my experience attempting to follow precisely that advice, however, I have to say that the narrative is all wrong. Abortion, at least today, in the Southern states, is not some sort of last ditch effort to preserve one life, which would be legitimately threatened, at the tragic but necessary expense of another. Instead it is a projection of strength on the part of the would-be mother. Continue reading →
The so-called “conservative” responses to the Senate torture report are now making their rounds, and they tell us quite a bit about what really matters to certain people. Thus far no one has denied that the most morally repugnant alleged practices actually took place. No one has said, “That’s crazy! We would never use rape as a weapon! We could never forcibly insert food into someone’s rectum! No way!” No. They have not said that. They have attempted to justify the practices by arguing that the practices produced important information, that the proper authorities knew about them, and that our enemies do much worse. But they are not denying those practices.
Tellingly, Dick Cheney declined to refute the charge of rectal re-hydration. He sidestepped the gravity of the question entirely by saying he had “no knowledge” of that specific practice, but then he went straight to a defense of its hypothetical use on the grounds that it would have been necessary: “What are you prepared to do to get the truth against future attacks against the United States?” It’s a good question. What are you prepared to do? Are you prepared to threaten to rape someone’s mother? Are you prepared to make that threat within a context where it is credible? Are you prepared to carry through with that threat? If the answer is NO!, which it should be, then Mr. Cheney’s justification fails. Continue reading →
Discussions of torture and the United States’s use of it in the “War on Terror” are not new. Many thinkers, including Christian theologians, have considered the matter before, and there are some legitimate qualifications and discussions to be had. However, in the wake of the recent Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, there are no longer relevant reasons to prevent us from concluding that the United States did participate in torture and that many of the specific forms were unjust and abhorrent. They were evil.
The interrogators didn’t know the languages that would have been useful for real intelligence, but they did come up with a lexicon of their own: “walling,” which meant slamming a person against a wall; “rough takedown,” in which a group would rush into a cell yelling, then drag a detainee down the hall while punching him, perhaps after having “cut off his clothes and secured him with Mylar tape”; “confinement box,” an instrument to make a prisoner feel he was closed in a coffin (the box came in large or small sizes); “sleep deprivation,” which might mean being kept awake for a hundred and eighty hours before succumbing to “disturbing hallucinations”; the ability to, as the report put it, “earn a bucket,” the bucket being what a prisoner might get to relieve himself in, rather than having to soil himself or being chained to a wall with a diaper (an “image” that President Bush was said to have found disturbing); “waterboarding,” which often itself seems to have been a euphemism for near, rather than simulated, drowning; “rectal rehydration as a means of behavioral control”; “lunch tray,” the assembly of foods that were puréed and used to rectally force-feed prisoners.
This is what the talk of family could look like: “CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families—to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to ‘cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.’ ” The interrogation of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri included “implying that his mother would be brought before him and sexually abused.”
These ought to be shocking and disgusting revelations. The use of sexual assault and threats of sexual assault (and murder!) against family members are the kind of enormities which make rational men go mute in shock and moral disbelief. Yet sadly, many of these very practices were not surprises just revealed this week. Taxi to the Dark Sidedocumented several of them 7 years ago. The new revelation is that they were not episodic offenses carried out by individuals but were rather intentional parts of official strategy.
Americans ought to be upset. Americans ought to be sad. Americans ought to be driven to introspection.
I’ve been talking about politics lately. I know that it appeared like I was talking about not talking about politics, but to do that is to still talk about politics, and so, yeah, anyway, here we are, politics. I got a fair amount of responses to my post Political Talk as Totalitarian Distraction, some of them rational and some of them not, and so that gives me a good opportunity to say more. It would be a mistake to assume that I was talking about a kind of theology per se in that post. I singled out “political talk” as the thing under critique, and I highlighted the immoderate consumption and use of “TV news, talk radio, and online media.” I cannot see how this applies to a specific school of theology directly, but I suppose that if someone wishes to volunteer their feeling that the shoe fits, then I won’t be able argue too much against them. Perhaps some theologies do actively promote such immoderate consumption as a key commitment. Still, we shouldn’t confuse experiential memory and reflex with faithful interpretation of text. What I was addressing was not a theology at all, but rather a pathology– giving the discussion of politics, usually a fairly medium-to-low level discussion at that, a totalizing control over your life and, especially, allowing it to dominate your church and family. That was my actual target, and that is what any responsible reading of my words will substantiate.
Also, my concluding three points were not presented as an alternative political theology but instead as a pre-political theology, or as a way to “put politics in its place,” as I said in the immediate context. If you understand justification by faith, the biblical doctrine of dominion, and the role of vocation in your life, then you will be free to engage in politics appropriately. But if those things are out of order, as they so often are, then you will be unable to resist a totalitarian political theology. It will fill the void of those more basic things, and you will find yourself enslaved.
But what of politics itself or political theology? Can we say specifically “Christian” things about it? Yes. But before we get there we need to define our terms. Continue reading →
As a pastor and armchair-theologian, I get to live in two worlds. I hear the ordinary anxieties and complaints of people in the pews, and then I read the complicated books and articles on theory, whether theological, philosophical, or political. What is simply unmistakable is how at odds the two stories are.
The lay-narrative is the most common. It says that things were more or less happy in the 1950s and early 1960s, due to the long legacy of a traditional Christian worldview and culture, but then “liberalism” or “progressivism” hit the scene and we have lost both our morals and liberties ever since. On the other hand, the academic narrative says that we lost our morals at the same time as and precisely because of the new definition of liberty which emerged in the 17th century (though some folks try to pin the tail a bit earlier, on Scotus or Ockham). The current “crisis” we are experiencing is thus not a departure from a “good” America, but instead the logical outworking of the original project.
Both of these narratives are partly right and partly wrong, and they both suffer from the same sort of idealism. They are looking for big culprits or master ideas in the form of ideology. Some “worldview” is to blame here, and if we can just critique the wrong worldview and extol the right worldview we will be well on our way towards a solution. The problem is that worldview, used in this way, is inconsistent with reality. As I never tire of saying, “Ideas don’t have consequences. People with ideas do.” And those people often act upon a variety of more or less consistent motivations and impulses, some rational and some visceral. Pretending that this isn’t the case and that we can solve societal problems with ideas is the surest way to never find a solution to any particular problem. We can’t let worldview, whether religious or political, become a new opium for the people. Continue reading →
This Sunday is sometimes called “Christ the King Sunday.” It commemorates especially the kingdom of God and the kingship of Christ. Originally it was meant to emphasize the unique nature of Christ’s kingdom. That kingdom is not of this world, and thus it transcends racial, ethnic, and national boundaries. All Christians have a shared citizenship, the citizenship which is in heaven. But this can be and has been misunderstood over the years. What does it mean for Christ to be our king? Does it mean that we cannot have any other earthly kings? What does it mean for our citizenship to be in heaven? We will turn our attention to this question with our text this morning, and we will see that the apostle Paul connects our heavenly citizenship with the future resurrection of the body and glorification of all things.
Our Citizenship is in Heaven
The Apostle Paul says that the Christian has an alternative citizenship to that of this world. This alternative citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven. “For our citizenship is in heaven” (3:20). Earlier in Philippians he had also said, “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). The English expression “let your conduct be” is a translation of a Greek variation of the term πολιτευμα which means citizenship. He is thus telling us to live like a citizen of the gospel, like a citizen of heaven. Continue reading →
I have been fascinated with Allan Carlson’s body of work for the last few months (you can see a book review I did of his latest book here) and have recently begun reading his book From Cottage to Work Station: The Family’s Search for Social Harmony in the Industrial Age. What’s noteworthy about Carlson is that he is arguing for a pre-modern conception of the family, one that might strike some readers as radically “conservative” and even fundamentalist in nature. Yet Carlson typically critiques industrial capitalism as the primary opponent of the traditional family, even being willing to employ Marxist arguments at times. Carlson is not himself a Marxist, of course, but he is willing to cut to the heart of the issue, and that typically involves an exploration of the notions of capital and the exploitation of labor. Here is a summary which will show you what I mean:
Industrialization tore asunder this settled, family-oriented European world. In historian John Demos’ words: “Family life was wrenched apart form the world of work—a veritable sea-change in social history.” The goods produced by factories using a division of labor rapidly displaced household-produced commodities such as cloth, shoes, and candles. The unique demands of the new machines, the construction of factories, and the need for labor discipline further severed the workplace form the home. In the new economic order, family living quickly ceased to have a dominant productive side. Family units tended to reorganize as places for shared consumption and shelter. Through legal changes abolishing the protections of rural tradition and guild privileges, labor became a commodity governed for the first time by a national, and eventually an international market. The reciprocal, complementary tasks of husbands and wives in household production were quickly leveled, and questions grew about gender roles in the new order. Older children, too, could forego the obedience demanded by lineage and birth and sell their own labor to manufacturers. In the industrial milieu, the inward-looking, autonomous, cooperative family changed into a collection of individuals in potential, and often real, competition with each other. As residual dependents, infants and small children had no immediate prospects for individual economic gain; the market mechanism left their fate uncertain. ~From Cottage to Work Station 2
Carlson goes on to explain that many have been happy to say that America avoided this revolution, since it was always “modern” from its inception. This is not the case, however, Carlson says. Indeed, America also reckoned with the rage against the machine, fighting back in important ways until the early part of the 20th century. Then it gave up the fight, and we subsequently saw the social revolution which is so familiar to us today.
Picking back up my series on Christian sexual identity, we have to realize that the foundational issue in conversations about “gender roles,” homosexuality, and the public place of marriage is that of definition. For the progressive gender, sexuality, and the various institutional structures supporting them are to be defined by the individual’s desire. Now, this doesn’t simply mean the surface-level choices that one makes, though it does mean that often enough, but rather those deep-seated desires which then incentivize one’s actions. I’m not sure if it is still the preferred nomenclature, but not too long ago folks used to use the term “orientation” to name this concept. A person’s “sexual orientation” was either heterosexual, homosexual, or something else, and this orientation was an important way that they were to be classified, even getting down to their fundamental identity.
This debate over orientation vs. “what’s natural” is at the heart of the traditional marriage debate. In its crudest form, the traditional marriage position says that it doesn’t matter what an individual might feel about it, marriage is by definition the union of a man and a woman. The response has been to say that this definition is far too thin and doesn’t take into account all of the images and promises that we have been attaching to marriage for some time now. Some might point to the Protestant Reformation, with its emphasizing “mutual society” over procreation. Others might blame it on dating culture and no-fault divorce. Others might still point to the notion that marriage is now one of those ways in which people continue “the pursuit of happiness.” Either way, the issue is that marriage is not simply a societal institution for childbirth and rearing, but it is also a key way for people to find personal fulfillment.
And we should admit that this response has been mostly unanswered because it is (currently) unanswerable. Continue reading →
This sermon was preached for Pro-Life Mississippi as a part of their 40 Days of Church campaign, outside of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Jackson, MS.
Sermon Text: Romans 6:16-23
It is a privilege to speak to you on this solemn but important occasion. I am saddened by the need for demonstrations like this, but as long as there is evil to be fought and lives to be defended, then we must be unapologetic in answering the call. So while I am saddened by the need to speak out against abortion, I am not sorry for doing so.
I should also say that I realize I am speaking to people who are advanced well beyond me in age and experience. Most of you have been involved in Pro-Life activities since before I was even engaged with the basic categories of the debate. And so I would not want to pretend to have any expertise beyond those of you here. But I have spent the last several years studying the issue of abortion closely, mostly at its philosophical foundations. And as an ordained minister of the gospel, I am also a student of the Scriptures. I have wrestled with God through His word for many years now, and I have not always liked what He has had to say. But I do believe that, by His grace and through the help of teachers and pastors, I have received something of an education in this regard. And so today I am sharing that with you, not my own personal opinions or expertise, but rather the antithesis between the philosophy of abortion, which is the basic philosophy of the flesh, and the philosophy of the Word of God.
Abortion is Freedom through Death
The first thing we must understand is that the argument for abortion is an argument for freedom. Continue reading →