Excerpts #1

I am convinced that the climate of skepticism, which for the last two hundred years has made it unfashionable and even embarrassing to suggest Jesus’ resurrection really happened was never and is not now itself a neutral thing, sociologically or politically. The intellectual coup d’etat by which Enlightenment convinced so many that “we now know that dead people don’t rise,” as though this was a modern discovery rather than simply the reaffirmation of what Homer and Aeschylus had taken for granted, goes hand in hand with the Enlightenment’s other proposals, not least that we have now come of age, that God can be kicked upstairs, that we can get on with running the world however we want to, carving it up to our advantage without outside interference. To that extent, the totalitarianisms of the last century were simply among the manifestations of a larger totalitarianism of thought and culture against which postmodernity has now, and rightly in my view, rebelled. Who, after all, was it who didn’t want the dead to be raised? Not simply the intellectually timid or the rationalists. It was, and is, those in power, the social and intellectual tyrants and bullies; the Caesars who would be threatened by a Lord of the world who had defeated the tyrant’s last weapon, death itself; the Herods who would be horrified at the postmortem validation of the true King of the Jews. And this is the point where believing in the resurrection of Jesus suddenly ceases to be a matter of inquiring about an odd event in the first century and becomes a matter of rediscovering hope in the twenty-first century. Hope is what you get when you suddenly realize that a different worldview is possible, a worldview in which the rich, the powerful, and the unscrupulous do not after all have the last word. The same worldview shift that is demanded by the resurrection of Jesus is the shift that will enable us to transform the world.

Think of Oscar Wilde’s wonderful scene in his play Salome, when Herod hears reports that Jesus of Nazareth has been raising the dead. “I do not wish him to do that,” says Herod. “I forbid him to do that. I allow no man to raise the dead. This man must be found and told that I forbid him to raise the dead.”

There is the bluster of the tyrant who knows his power is threatened, and I hear the same tone of voice not just in politicians who want to carve up the world to their advantage but also in the intellectual traditions that have gone along for the ride.
But Wilde’s next, haunting line is the real crunch, for us as for Herod: “Where is this man?” demands Herod. “He is in every place, my lord,” replies the courier, “but it is hard to find him.”

N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope, pg 76-77

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Christians Against Christian Nationalism

I’ve been very clear and forthright in this space about my alarm over the growing tendency for the Christian right in this country to identify our faith with the American state, and recently, with the Trump Administration. Increasingly, the identity “Christian” in this country is coming to be more and more associated with ideas of nationalism, xenophobia, bigotry, anger, and partisan politics. By continually invoking Christianity as a basis for their political engagement, and by attaching religious monikers and praise to Donald Trump, many on the Christian Right are blurring the line, for those outside the faith, between right wing politics and the Church. I wrote about this tendency in my thesis this year.christian nationalism

In this atmosphere, it is more important than ever that Christians who reject this kind of Christian nationalism stand up and make their voices heard. This is the idea behind the public statement “Christians Against Christian Nationalism.” As a Christian theologian, I am more than willing to sign my name to this statement. Here it is in full:

As Christians, our faith teaches us everyone is created in God’s image and commands us to love one another. As Americans, we value our system of government and the good that can be accomplished in our constitutional democracy. Today, we are concerned about a persistent threat to both our religious communities and our democracy — Christian nationalism.

Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.

 As Christians, we are bound to Christ, not by citizenship, but by faith. We believe that:

  • People of all faiths and none have the right and responsibility to engage constructively in the public square.

  • Patriotism does not require us to minimize our religious convictions.

  • One’s religious affiliation, or lack thereof, should be irrelevant to one’s standing in the civic community.

  • Government should not prefer one religion over another or religion over nonreligion.

  • Religious instruction is best left to our houses of worship, other religious institutions and families.

  • America’s historic commitment to religious pluralism enables faith communities to live in civic harmony with one another without sacrificing our theological convictions.

  • Conflating religious authority with political authority is idolatrous and often leads to oppression of minority and other marginalized groups as well as the spiritual impoverishment of religion.

  • We must stand up to and speak out against Christian nationalism, especially when it inspires acts of violence and intimidation—including vandalism, bomb threats, arson, hate crimes, and attacks on houses of worship—against religious communities at home and abroad.

Whether we worship at a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple, America has no second-class faiths. All are equal under the U.S. Constitution. As Christians, we must speak in one voice condemning Christian nationalism as a distortion of the gospel of Jesus and a threat to American democracy.

If you agree, please click here and add your name.

From My Thesis: Self-Interest and Voting

For progressives who are especially attuned to situations of oppression and injustice, the plight of rural white working-class people should be a concern. Instead, they are dismissed because of their repugnant political beliefs, with no understanding of how or why they arrived at those beliefs. White progressives still advocate for and stand alongside black Americans, Muslims, or Hispanic people, despite the existence of some poll numbers showing, for instance, the level of antipathy among these groups for the rights of LGBT people.[1] Why is the same consideration not extended to the rural white working class?  Hochschild calls this the ”empathy wall,” that which inhibits the understanding of another’s deep story, and the resultant inability to have empathy or understanding for those very different from us.[2]

Finally, this is a group that is largely disdained and derided by other populations. As noted above, Nancy Isenberg has traced this history of cultural alienation in her book. This has resulted in the determination by advocacy and political groups that rural white working-class people aren’t worth the time. One particularly pernicious narrative applied to them is the idea that they, politically, they vote and support candidates who go against their own interests. This infantilizing narrative robs rural white working-class people of their own agency. To reduce the interests of white working class people to merely economic considerations is to reduce the humanity of these people, and to disparage their ability to make rational choices about their own lives. Additionally, it is a narrative firmly entrenched in a neo-liberal, market oriented world, one where the only legitimate choices to be made (at least by those we look down our noses at) are strictly economic in nature. Christians especially should eschew such essentializing narratives about human beings.

Instead, we need to understand that people make decisions – rational decisions – for a variety of reasons that are ultimately personal for each person. If any economically distressed person chooses to vote for and support candidates or policies that are not directly beneficial to their financial well-being, but instead picks a candidate that speaks to their cultural, social or identity priorities, then it is important to view that as a legitimate and reasonable choice to make, even if we abhor the positions and policies endorsed by such a vote. Even more importantly, if Christians claim to care about these people, then we must understand the real reasons behind these actions, and take real, concrete steps to address them, rather than dismissing them as irrational and self-destructive actors undeserving of our attention. The electoral results of 2016 demand such a response, not to mention the inherent dignity of each person.

[1] Pew Research Center, ”Support for Same-Sex Marriage at Record High, but Key Segments Remain Opposed,” June 2015, accessed March 25, 2019, https://www.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2015/06/6-8-15-Same-sex-marriage-release1.pdf.

[2] Hochschild, Strangers In Their Own Land, 5.