Friday, January 06, 2017

So, how bad are things, really?

If the people of the United States of America had elected Hillary Rodham Clinton as their president, life for Christians would have been easier. A broad cross-section of Christians, from mainline Protestants to cradle Roman Catholics (although, see this), are wedded enough to neoliberalism as to have been quite cozy with how things would have proceeded.

But we didn't elect her. Instead, a perfect storm of populism, our electoral college, and now apparently Vladimir Putin, elected Donald Trump as our next president. And although neoliberalism will still hold sway, it will be coupled with a variety of heresies and dangerous political tendencies that will result in Christians needing to resist in ways that are clearer than Christian resistance otherwise construed.

Under either presidency, under the leadership of either of our (unfortunately limited) two parties, Christians would have had a lot of work to do. In one instance, their work would have been easier but less focused. Under the second, the work will be much harder, and therefore clearer. There is already, and will continue to be, many levels of resistance to engage.

But how much resistance is necessary? How bad are things, really? 

This is an important question to answer correctly. Many supporters of Trump, and clearly a large cross-section of the Republican establishment, seem to think things are going swimmingly. As just one example, yesterday while I was grabbing a coffee, four men stood up from a table next to me, clapped their hands, and exclaimed, "Let's go make some money!" One of them then said, "You know, who would have known electing Donald Trump would do such great things for the market? I mean, I can't stand the guy, but I love this!"

You might at this point think I'm confusing my politics and my theology. But here we need to remember that it was white evangelicals as a block that in particular ensured our recent shift to the right, and their solidarity as voters this election was beyond remarkable. Politics and theology are married, and for obvious reasons. Christianity has a kingdom ethic. It is an alternative politics. It's just that, in my estimation, perhaps the majority of Protestant Christians, and increasing numbers of Roman Catholics apparently, have misunderstood the core of the kingdom ethic.

Those of us who are worried (and I am definitely in the very worried category) about a Trump presidency and a global shift towards populism and ethno-nationalism, are worried because we see very clear comparisons between previous totalitarian regimes and present capitulations. That is, the very things those who are not alarmed dismiss as not alarming, we find incredibly alarming. Authoritarianism doesn't arrive all at once. It arrives via small capitulations. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given.

But people who disagree with me politically and theologically disagree with my basic assumption--that we are at risk of such authoritarianism. Therein lies the rub. How do we communicate with, even organize with, those who apparently live in the same country and yet inhabit a completely different country? It's like China Mieville's The City and the City. Two countries occupying the same territory. 

We're going to need resources for the resistance, roadmaps for how to move forward together as a people who know the stakes are very high right now. We're going to need a language for how to describe clearly what we're seeing. And we're going to need tools for the fight, equipment to do as well or better what obviously we've been schooled in.

Towards that end, I highly recommend everyone that can read Jane Mayer's Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. They've been playing the long game, and they're winning. Those of us who hope to make a difference will need to learn from a play-by-play of how they did it. Along those same lines, it might behoove anyone and everyone to read Machiavelli's The Prince. And then if you want to understand how Trump thinks, consider reading Rhonda Byrne's The Secret

On this last one, you might think I'm joking. But I'm not. 

A good number of Christian leaders in our country have been trying to offer us a language, and more than a language, a model for organizing, and a movement to join. The leading light (we might consider him our contemporary MLK Jr.) is William Barber II. His book, The Third Reconstruction, describes the organizing they have been doing as progressive Christians in North Carolina over the past couple of decades. Since the new organizing is going to need to take place at the state level, his book is focused the right way--Christian organizing based out of faith communities that make a difference in their local communities, and then take issues to their state capitols. 

The thing is, although our national politics gets the lion's share of our media attention, the practice of discipleship takes place in our local communities, and the politics that shape our daily lives is as much part of our republicanism as it is our federalism. We live in states. Christians, committed to the practices of the kingdom of God, will find themselves at odds with many state and federal laws. 

One thing is certain: it will be easiest for Christians who belong to privileged groups to remain comfortable in the new political climate. Less is at stake for them personally. In some instances, in particular the rich, there may even be wonderful short-term gains (by which I mean, even more money). 

But if the privileged shrug off all the abuses of power and warped self-interested plutocracy posturing as democracy, not only are they selling their souls and silently allowing a decline that will ultimate affect them--they are also turning a blind eye to the immediate suffering that is already resulting from this shift. 

Those on the margins of our society--from the poor, to the immigrant, to people of color, to women, to minorities of all types--are already more vulnerable. You can see the changes happening daily. And what they see is that white evangelicals are especially complicit, as the largest bloc supporting the agenda of the radical right, and so not only are we (anyone with privilege) turning aloof and cold to their plight, we are actually failing in our Christian witness because now the gospel of Christ is wedded to a way of being in the world quite antithetical to Christ's own life.

Not only are we not living into the kingdom. We are actively, with our lives and politics, proclaiming a false gospel.

Hence the difficult clarity of our moment. Educate, agitate, organize! We have only as those committed to discipleship engaged a bit of educating and agitating (and we think blogging and posting such counts as sufficient), and we have been outflanked by the organizing of the right. We've got a lot of work to do, and we have some role-models from whom to learn. Perhaps the first step is to tell the Jesus story again in ways that remind us of a world as it might be--as the coming kingdom of God.

Barber is not the only Christian theologian aware of our need of articulating forms of radical discipleship. I link to a few of these below, for your further reading.

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