Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Where Do We Stand?


Martin Luther famously declared: "Here I stand, I can do no other." His statement was seen then and is seen now as a sort of line in the sand. Whether it's religion or politics (ore athletics), we often find ourselves in either/or situations. Or, I might better put it, others put us in that situation.

In this post Religious Right era, with the Democrats in control of both the White House and Congress for the first time since 1994, many Progressive Christians thought they would now have the ear of those in government -- and are disappointed by the people the new President is surrounding himself with. There are those within the liberal or Progressive Christian movement that could be described as purists. No compromise. You're fully on board, or not at all. There are others, apparently known as accommodationists that are willing to work across the lines.

As I listen to the debates and read the analysis, I wonder where I fit. There was a time, not all that long ago, when I subscribed to both the Christian Century and Christianity Today -- and thought of myself living some where in between. I have since dropped my CT subscription and subscribed instead to the Progressive Christian. If journal subscriptions say anything about who we are, I would say that I fit pretty comfortably with the CC crowd. But, I've published a number of reviews in the Progressive Christian. So, am I somewhere in the middle again? If so, I'm likely much closer to the more centrist sympathies of CC than where many of the Progressive Christian writers stand.

All of this is preface to a couple of comments on a column written by Diana Butler Bass, written in response to a column written by Delwin Brown. Brown's essay defined the antecedents to modern liberal Christianity, and then suggests there are two options -- purists and accomadationists. According to Brown's analysis, the purist Progressive is:

Progressive Christianity, instead, is pointed and pushy—“prophetic,” some would say. It insists on unmasking and undoing the social, political, and economic structures (St. Paul called them “the principalities and powers”) that perpetuate the gross inequality of economic opportunity, the government’s control over a woman’s body and a couple’s love, ecological degradation, militarism, a health care system that privileges the already privileged, and so on. Purists believe that radical call, so conveniently ignored in any case, will be lost entirely if it is linked to the piecemeal and usually tepid “progressive” advances among conservative Christians.
The accomodationist shares many of the goals, but is willing to work "piecemeal."

Diana appreciates the analysis but disagrees with the conclusion that these are the only two options. She describes herself as being a "post-modern, post-partisan, neo-pragmatic progressive pilgrim." We are in the middle of a paradigm shift (once again), and if we look at the world through the old paradigm we're bound to be disappointed.

She concludes:

The tempest-in-a-teapot argument among religious progressives is but one small microburst in the larger storm of cultural change. Those who expected a pure progressive Camelot under President Obama are bound to be disappointed—because he is a post-modern progressive. And that’s a different sort of thing than we’ve known before. History may point the direction, but we’re having to make this up as we go along. Because liberalism just ain’t what it used to be.


I tend to agree with Diana, but maybe that is in part due to the fact that our own journeys are very similar. We're essentially the same age, both born into mainline Protestant families, went to evangelical schools, and have in time become progressive. But what is important to note, is that (if I may speak for Diana) while we may not own all that we once affirmed, we've not shed everything from that journey. So, yes my evangelicalism still shines through at points, even though I now give it a different spin. I'm willing to work across lines for a common purpose, even with those with whom I disagree on some issues. It's probably why I like Obama as a politician -- even if I don't agree with him at all points, I see him as one who considers the possibilities and seeks to make the best possible decision. He's guided by his ideals, but understands the realities.

So, my question of the day: Where do you stand and why?

10 comments:

John said...

No politician can accurate capture and effectuate the message and agenda of Christ. No government is is radical enough - it may not be possible for such a government to stand in this world - unless all stand together.

That being said - the responsible Christian should to stand outside of the government and, while lifting up its liberating successes, critique its failures.

We are to be a prophetic people. If we ever become part of the government or even allies of the government, we give up our role as prophets and are forced to rely on others to light the way for us.

Nathan never ruled, that was for David to do.

John

Anonymous said...

I don't like labels, although I never shirked from the liberal one I've worn since I learned the term.

I had someone at work the other week ask me to sign an anti-abortion petition to be sent to Obama. Not very PC I know, but he obviously trusts me.

I told him I was anti-abortion, but I was unable to sign it- only stating that I didn't want to sign anyone's rights away. He then asked a retorical (I think) "you mean the baby?".

I have been wondering if my response was colored by the label I accept or my ego. I find myself feeling as though I don't feel I let myself be me fully. I think need to think about crossing more lines lately. Today, I think I might sign such a petition.

I stand like a fiddler on the roof?

David Mc

Anonymous said...

or maybe I think too much, or not enough..geeze. I gotta review more before sending.

Good response John.

Anonymous said...

The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out, the conservative adopts them.

Mark Twain (1835 - 1910)

When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.

Martin Luther King Jr (1929 - 1968)

more good ones for all here:

http://www.gaia.com/quotes/topics/conservatism

Anonymous said...

ha ha, I did it again. Good quotes, odd website.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to disparage gaia.com.

I thought they were worshiping the Great Goddess for a minute. Turns out they're trying to make green on green. I guess god.com was taken. checking....

Of course it was.

Sorry Bob, I promise, no more comments from me...till Thursday.

David Mc

charles & jenny said...

It is fascinating to watch the change based on conversation. John says the feeling better than most on what is going on. As a "conservative", I cheered when Bush was first elected that we had one of our boys in there who would clean the Oval Office carpet and bring morals back. Of course eight years later all I see is a mangled man who went through the "machine". It was my warning to progressives during the election.

It hasn't been 100 days, and already the idealism is wearing off and the reality is setting in. To expect change from politicians is a very difficult road. Perhaps that is why God was so reluctant to give Israel a king. That said, I think Godly men can be good counsel in any government.. see Daniel or Joseph. God can certainly work through any government.

All being said, I am convinced more than ever that church must be the foot soldiers. We can work with government, but we must be the change and drive it.

Chuck

Mystical Seeker said...

I agree with John 100%. The only way to be a truly prophetic voice is to stand outside the halls of power as an independent voice who is unafraid to criticize those who rule and who has no vested interest preventing them from doing so.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I stand with the progressives not as a "purist," but as one who knows that no govt. is perfect. I did think we'd get more of Obama's ear than we have.

But I don't want progressives to become subservient to any politician or party. Christians can join parties, but we can never be "true blue." We must always be critics. That is the nature of prophetic faith.

I praise all the good changes Obama has made (in less than 100 days) and worry about his direction in Afghanistan and his reluctance to prosecute torturers and his continuance of the Bush "state secrets" legal nonsense. I think his economic team owes too much to Wall Street.
(On the other hand, I have been pleasantly surprised by Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.)

I stand always with the poor, the marginalized, the disenfranchised. I stand for peace and nonviolence. I stand for religious liberty and church-state separation (including abolishing "offices of faith based initiatives").

I will gladly elect the best people possible in a given context--and never think that means I have ushered in the Kingdom of God. After the election, I am as likely to be a critic as a supporter.

We Christians are a people scattered among the nations. We have higher loyalties than nations or political parties--or we are not really Christian.

Mystical Seeker said...

I agree that Obama has made some positive changes since taking office (it would be hard not to be an improvement over Bush), and I also agree with concerns over his escalation of the military involvement in Afghanistan, his support for Bush policies on wiretapping and secrecy, and his ties to Wall Street corporate interests. None of those things that I find problematic about Obama are surprising to me, though, and were presaged by things he said and did during the campaign. He had Brzezinski, who was one of the biggest hawks in Jimmy Carter's administration, on his team during the campaign; he voted for the FISA bill, showing that he was already quite a bit on Bush's side with respect to secrecy and wiretapping issues; and he had always promised to escalate the war in Afghanistan.

I think that a lot of the problems in American politics are systemic and will not be solved by any individual who works within that system. During the last election campaign, both Obama and McCain supported the Wall Street bailout, while third party candidates who opposed the bailout were never given a voice; this is par for the course, but it illustrates how the illusion of consensus can be created by our political system even if there really are dissenting voices.

If prophets become entangled in the system they lose their prophetic voice; that is why I think it makes the most sense to exert pressure from the outside, to support when support is called for, but to be unafraid to criticize when that is also called for.