Politics, culture, family and more. From a (mostly) Mennonite perspective.
Joel Mathis is a freelance writer who lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife and son. He spent nine years as a syndicated columnist, co-writing the RedBlueAmerica column as the liberal half of a point-counterpoint duo. His honors include awards for best online commentary from the Online News Association and (twice) from the City and Regional Magazine Association.
Here’s a Twitter thread arguing that The Babylon Bee, a conservative Christian satire site — think The Onion, but evangelical — isn’t really satire because some folks treat its jokes as real. Apparently, it led to a rupture in the relationship between the poster, Josh Raby, and his dad, who defended posting a BB piece as, well, real enough to accept as real.
“This is why The Babylon Bee fails at “knowing their audience”. Because they know *who* they are, but they ignore every cultural force that makes them *them*. They lob jokes and close their eyes as to how they’ll land.
Their audience can not handle satire, because satire requires an understanding of the reality, and these people actively reject reality on a daily basis. Just like the president. Just like my dad.
Now: BB isn’t my cup of tea. (Having grown up among evangelicals, though, it does make me laugh sometimes.) And I don’t doubt the thread played out precisely as Raby describes it.
But. The Bee is satire. The fact that some people don’t understand that doesn’t make site somehow uniquely pernicious. It just means that some people are gullible, and some people are motivated to be gullible.
Google “Onion article mistaken for real news” and you get 2.7 million result. The first is this article documenting times when real news outlets like the New York Times and ESPN failed to spot a joke posting and passed along the fake news as real. Raby, somehow, isn’t arguing for the perniciousness of the Onion.
There’s always a tension with satire and an audience that can’t always read satire properly. That doesn’t mean satire isn’t satire. We should judge the Bee by the same standards we judge the Onion. And we should judge people who refuse to acknowledge reality on that basis, not satire-maker. Let’s judge others as generously as we judge ourselves.
The Jim Crow era of our nation isn’t ancient history. Today, I learned the Emmett Till murder case is still open — and, apparently, some key players are still alive.
I know this now because of some white Ole Miss students who posed with a memorial to Till … brandishing guns and smiling.
Emmett, who was 14 when he was killed in 1955, would have turned 78 on Thursday. The sign, which has been replaced multiple times after being vandalized, marks the spot along the Tallahatchie River where Emmett’s body was found after he was tortured and lynched. He had been accused of whistling at a white woman behind the counter of the grocery store where he went to buy candy. Last year, the cold case was quietly reopened by the Justice Department after the woman recanted parts of her story.
Emmett’s family said on Thursday that their resolve was even stronger after the episode.
“This is still an open murder case,” Ms. Watts said. “Damaging that sign is not going to deter me or other members of our family that are continuing to pursue justice.”
A Pew Research Center survey found that only 25 percent of white evangelicals in the U.S. said that the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country. The center first published the study last year, but recently tweeted a breakdown showing how answers vary along lines of race, age, education and religion.
“By more than two-to-one (68% to 25%), white evangelical Protestants say the U.S. does not have a responsibility to accept refugees,” the center wrote. “Other religious groups are more likely to say the U.S. does have this responsibility. And opinions among religiously unaffiliated adults are nearly the reverse of those of white evangelical Protestants: 65% say the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country, while just 31% say it does not.”
First-generation immigrants are leading the Latino evangelical expansion in the US—drawing in more unchurched believers and new converts than the average church plant, despite having smaller congregations, less funding, and tensions surrounding US immigration policy.
The Latino population is growing, especially in the South, where 59 percent of the 218 new congregations surveyed are located (half are Southern Baptist). And the evangelical faith is growing with it.
It is always the case that xenophobic folks miss out on opportunities. In the case of white evangelicals, they may be missing out on a chance to grow their faith community.
White Christians have a long and lamentable history of silence (or worse) when people of color are under attack. On the one hand, I sense today an authentic desire among white Christians to build bridges of relationship and reconciliation with their friends and neighbors of other ethnicities.
On the other hand, I sense a profound frustration among non- white Christian friends that their white brethren keep silent as the president aims ugly and demeaning statements at people of color. These friends don’t like what the silence of the white church is saying, and neither do we.
“So let us not be silent” the editorial adds, and it’s good to see Christians challenge each other over racism in the Trump era.
The one problem: While CT speaks of the need to speak up and stand along non-white Christians, this editorial never quite gets around to directly challenging the president on these grounds. It suggests that doing so would be a good thing, but it mostly talks around the thing it’s about.
So while Christianity Today’s editorial is a good start, it’s not quite enough. If you’ve decided that somebody should speak truth to an about the president, there’s a good chance that somebody should be you.
Amid a national furor over President Donald Trump’s tweet urging four Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to their home countries, a Virginia pastor is gaining attention with a sign at his church saying “America: Love or Leave It.”
Pastor E.W. Lucas (said) Tuesday that he wanted to make a statement about the political divisions in Washington.
“People that feel hard about our president and want to down the president and down the country and everything, they ought to go over there and live in these other countries for a little while,” Lucas said.
Listen: We’re all tempted to interpret the Gospel in light of our own ideological predispositions. I certainly am.
All the same, a church that decides to greet the world with an “America: love it or leave it” sign is a church that is very confused — charitably speaking — about its mission in the world.
It feel like my values are losing on every front in public life in favor of a war on truth, refugees and the poor. I feel despair. I imagine some of our readers are similarly discouraged.
I know I just wrote last week that Christians should have hope beyond the here and now, but you know what? It’s hard. Sometimes we need a little comfort.
I have a couple of ideas about how to combat the despair. But I would love to hear more.
On my list:
• Walk away from the news once in awhile. That’s tough for a lot of us to do, especially if — like me — you work in news and news-adjacent businesses. But it’s not impossible. It’s good to take a day a week to unplug, especially from Twitter, and direct your energies to other things.
• Think global, act local: I’m increasingly convinced that any salvation we’re able to create from current circumstances will come in large part from working together in our communities for our values and against the forces that alarm us so. I have recently been doing some volunteer work for the first time in my life. It’s not enough. But it’s also a way of doing something positive, and it never fails to make me feel a bit more positive. It also helps to simply embrace real-world, non-online relationships.
• Embrace what’s beautiful: I grew up in a generation that was cynical about beauty. That’s unfortunate. Find what inspires you — music, dance, the outdoors, art — and make sure some of your time is spent focusing on it. I’m not sure about the whole “beauty is truth, and truth, beauty” business, but I’m not sure it’s entirely wrong, either.
• Make stuff. Don’t just consume. Even if you learn a new recipe to share with your family at dinner, that’s something.
I’m not always good at doing these things. I linger far too long in front of my computer. But when I take my own advice, my life is a little better. And that gives me the strength to fight for the values that I believe in.
Pete Wehner, a NeverTrump conservative, weighs in on Evangelical Christianity in the Trump era:
I recently exchanged emails with a pro-Trump figure who attended the president’s reelection rally in Orlando, Florida, on June 18. (He spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, so as to avoid personal or professional repercussions.) He had interviewed scores of people, many of them evangelical Christians. “I have never witnessed the kind of excitement and enthusiasm for a political figure in my life,” he told me. “I honestly couldn’t believe the unwavering support they have. And to a person, it was all about ‘the fight.’ There is a very strong sense (I believe justified, you disagree) that he has been wronged. Wronged by Mueller, wronged by the media, wronged by the anti-Trump forces. A passionate belief that he never gets credit for anything.”
The rallygoers, he said, told him that Trump’s era “is spiritually driven.” When I asked whether he meant by this that Trump’s supporters believe God’s hand is on Trump, this moment and at the election—that Donald Trump is God’s man, in effect—he told me, “Yes—a number of people said they believe there is no other way to explain his victories. Starting with the election and continuing with the conclusion of the Mueller report. Many said God has chosen him and is protecting him.”
Emphasis added. One wonders how Jesus would be received in this crowd.
After all, Jesus wasn’t exactly known for his earthly victories, or for his fighting. When the special prosecutor of the day came calling, Jesus ended up in custody — and, ultimately, on the cross. It was only by his losing, in a very conventional sense, that Christianity as we know it exists.
But Wehner points out the concerns of modern evangelicals are, well, temporal:
Many white evangelical Christians, then, are deeply fearful of what a Trump loss would mean for America, American culture, and American Christianity. If a Democrat is elected president, they believe, it might all come crashing down around us.
Paradoxically, to be a Christian should meant that you believe you’ve already won the ultimate victory, but that victory won’t be of an earthly nature. Matthew 6, for example, is full of admonishments to Jesus’ followers not to worry about earthly rewards but to store up treasure in heaven.
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
I always thought this heaven orientation of Christians made other elements of Christianity possible. If you know that’s your ultimate destination, you don’t have to worry about earthly persecution so much — you can suffer for the sake of your faith — because it’s going to come out OK. Today’s evangelicals don’t seem to have that orientation.
To put it another way: Today’s evangelicals seem to think God can be defeated. Which is one reason they cast their lot with Trump — as a hedge against that defeat.
Here’s where I offer some sympathy: I don’t always believe in this eternal outlook myself. The less I do, the more I’m willing to depart from what I’d otherwise consider non-negotiables of Christian belief and living. My pacifism for example, slipped around the same time my belief in the eternal faltered. So I get it. Heaven is a promise, but the world you live in is the world you live in — one might be real, but the other is for sure real. Most days, it feels like it’s the only thing that matters. Even now, I can’t say for sure it’s not. So really, who am I to criticize evangelicals for their approach?
Wehner offers some hope, at least.
Evangelical Christians need another model for cultural and political engagement, and one of the best I am aware of has been articulated by the artist Makoto Fujimura, who speaks about “culture care” instead of “culture war.”
According to Fujimura, “Culture care is an act of generosity to our neighbors and culture. Culture care is to see our world not as a battle zone in which we’re all vying for limited resources, but to see the world of abundant possibilities and promise.” What Fujimura is talking about is a fundamentally different set of sensibilities and dispositions from what we see embodied in many white evangelical leaders who frequently speak out on culture and politics. The sensibilities and dispositions Fujimura is describing are characterized by a commitment to grace, beauty, and creativity, not antipathy, disdain, and pulsating anger. It’s the difference between an open hand and a mailed fist.
I want to investigate this concept further, but on its face “culture care” seems counter-cultural. I’m not sure how much traction it can gain in today’s polarized political atmosphere. But it seems worth striving for.