Today’s evangelicals seem to think God can be defeated

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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.

The irony of American Bible publishing

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I did not know this:

More than half of the 100 million Bibles printed every year have been printed in China since the 1980s, he said. Of those, 20 million are sold or given away in the United States.

That’s because of the specialized printing requirements for a complex book such as the Bible, which requires thin paper that cannot be fed into standard printing equipment, leather covers, stitched binding, color pages and special inserts such as maps.

China, of course, is legendarily repressive of its citizens’ right to religion. Christians don’t get the worst of this, admittedly, but still: I’m not surprised that Chinese officials allow the publication and export of English-language Bibles at a profit. I am sort of surprised that American Christians would think so little of the freedom of their Chinese counterparts that they’d take advantage of the situation.

Of course, I own an iPhone. That’s probably not much different. But I guess I’m still surprised.

Stepping back

Two years ago, I approached my friend Rebecca about starting a blog together. At the time I’d just finished a longtime writing partnership and found I missed the dialogue. But as Rebecca and I chatted about Big Issues on Facebook, I realized that she was a smart and formidable writer who would help me raise my game as I think through issues.

She agreed, and 606 was born.

I had the honor of writing the first post. I introduced the intent of the blog thusly:

For me, writing is a discussion. I spent most of a decade writing a point-counterpoint column that was syndicated to newspapers. When that ended, I searched for a new discussion. Rebecca, my friend, turned out to be an excellent person to be in dialogue with, and I’m glad she’s here too. It’s also nice that we have enough in common, idea-wise, that our conversations on this blog won’t consist of endless arguing. Then again, I think our perspectives differ just enough to keep each other honest.

I think we’ve done some pretty good work here over the last two years, at times amplifying a lefty Mennonite perspective on issues that was worthy of amplifying, both to the world at large and in more intra-Menno debates. Rebecca, if you can’t tell, has done the lion’s share of the work — pulling in contributions from outside contributors, doing interviews, and generally making us look like a real website.

For awhile, I’ve been embarrassed by my inability to keep up. More recently, I’ve realized that whatever my best intentions, I probably can’t at this point. I still love being in dialogue with Rebecca, but my writing energies these days are directed at writing a three-times-a-week column for TheWeek.com. It’s a tremendous privilege, but it sometimes leaves me thinking I don’t have much smart left to say in this space. It’s also true that I abandoned Facebook in December, and while I continue to be relieved by that decision, it made me feel like I couldn’t sufficiently promote what I was writing here.

So I am, with Rebecca’s permission and generosity, backing out of a day-to-day role at 606.

You’ll notice already that she’s brought aboard some smart new contributors to refresh and revitalize the site. I’m particularly excited to see contributions from Angela Muhuri, who is one of the dearest friends of my life. This blog, I believe, is in good hands going forward.

I won’t disappear entirely. From time to time, I may pop my head in here with thoughts about topics that don’t quite fit my mission at The Week. There is a season for everything — I am so glad to have helped launch this site, and I hope that it grows and becomes an ever-more fertile ground for ideas, discussion and dialogue.

And yes: No matter how far I drift from orthodox Christianity, no matter how seldom I end up attending church, one truth abides — this song still gives me chills.

Denver schools are closed today on account of guns

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It’s almost the 20th anniversary of the Columbine massacre. Here’s what’s happening in Denver schools today.

More than a dozen school districts in Colorado are closed Wednesday after the FBI and local law enforcement warned of an 18-year-old white woman who is “armed and dangerous” in the Denver metropolitan area.

Sol Pais flew from Miami to Denver on Monday and “immediately” bought a pump action shotgun and ammunition, FBI Denver Special Agent In Charge Dean Phillips told reporters Tuesday evening.

Pais had “made some concerning comments in the past” and had an “infatuation” with the 1999 Columbine High School shooting and its perpetrators, Phillips said at the press conference. She was last seen in the foothills of Jefferson County, in the metro Denver area.

It’s good that authorities are protecting kids, but you know what? This is also insane.

A year ago, I wrote this for The Week:

Consider where mass shootings have taken place in America in recent years: schools, nightclubs, churches, concerts. And now, a gaming tournament. Two people were killed Sunday and a dozen others injured before the gunman — possibly a tournament participant — killed himself. Horrifyingly, the attack played out over a livestream, with the gunshots and agonized screams available for everybody to hear in real time.

There is no place where people gather in America that is safe from gun violence. In fact, large gatherings are becoming dangerous targets for the angry and unhinged. As that ugly realization slowly settles in, and gun advocates stand their ground in refusing any new regulations on the ability to possess and use weapons of death, there will only be one option for people concerned about their own safety and the safety of their loved ones: retreat from the public square.

We’ve now reached the stage where we’d rather close public schools entirely rather than take much of a step to restrict access to guns. It’s both a reasonable step and absolutely unreasonable. Guns are destroying community in America. This is is just the latest step.

The unending cost of gun violence

 

Teal gunI try not to push my outside work here too often, but my column at The Week today is kind of on-brand for SixOh6.

Last weekend, Sydney Aiello, a survivor of the Stoneman Douglas shootings, took her own life. On Saturday, another survivor of that attack, a 16-year-old boy, also apparently died of suicide. And on Monday morning, Jeremy Richman, whose 6-year-old daughter died at Sandy Hook, was found dead in his office — he also seems to have killed himself

A caution: We don’t know all the reasons for these newly lost lives, though Aiello’s mom said her daughter had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following the attack at Stoneman Douglas. What we do know is that each person’s life had been deeply marked by gun violence.

Collectively, their deaths suggest we should be working harder to tabulate the never-ending psychological and physical costs being imposed on our communities and our neighbors in this era of mass shootings. Those costs should be at the forefront of every discussion and debate we have about the use and misuse of guns in this country.

Please read the whole thing.

Readings: A ‘Pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-Peace’ group tries to change the Middle East debate

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Politico has an interesting piece about Telos Group, which is trying to change the evangelical discussion about Israel:

“We sort of imported this conflict into our own culture, and into our churches, into our own politics,” Deatherage told me, as two WeWorkers played table tennis nearby. “We’ve created these ways of engaging it that are very one sided—they’re zero sum. So if I’m pro-Israeli, I’m by default anti-Palestinian. If I’m pro-Palestinian I’m, by default, anti-Israeli. That’s the kind of space for engaging it right now. So we’ve come around and suggested that maybe there’s a third way.” He’s also trying to reach a pro-Palestine constituency that demonizes Israel. He argues that a good future for Israelis requires a good future for the Palestinians.

The conflict, he says, has become a domestic issue in American politics, especially among evangelicals raised with a pro-Israel narrative. “It’s the software that’s pre-loaded into us in certain segments of the evangelical church that we just kinda grow up thinking that whatever happened in the Middle East in contemporary affairs is definitely God working something out there,” Deatherage said. “And that we gotta bless Israel. We gotta stand with Israel. We gotta be with Israel because they’re God’s people, and God’s project, right?”

The group doesn’t expect to completely transform that viewpoint:

Telos isn’t looking for transformation so much as incremental change. Even if evangelicals’ support for Israel wanes just a little, Wear says, it could eventually reshape America’s approach to the conflict. “If even an additional 10 percent of the evangelical community becomes more nuanced on these issues, that drastically changes the political calculations for how beholden politicians feel to holding a certain line because their constituency will be giving them more flexibility,” Wear said.

Please read the whole thing!

Sixteen thoughts about Ilhan Omar and anti-Semitism

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I think:

• Anti-Semitism is wicked.

• That one can criticize the government of Israel without being anti-Semitic.

• That there are many people who try to conflate the two. (See: Senator Marco Rubio as he tries to pass a bill that would punish people for BDS boycotts.)

• That many of those people would be delighted to cast one of the few Muslims in Congress as an anti-Semite.

• That that’s not a reason not to criticize a member of Congress if she’s in the wrong.

• That accusations of “dual loyalty” have long been used by anti-Semites against Jews.

• That what Congresswoman Ilhan Omar said…

“I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

…sounds very much like those old dual loyalty accusations.

Continue reading “Sixteen thoughts about Ilhan Omar and anti-Semitism”