Dear Christians: Donald Trump is discrediting your witness

Dear Rebecca:

NDT

Rod Dreher is, as you’d expect, largely on board with The Nashville Statement, with some caveats. But he acknowledges it’s a disaster among young people, and you probably won’t be surprised to find out why.

An older pastor said that it is impossible to separate the Nashville Statement from the massive support white Evangelicals gave to Trump. Impossible to separate, I mean, in the mind of the young.

“But Russell Moore signed it, and other Trump critics among Evangelicals,” I said.

“I know, and I’ve tried to tell people that,” said this pastor, a conservative Evangelical. “It doesn’t matter to them. All they see is a bunch of leaders of a movement who voted for a sexually corrupt man like Donald Trump are now trying to take a public stand on sexual morality for gays. It’s totally hypocritical to them. I don’t know how the Nashville Statement drafters and signers didn’t see this coming.”

Indeed. My very first reaction to the statement — despite Russell Moore’s involvement — was that I wasn’t very much inclined to take moral instruction from people who supported Donald Trump for president.

The main defense of The Nashville Statement has been that it constitutes a rather orthodox expression of Christian thought on homosexuality, historically, and that while the culture has moved on, the Essential Truth of God has not.

Fair enough. But here’s the funny thing about your witness: People want to make sure that you’re consistent in it. That you’re not a hypocrite. Otherwise, they’re less inclined to believe you when you insist on orthodoxy.

So if you disdain sexual sin except when it occurs by a powerful man courting your vote and willing to pander to you, welp, that sure makes your values look terribly convenient. In short: An evangelical movement that hadn’t tied itself to Trump might’ve had more credibility with The Nashville Statement than it did.

Me? I don’t care much for the orthodox Christian view of things either way. What I see in my life, and among my friends, makes a mockery of the idea that such loving relationships are disordered. Shit, man, we’re all disordered.

But I’ve tried to respect that people with orthodox views on the topic really believe that’s what God requires of them, and they’ve got — at the very least — quite a bunch of tradition backing them up on the matter. That same tradition, though, would’ve cast Donald Trump out of polite society long ago. That’s not what happened. Which means The Nashville Statement has been accorded more or less precisely the level of respect that’s deserved.

What are we willing to trade for DACA?

Dear Rebecca:

I take it as a given that — following Donald Trump’s DACA announcement — we’d both like to see Congress pass a law giving the so-called “Dreamers” a chance to stay in the U.S. legally and even create a pathway to citizenship for them.

So. What are we willing to give up?

Republicans control Congress, after all. Not all Republicans are immigration hardliners — lots, with the business community, love them all the cheap labor that immigration, legal and otherwise provides. But it remains the case that a unified GOP is probably going to want to pass a bill that lets them tell their constituents: “See! We made the country safer!” Just giving the Dreamers a legal pathway to stay isn’t going to get the job done. Giving the GOP a win might.

So I say: Give them the wall.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Trump’s wall is stupid. Probably ineffective. Mexico certainly won’t pay for it. And it goes against everything we’ve been taught about our country being a hope for people around the world who needs hope.

I also think most Republicans recognize that failing to come up with a solution on DACA will be a disaster — condemning people who are here to a lawless grey zone, at best, or requiring their deportation to “home” countries they don’t know at worst. That’s why President Trump, for all his anti-immigrant bravado, punted the issue back to Congress.

Still, I don’t trust the GOP simply to do the right thing. Do you?

So. A compromise of sorts will be probably needed. One that lets them look tough on immigration. Maybe it’s increased funding for ICE, or reduced numbers of legal immigrants. Of all the options on the table, building a wall seems like it might be the least bad.

There’s going to be a temptation among Democrats to hold out. And certainly, nothing should be conceded before both sides get to the negotiating table. There’s also no reason to give away the store. But if we truly believe that anything but legal status for the Dreamers amounts to a disaster — and I do — then we probably have to be willing to compromise, to not let perfect be the enemy of accomplishing something good. That means we’ll have to give up something we’d rather not give up. In politics, this is how it often works.

So. What are we willing to give up? There are real lives depending on the answer.

Sincerely, Joel
 

 

You can’t spell “resistance” without “rest.”

SleepingLion

Dear Rebecca:

This morning in church I was asked to read from the writings of “Kansas poet” William Stafford. Stafford died in the 1990s, but these particular passages seemed very well suited to our Internet-Trump era.

He speaks of writer whose work seems to be to

Find limits that have prevailed and break them; be more brutal, more revealing, more obscene, more violent. Press all limits…

Fascination with things as they are becomes addictive; stronger and stronger shocks become necessary. People want even their entertainments to satisfy their lust for fear, cynicism, and disgust…

We must suspend the old course in current events, in order to protect the young. And even the old, battered, disoriented, blasé, can no longer register human feelings in the blizzard of our time.

Sanctuary, sanctuary — what lives needs sanctuary.

Sound familiar?

It seems to me these days we are governed by provocation and provocateurs. On social media, we swim in a tide of constant outrage — the “blizzard of our time” — and our passions, my passions certainly, are governed by the need to respond to those outrages, to make them right. “Someone is being wrong on the Internet” is a motto for our generation.

And more specifically, we are literally governed by a man who seems to want to find limits that have prevailed and break them, to be more brutal and obscene and violent.

What if we stopped being provoked?

I’m not suggesting we absent ourselves from politics. As many have pointed out, that’s something you can do when you’re privileged, when politics don’t happen to you.

But I am suggesting maybe it’s time to disarm, to stop responding to every provocation with a torrent of outrage. What if we don’t go apeshit every time our leader pokes us with a stick?

What if we follow the logic of sabbath? You can’t spell “resistance”without “rest” after all.

I don’t know exactly what this looks like. I don’t know how, precisely, to avoid being provoked when our leader’s every action is provocative. But I suspect that finding such an approach would rob the provocateurs of their greatest power, their greatest advantage. Maybe the slyest rhetorical weapon we have in this age is … the shrug.

There’s so much to be angry about. Our rage is earned, and righteous, but I increasingly suspect it’s a way of controlling us. There are benefits to dispassion, after all, to the pulled punch and the shot gone unfired.

Sanctuary, sanctuary. What our lives need is sanctuary.

Restively, Joel

Arpaio, Trump, and Nazis

Dear Rebecca:

Donald Trump’s pardon of  Joe Arpaio re-emphasizes something we already knew: The folks who say they only have a problem with illegal immigration often aren’t being totally square with us.

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See, Arpaio got in legal trouble not because he was hunting illegal immigrants, but because — for all practical purposes — he was hunting Latinos: native-born, naturalized, or undocumented. Trump’s pardon says that’s OK.

Remember:

A 2011 Justice Department report concluded that Arpaio engaged in “unconstitutional policing” by systematically targeting Latinos for racial profiling. That same year, in response to a lawsuit, a federal judge ordered Arpaio to stop detaining and harassing residents of largely Latino neighborhoods. He ignored the order and continued to perform sweeps, claiming they were lawful.

And, uh, yeah: That does put Trump on the side of Nazis, Confederates, and any other group of racists you care to find deplorable. It singles out a less-powerful group for legal harassment and possible arrests based on nothing more than the color of their skin.

That is racist. That is racist. That is racist. Period.

Respectfully, Joel

 

‘He’s No Angel’: The unbearable whiteness of innocence

Dear Rebecca:

Conor Friedersdorf is one of my favorite writers around right now. He’s conservative, but he’s probably the most intellectually honest commenter I know of — during the Obama Administration he was equally tough on both the president and the president’s most-stupid critics.

His latest post over at The Atlantic involves the consideration of a podcast interview between Sam Harris, professional atheist and Trump-hater, and Scott Adams, “Dilbert” creator and Trump-lover.

He quotes from the interview at length, and it was in those quotes that something jumped out at me:

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Technically, he’s white.

Adams: Keep in mind that President Trump’s past is far more public than other people. So you’re going to see the warts as well as the good stuff. But let me stop acting as if I disagree with the general claim that you’re making, that he has done things that you and I might not do in the same situation, and would disapprove of. That is common and would be shared by Trump supporters as well.

Harris: But then you seem to give it no ethical weight.

Adams: Here’s the proposition. He came in and he said in these very words, ‘I’m no angel.’ But I’m going to do these things for you. Now he created a situation where for his self-interest, if you imagine he’s the most selfish, narcissistic, egotistical human who ever lived, he only cares about himself, he put himself in the position where there was exactly one way for any of those things to go right for him, which is to do a really, really frickin’ good job, and to imagine that he wants to do anything but the best job for the country now, now that he’s in the position, and probably even when he was running, is beyond ludicrous.

“No angel.” Where had I heard that term before?

Oh. Yeah. It’s used anytime a black person has been abused by police — to suggest that even if the victim of that abuse didn’t haven it coming, he or she probably still had it coming. It’s a cliche among activists now, one that had its origins in the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, and the New York Times coverage afterwards.

Justin Cohen explained the problem with this last year for HuffPo:

In the wake of police executions, you are bound to hear a few things that distract from the real issues. One of those storylines is that “he was no angel,” wherein the media will outline the various ways in which the victim behaved inappropriately in the past. None of this matters, and it certainly does not change the fact that the police killed the person outside of any legal process. I smoked pot when I was in high school, for example, and if the police used that as justification to murder me, that would be ludicrous.

Which brings us back to the president. As Friedersdorf notes: “It is fascinating that Adams counts the pronouncement, ‘I’m no angel,’ as a point in Trump’s favor, as if unapologetically acknowledging moral depravity lessens its weight.”

Indeed, for our white president, “he’s no angel” is his “boys will be boys” get out of jail card, an exculpatory phrase, whereas when the phrase is used with black people, it’s to heap guilt upon them in, at best, ambiguous circumstances.

Seems wrong, somehow.

Sincerely, Joel

My “antifa” conundrum

Dear Rebecca:

pacifism

One thing about being Mennonite: It offers clarity. Violence is the wrong answer, always, no matter the question.

I’m a quasi-lapsed, quasi-worshipful Mennonite these days. It’s complicated. And it complicates how I’m viewing the events in Charlottesville and its aftermath.

See, I’m not a fan of the billy-club wielding “antifa” crews. And I strongly suspect that folks who rely on violence to advance their ideology are in pretty big danger of becoming “fa” sooner or later, no matter how they describe themselves.

But.

I’m also having a hard time getting as angry about the antifa folks as I am about the Nazis who used lethal violence in the name of white supremacy.

Motives matter. We have a billion different ways of judging wrongful deaths based on the motivations of the killer. (Neglect will get you a few years in prison; heat of the moment anger a few years more; something judged a “hate” crime can get you sent away even longer.) But … they don’t for Mennonites.

Violence is violence is violence, and violence is wrong. But I’m having trouble condemning all of it with equal fervor.

This troubles me.

With anguish,
Joel