Dear Christians: Donald Trump is discrediting your witness

Dear Rebecca:

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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
 

 

My straight heterosexual marriage still doesn’t fit the vision of The Nashville Statement

Dear Rebecca:

My wife is a sturdy woman.

This sounds like faint praise, I admit. But it’s nothing less than fact: She’s taller than I am. She’s outweighed me for much of our marriage. And lest that fact mislead you, she’s also stronger than I am. While I was working a desk job early in our marriage, she worked produce at the local grocery store, hefting 50-pound sacks of potatoes and big boxes of vegetables while I typed happily at my keyboard.

Where would we fit, exactly, in the vision of The Nashville Statement?

You see, the underlying idea of The Nashville Statement is complementarianism, the idea that men and women have different bodies and thus different roles in marriage, and that marriage requires this balance of bodies and roles – in the same exact way, every time – in order to be valid in the sight of God.

There’s a photo that went viral this week supposedly, to the minds of its champions, illustrating this principle.

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What I want to say about this picture: Good for them. It works for them. In this moment, at least.

It wouldn’t work in my family. I can’t carry my wife. Some of that is the surgeries I had a few years ago – I’m really not supposed to carry anything much heavier than a gallon of milk, to my enduring shame at the grocery store when she lifts everything and I have to just watch. But some of that is: She’s a sturdy woman. Even at my best, I wasn’t carrying her around.

But: Since my surgeries, she’s used her strength a number of times to help me out of baths, to stabilize me when I’m weak, to do chores that I need to let go. We are complementary, just not in the way (apparently) we’re supposed to be.

Matt Walsh, who posted the picture above, writes elsewhere this week: “’Gender roles’ are founded on biology, not bigotry.”

That’s only mostly true, and not true enough for our purposes.

Yes: Men are generally bigger and stronger than women. Women are generally smaller and weaker than men. Generally. Not always.

The problem with complementarianism is that it takes those general truths and insists they govern lives at the individual level, whether or not — as in the life of my family — it may not be practical or even desirable. The Nashville folks tell us we have to live this way too.

But I don’t wanna.

When we started our discussion of The Nashville Statement, I suggested it was the “triumph of learned theology over lived experience.” This is the kind of thing I’m talking about. Theology that doesn’t permit the influence of actual lives is just airless ivory tower hypothesizing. Theology that only permits the influence of lives that affirm it – and disregards counterexamples – is tendentious hypothesizing. Either way: The Nashville Statement doesn’t look like my life, my family’s life, or the life lived by many friends of mine.

I’ll stick with my family and friends.

Respectfully, Joel

The Nashville Statement

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Some real evangelical “heavy hitters” signed onto The Nashville Statement.

Dear Rebecca:

Have you heard about The Nashville Statement? Here’s a taste:

WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenantlove between Christ and his bride the church.
WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.

WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.
WE DENY that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.

There’s more of this stuff, but you get the idea.

I never really want to tangle with people who express this stuff. Either you believe it or you don’t. I don’t. But I’m operating on different premises than these folks, and arguing with them would be like a German person and a French person debating, in their native languages, without use of a translator. You’ll get that there’s a difference of opinion, but not much way to bridge the gap.

But in a time when we’re led by a president who values women more as trophies than as individuals, who issues pardons that make it possible to oppress Latinos, who makes casual threats of nuclear war … to look at the country and decide that the real problem is that two men might love each other, or that a woman might try to be a soldier … strikes me as misguided. It’s a triumph of learned theology over lived experience.

It certainly doesn’t make me think a return to evangelicalism is in order for me.

Respectfully, 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

 

Charlottesville

Dear Rebecca,

I assume by now you’ve heard the news:

CHARLOTTESVILLE — This picturesque college town devolved into a chaotic and violent state on Saturday as hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members — planning to stage what they described as their largest rally in decades to “take America back” — clashed with counterprotesters in the streets.

Despite the decision to quash the rally, clashes continued on side streets and throughout the downtown. In the early afternoon, three cars collided in a pedestrian mall packed with people, injuring at least 10 and sending bystanders running and screaming. It was unclear if it was accidental or intentional.

    There was at least one death,

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer indicated in a tweet. The Post could not confirm the death.

I have no wisdom to offer here.

I know that evil must be resisted. I know that racism is evil. And I know that overt David Duke-style racists feel suddenly empowered to parade their evil through American public life.

And so I know this, from President Trump, is insufficient: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” he said.

Nope. Liberals have many, many flaws. And we aren’t always as right on race as we should be.

But this is not a “many sides” kind of issue. There is good and there is racism. There is good and there is bigotry. The two reside on opposite sides of the spectrum. President Trump’s equivocation is wrong.

This feels like a good moment for repentance. And that’s just to start.

Sincerely,
Joel