American Culture

I'm a new Scrogue — but don't pigeonhole me

I’m a recent addition to the S&R line-up since my first guest appearance at the DNC, and I hope I can run with these clever, yappy dogs. I’ve been worried that I’m not enough of a pitbull – unlike Sam, whose ‘reality check’ radar functions more forcefully than mine, or Brian, whose critical slant isn’t compromised by pesky emotions. I, on the other hand, found myself inspired by the multitude of earnest political conversations buzzing around Denver last week (even while ABC reporters were getting arrested trying to unveil connections between lobbyists, big money and Dem lawmakers), and moved deeply while listening to Barack Obama energize 80,000 people inside Denver’s football stadium last Thursday night.

I felt like I’d been to church. Not my sedate Presbyterian church, though — more of an old-fashioned revival meeting where the spirit was unleashed and something transcendent was uplifting everyone in its presence. Nobody was racing for the doors as Obama wrapped it up; everyone seemed to want to just stay and bask in the love. Sam said I was seduced by “political theater,” and maybe I was. But I like to think my intuition is sharp enough to know when something is authentic – in this case, the candidate and his vision for America – versus when I’ve been charmed or had.

Despite my disclaimer in my initial post that I may smack of being a bit of a Pollyanna, I’m not stupid, and I have a well-tuned bullshit detector. I just make the existential choice that hope is worthwhile, faith is warranted, and progress is possible, though the human condition never seems to move more than one step forward for every one step back. I guess that’s why, as a Christian, I cherish the doctrine of grace – we continually and irrevocably screw up, but we are loved and forgiven and given a two-millionth chance anyway. And sometimes we get it right.

WAIT, you say: Did she say Christian? Huh?! Isn’t Scholars and Rogues basically a liberal blog (albeit with some cantankerous iconoclasm to challenge easy labels)? And didn’t she just write a feisty piece criticizing the hypocrisy of the religious right who are cheerleading for stressed working mom/VP candidate Sarah Palin?

Yup, that’s me. That’s why I like the “Rogues” part of this blog’s name. I’ve got the academic cred to earn the “Scholars” part of the label, but you’ll see that I’m as much a rogue as I am any Pollyanna. Along with Jim Wallis, I would counter that the answer to the religious right is not creating a powerful religious left, but a moral center – and that doesn’t mean “mushy middle.” (And isn’t it a commentary on our society when moderate views can be deemed ‘roguish’?) Along with that, however, I would also argue that “liberal Christian” is not an oxymoron. I’m here to stir a few ideas up that my colleagues might not anticipate or agree with. But they invited me, and if they are going to be true to their name, then let’s test the definition a bit. My goal is that what I write may be more thought-provoking than predictable.

On that note, check back soon for a future post in which I’ll argue that it’s important to look at the grisly images on the signs carried by abortion protesters at the DNC – even though I detest the hostility that most of the protesters display, and am confounded at their refusal to recognize any moral complexity in this most divisive of issues. Stay tuned…

9 replies »

  1. You know its always been one of the things I have found confusing about American religious politics – the extreme fiscal conservatism associated with many churches. It runs contrary to what I grew up with amongst Scottish Presbyterians and in a country with long and proud history of Christian Socialism. I suspect the same could be said for many protestant churches in Europe, in particular in Scandinavia and the Low Countries. Its something one still sees I think amongst the Quakers and Unitarians in American but less amongst other protestant churches.

    In Europe, I don’t think anyone would consider a liberal (or rather socialist, liberalism being centre-right on our political spectrum) Christian oxymoronic at all.

  2. They’re much more common here than is generally supposed. I think the right-wing fundamentalists make so much noise that the rest of the spectrum is lost in the blast.

  3. Wendy,

    I was raised unashamedly fundamentalist and racist, which is a bit like saying hands fit in gloves among whites in that part of the country. As a result of my own hard-fought journey to beat the hate zeitgeist, and because of extreme abuse at the hands of Christians, I admit to being deathly afraid of them. To be more exact, I admit to being afraid of pseudo-Christians. I would love it if the world were full of real Christians, but I don’t recall ever meeting a single one.

    I know this sounds harsh, and it is, but given my unsought wealth of experience with “Christians” over the years, it shouldn’t be surprising. I have never met any “witness for Christ” who was not, in fact, witnessing for someone else, entirely.

    I hope it didn’t show on my face or in my actions at Lime during the DNC when I learned you were a Christian, but the fact is that I avoided you as much as possible from that point forward. I know this isn’t fair. I know it demonstrates prejudice on my part, and I’m not proud of that. Where I come from, though, African Americans treated all white people as potential threats, and while that was prejudiced, it was also smart. Given my experience, I think I’m being smart.

    It will take quite a bit to deprogram me from my fear. It may not be possible. One thing that would help is if real Christians (if there are any) got militant about refuting the false ones. But, that’s probably impossible, because real Christians would follow Christ’s dictates and avoid wordly obsessions like politics, wouldn’t they? Maybe I could be convinced if I saw a large number of people living the way we’re told the early Christians lived: communally, in brotherhood, in relative poverty, with love for all. But that’s not likely to happen, is it?

    I’m glad you’ve joined us. We need your perspective. But if I seem distant, at times, it’s not because of something you’ve done.

    It’s because I’m afraid of you.

  4. JS,

    Here’s a longish reply, but your candor deserves a careful, gracious response. Your words made me sad. Maybe, despite all my weaknesses and failings, I can be the first Christian you have met who does not continue to terrify you — if you give me the chance. Just watch from a distance for a while, if you like. I often wonder what it must be like to be a peace-loving Muslim living in a world where 9/11 terrorists define what Islam is in the minds of most Americans. It’s a tough task to persuade skeptics that ‘no, that’s not who I am,’ and ‘no, that’s not what my religion really stands for.’ The latter protestation might be the taller order, since the character of a religion is generally held in the eye of the beholder. That said, I will tell you that the Jesus I seek to follow was a peacemaker, a close friend of women, an advocate for the poor and downtrodden, a social iconoclast, a critic of the system of power of his day, a questioner of material valuers, and a forgiving, encouraging, compassionate advocate of everyday people. The Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew is the vision of Jesus that I embrace. It is the vision that undergirds the political passion of a man like Martin Luther King, Jr., or the altruism of a Mother Theresa, or a modern-day activist like Bono who works tirelessly on behalf of AIDS victims and orphans in Africa and expends much cultural capital to effect policy change that really will make a difference for the “least of these.”

    It is utterly beyond me how fundamentalist right-wingers like some of those demonstrating at the DNC can use the name of Jesus Christ in their hate-filled, vitriolic diatribes–where do they see any compatibility with their causes in the Jesus that is described in the Bible? You suggest that ‘real Christians’ would avoid worldly obsessions like politics…but I’m not so sure that is Jesus’ model. He was certainly in conversation with the politics of his day, from challenging the ban on work on the Sabbath (in order to preach and heal the sick), to tossing the moneychangers out of the temple and criticizing the unjust tax collectors. What I do see in the accounts we have of him is a commitment to justice that is infused by grace — and therein lies the enormous difference between what to me seems a genuine manifestation of Christian faith, and the impostor version that so poisoned you and so many others who think “Christian” means what they observed on the sidewalks leaving the Pepsi Center in Denver last week. As for refuting those masqueraders, I actually confronted a group of obnoxious bubbas who were spewing invectives at a delegate who was sparring with them. I have been intending to blog about it, and still plan to, just as soon as I find a spare hour to write up my experience and impressions.

    I believe that ‘real’ Christians (to the extent anyone comes close) have an obligation to reveal and speak truth to illegitimate power, particularly when it co-opts the name and values of Jesus — and maybe that is why I am joining ranks with S & R. My faith is actually the foundation of my progressive political beliefs, and motivates much of my participation in the public sphere. I believe as a Christian, as Barack Obama articulated, that “I am my brother’s keeper.” What I can do toward that end, I must.

    If you have the least inclination, I’d suggest two books to read by Philip Yancey, who was himself the product of a racist, Southern church upbringing yet grew up to encounter the ‘real Christ’: the first is “Soul Survivor: How 13 Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church,” and “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” A third by Yancey that I have also found very rich is “The Jesus I Never Knew.” Another place to go for a very different impression of Christianity than what you grew up with is This is a progressive Christian group based in inner-city Washington, D.C. exploring issues of faith, politics and culture that will challenge preconceived notions of who Christians are and what they care about.

    I look forward — if you are willing to take a chance — to more conversation. Thank you for being so honest.


  5. Oops — I meant to say ‘material values’ in my previous post, not ‘valuers.’ I clarify this especially for Uber-Editor Dr. Denny.

  6. Doug Pinnick, whose 58th birthday was Wednesday (rock on, Dug!), is the celebrated bassist of King’s X. KX was once referred to as a “Christian” band–that is, they were played on and promoted by Christian stations, even though the band itself wasn’t an active participant in the Christian music biz. Doug came out of the closet some years ago, and bam… there went their presence and their welcome in Christian rock circles. Despite this ostracization, KX keeps cutting albums and touring and living the lives they enjoy. They’re still devout, spiritual folk–just not in an ignorant fundie sense. JS reminded me of a sticker Doug has on his bass: “God Please Save Me From Your Followers!” Not that this has anything to do with Wendy, whom I wholeheartedly welcome to S&R.

  7. Wendy,

    Thank you so much your thorough response. You are very generous with your time, and I appreciate that.

    The thing about being raised as a fundie is that I’ve read the entire Bible many times, had the books memorized in sequence before I was seven, and played Bible Turnovers instead of Uncle Wiggly before I could read. I can’t hear certain words like “birthright” without thinking “Esau.” The early indoctrination tends to stick. Still, I spent a fair number of credit hours in college in secular religion courses, and a fair amount of time reading theology, history, and Church history just for the hell of it. So, I’m not completely ignorant of Christianity or, for that matter, Judaism.

    I truly think that Yeshua of Nazarus was telling us, in no uncertain terms, that what is of this world is not important, except as it pertains to those who, in this world, get between us and “the Kingdom” by misleading us. The examples you quote do, I think, suggest that anyone who is a true Christian has a duty to expose the metaphorical Pharisees in control of most churches, today, so I was wrong to lump that fight in with “politics.” (Note: I’m aware that many historians believe that YofN’s taking of the Temple during Passover was a political act against Rome, that their arguments are sound, and that it’s certainly why the Romans crucified him. But I’m not convinced, given the body of what he is said to have said, that this act was anything but a rebellion against the Temple hierarchy.)

    I do still believe, however, that YofN was saying, in no uncertain terms, to steer clear of secular politics and, in fact, anything in this world that would come between an individual and YHWH. I think one can make an argument that engaging in politics is justified for Christians when it’s the politics of Pharisees (though Matthew made up most of the Pharisee stuff, I still think it applies as a concept). So, I truly do not see how true Christians can engage in secular, temporal politics and still obey YofN’s teachings.

    Thanks again for your response.