Barack Obama Rocks XXIII: Pomo politicians, profs, and preachers...
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void. For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside." (1 Corinthians 1:17-19)
(Tim) Here are some thoughts about the state of our civil compact as we approach Election Day. And, following the political stuff, I make a stab at some applications to those who identify themselves as the prophetic voices of the Emergent Church. If your patience wears thin with the political part, buck up and finish it because it forms the perfect backdrop to grow in our understanding of the goals and strategy of church leaders today who have woman deacons, talk a lot about the city and contextualization, and have a staff member titled "Associate Pastor for Art, Weird Glasses, and Chai." First, then, let's look at the political scene...
For years, it's been clear our government is no longer constitutional. Justice Brennan's "living Constitution" is really a dead one. In Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services, Justice Rehnquist wrote, "The goal of constitutional adjudication is to hold true the balance between that which is beyond the reach of the democratic process and that which is not."
Today, our justices routinely declare to be beyond the reach of the democratic process rights the original framers of our Constitution would find inconceivable. The right to sodomy? The right to slaughter one's own child? As Justice Scalia put it, "Every time a new right is invented under the living Constitution, democracy is minimalized, federalism is minimalized." Scalia was too charitable with that word "minimalized."
Although our Supreme Court justices have presided over the death of constitutional government, not a man among them has been impeached and removed from office. In fact, Joe Sobran's the only one I've ever heard seriously propose impeachment as a solution to the violence these men routinely carry out against our Constitution. Sure, impeachment would fail, but it would be a failure in the right direction. And isn't that what we're all hankering after as we approach our polling places--men we can vote for who lose, to be sure, but who lose while standing for justice and truth.
Beyond penumbras and their emanations, consider the Tenth Amendment. Recognizing the Tenth's constitutional boundaries, President Eisenhower justified the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways by selling the largest national public works project in our nation's history as a national defense initiative. Were it conceived and proposed today, it might still be passed off as a defense initiative, but certainly not because anyone questioned the expenditure in light of the Tenth Amendment.
Concerning the almost-complete disregard of the Tenth, sad to say, Republicans are as bad as Democrats. Prescription drug programs for the elderly? No Child Left Behind? How 'bout baseball and steroids?
Here's an exercise. During your next State of the Union viewing, sit with your family in front of the television having given a copy of the Tenth Amendment to each of your children. Then, as our President panders, ask your sons and daughters to find one of his domestic policy initiatives that does no violence to the Tenth.
But really, the Tenth is small potatoes...
Move backwards to the First Amendment: Directly contrary to our Constitution, state schools are the establishment of the state religion and we are forced to pay for it. This is intolerable, but the poor suffer more than the rest of us. What are their options? Private schools are expensive and homeschooling requires a full-time father or mother to teach the children. Unlike the upper and middle classes, children are the main gift the poor make to their world, so denying them the ability to form that gift according to their own faith is particularly oppressive.
Where might a list of violations of our Constitution end?
Let's get to the heart of the matter. On every level, our civil authorities sanction the perpetual bloodbath perpetrated against our most defenseless citizens, filling our sewage treatment plants and sanitary landfills with innocent blood. What is the meaning of the smallest part of our civil compact when 1,300,000 little babies are slaughtered within our borders each year? But it's our public servants from the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government who advocate this slaughter. Is it any wonder we're moving into the slaughter of the newborn, feeble, and elderly, also?
By any meaningful consideration of the terms of our nation's founding as recorded in our Declaration of Independence, armed revolt against the government of our nation today would be more justified than it was in the mid to late seventeenth century. Christians may decline to salute the flag of civil revolution our nation was founded upon, but saluting, we can't pick and choose selectively, honoring the Boston Tea Party while declaring civil disobedience in opposition of the state-sanctioned murder of little babies to be contrary to the Biblical command that we submit to governing authority. (For this reason, I honor pastors like David Wegener, John Piper, and Dave Curell who have engaged in civil disobedience in an effort to follow Righteous Job in snatching the prey from the jaw of the wicked, and who have been arrested for their efforts. God give us many more such shepherds!)
So, as I said before, our government is no longer constitutional. It may be progressive as the world understands progress today. It may be compassionate as the world understands compassion today. It may be democratic as the world understands democracy today. It may be reasonable as the world understands reason today. But fair-minded men must admit we've left our Constitution and its framers in the dust and we're off in a bold new direction.
So where does this leave followers of Jesus Christ?
Speaking for myself, I'm not entirely displeased with this state of affairs. I believe in Idols for Destruction, Herb Schlossberg was right in pointing out that one of the principal idols American Christians do obeisance to is our government. We look to it for work God has commanded us to do ourselves, and don't blink an eye when it arrogates to itself powers that no man on earth may possess. The culture of ressentiment permeates our politics, today, and we're all too, too adept at using the ballot box to rob our neighbor, whether he's one of our contemporaries or has yet to be born.
During Nero's reign, believers were used by the Holy Spirit in a way that led the church to significant growth. During the reign of Presidents Bush or Obama, if we have true faith and not the civic religion that passes for Christian faith in most churches today, we can expect the Holy Spirit to use us for the expansion of the Church, also.
Persecution always purifies the Church, and that's good. Again and again, the book of Acts demonstrates the divinely ordained bond between persecution and church growth. Thus Tertullian wrote of the Early Church: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed (semen est sanguis Christianorum) of the Church."
Since Submergent hucksters are all about avoiding persecution, they won't last. Yet they have much to teach us.
Have you noticed the stunning resemblance between these men and Barack Obama? It's magnificent.
Take Rob Bell for instance: Both Bell and Obama sell nothing but themselves. They're all about appearance which makes them wildly popular among the young and those who are older and hate discernment. They speak in the sentimental jargon of our effeminate age. Having taken the measure of their respective congregations, both men salt their patter with emotive placeholders such as "hope" and "faith" and "compassion" and "change" and "values" and "authenticity" and "story." If nothing else, their vacuousness must be acknowledged to be absolutely authentic. It's who they are way down deep.
Sophisticated purveyors of the emotive monologue.
The machine purrs with suave glibness, "I'm hip. I'm cool. I'm chic. I'm sensitive. I understand your pain. Put your faith in me. Serve me. I know your story. In fact, I am your story. Love me. Hope in me. Listen to me. Vote for me. Believe in me. Worship me."
Two pieces I've read in the past twenty-four hours reinforced my thoughts about the similarity between these two men as well as their appeal to their respective constituencies.
First, the current issue of the American Political Science Association's journal, PS: Political Science & Politics (Cambridge University Press), contains a number of articles comprising, "Symposium--Gender, Race, and the 2008 Presidential Election." In the first of the series, Beloit College's Georgia Duerst-Lahti huffs and puffs over "the raced and sexed control of political and social power and institutions by white men (that has) rested upon naturalized hegemonic gender and race ideologies that make disparate and denigrating treatment seem ordinary and acceptable to those with entrenched power advantages."
The second in the series was written by Valeria Sinclair-Chapman and Melanye Price. Titled, "Black Politics, the 2008 Election, and the (Im)Possibility of Race Transcendence" [sic], the authors give us a fascinating glimpse into their perceptions of the intersection of sex and race in the recent primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Asking "What happens when members of multiple marginalized groups compete for the same position in a zero-sum game," they continue: "Having Obama, an African American man, and Hillary Clinton, a white woman, compete for a single, high-profile position expectedly invokes questions about whether voters (read: men or whites) [sic] are ready for a female or black candidate," they go on to cite Gloria Steinem's observations concerning this match up:
Steinem's essay further suggests that no woman, regardless of her race, "could have used Mr. Obama's public style." There is an element of truth in this proposition. Obama's charisma, rhetorical style, and even the cadence of his delivery recalled some of the most prominent black male orators in recent history. Drawing on a public style reserved exclusively for black men, what Marable calls black messianic leadership style, Obama's rock star-like allure may be off limits to women who must leave emotional appeals at the door in favor of studied demonstrations of knowledge and expertise to be taken seriously in presidential campaigns....
Yet, Obama's male body in the face of Clinton's masculine-gendered campaign did not shield him from critiques that are typically leveled against female candidates. To be sure, women seeking the presidency walk a tightrope between showing toughness while remaining feminine, but men who compete for the nation's highest office must also negotiate masculinity. In this light, gender is malleable and independent of anatomy. As a result, not all men are equally masculine and some men who are not "masculine enough" may not be viewed as suitable for the presidency. Thus, in a curious turn of events, Clinton "wore the pants" in this nomination cycle (while) Obama's campaign was ...gendered feminine by pundits and party leaders...
Note the focus on Obama's "public style," "charisma," "rhetorical style," the "cadence of his delivery," his "black messianic leadership style," and his "rock star-like allure." Obama had to "negotiate (his) masculinity" understanding that "gender is malleable and independent of anatomy." And ultimately, his victory was in part because his "campaign was gendered feminine."
Add to these excerpts from PS: Political Science and Politics this piece that ran in the New York Times today, titled, "A Psychologist Helps Repackage the Democrats' Message."
Democrats up and down the ballot have been trying to reverse the Republican rhetorical dominance that made “liberal” an unsavory label, and many have found help in a slender document percolating through their party’s hierarchy.
It is called the Message Handbook for Progressives From Left to Center... (C)reated by Drew Westen, a psychology professor at Emory University, ...Democratic consultants say it is the first systematic, data-driven effort to mold the language of the left to fit the sensibilities of the center.
Dr. Westen’s advice can be heard ...when Andrew Gillum, a city commissioner in Tallahassee, Fla., who is fighting a ballot initiative against same-sex marriage, tells members of his predominantly black church of the human desire for dignity and respect...
Dr. Westen advises (the use of) direct emotional appeals (and) liberal candidates ...have latched on to his approach.
One Democratic candidate pointed out how important narrative is for the new technique: "If we communicate it through our stories and our real-life examples, if they don’t agree with you then they can at least understand where you come from.”
Frank Luntz, author of many rhetorical successes for the Republican Party, says Dr. Westen has caused a plate tectonic shift in the political world: “It’s as though the Republicans have fallen back 15 years in their communication at the very moment when Democrats vaulted ahead 15 years.”
Instead of using terms like “pro-choice” and “reproductive health,” Westen's handbook suggests liberal candidates point out how un-American it is for the government to tell men and women when to start a family or what religious beliefs to follow. Such arguments do well with focus groups, he says.
So now, do these two pieces from PS: Political Science & Politcs and the New York Times begin to put some things into focus?
Ruminating on what I've read and heard in the past couple of months, both from the politicos themselves, but also from the pastors and profs shilling for Obama, I'm sobered by the task we face.
Not the task of retaking our beloved nation by means of candidates and political planks. Without claiming to be prophetic, the millennium doesn't appear to me to be just around the corner. Maybe my dear post-mill brothers are right, but believers I know who work in government aren't going to work in the morning in pursuit of the millennium.
No, as always, the sobering task is how to preach the Gospel to a particular people in a particular time.
So today, our task is how to communicate truth when form has entirely displaced function. When the medium is the massage and those impertinent enough to ask for the message's content are told to stop and smell the roses. When words like 'emergent' and 'change' leave all prior generations on the ash heap of history with contemporaries' eyes transfixed by visions of the chrysalis emerging clothed in garments of heartrending beauty.
The sobering task is how to preach the Gospel when the men trading in Jesus' Name who claim to be masters of contextualization are actually denying the Gospel and selling only themselves? Yes, they understand the culture, but they use their understanding to gain riches and greater adulation for themselves.
It's almost impossible to distinguish between the product they're selling in the Name of Jesus and the product Barack Obama is selling in the name of national unity. So, how do we preach the Gospel when the tables filling the Temple courtyard are loaded down with cleverness?
When instead of the cleverness of the clever being set aside, millions now believe God is doing a new thing centered on cleverness--cleverness is now His favorite tool. Take Rob Bell, for instance; he's a genius at removing the offense of the Cross. Unbelievers watch his videos and you can almost watch the light come on. Suddenly they get it. They realize Jesus is cool. They also realize Jesus accepts them just the way they are.
Paul had his struggles, but he couldn't use movies back then. Maybe that's why he wrote,
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
This past week, several of the men in our pastors college prevailed upon me to watch one of the Submergent huckster's videos. I'd number it among the most evil things I've ever seen. Far beyond Tony Campolo's or Joel Osteen's abilities, it was propaganda worthy of Goebbels himself. It had the audacity of Hell.
Note carefully that neither Obama nor his Emergent men have any place for dogma or doctrine. Ask supporters what Obama stands for and they'll tell you "hope" and "change." That's it.
With both Obama and Rob Bell, for instance, the men themselves are the dogma. They're the Pied Piper whose music transfixes the masses. Both employ the celluloid image to solidify their constituent base and the medium is the message. The man who comes under their influence will be innoculated against the very concept of truth. He'll believe at his deepest core that the only truth is the truth that there is no truth, but only persons and their narratives.
Christian; pastor, elder, and deacon; Titus 2 "older" woman; what about us? Do we love these souls now? Will we love them--truly love them--after they put Obama in office? Do we love them enough to study the lies and liars enslaving them? And will we study them, not to show our great prowess at battle, but so the Spirit of the Living God may find us useful for setting them free with the Gospel?
Do we love our age and the souls who dwell in it?
Not the Apostle Paul's age. Not Luther's and Calvin's. Not Machen's or Schaeffer's.
Our age. Our relatives. Our neighbors.
Yes, to reach them--to preach to them--we'll have to resign ourselves to being made the fool. But what a small cost for us to bear for the sake of even one immortal soul bearing the Image of God.
And really, what do we have to lose?
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)