Friday, January 8, 2016

Reading the Signs of the Times: Five Interconnected Stories from Today's News (Mummers, Maine Governor, Arizona Bishop, Wheaton, Mr. Trump and Mr. Clinton's Penis)

These seemingly disconnected stories have several things in common. What do you think? What common thread(s) do you spot here?

These seemingly disconnected stories might well function as what the documents of Vatican II call "signs of the times," secular events in which the Spirit is speaking to people of faith who are willing to listen. What's the message we might hear in these stories?

1. Philadelphia's New Year's Mummers Parade Marked by Racism and Bigotry

Michael Winship reports that the annual Mummers Parade in Philadelphia (which he and his family attended) this year was marked by flare-ups of ugy racism and anti-gay and anti-trans bigotry. Because blackface has been banned, some marchers marched in brownface, and one brigade ridiculed Caitlyn Jenner and had members shouting anti-gay slurs. A gay man walking his parents' dog reported being assaulted by four mummers on the day of the parade.

When a group of Black Lives Matter demonstrators appeared, Winship says that people watching the parade all around him exploded in anger and began screaming epithets and hatred:

It was ugly and frightening. New Year’s blood-alcohol levels certainly played a role, but sober or not, these were working class men and women in Philadelphia lashing out, just as the right would have them do, in an incoherent frenzy of indignation without reason or solution. Racist phantoms distract from and overpower the self-interest that should have them out in the streets protesting their lack of justice, jobs and economic security just as vehemently as the Black Lives Matter movement demonstrates against police killings and so many other criminal violations of basic human rights.

2. Maine Governor Makes Crude Racist Statements at Town Hall Meeting

Asked about drug problems in his state yesterday, Maine governor Paul LePage replied:

Now the traffickers ... These are guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty, these types of guys. They come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, and they go back home. Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue that we've got to deal with down the road. We're going to make them very severe penalties.

Drugs, you say? Don't tell me that's the only problem! We must protect our white women from black men with rapacious sexual appetites, who want to cross our state boundary lines (they're an outside threat, you see) and impregnate our young white girls.

3. Arizona Catholic Bishop: End the Crisis of Masculinity! Men, Man Your Battle Posts!

As the Catholic Herald (UK) reports yesterday,* Phoenix bishop Thomas Olmsted, who issued an exhortation last September to the men of his diocese take control of their wives and families and the broader society, has just released a video entitled "A Call to Battle," which continues the exhortation:

Iron sharpens iron . . . .  We need men to call us to account, to hold us to the promises we have made and to lead lives of heroic virtue.

4. Wheaton College, the "Harvard of Evangelicalism," Moves to Fire First Tenured African-American Female Faculty Member

I have a theory about why this is happening, about how a fine college stumbled into turning what could have been a local personnel problem into a national, even international, spectacle. This theory is based on many years of being a part of the evangelical higher education world, including many visits as a speaker at Wheaton College. 
It's about fear. 
It's about the world of conservative white American evangelicals, who feel embattled in America today. Increasingly, they are hunkering down in a reactionary posture. It's visible in the difference between the public persona of Billy Graham and his son Franklin Graham, who now, sadly, speaks for him. It's visible in all the legal actions being taken by evangelical schools to protect themselves against government mandates.

Dr. Larycia Hawkins, Dave Gushee, and J.R. Daniel Kirk all have a hard time believing Wheaton College's weird theological pretext for firing a tenured professor. That's probably because Wheaton College administrators are lying their lily-white behinds off in claiming that this nakedly political, racist power-play has anything at all to do with Christianity.

5. Mr. Trump Tweets

And, as Jamelle Bouie notes in response, about a third of voters in the 2016 elections will be aged 18-35. Many of them have no memory of Bill Clinton's affairs, and when they're told about those affairs, they shrug their shoulders. In using slurs about her husband's affairs against Hillary Clinton and seeking to revive the strange (and overweeningly white male) fixation of the 1990s on what Mr. Clinton's penis was doing when, Trump and his followers are appealing more or less exclusively to an old (and white) demographic — further demonstrating how cut off they are from large sectors of the nation. 

They're seemingly stuck in the dysfunctional past with a scratchy old Victrola hi-fi system playing, over and over again, a scratchy old record whose single, solitary message is: Stop!

No vision for the future, but a whole lot to yell Stop! about, even if this yelling leaves an entire nation, the so-called "leader of the free world," stuck in an historical nightmare that's all about screaming things like:

Black men are impregnating our white girls!

Men to your battle posts: End the crisis of masculinity!

They're destroying our Christian culture!

Religious freedom! Keep the government's hands off our Christian churches and schools!

What happened to Bill Clinton's penis in the 1990s counts today!

"[W]orking class men and women in Philadelphia lashing out, just as the right would have them do, in an incoherent frenzy of indignation without reason or solution."

To me, there are some powerful signs of the times to be heard here. I think they're fairly loud and clear. They pose a pointed question: What viable future can a society have if it allows powerful groups within that society to direct it only to the past as the solution to the challenges of the present or as a vision for the future?

And what future is a society creating for itself when it allows powerful groups within that society to misrepresent the past as a paradise for everyone, when it was a paradise only for select groups within that society — in the case of the society to which American conservatives want to return us today, a paradise for white, Christian, heterosexual males, but not for people of color, people whose religious beliefs are not Christian or who do not have religious beliefs, people who are LGBT, or women?

We will end up back in that nightmare dysfunctional past, we Americans, if we don't listen carefully to the signs of the times that are so evident around us in this new year — and if we don't decide to do something about them. Something that envisages a real and meaningful future for everyone . . . .

*I'm very grateful to Chris Morley for this link in a comment here yesterday.

I find the graphic used at many sites online, with no clear indicator of its origins.

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