Sunday, December 18, 2016

Where Do Christians Go From Here? When "Pro-Life" Christianity Deals Death, Time to Turn Our Backs on the "Pro-Life" Game

"Now is the time to talk about what we are actually talking about," declares Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in a powerful, hard-hitting post-election essay rich in moral insight that refuses to entertain the palavering, both-sides-have-a-point games of the American chattering classes — when those morally evasive games have brought us Donald Trump. They have been, in fact, signposts and paving stones for the path that has led the nation to Trump, though getting the nation's intellectual arbiters in its media,  its churches, and its academies to admit the large role they have played in paving and signposting the road to Trump is a meaningless and futile enterprise: moral awareness is simply not what the chattering classes do, even as they engage in moral rule-making and ethical pontificating.

Adichie hits the both-sides-have-a-point evasive game-playing of America's intellectual gurus squarely between the eyes as she declares that now, after the election of Donald Trump with the active assistance of American media and American intellectuals, some of us, at least, are going to insist on grounding the evasive discussions that take place in our public square in the inconvenient reality of real people's real lives — as those lives are disguised, elided, and ignored by convenient intellectual abstractions:

Now is the time to discard that carefulness that too closely resembles a lack of conviction. The election is not a "simple racism story," because no racism story is ever a "simple" racism story, in which grinning evil people wearing white burn crosses in yards. A racism story is complicated, but it is still a racism story, and it is worth parsing. Now is not the time to tiptoe around historical references. Recalling Nazism is not extreme; it is the astute response of those who know that history gives both context and warning.

Now is the time to talk about what we're really talking about when we play the morally ugly either-or game of pitting that abstractional bugbear "identity politics" against the real poor (aka, white working-class people) — a morally ugly game that, to their utter discredit as moral leaders of any substance at all, American Catholic intellectual leaders began playing immediately following Donald Trump's election:

Now is the time to recalibrate the default assumptions of American political discourse. Identity politics is not the sole preserve of minority voters. This election is a reminder that identity politics in America is a white invention: it was the basis of segregation. The denial of civil rights to black Americans had at its core the idea that a black American should not be allowed to vote because that black American was not white. The endless questioning, before the election of Obama, about America’s "readiness" for a black President was a reaction to white identity politics. Yet "identity politics" has come to be associated with minorities, and often with a patronizing undercurrent, as though to refer to nonwhite people motivated by an irrational herd instinct. White Americans have practiced identity politics since the inception of America, but it is now laid bare, impossible to evade.

And so back to the question I asked last week — one that moves these discussions from the abstract to the real level: with moral leaders of this sort, who (as I've just reminded you, abound in the American Catholic academy and journalistic sector, and who helped pave the way to Donald Trump, though they will never admit this), where do American Christians go from here? Where do we go if we hope to find any kind of Christian community that empowers us to resist, when resisting is the only morally defensible option, and when pretending to see "both sides" now reveals itself as collusion in glaring, death-dealing evil?

It appears I am not the only American Christian asking such questions. As my penultimate posting pointed out to you, a week ago the New York Times noted in a lead editorial that American institutions safeguarding the democratic structures of our society are now in a state of collapse, and cannot combat the destruction we see a Trump presidency already promising to do to our democracy. Because those important American institutions are part of what has brought Donald Trump to us — and cannot cure a wound they themselves have inflicted . . . . The "moral crisis" into which the United States has now entered is one directly related to the churches, to the choices and actions of the leaders and members of white Christian churches in the U.S.: they have created this moral crisis, and quite clearly have intended for it to happen, even if (or perhaps because?) it portends the dismantling of American democracy.

Notably, the Times editorial includes the U.S. churches in this sobering assessment of where we find ourselves now. A day after our national newspaper of record published this statement, Emma Green published an essay in The Atlantic which comments on a "bump" being noticed now in progressive (or is the word we want here "faithful"?) Christian churches following Donald Trump's election. Pastors of progressive (I suspect the word we want here is "faithful") U.S. churches are reporting that, after the election, people afraid of the darkness they see quickly falling all around are returning to church or coming to church for the first time — to hear the gospel preached as they struggle to find meaning in an increasingly dark world. But they're turning to progressive, faithful Christian churches and away from the kinds of "pro-life" white Christian communities that have put Donald Trump into the White House.

After the election, people are seeking "new directions" for their religious lives, Green concludes. One ironic effect of the 2016 elections may be, she proposes, to create a "political environment [that] might be theologically, morally, and intellectually generative for progressive religious traditions." 

am seeking such new directions for my own Christian life, as I told you after we discovered that Donald Trump won the White House due to the votes of 4 in 5 white evangelicals and 3 in 5 white Catholics and Mormons. I no longer want any part of my white Catholic community after the 2016 elections. While purporting to defend a "pro-life" ethic, white Catholics in the U.S. have, in response to the pastoral and moral leadership of their bishops, colluded with white evangelicals and Mormons to empower "a death cult of historic proportions." I do not any longer want evil done in my name through my connection to these "pro-life" Catholics.

It's time now, after the election of Donald Trump by "pro-life" white Christians, to talk about "pro-life" reality and move beyond "pro-life" abstraction. It's time to ask the question of where we go from here if we're seeking any kind of Christian commitment or Christian life, when the Trump administration now in the making is announcing that its first, its signature, move will be to strip healthcare coverage from 30,000,000 economically struggling citizens and to rip apart social safety nets that have been in place for decades to assist the elderly, the poor, the infirm. 

It's difficult to imagine actions more decisively death-dealing than removing healthcare coverage from millions of economically struggling human beings and stripping the poor, the elderly, and the infirm of social safety-net programs long in place with the intent of making their lives on the margins of society more livable. It's hard to think of actions more oriented to death and not life than taking nutritious lunches away from schoolchildren who, in many cases, eat no healthy meals throughout a day other than the ones served to them in school cafeterias.

It's time to talk about what we're actually talking about when we profess to be "pro-life," pro-Trump, white Christians: all of the above is being brought to us by "pro-life" white American Christians, by 4 in 5 "pro-life" white evangelicals and 3 in 5 "pro-life" white Catholics and Mormons. And so the question arises, and will not go away: Where do we go from here, if we remain in any way interested in the actual Christian message and in any way committed to promoting an ethic of actual respect for life?

Clearly, if we have such interests and commitments, our first step has to be to turn our backs on Christian institutions, Christian communities, Christian apologists who are willing to deal death in such obtrusive, hateful ways while declaring themselves "pro-life." If we're morally upright people, we have to stop colluding with evil done in the name of religious ideals and religious symbols.

And then the question seems to me to become: Where do I hear the gospel proclaimed to me? That's obviously where I need now to turn, having turned my back on churches, institutions, people who do not proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to me, even while they purport to be all about proclaiming a "pro-life" ethic and protecting some "religious freedom" they imagine to be embattled in our society today. 

I do not, I can't, hear the gospel proclaimed by lay Catholic intellectual leaders with whom I once stood as a Catholic theologian, who even now proudly profess to be all about defending a "pro-life" and "pro-religious-liberty" worldview — even now, after the election of Donald Trump by 4 in 5 white evangelicals and 3 in 5 white Catholics and Mormons who have told the world that they cast their votes quite specifically for "pro-life" reasons and to defend "religious liberty." And as a direct result of their "pro-life" votes, the "pro-life" administration they have empowered is announcing to us that its very first, its signature, action is going to be to strip healthcare coverage from 30,000,000 citizens and to start dismantling social safety-net programs for the elderly, the poor, and the infirm. Then it will move on to school lunch programs . . . .

I do not hear any gospel good news at all proclaimed by "pro-life" lay Catholic intellectual leaders who inform me that identity politics is the great enemy of "pro-life" Christianity today and that these Catholic intellectual leaders, secure in their white skin (and straight male identities) "don't believe that we are returning to Jim Crow or that black bodies exist in constant danger" in the United States today — and will not be susceptible to more violence in the "pro-life" America that white Christian voters have created in electing Donald Trump.

How can I listen to such morally stolid ("pro-life") voices if I choose to pay any attention at all to the voices of James Byrd, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, John Crawford, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Joy-Ann Reid, Anthea Butler, Jamelle Bouie, Toni Morrison, and, oh, thousands of other African Americans in the cloud of witnesses that these more recent witnesses might echo as they speak of what it's actually like to live in a real black body in the United States? No matter what white "pro-life" Catholic leaders who enjoy the protection and privilege of white skins and (heterosexual male identities) proclaim to the contrary about black bodies and black lives and the abstractional bugbear of identity politics . . . .

No, if I want to hear the gospel proclaimed to me today, it's obvious to me: I have to turn my back on such game-playing, such condescending pontificating, such evasion of reality — on such condescension to real human beings living real human lives that are absolutely ignored even as these pontificators profess to be champions of a "pro-life" ethic. There is no gospel to be heard among them.

I choose, instead, to turn for gospel testimony to witnesses to Christian truth who move me beyond the "pro-life" abstractions to a focus on the reality of the human lives obscured by the "pro-life" ethic that ends up doing the very opposite of what it professes to be doing, as it snatches food from the mouths of hungry children, removes healthcare coverage from indigent people and strips social benefits from elderly, poor, and infirm human beings. I turn now for gospel testimony to Christian witnesses like Rev. William J. Barber III, as he insists,

The greatest sin in the Bible is the sin of idolatry. The second greatest sin that has ever existed whenever people worshiped themselves was injustice toward other people. There are more than 2,000 scriptures in the Bible that deal with the issue of injustice toward women, the stranger, the poor, the sick, the hurting, and the unacceptable. You might have three about homosexuality, and not one of them trumps this scripture: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  
We can't succumb to those who bought Christianity.

I have to take these steps because, as I hear the gospel proclaimed, it seems to me to be talking about the challenge of loving real human beings and not invisible, abstract ones — though, admittedly, it's often easier to love the zygote whom we cannot see than the black or LGBTQ or female or poor or elderly or immigrant real human being right in front of ours eyes. But the gospel never has been about choosing the easy path, has it, when all is said and done?

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