Friday, October 7, 2016

A Reader Writes: "Oh, But It Isn't Rome Burning, It's Everywhere Else" — And I Reply: Yes, the Burning Is Everywhere; Instead of Talking Rome, How About We Talk Trump?

In response to my posting yesterday about Pope Francis' recent remarks about "gender theory" and the need of Catholic clergy to "accompany" gay (as in LGBTQ) folks, ClevelandGirl writes,

Oh, but it isn't Rome burning, it's everywhere else!

You're right about the "everywhere," CG, though I'm not sure about the "else" you tag onto that observation. The burning is more widespread than Rome, and this is one among many reasons I'm impatient with the gimlet-eyed focus on how Rome alone, Rome in a singular way, Rome and no one else, is the epicenter of evil in the world.

The burning is everywhere.

Polls continue to show seven in ten white evangelical in the U.S. supporting Donald Trump. Seventy percent! Donald Trump!

• And so I am grateful for the witness of the eighty evangelical leaders who have just yesterday issued a public statement reminding their evangelical brothers and sisters precisely who and what they are choosing as they choose Donald Trump:

Because we believe that racial bigotry has been a cornerstone of this campaign, it is a foundational matter of the gospel for us in this election, and not just another issue. This is not just a social problem, but a fundamental wrong. Racism is America's original sin. Its brazen use to win elections threatens to reverse real progress on racial equity and set America back.

 • But again: seven in ten. White evangelicals. Representing a voting bloc that accounts for a full quarter of American voters. Choosing an outright racist (and xenophobe, misogynist, homophobe) to lead the United States. The burning is everywhere.

 • More burning everywhere: as data indicate that only a quarter of young single Mormons worldwide are still active in their church, leaked videos of meetings of top Mormon leaders show a group of elderly men, mostly white, who belong to a cozy little club that excludes women from positions of leadership, meeting in secret to plot strategies to knock the gays around, saying, "If anyone thinks we'll ever change our positions about these issues, they're out of their minds." 

 • Somebody please remind me: Where have I read this script before? Why does it seem so familiar to me? A third of millennials have now left the churches. Only a quarter of young unmarried Mormons worldwide remain active in their church. But top church leaders — exclusively male, according to doctrinal norms in some churches, mostly elderly — meet in secret to draw lines in the sand, plot attacks on minority groups, and commit themselves to stand guard over those lines even as all the sand blows away. 

There's burning everywhere.

 • There's burning in the Mennonite community as right-wing culture warriors Dick and Betty Odgaard say (citing strong support in the Mennonite community) that they're appalled that their anti-gay beliefs no longer represent the thinking of a majority of Americans and that the "majority" they claim to represent can no longer force secular law to adhere to their religious beliefs. Though the very marrow of Anabaptist culture from its inception has been to be countercultural, proudly to represent a minority position within the Christian movement, to go its own way as the rest of the world pursues a different course . . . .  

 • There's burning in the United Methodist church as United Methodists determined to draw a line in the sand over the issue of welcoming gay people within their church form a new association designed to split their church and unseat its first openly lesbian bishop.

 • There's burning aplenty to go around. The fires are in more places than Rome. They're burning hotly right here in the United States, as the possibility of a Trump presidency remains on our horizon, and as 57 percent of white men in the U.S. say they're behind Trump, with 76 percent of white men lacking a college education standing behind him.

 • There's burning in the New Atheist movement, too, where even its adherents, like Donald McCarthy, note that it has failed to be a viable alternative for people fleeing the claustrophobic, exclusivist, hate-oriented clubs that many religious groups have made of themselves, as it replicates the clubby claustrophobia, exclusivism, and hate-mongering. 

The answer to such widespread burning is surely not to focus on any one of these many fires, and claim that, by pointing our finger at it, we've identified the single, solitary fire threatening the whole world. The answer is to focus on the fires that are everywhere, including in our own geographic and intellectual communities. The answer is to start putting out the fires that we ourselves have been given to contend with, the ones in our own back yards.

And the answer is to move beyond the cozy clubbiness of our little closed circles, which puff us up with self-righteousness as they profess to have all the answers to all the questions in the world, and as they point the finger at others, exonerating themselves from responsibility — the answer is to move beyond such cozy clubbiness and self-righteousness and make common cause with others working toward the same end we're pursuing: to put out the fires before they burn us all down.

This kind of enterprise will take work. It will take laying down our weapons (save for those designed to quell fires). It will take stopping our attacks on each other and taking up the far more serious and laborious task of working together. It will take the very hard work of learning to respect those we despise.

It will take the recognition that even among those we despise or perhaps even hate, there may be those who are working to the very same ends we ourselves are pursuing — yes, even in the community many of us see as the epicenter of all evil, the one centered in Rome, as the large majority of Latino Catholics in the U.S. pull against the racism and xenophobia of one Donald Trump, and support Hillary Clinton.

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