Tuesday, September 5, 2017

In the News: Hurricanes, America's Moral Crisis with Trump, and What Are Churches Good for Again?

Some pieces I've read in the last few days that, to my way of thinking, tell a story. I hope you'll agree: what story do you hear as you read this commentary?

Neal Gabler, "America's Moral Crisis": 

The Trump presidency, which has set our moral compass spinning, demands moral debate as a context for Trump and his allies. It demands self-examination, not just a few toothless remarks about the scourge of racism, or a few questions about the president’s mental competence or his moral authority. 
Because this is bigger than Trump, it demands looking at the sources of our moral quandary, not just its result. 
Here is what I think: We should be having a national conversation on morality generally — on what morality means, on how it applies to politics and on how it applies to our daily lives, even on how it has been misused and abused.

Matthew Rozsa, "Donald Trump is one of the biggest threats facing humankind: 50 Nobel laureates on what keeps them up at night": 

In a survey that solicited the views of almost one-fourth of all living Nobel Prize winners, Times Higher Education discovered that many felt President Donald Trump was among the greatest existing threats to humanity.

Steve Benen, "Trump steered clear of storm victims during Texas visit": 

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the day came when Trump marveled at the size of his audience, saying in Corpus Christi, "What a crowd, what a turnout." Apparently, in the president's mind, what mattered during his brief visit to Texas was the number of locals who wanted to see him. 
Some initial accounts suggested Trump had made the comments to storm victims, but that wasn't quite right – because he didn’t meet with any victims. Rather, the president thought it'd be a good idea to host an impromptu rally against the backdrop of a deadly natural disaster."
Washington Posanalysis noted, "Yet again, Trump managed to turn attention on himself." The piece added that as of late yesterday, "the president had yet to mention those killed, call on other Americans to help or directly encourage donations to relief organizations."

Steve Benen was writing after Trump's first visit to Texas. On his second visit, he kissed a few babies at shelters. Here's what Josh Marshall wrote about Trump's behavior on the second visit in a statement entitled "He Can't Even Fake It":

In addition to the basic body language he keeps saying things like "Have a Good Time!" to people stranded in a shelter. Or, "it's going great" to people who've just lost everything. Or, look at this huge turnout to people who … well, you get the idea. When it comes to acting human or compassionate it's like the part of his brain governing that species of behavior has been removed. It's like watching a person who has profound social awkwardness in a meet and greet situation at a cocktail party. It's painful. But again, with Trump it's not social awkwardness. It's a basic, seemingly fundamental inability not only to experience but even to fake the experience of empathy or human concern. That additional part is what is remarkable to me. 
How Trump got this way I have no clue. But it’s the behavior of a very damaged or emotionally stunted person.

Brie Loskota and Peter Gudaitis,  "Prosperity Gospel Is not the only Problem with Joel Osteen's Harvey Response":

Despite its size and public image, Lakewood Church is not all that unique. Unleveraged assets exist within congregations of all faith traditions and sizes. Partnership, a plan, and training help build capacity and resilience—factors that allow congregations to act competently on their sense of compassion. 
Now is the time to examine what this church, and all other congregations of all faiths, can contribute, rather than just heed the call of an angry mob that sees an asset going unused. But in the long run, Harvey presents Osteen with a wake-up call to the deficit in his moral leadership, prosperity theology and organizational practices.

This is why I keep raising the question, What is church good for? When did churches begin to lose the imagination that they might — by gospel command — have an obligation to reach out to heal the sick in their community, to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to welcome the stranger? I am very well aware that many churches do these things, and I applaud them for doing so.

But it's also crucially apparent to me that churches all over the country are sitting on tremendous resources — physical plants, buildings, schools, wealth — that is never placed in any imaginative and effective way at the service of the greater good of the community. This lack of imagination is directly related to the fact that such a shocking percentage of white American Christians could elect a man who told us he'd rip healthcare coverage from millions, who used filthy race-baiting to win votes, who attacks immigrante, etc.

The mendacious claim of these very same Christians that churches should be providing healthcare for those on the margins of society, not the government — when churches are not doing that and will not do that — shows us what a serious problem we have in connecting the Christian gospels to the lives of many churches in the U.S.

And that raises for me the question, What are churches good for, when they can do such evil in spurring people to elect Donald Trump but have to be dragged kicking and screaming to open their doors to people whose homes have been flooded? Again: I know there are heroic examples of churches behaving otherwise in Harvey, and heroic examples of churches engaged in corporal and spiritual works of mercy all the time. But I also know that there are many churches that never look at their considerable resources as resources to assist their communities — and members of those churches clearly predominate among Donald Trump's supporters.

So what are churches good for?

Robert Greenwald, "Martin Sheen on Deportation, Immigration, and the Soul of a Country": 

When we know we are fighting on the right side, even though very often it's the losing side, it's the thing that gives our lives meaning. I think if we can identify ourselves in that way, that makes it clear we're not fighting because we want to be on the side that is winning. On the contrary, we fight for what is right because that's all that gives our lives meaning. And it's going to cost you something. And if it doesn't, then you're left to question its value. So this fight has great personal and cultural value. And spiritual value. I couldn't walk away from it any more than I could walk away from my own family.

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