A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Way of the Cross? Scorched Earth Policy and One Issue Obsession

Both sides have bought into the "war" imagery and mentality. What matters is that we win and our "enemies" lose. What matters is that we gain power to implement what we think is right and that we strip our opponents of power so that they can't. How we get there, well, let's not talk about that. All’s fair . . .

But didn't the Apostle say, "Love . . . does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth"?

True enough, but it doesn't say that love gloats. Love doesn't rub the opponent's face in it. Love doesn't dance around singing "We Are the Champions" and waving banners. Love doesn't imitate the Roman triumph, a victory parade in which the vanquished were put on display, shackled and shamed, before the swaggering crowds.--Champlain Mike

This quote I posted the other day gets to the heart of the problem of activism that is polarized and is focused primarily on this or that pet issue. Such activists tolerate no dissent, no reasonable disagreement that does not affirm their views, nor can they accept those who may agree with them on 99% of the other important issues in our time. Disagree with them on one matter and they are done with you! Let's take some recent and obvious examples:

Hobby Lobby wins a lawsuit that allows them to be exempt from offering abortifacients to its employees, even though they must still offer over thirty other contraceptives. But, as Ross Douthat has pointed out, Hobby Lobby is a socially conscious business that is not simply concerned about the bottom line-- something liberals should praise.
One such company was hailed last year by the left-wing policy website Demos "for thumbing its nose at the conventional wisdom that success in the retail industry" requires "paying bargain basement wages." A retail chain with nearly 600 stores and 13,000 workers, this business sets its lowest full-time wage at $15 an hour, and raised wages steadily through the stagnant postrecession years. (Its do-gooder policies include also include donating 10% of its profits to charity and giving all employees Sunday off.) And the chain is thriving commercially-- offering as Demos puts it a clear example of how "doing good for workers can also mean doing good for business."
But the fact that the retail chain treats its employees the way those on the left can praise, because the social conscience of the owners of Hobby Lobby don't toe the orthodox leftist line on abortion, they must be eliminated. The Daily Kos has called for a boycott of Hobby Lobby insisting that this is only the beginning of the implementation of their theocratic agenda (one issue obsession often leads to irrational suspicion). Yes, they will know we are Christians by making more people unemployed.

Let's take an example from the other side. A few months ago, World Vision made the decision that since they were a parachurch organization that serves various church denominations and traditions (which also have varying views on gay marriage), they were changing their policy to include hiring gay couples who were in married monogamous relationships (they were still maintaining their long-standing policy not to hire people, straight or gay, who were living together without being married). Many evangelicals, who long supported this evangelical organization, immediately went off the rails. In two days, ten thousand sponsors of children cancelled their sponsorships. Yes, because World Vision didn't toe the line on the orthodox rightism of gay marriage, it was necessary to allow poor children go hungry for the greater good. Indeed, another Christian hunger organization attempted to capitalize on World Vision's misery by inviting angry WV sponsors to come sponsor through them. Yes, they will know we are Christians by our competition.

And then their was the whole Chick-fil-A food fight over gay marriage that mobilized both left and right in which both sides tried to best each other in a twenty-first century Roman march of triumph. When the views of owner Dan Cathy against gay marriage were revealed, those who believed otherwise were bound and determined to put him out of business no matter what (along with all the employees) with a boycott. The response by the other side was an anti-boycott in which people overloaded Chick-fil-As all over the country in support of what they kept referring to as freedom of speech. (Gee, I wonder how many of those free-speech Chick-fil-A anti-boycotters supported same-sex marriage?) Yes, they will know we are Christians by our boycotts and our anti-boycotts.

One of the things I have bemoaned on my blog time and time again is how Christians seem incapable of offering a third-- or even better-- an alternative way through the issues that all of us face, Christian or not. We are so stuck in the binary thinking of liberal/conservative, left/right, Democrat/Republican, that we don't ask first how we might respond as Christians in the midst of a conflict or debate. Instead we act just like liberals or conservatives, left or right, Democrats or Republicans. When the media latches on to any of these stories and the conflict begins, it would have be helpful if Christians, regardless of their views on gay marriage, abortion, or any other issue for that matter, could have asked themselves how the church, even with its own divisions on these issues, can be a reconciling and calming presence in the midst of the vitriol that is being ratcheted up on both sides. Instead, we Christians act less like Christians and more like liberal and conservative activists whose agenda is to win at all cost and destroy those who disagree.  When we become obsessed over just one or perhaps two or three issues both sides retreat into their ghetto of the like-minded feeling all safe and secure. Just like everyone else in our culture, Christians' default position is one of power politics. We might ask what Jesus would do if he were here, but since we really haven't a clue as to what he would do, we resort to the politics of anger and grievance. Someone tell me how Christian participation in such scorched-earth politics lifts up Jesus Christ to those around us? Someone tell me how either act embodies the example of Jesus that St. Paul put forth in Philippians 2? I'm not suggesting that these various issues are unimportant; I am saying that one issue does not encompass all of reality, nor does it tell us about the moral compass of an individual and their position on just one issue. Jesus judged people on the totality of who they were as God's imperfect imagers in this world.

Christian activists may try to justify such methods in the twenty-first century, but please don't attempt to argue that such activism is in keeping with the way of the cross.

Jesus will not join your crusade.


Jerry Eckert said...

I am a activist and I do not want my enemy destroyed but I want to keep them as friends.
I want them to see reality. When they do, they may find themselves agreeing with me and change their ways. I try to get to understand their point of view so that when there is an opportunity for exchange, I can show I understand their point of view but have had to reject at least some of it as not consistent with what is real. When I run into a dogmatist who does not look at reality but only at his/her dogma for truth, I am the one who is seen as nothing, and, in some cases, would be destroyed by them if they had the chance. Not all activists are out to make the other side lose. The good ones I know try to bring everyone on board voluntarily and by persuasion and not coercion. Sometimes the ones with we disagree can't change now so we keep trying by precept and example, in hopes that someday they will either reprioritize or find their own way to be in community with us.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for your comments.

Yes, there are activists who are not out to destroy the enemy, and I appreciate that you are one of them, but the reality is that that it's the extreme obsessed ones who control the agenda and make the most noise.

I also question whether the methodology of most activists really is in keeping with the way of the cross Jesus gave to us. It seems that they desire the power an influence that Jesus himself rejected.