Friday, July 24, 2009

What's coming -- and why

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.
-- Proverbs 16:18

Here's to hoping that South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint will someday regret his words that President Obama's health-care bill now working through Congress will become "his Waterloo." Because fighting it may actually become the beginning of the beginning of the end of the conservative movement to which he subscribes.

Earlier this week I posted on Facebook that I was considering praying that the bill would pass over the objections of certain key Republicans, and a number of people asked me, in essence, "Have you actually read it?" Well, for the record, no, I haven't. Because that's not the point.

The issue is that Obama is actually trying to do something positive about the health-care mess in this country and, in response, his detractors are trying to stop him cold. Deep down, they don't want it fixed except on their terms -- which, in practice, means probably not at all -- because if it is they'll have egg on their face. Again.

Just like during the Bill Clinton years, when they continually went up against him -- and ended up losing most of the time.

The conservative movement that found its "groove," if you will, in the 1960s has always -- always -- been one of opposition; you could argue that it wouldn't even exist without an enemy to conquer. That's an understandable approach because it's really easy to mobilize against some bogeyman; that said, consistently doing so stems from a narcissistic worldview where everyone is either "with us or against us." Such an attitude is simply emotionally and spiritually unhealthy -- to say the least. Trouble is, the heart of politics is compromise for the greater good, which to them is anathema.

Let's recap what happened during the Clinton years. During the 1992 campaign some conservative activists went to Federal court in Arkansas to have Clinton taken off the ballot, and just weeks after the election bumper stickers started popping up saying, "Don't blame me -- I voted for [George H.W.] Bush." He got a targeted tax increase through in 1994, spawning the reactionary "Contract With America" -- but the plan actually worked, the economy took off and we eventually saw a budget surplus. On the evening of the 1996 election, other conservative activists plotted to have Clinton impeached and, of course, succeeded two years later (he was acquitted, however, because his lawyer shot holes in the prosecution's flimsy case).

Then again, contrast that with the record of George W. Bush. He cut taxes for the wealthiest, which had no effect overall for everyone else. He started a war in Iraq which was designed to be little more than a commando raid (read: On the cheap) to settle a score with Saddam Hussein, and when more and more troops were needed he simply refused to raise taxes or find other sources of revenue to pay for it. Add the debacle that was the response to Hurricane Katrina and the lobbying scandal and you have a discredited ideology punctuated with the economic downturn just after presidential candidate John McCain insisted, "The fundamentals of our economy remain strong."

But the conservatives decided to ignore all these realities because it's easier to play "King of the Hill" and sabotage an opponent's plans rather than come up with better ideas of their own. How sinister -- that reminds me of the maxim "If I can't have you, no one will."

That's the backdrop for the fight going on in Congress right now -- it's the same old, same old -- and for that reason the conservatives, and thus the Republican Party, cannot but eventually fail. In fact, I'm making a bold prediction: Should Obama run for reelection in 2012 we could see a landslide of Johnson/Goldwater proportions no matter who runs on the GOP side. (Which would be a shame -- NOT! -- as there's already a Facebook page, "Nobama in '12.")

I'm reminded of the scene from "Rocky III" where Clubber Lang, who knocked out Rocky in their first bout, went on TV and boasted about how he would abuse him during the rematch. Apollo Creed, who would train Rocky for that second bout, responded quietly, "Yeah, keep talking, pal ... " DeMint and his cronies may win this battle, but because they're so full of themselves they don't realize that they're already well on their way to losing the war -- not to mention their minds.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The cult of Sarah Palin

Ordinarily, the resignation of a governor facing ethics charges would be greeted with yawns and finger-wagging as if to say, "See, he became too big for his britches."

But when Sarah Palin, the former Republican Party vice-presidential candidate, announced last week that she would step down from her post as governor of Alaska effective July 26, it only added to her legend. That is, to her supporters.

And I think that says a lot about them.

Of course, those of us who follow politics are wondering what her next move is -- a run for president? Senator? Political commentary from a conservative perspective? (Only with the last would the former TV reporter have any serious bona fides.)

Anyway, to some people Palin's resignation is just about one woman who wanted the power of the office but not the baggage that came with it. Many have even said, "It's all about her."

But this Palin-worship isn't really about her; rather, it speaks to the delusion under which the political right has always operated (but which is becoming more obvious by the day to us non-conservatives). Palin represents little more than a microcosm of much of the conservative movement in general -- impetuous, arrogant, whiny, paranoid, clueless, classless, juvenile. Folks have actually rallied around a figure that resembles them -- but in a negative sense.

In a way, that shouldn't surprise.

Conservatives have always sought some "magic bullet" that would turn people against their opponents and toward them -- that's been their strategy since Nixon -- because doing things that way is easier than actually defending their proposals and the personalities that espouse them. I can't tell you how many right-wing media outlets tried to slander both Bill and Hillary Clinton, insisting that they had "information" that, if publicized, would "finish them off for good." And when it doesn't happen -- well, the media are "hiding something." All because they refuse to admit that their own agenda today is offensive and impractical and has fallen flat, their candidates are to a man (or woman) fatally flawed and their appeals are now falling on deaf ears.

They got lucky with Reagan, who in their view came in riding on a white horse to save the day from evil liberals and a malevolent press corps; perhaps they believe that they can catch lightning in a bottle once again even though times have changed. It's a lot like a football team trying the same play that no longer works because the defense knows it's coming and how to counter it.

With apologies to Bobby Caldwell, what you won't do, do for hate ...

When Palin was announced as the running mate for John McCain, she was touted as a reformer -- that's since proven dubious -- and a "Washington outsider" (according to Jane Mayer, writing in the New Yorker, an outright lie).

During a recent Facebook discussion, a Palin supporter insisted that the Democratic Party "feared" her. If she wants to believe that ... well, she's entitled her her opinion.

But the demographics don't support her claims, especially long-term. Let us remember that 60 percent of the "youth vote" -- that is, under-30 -- voted Democratic (read: liberal) during the last general election, and people generally don't change their voting habits over a lifetime. A few months ago Sen. Arlen Specter, until then a Republican, switched to the Democratic Party. Reason? His power base in the Philadelphia suburbs, generally under the category of "Rockefeller Republicans," during the Clinton years began trending Democratic because they couldn't abide the right-wing extremism that began to typify the national Republican Party.

All of which leads to the main point: It's Palin, not her critics, who is out of touch with reality. What's more, the same must be said for her worshippers, who will b---- and moan about her treatment at the hands of those not of their party. But as the late Chicago journalist Finley Peter Dunne said, "Politics ain't beanbag." If she can't take the scrutiny, she has no business even running for office. And they thus don't have the right to complain.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I'm a complementarian

As a child in the 1970s, I was involved in a church that didn't ordain women to the pastorate or as deacons or elders, and the egalitarian in me considered that stance discriminatory and unnecessary.

Today, I attend a church that doesn't ordain woman as pastors or elders (there, deacons are not ordained positions), and now I understand why. If I haven't entirely recanted that stance, I now respect it.

Yes, I've become somewhat of a "complementarian" -- believing today that, when it comes to leadership in the church, it should be predominately (if not exclusively) male.

About a decade ago I did a lot of ballroom dancing with my then-girlfriend, and the first thing I learned in the process is that, in a couple, the man and woman have strictly-defined roles -- which, in this case, means that the man leads. It just works best that way.

I've come to realize that the same works in the rest of life, too. I didn't always believe that -- I mean, does gender really matter when it comes to relationships, especially in the church?

Yes, it does. Over the last two decades I've found that, when I'm in a situation that subscribes to a complementarian outlook, I'm treated with more respect as a man. But when it was more "egalitarian," with no division of labor according to gender, I often found myself ignored.

Why is that? Well, the feminist movement ended up making far more demands of men than of women -- in many cases the respect that women expected from men simply wasn't reciprocated, especially in evangelical circles. Although women claimed to want to be "equal partners" in marriage, they usually still shoot for partners with equal or higher status than they, which in practice means that the pool of available eligible men has shrunk because they have higher status. (Ironically, many of them complain, "Where are all the single men?")

During services at my church, only men are permitted to serve as ushers, collect tithes and offerings or disburse communion elements (the last of which I do regularly and enjoy). Reason: Men seek purpose, while women are more interested in fellowship. That is to say, men need something specific to do in a church, otherwise they would be less interested in remaining; women, on the other hand, are more satisfied just to "hang out."

But that also speaks to the need for us men to act as servants and not simply as "kings" enamored with authority -- just like our LORD. And that too is attractive to women, who whether they want to admit it or not crave somewhat whom they can trust to fulfill his responsibilities. Done right -- that is, with humility -- the "gender division" would be no big deal.

Communion -- it's NOT for 'everybody'

Last week, the Sojourners blog featured a post from a pastor who received a tearful mobile-phone message from a young woman who had been denied communion at her parents' church. Eventually, the "problem" was resolved when she finally was administered the sacrament in an airport chapel.

Here's the problem: The post didn't give any specific reason why this took place -- whether because the woman's parents attended church in a denomination that limited its observance of the LORD's Supper to adherents or she was involved in some gross sin that disqualified her. The post gave the impression that anyone who wants to should be able to take communion, anywhere, anytime.

On the contrary -- communion is in fact identified as the "believers' covenant meal," which (depending on your perspective) expands or limits participation. It of course represents a reminder of the then-upcoming death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ, through and by which we believers in Him receive eternal life.

For that reason I won't attend or even visit churches -- two examples are Roman Catholic and Church of Christ -- that hold "closed communion"; folks shouldn't have to jump through any additional hoops to be received as fellow Christians. (In such situations their polity, not Christ, is the issue.)

That said, it's also incorrect to say that anyone is welcome at God's table because the Scripture is clear that He initiates any relationship and that no one comes to faith in Christ on his own. We need to understand that Jesus conducted the Last Supper with His disciples, His most intimate friends -- and that, contrary to the practice of that day, He selected them. (That should give us an idea of His intent.) Once receiving Christ, people should renounce the sin that He brings to mind, which should already be happening if they're being properly instructed in the Scriptures; then and only then are they ready to receive the elements.

From 1 Corinthians 12:

27Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the LORD. 28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the LORD eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Earlier today my church held its monthly observance of the LORD's Supper -- I generally have the privilege of serving as a steward -- and the person who officiates, usually the senior pastor, makes it very clear that only "born-again" followers of Christ were eligible to take it but that all of them were. (In fact, most Protestant churches practice similar "open communion.") But to do so properly, those who participate must understand the full implications as to what they're commemorating lest it degenerate into blasphemy.