The axiom says the three topics one should avoid in conversation are money, politics, and religion. Of course, the settings for said discussions may vary according to whom is enforcing it. I have heard that it pertains to: discussions with family; discussions at the dinner table, regardless of who is at the table; discussions at parties; and, discussions in “polite company” – though I am never quite sure what that means.
If any one considers this blog to be “polite company” then I am already in trouble. I have discussed politics. I have written a little bit about money. And I have also shared some religious ideas. Today, though, I am going to go all in discussing the third thing: religion.
I remember the moment I got scared of my religion. I was in Kansas City in a large auditorium. Though the capacity of the auditorium was over 2,000, there were only about 100-200 people there. We were all Evangelical Christian “youth evangelists” and we were rebels. We had broken off our affiliation with a larger international Evangelical Christian youth organization because we had judged it to be too liberal for us. I was 19 years old and a “youth evangelist” in one of the rebel chapters.
On stage stood two men – one the founder of the rebel movement and the other a guest preacher from a new and little known Evangelical Christian college in Southwest Virginia. The founder never did anything halfway, especially if he could seize the moment to impress a group of his peers. He seemed not to notice that we didn’t fill 1/10 of the seats of his vaunted auditorium. The spotlights were blazing. Wireless mics (not all that common in the early 1970’s) abounded. “Appropriate” (no rock n’ roll beats allowed) Gospel music anthems blared. As the unseen “big voice” announcer introduced the founder and his guest, and suggested a standing ovation was in order, we all rose and applauded wildly – right on cue.
As the applause faded, the founder launched into a typically lengthy introduction of his guest preacher which included frequent reminders to us of his own greatness. Finally, his guest preacher began to speak. He told us about the new college he had opened just a couple of years before. It was so new the college had not yet graduated its first class. However, the guest preacher – who was a Baptist minister and the president of the fledgling school – talked about his vision for the school, for our rebel movement, and for the nation.
I do not remember his exact words but I remember the exact feeling they produced in me. For the crescendo of his sermon the guest preacher built the case for America as a Christian nation and issued a call to action for us to work with him to return the country to its Christian roots and the rule of God.
That was the moment.
“The rule of God” always sounds better than it is…regardless of the religion. Why? Because the “rule of God” is always translated and interpreted through human beings. That interpretation, in turn, risks being biased to the benefit of the human who is doing the interpretation. This is especially true if the humans doing the interpretation are not accountable to anyone except themselves in how they apply the “rule of God” to others – like the founder, like the guest preacher, like so many of us in the auditorium that day.
The guest preacher went on to announce that he knew he was not alone in this desire. He believed, no, he knew, a majority, of American’s agreed. They were righteous, they were moral, they were patriots, and they were right…like him! They only needed someone to gather them and he was going to do that. As time would prove, he did gather them. However, his estimate of having a majority was a bit optimistic and the group did not last more than about 10 years.
I looked around the auditorium in that moment asking myself if I could trust any of my colleagues and friends to truly know the mind of God and equitably apply the “rule of God” to the rest of us. I wondered, too, if any of them could trust me to to the same. The answer came simply and quickly: Nope!
That was over 40 years ago. Had I seen or read “The Handmaid’s Tale” before that time, I might have bolted from the auditorium and run away as fast as I could. However, that was another time and place in my life. What I heard then, and later watched unfold, scared and sickened me. While I did not run away immediately, it started me on a different spiritual path that led me to the Quakers.
Today I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers. Our tradition of Quakerism has no pastors and we meet in waiting worship (which looks a lot like silence to many people). We believe the Spirit of God is in our midst, teaching and leading us – individually and as a group – in the mindfulness of waiting worship. I retain a Christian faith, but it is no longer evangelical. I believe the Hound of Heaven pursues us with love and grace, not threats of hellfire and brimstone. I believe the Spirit of God in the midst of our meetings is Jesus, who early Quakers called “The Present Teacher.” I also believe that Jesus calls us to faith, social justice, and creating the conditions in this world where ALL people – without exception – can know the love and grace of God through the loving actions of others.
The guest preacher’s majority movement fizzled out but his original vision is still around. It looks a bit different today and it is still about “the rule of God.” And it still scares me – especially now that I have seen “The Handmaid’s Tale.“
If you have read this blog since the beginning of the pandemic, you know I have an interest in understanding White Evangelicals. Like many people, I am puzzled by their support of the current administration in Washington, DC. I am puzzled because the Trump administration seems antithetical to the core Christian values and principles which are supposed to be foundational to White Evangelicalism. As we approach the presidential election in November I find myself returning again to the subject.
Today’s blog is intended as fair warning that I will be continuing that exploration here, at least up to the election. Next time I want to delve into the most recent research on White Evangelicals and their political involvement. If you want a bit of homework, check this out.
*With appreciation to a longtime friend, Dave. We reconnected this week after many years. Our conversations rekindled my interest in the convergence of White Evangelicalism and politics.
You gotta love this idea!
Thanks to a regular reader, Cynthia, for passing on this brief video from Belgium which demonstrates one way to truly personalize a mask and motivate people to wear them.
the view from jeff
Oh wow. Jeff nailed it this week! Were you tagging along with us on Thursday?
chickenman – episode 91 – only 6 left!
You know, I am beginning to think I ought to have mugs printed up for the most dedicated listeners which say something like, “I survived Chickenman on The Daily Drivel.”
Oh no! Can it be? Is Chickenman getting fired by the Commissioner? Let’s hope the firing is not the same as getting roasted!