Spiritual Scribbles
Comments 11

The tears of the oppressed

It’s my birthday today. I took the day off of work, and I also took a day off from closely monitoring the news, setting out for a hike. It was a wonderful and refreshing hike, up Fireweed Mountain just down the road from my cabin. The weather is beautiful, the sun is shining on us in this magnificent valley, making it feel like a cathedral, surrounded as it is by grand mountains, roaring rivers, and a massive glacial field. But the news cycle caught up with me, and I write this with tears running down my face. It may feel like a cathedral here but there is no sanctuary, no place of escape from the violent karma that is currently raging in our streets. But for many Americans there has never been an escape from police violence.

It’s the weekend, and the protests are in full swing. Police are responding with more violence, in some cases they are pulling protesters off into corners and alleyways, out of the view of cameras, and beating them mercilessly.

What’s happening, in America right now, is the natural consequence of a culture that has rejected justice. It isn’t surprising to me that America is simply repeating cycles of violence and rage rooted in divisions that stretch back to our founding, and beyond.

The harsh reality is that there’s little we can do. Having neglected justice for so long, having pursued only profit, having invested in weapons of war that are now being used by police against American citizens, we are reaping what we have sown.

Biden is not the answer and Trump isn’t the cause.

Given my perspective, turning 42 today, I can say that in the broad scheme of things, given the neglect of justice that has marked American culture during my lifetime, Trump is a chump, a piss ant, an opportunist and a mere caricature of an unjust culture that clings to “American Exceptionalism” with a certain rage that blinds us to the violent and fragile reality that is our true birthright. We are exceptional only for our ability to have so consistently denied justice for the entire history of our nation.

We are reaping what we have sown. The karmic energy of this nation is vomiting up violence and chaos because of our own actions and attitudes. And it will almost certainly get worse before it gets better.

Yet this is also a time of transition, which means that we have the opportunity for a real and genuine revolution. We have the opportunity to plot a new course, to create a new system where justice matters. In short, we can create a world that is beautiful and good. This will all depend, however, on whether we are willing to confront our cultural inner demons and face truth.

It’s been a time for many of us to ask, What can I do? And for most Americans, overtaxed and exploited as they are by their corporate Overlords, this is, for many, the first time they have seriously engaged this question with the gravity and seriousness that it deserves. Others of us have been rattling the cage for a while. I’m in the latter camp but I’ve been asking the question all the same, in solidarity with the many victims of police brutality, but also because when things start to shake up it’s good to be thinking about strategy, to re-think what we are doing to impact the world and to bring about liberation, liberation that is spiritual, cultural and political.

For me this thinking has led me to the belief that it’s time to start writing honestly and truthfully about my experience as an evangelical. This instinct of mine was confirmed recently when Trump violently removed protesters in order to shoot a photo op, holding the Bible high in a clear message to his evangelical base that he is aligned with them.

Evangelicals are the only major demographic keeping Trump in power, with even the small shred of credibility and political approval that he has left. Yet as I said it isn’t Trump that’s the ultimate problem. It’s the evangelicals who have supported Trump, because they have been aligned with injustice for the entirety of my lifetime. And Joe Biden won’t change that. Not by a long shot.

It is not on Trump. It’s on those among my own friends and family who have supported this system of injustice, supported and wholeheartedly embraced capitalism and patriarchy and have done so in such a complete and totalitarian way that many no longer have any ability to discern good and evil.

The roots for this run deep, and I have lived it. It has marked the entirety of my life.

This is something that I have struggled to give voice to. I’ve tried but between my own anger, ego and inability to articulate, I’ve largely failed. Yet if we are to truly engage in a process of revolution, we must sort through the roots of the violence that has now exploded.

For Trump, evangelicals have just been a part of his political strategy. He bet on evangelicals and he won. But this was no mere oversight on the part of evangelicals. Trump is the president that best represents their view of the world, a view of the world that has always been toxic. This toxicity didn’t begin with Trump and it won’t end in November, no matter who wins.

We need to speak to this.

All of us. Each in our own way.

I close my birthday and this post with a biblical passage taken from one of my favorite books, Ecclesiastes.

Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed– and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors– and they have no comforter.

Ecclesiastes 4:1

11 Comments

  1. When did “Evangelicals” become “Evangelicals”? What is the timeline/history on that in one or two sentences? I am unclear about it.

    I grew up in a faith heritage that long resisted being labeled as such, but which felt quite close to it, I think. We had a few theological hangups which surely I don’t need to dive into to make my point. But we thought ourselves separate from the mainstream Protestants and used to maintain that ideal in every way except lifestyle.

    We were kissing cousins to Evangelicals, really.

    That said, I think FUNCTIONALLY speaking, we were Evangelical. BUT this means I have a visceral understanding of your background and the things you describe and probably even your feelings about it all, but I have NOT the specific history or terms in some respects.

    That said…

    At least in my branch, we were very NON-political – esp early in my life. This is not actually accurate, but there was a strand of that still alive and getting lipservice when I was young. Previous generations had pushed that to the limits and would not serve in the military, a few did not pay tax and so forth, but most of us quietly morphed a little more along the Evangelical path.

    I remember when J Falwell called for boycotts and some of the discussions that sparked in our ranks. We did not join him in that, but there was a LOT of sympathy with it. We too hated abortion, homosexuality, taxes and a few other things it was easy to hang on Liberals. But we were not ready to get in line.

    My feeling is that even Evangelicals were morphing. Leading us (unofficially), but showing the way… But I sense the broader Evangelicalism was moving this direction under the leadership of very powerful voices like Falwell AND labels like “silent majority” really emboldened and seemed to legitimate us.

    I certainly believe that during the Reagan era, a guy like Trump would not stand a chance of leading Evangelicals in politics. His fast living, his divorces, his loose morals were all calling cards for Satan! Now, it is all so easily overlooked.

    Trump is not my grandfather’s president! But the church today is not my grandfather’s church either.

    I think there are a number of factors pushing this kind of change. I don’t know which ones are the most powerful or most important. I doubt I understand all of them. But I will say that Evangelicals, and certainly the heritage I come from, is far less biblically literate in the last 20-30 years than ever before. The average rank-n-file have read Max Lucado, Rick Warren, Phillip Yancey and all that good stuff; they still have the tee shirt from Promise Keepers, the coffee table book, the mug, and the handsome, leather-bound Purpose Driven Journal, but they are not really reading the Bible.

    When I was a kid, that was the true mark of an Evangelical (or even us who resisted that label) that they were Bible thumpers who could quote Scripture, could find passages, and actually read them. They wore out Bibles in those days, now we wear matching shoes with our Bible cover with our name imprinted on it.

    And our pop theology books tend to dive into politics more and more. I think about reading Steve Farrar back in the 1990s and he did this long exposition of Ahab and Jezebel and very cleverly painted the picture of Bill and Hillary with those names in a 300 page book. He made horrible accusations! Yet as I read it, I kept thinking, yeah… but what about King David who did practically every naughty thing you bring up here, yet he is a hero! I could have painted Clinton with that brush too. (and I have no desire to defend Bill!).

    But I didn’t write a book and Evangelicals read Farrar instead of mine or their Bible either for that matter.

    But then there is the division between church and state which I think is quite confusing for everyone, actually. Not that joining them would solve the confusion at all, but that issue, that NUB, is (I think) one of the things pushing us around and out of joint.

    My heritage four or five generations back tried very hard to keep out of politics all together. There was a theology there which dictated an escape plan from “the world” which was all going up in Judgment fires one day anyway.

    Hey, I don’t agree with it, but at least we were not political junkies/jerks.

    Now we are. And we have TRUMP as our champion, not Jesus. Trump is almost any and every thing that Jesus is not. But Trump is our man. Wow!

    Just don’t understand how we got here. But I certainly address this stuff with my church all the time – esp as it manifests in street ministry and homelessness.

    In 10 years, I have yet to see us take even one step back from this path we move down now. But I pray for it, and work for it every day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agent X: “When did “Evangelicals” become “Evangelicals”? What is the timeline/history on that in one or two sentences? I am unclear about it.”

      In one or two sentences?? That’s tough to do because (as you alluded to), the evangelical movement is actually quite decentralized. So there are many who float around the periphery, maybe listening to an evangelical radio station or simply feeling like they are “bible believing Christians” who don’t fit into the mainline or liberal denominations.

      But here’s a stab at distilling it into one or two sentences, off the cuff, as I understand it and have experienced it: Evangelicals historically came into being from the Fundamentalist movement of the early 20th century (and late 19th century) with the objective of taking the theology of Fundamentalism and making it accessible and influential to the mainstream. The primary mover and shaker for this was, undoubtedly, Billy Graham.

      In some very profound ways, Evangelicals have been reverting back to Fundamentalists. Evangelicals had actually gained a good bit of cultural capital and societal influence, culminating, perhaps, with the Presidency of George W. Bush, an outspoken evangelical who claimed Jesus as his favorite philosopher because Jesus “changed my heart.”

      Evangelicals could have used this platform to engage the culture and work for positive change within society. I came of age at precisely the time when this was possible, and that’s what I and others were pushing for. But Evangelicals made it clear that they were only interested in pushing their agenda. Alas, they went the Tea Party route, and many voices, such as my own, were ignored. So many of us just checked out. Looking back at the trajectory of evangelicalism and where it is today, I certainly made the right decision.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Agent X: “I certainly believe that during the Reagan era, a guy like Trump would not stand a chance of leading Evangelicals in politics. His fast living, his divorces, his loose morals were all calling cards for Satan! Now, it is all so easily overlooked.”

      Yes. I wanted to repost these words. I definitely experienced this compromise of values, in my lifetime.

      Agent X: “Trump is not my grandfather’s president! But the church today is not my grandfather’s church either.”

      That’s where I might have a slightly divergent take…..I think the roots of Trumpism were always present, and that’s kind of what I want to explore by exploring my own experience within the evangelical movement. The same hate and anger that fuels support for Trump now was embedded in me, in many ways, when I was young. But it was weird. No one TOLD me to hate, but it made its way in there, and anger lodged itself deep inside me, well before I was old enough to really think through these issues for myself. I suppose this is one of the reasons why it’s so tricky to unpack it all.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Agent X: “Evangelicals, and certainly the heritage I come from, is far less biblically literate in the last 20-30 years than ever before. The average rank-n-file have read Max Lucado, Rick Warren, Phillip Yancey and all that good stuff; they still have the tee shirt from Promise Keepers, the coffee table book, the mug, and the handsome, leather-bound Purpose Driven Journal, but they are not really reading the Bible. When I was a kid, that was the true mark of an Evangelical (or even us who resisted that label) that they were Bible thumpers who could quote Scripture, could find passages, and actually read them. They wore out Bibles in those days, now we wear matching shoes with our Bible cover with our name imprinted on it.”

      I don’t know the evangelical movement from the inside, as I once did, but I was starting to see this trend back in the 2000s when I was most active within the movement. So I find it easy to believe that being a “Bible believing Christian” these days, for evangelicals, is far less about the Bible than what it used to be. This seems necessary given the fact that evangelical leaders have denounced social justice, an issue that is central to any honest reading of the Bible.

      Reading the Bible too closely would pretty quickly deconstruct the bullshit of Jerry Falwell, Jr. or Franklin Graham. While going through seminary, I worked hard to build a biblical case for things like social justice or other issues that I was feeling strongly about, but after doing so I realized that no one really gave a shit about detailed Bible study, if it didn’t confirm their predetermined bias. That doesn’t apply to everyone, I hasten to add, but it applied to enough people that I started to understand, back then, that the evangelical movement was not a healthy spiritual culture to be a part of.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Agent X: “…we have TRUMP as our champion, not Jesus. Trump is almost any and every thing that Jesus is not. But Trump is our man. Wow! Just don’t understand how we got here. But I certainly address this stuff with my church all the time – esp as it manifests in street ministry and homelessness. In 10 years, I have yet to see us take even one step back from this path we move down now. But I pray for it, and work for it every day.”

      And it sound like it’s been a mixed bag for you: some bright spots and a lot of discouragement and heartache.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I was falling asleep the other night in front of the TV, but I was trying to watch Colbert. I saw part of his interview with Cory Booker. I never followed Booker or listened to him much. Seems like he said or did something a while back that turned me off, but I can’t remember now. Wasn’t some big evil thing, whatever it was… just brought my estimation down a notch.

    Anyway, I was impressed with the interview the other night. I only watched a few minutes, but I was impressed to hear him say the problem is not Trump, it’s us. He dared to dream of an America where we love one another. That is lofty talk and not terribly specific, but it is very near to Christian in my view, and certainly better than most talk I hear almost anywhere.

    I think its noteworthy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, and when Booker talks like that it resonates with me as well. But the same thing was/is true of Obama. My problem with both of them is that neither of them has a record of actually implementing policies that change the fundamental way in which America operates. And if we don’t change things at a structural level, then at the end of the day it’s all just empty rhetoric…Thanks why folks didn’t like Bernie. They could look at his policy proposals and see that he meant business, that Bernie would have changed this at the structural level.

      Like

  3. unalaska says

    I agree with everything you say. Even with you constantly saying Biden is not the answer. But, as a woman, and especially as a brown woman, I am voting for Biden because it is the first step out of the nightmare in which we are embroiled. He is not my choice. But he will be our one chance that is the beginning of necessary changes in this country.

    Liked by 1 person

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