The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: January 11, 2020
READ THIS PLEASE: I promise that this year — election year though it may be — will not find Internet Monk dominated by political themes and commentary. We won’t avoid it either, but when we deal with political matters, I will try to focus primarily on the intersection between religion and politics. American evangelicalism’s enmeshment in the culture wars of the past 50 years is a key factor that led many of us into the post-evangelical wilderness, and now that evangelicals have, in their own words, “gained unprecedented access” to the halls of power in the Trump administration, the stakes have become even more serious.
Just know that my main concerns are not and never have been wrapped up in the realm of politics. In fact, I can honestly say that I never paid truly serious attention to political matters until the ascension of President Trump. And only then because I found his election completely incomprehensible. My bewilderment has grown daily since the election. And there is no word strong enough to express my discombobulation at the support evangelical leaders have given this administration.
Let’s figure out how to talk about this in unique ways during 2020. I hope Internet Monk can carve out a distinctive place in the public conversation in this portentous election year.
• • •
THIS PAST WEEK WAS SO-OOO 1980…
Seriously, it was the first time in many years (even though we have been at war continuously since 2001), that America was confronted with the possibility of a new onslaught of video-game like videos showing the rockets’ red glare over the Middle East. And, it may still happen, though (thank God) it seems as though tensions have diminished for the time being.
Well, they’ve diminished somewhat between the U.S. and Iran it seems, but this whole situation seems to have only further exacerbated the bombs being lobbed back and forth between the Trump Administration (Whaddya mean, you don’t trust our word?) and the evil Democrats who, Herr Trump said, “expressed outrage over the termination of this horrible terrorist [Solemani]” — they did not — and of whom, Republican Doug Collins said, “they’re in love with terrorists. We see that. They mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families” — they do not — and of whom Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, ““The Obama-Biden administration essentially handed power to the Iranian leadership and acted as a quasi-ally of theirs … underwriting the very militias that killed Americans” — they did not — and who Trump boot-licker Sen. Lindsey Graham said were pursuing an “unconstitutional” measure that would lead to “empowering the enemy,” when the House of Representatives passed a War Powers Act — they were doing no such thing — and who Steve Scalise, the House minority whip accused of using “Iranian talking points” — they were not — and of whom Rep. Louie Gohmert said, they ““helped [Iran] fund the terrorism that has continued to kill Americans” — they did not — and who, according to Rep. Andy Biggs, are “trying to overthrow the country” — they are not.
Etc., etc., etc.
My point is NOT to be an apologist for Democrats. I simply want to point out how the current administration and its Republican sycophants have gone completely off the rhetorical rails and seem more concerned to identify the true enemies of America as (what used to be known as) their Democratic colleagues and fellow public servants.
Oh, what a 2020 we’re going to have in the good ol’ USA.
• • •
IRAN — THE PROPHETIC CONNECTION
In 2018, I wrote a post called, “It’s No Longer Just Fringe Theology.” In that piece, we discussed John Hagee and Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which bills itself as “the largest pro-Israel grassroots organization in the United States.” Hagee was one of the ministers chosen to offer prayers at the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. I found it alarming that crackpots like Hagee are having such access and influence to the halls of power in our country. The type of futuristic dispensationalist eschatology that he and others like him preach is not at all the historic teaching of Christianity, but now it is influencing the thinking and perhaps even the policies our leaders in Washington are pursuing in world affairs.
Read, for example, Sarah Posner’s article in the New Republic, “The Evangelicals Who Pray for Trump,” and learn how “Christian Zionists” such as Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence (who support CUFI) are pushing hardline policies against Iran. Now, you can agree or disagree with such policies, but I myself find it unacceptable that they may be driven by harebrained interpretations of Jewish and Christian scripture rather than the kind of statesmanship, experience, wisdom, and skill that comes from actually knowing how to govern and negotiate public and world affairs.
On matters of Iran, too, there has been a seamless relationship between CUFI and the Trump administration. In 2017, just a few months into Trump’s presidency, Pence addressed the CUFI Washington Summit, assuring attendees that “President Trump has put Iran on notice: America will no longer tolerate Iran’s efforts to destabilize the region and jeopardize Israel’s security,” and promising that under Trump, “the United States of America will not allow Iran to develop a useable nuclear weapon.” Trump’s subsequent actions have only elevated the specter of chaos in the region. In 2018, at Pompeo’s urging, he withdrew the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal, a decision that looks even more reckless today than on the day he made it—and yet, his evangelical supporters consider this one of his top accomplishments.
For Pompeo and his evangelical allies, Trump’s bombast is superior to Obama’s diplomacy, and they have spun his feckless week after the Soleimani killing as a shrewd balancing act between war and peace. After Trump’s Wednesday announcement that the U.S. would not retaliate for Iranian strikes on American military targets in Iraq the previous day, CUFI wrote in a briefing to supporters that Trump had “made clear to the Iranians that the US is neither seeking nor afraid of conflict with Iran,” and that “for the first time in years, Iran faces an American leader who is ready, willing, and able to stand up to Iran or make peace with the Islamic Republic.”
See also: The God Doctrine: How Evangelical Christians Are Guiding Trump’s Foreign Policy at Slate.
• • •
(RNS) — Bishops and leaders of a number of United Methodist groups have announced a proposed agreement to split the United Methodist Church.
The proposal, called the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation, would create a new conservative “traditionalist” Methodist denomination that would receive $25 million over the next four years.
“The undersigned, in recognition of the regional contexts and divergent points of view within the global United Methodist Church, propose separation as a faithful step with the possibility of continued cooperation around matters of shared interest, enabling each of us to authentically live out our faith,” the proposal reads.
Pressure to split one of the largest denominations in the United States has grown since last year’s special session of the United Methodist General Conference approved the so-called Traditional Plan strengthening the church’s bans on the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ United Methodists.
Approval of the plan has been met with resistance from progressive and moderate members of the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States.
And several groups have proposed legislation to split the denomination for consideration at the next regular meeting of the General Conference this May in Minneapolis.
But members of the unofficial group of leaders who wrote and signed the agreement that was announced Friday (Jan. 3) say their proposal is the only one that includes representatives of all different theological viewpoints within the church, as well as clergy from across the global denomination. It also is signed by both the outgoing and incoming presidents of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.
Rev. Keith Boyette says of this proposal: “Every other mainline denomination in the United States has faced this conflict. This agreement models how a conflict can be addressed in an amicable way.” Boyette went on to say that the separation was bittersweet for him, but that each faction can now move forward “unhindered by the other.”
• • •
ON MY WINTER PLAYLIST…
The crystal time the silence times
I’ll learn to love their quietness
While deep beneath the glistening snow
The black earth dreams of violets
I’ll learn to love the fallow way
Words and Music by Judy Collins
Universal Music Corp. (ASCAP)/ The Wildflowers Company (ASCAP)
(Administered by Universal Music Corp.)