Thoughts about Evangelicals and Election 2012 prompted my recent feature column for the Tuttle Times. Over the span of about a month I responded to a series of interview requests on the subject of Election 2012. First, I responded to email questions for a piece in The Oklahoma Gazette by Greg Horton. Then, I enjoyed lunch with Guy Adams, a correspondent for the Independent in the UK living in Los Angeles. After he shared worship with us at Snow Hill we talked about Evangelicals, the Election, and a variety of topics. A couple of weeks ago I spoke with Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News. Wayne took a phrase I used, weird conundrum, as a subheading for his opinion piece.
Weird conundrum referred to the internal conflict apparent among Evangelicals when considering the current GOP candidates. Many would argue the GOP is the purview of a ubiquitous Evangelical voting block. I think the notion of a unified Evangelical voting block mis-represents the current state of Evangelicalism. If you follow the progression that began with Richard Quebedeaux’s, The Young Evangelicals, through Robert Webber’s, The Younger Evangelicals, and the current battle for the heart of Evangelicalism, you cannot help but see this as a larger expression of what Bill J. Leonard referred to as the eventual splintering of the Southern Baptist Convention. Or, put more succinctly, there is no unified Evangelical voting block in the same way as there is no unified Southern Baptist Convention – with apologies to the GCB. There is a conundrum. Romney. Santorum. Gingerich. Paul. Really?
I read Slater’s interview. I wondered which bits of our conversation, if any, he would use. As we talked by phone the day he called, Wayne wondered how it happened that just six months ago the general sentiment among pundits was that Evangelicals would not wield much influence in an election dominated by the economy. How can this not be understood as an indictment? Now it seems an improving economy has pushed social issues to the fore and so the Evangelical vote takes on more import for many.
Slater relayed the sentiment expressed by Southern Baptist ethicist, Dr. Richard Land. He summarized Land, “ . . . the desire to beat President Barack Obama will overcome the lack of enthusiasm among many Christian conservative voters.” Rather than a compelling candidate with a rousing message, the desire to beat President Obama will generate missing enthusiasm.
Interestingly I recall an ecclesial comparison. Years ago The Baptist Standard, the Texas Baptist denominational paper, ran an article considering church splits as a means for planting new churches. I remember being incredulous. The move to plant a loving community born out of irreconcilable conflict is the same as having no compelling candidate with a rousing message. The energy driving the split is comparable to the desire to beat President Barack Obama. Once the energy to defeat someone, prove to the other church you “did it,” runs its course the conflict is often internalized. The move then is to ferret out the fringe and solidify the core. GOP? SBC?
Charles Shelden’s In His Steps inspired the Christian WWJD fad. After it went wristband viral, it seems there has been little difference in both the ethics practiced by Christians and the reputation garnered as a result of such open contradictions to the Way of Jesus. Barna. Pew. Baylor.
Could this be a parallel to simply wearing phylacteries containing the Schema on the wrist and forehead referenced in the Scriptures? If the intent was to think about the Way of YHWH and then to act accordingly, it requires more than a wristband.
All of this led me to begin thinking about inverting WWJD. The acronym is not near as catchy – DBLJ – Don’t Be Like Jesus. Tripp and Jeremy spent some time describing “inverse theology” and I wondered how to apply the notions behind the current Evangelical quandary.
As I understand it, and I may be misappropriating something about which I am no expert, Inverse Theology would be a move to look down at damaged life, material reality or lived life with its pain and suffering, and out to participate in actions promoting its transformation. This would invert our tendency in theology to look up toward a transcendent experience with the Divine that focuses entirely on my inward formation. For we Baptist/Evangelical types this would fit the caricature, “He is so heavenly minded, he is no earthly good.”
Jesus came to transform damaged life not by making his first move upward but downward. He did not look in but he looked out. It is not that there is no space for thinking about transcending the pain and suffering of our lives. And, surely we must explore the inner motivations that compel us to add to the suffering and pain of others and see that as an inadequate expression of what it means to be human made in the image of God.
Maybe the move to suggest DBLJ is nothing more than reverse psychology. You know, we tell our children not to do something we really want them to do. But we recognize they are at the stage of development where they chiefly want to do what they want to do not what we want them to do. So, we tell them what not to do knowing full well it will provide the motivation for them to do the very thing we want them to do.
Or, maybe the suggestion to DBLJ is instead a means to force us to shatter our perceptions of Jesus handed to us pristinated and free of soiling. It could be we would have to wrangle with Jesus’ descent into damaged life, our reality of pain and suffering, and learn what it is to be really human for the hope of transforming and liberating those in damaged life. Maybe we would need to think of our practices in the particularities of our context rather than starting from the rubric of changing the world. We tend to start with the uttermost parts of the world guilted by those whose chief contact is not necessarily local and particular but general and universal. Think denominational hierarchies. Consider political party bosses.
Suggesting we DBLJ is a prophetic challenge. Unless you are serous about Jesus, don’t pretend to want to be like him. Unless you are willing to enter the damaged experiences of others, share meals, weep, and dream with them, don’t pretend you are like him. Of course Jesus said it best, “If any would come after me, let him or her deny himself or herself, and take up their cross and follow me.” To summarize a point Tripp made, unfortunately we are in the cross building business and not the cross carrying business. We build crosses on which we think others must die. We don’t often make like Simon and help take another’s cross helping them to the point where they may carry it themselves. We speak to the wounded, “Heal thyself.”