Was heisst Christian?

From the Daily Tennesean:

Every day now it’s possible to meet Christians too embarrassed to call themselves Christian.

I encountered some the other day at a local church.

”Call me a follower of Christ — anything — but not ‘Christian,’ ” one Christian woman said. She put air quotes around ”Christian.” Two others nodded grievously.

They are not ashamed of being Christian. They just can’t use the word anymore. To them, ”Christian” is tarnished, radioactive. To them, it’s synonymous with Republican anger, corporate power, and Bible sound bites opposing all challengers to traditional America. […]

As never before, evangelical Protestants own the label Christian, even though they are outnumbered by other churchgoers. Why don’t the others take back ”Christian”? What happened?

What happened is the non-evangelicals lost a Thirty Years War of spiritual marketing, a war over the Christian brand name and the Bible, too.

It happened gradually. In the ’70s, ”Christian music” surfaced as the willing soundtrack for a bold, new, market-oriented evangelical faith. Its message was Bible-based and energetic. People took notice. In the ’80s, the Moral Majority happily stepped into the public square to equate political conservatism with Christianity. In the ’90s, the Christian Coalition deepened the public impression. All the while, ”Christian” came to be associated with theologically conservative Bible colleges too.

This ”Christian” makeover was reinforced every Sunday across America with the rise of nondenominational megachurches. ”Christian” is now the preferred identity of millions who attend these non-aligned (but Protestant) congregations, which reject historic identities such as Methodist or Church of Christ. They’re just ”Christian.” And theologically conservative.

The mainliners, progressives and liberals hardly knew what hit them. They had led the way after World War II — the religion of the establishment in the ’50s, then the religion of progressive political reform in the ’60s. They took risks. They dared to face America’s traumatic social changes. They honored the nation’s emerging diversity. But they lost their unity as a result. Then, sometime in the ’70s, they stopped quoting the Bible in public.

Perhaps liberals lost confidence in the old authority of Scripture — or at least forgot how to use the Bible to challenge fundamentalism itself.

This abdication was costly. Scripture is full of passages that embarrass political conservatism. Page after page, it says God cares about the underdog and the weak. It warns against national arrogance and folly. Jesus blesses the peacemakers, the poor in spirit, the poor in society. Pray in secret, he said. Today, judging from the media, the Bible is largely associated with a theology of suburban isolation, spiritual warfare and tax cuts.

The Christians I meet who forsake ”Christian” are caught in a cruel irony: Their Christian faith explains the way they are. It’s not their style to get in your face. They don’t have a taste for smack downs. They’re ambivalent about power. They’d rather do neighborhood good works than talk about culture war. They’d rather read the Sermon on the Mount than the Book of Revelation. Sociologist Nancy Ammerman calls them ”Golden Rule” Christians, believers who prefer action over doctrinal purity. They stand for values they associate with Jesus — kindness, fairness, care giving, trust in providence — traditional values that are fading fast in a culture of celebrity capitalism, casinos and cutthroat profiteering.

In the 24/7 media world, a permanent culture war grinds on, a noisy scrimmage of symbols. ”Prayer in schools” and ”God Bless America” are powerful symbols. So is ”Christian.” The Christians who reject ”Christian” ought to rejoin the national conversation and bring their Bibles. They’ll be cheered by what they find there in the Prophets, the Psalms, the words of the Galilean. They’ll discover something else: The word ”Christian” doesn’t appear in the Gospels at all.

Things are more complicated in West Michigan. Traditional Reformed Calvinism isn’t precisely “mainline” (the Reformed Churches of America probably are; the Christian Reformed Church, no) but they don’t really have anything historically in common with American Fundamentalism & Evangelicalism except the CRC & company’s theological conservatism (of a particularly Reformed stripe). However, the evangelical “we are Christianity, everyone else is The World” movement has long creeping tentacles and infiltrates everywhere. You’d think the last thing that Calvin College needed was a Campus Crusade for Christ, but there it is. I wonder how long it will be possible for the Reformed Christians of West Michigan really maintain their distinct identity from the expanding marketing monstrosity which defines itself as “Christianity” itself?

As for witch hunts, the Reformed groups tend not to so much expel individuals for deviation as to constantly fragment. Interestingly, the smaller the fragments the more angrily conservative they tend to be — the mellow RCA is much bigger than the intense CRC, which is itself much bigger than the freakitudinous Protestant Reformed Church, and so on. That’s kind of a cheering thought.

I have no point here, just wanted to link the interesting article I got from Blogopotamus! and add a few random personal musings.

The Institute on Religion and Democracy : A Letter of Repentance from The Rev. William Melnyk

The Institute on Religion and Democracy : A Letter of Repentance from The Rev. William Melnyk

I guess I’m glad that they’ve worked it all out, but this text sure has a creepy “witch trial confession” feel to it, doesn’t it?

Via PJ.

Blogopotamus! on Another Episcopalian Scandal

Blogopotamus! discusses a brouhaha and its disappointing aftermath that arose after Christianity Today noticed and went completely nuts over an Episcopalian liturgy someone had written honoring the Divine Feminine.

See, here’s the trick though — they were attempting to “reclaim suppressed voices” of Scripture. Specifically the voices of the syncretistic Israelites who were inveighed against by idol polemicists in the OT.

There’s two levels on which this causes a scandal.

  • First, the notion of “reclaiming suppressed voices” in Scripture. That’s something which is unthinkable to a Biblical literalist, or even a milder inerrantist (or whatever the technical term is) — the idea that there might be multiple disagreeing voices in Scripture worth listening to, and some voices worth disputing, is very problematic from an even mildly Evangelical point of view.

  • Second, the notion that God can be imaged and approached as feminine or female. I have a feeling that this is part of the scandal: if the point of this “reclaiming suppressed voices” thing were something which the Christianity Today writers didn’t find objectionable on its face, they might have cut them more slack. But the end was offensive, so the means was offensive too.

Anyway, obviously one of the most liberal bishops in one of the most liberal American denominations stuck up for this liturgy in the face of criticism from Evangelicals, right?

No, sorry. One of the most liberal bishops in one of the most liberal American denominations instantly removed the offending liturgy and disavowed it and basically completely caved in and apologized to the conservative Evangelical magazine for his denomination being so terribly liberal. He is going to “investigate” whether this old piece of liturgy still represents the views of the people involved, taking absolutely for granted that it is a bad thing which, if it really does represent their views, deserves censure.

The key factor here is that the legitimacy of the outrage was never questioned. Nobody stopped to say “I notice your outrage is based on some principles that we may or may not share. Shall we stop to consider whether it is appropriate and whether we should share it and act on it, or whether it represents a difference of opinion?” The inerrantist and anti-Divine-Feminine assumptions which underlay the criticism passed completely unchallenged.

Opportunity for dialogue: lost.

Assumption that evangelical and fundamentalist voices represent the only true Christianity: unchallenged.

Liberal Christianity: assumed unquestioningly to be apostate and vicious, even by the bishop involved..

Nice job, Christianity Today. Nice job, Bishop Bennison.

Yezidi: Followers of Malak Ta’us

wikipedia entry

I read about the Yezidi in Fortean Times a short time ago and found more information about them on the web. They live in Iraq, are Kurdish in origin and language, but have a culture and religion quite distinct from other Kurds. They literally worship a fallen angel — a reformed fallen angel. Malak Ta’us, a peacock spirit. When he repented, he filled seven jars with his tears, and used them to quench the fires of Hell. He created the world from the broken sharts of a perfect pearl created by the supreme God.

Link: Interview with David Tracy

This Side of God, an interview with David Tracy

SH: Even as your postmodern appropriation of Luther’s Hidden God invites the silenced and suffering to speak, so you believe that a recovery of the Incomprehensible God of the mystics, especially the apophatic and love mystics, can bring the repressed stories of the marginalized, the heretics, the dissenters, the fools, the martyrs, and the avant-garde artists back into the theological conversation. When they are invited to speak in their own terms, you have argued, they utter difference, transgression, and excess as an alternative discourse to “the deadening sameness and totalizing systems of modernity.” Is it then this criticism of modern totalizing systems that has turned your attention to “the fragment”?

DT: With Joyce and other modern critics we see the abandonment of a nostalgia for a lost totality. The peculiar form of the fragment first became important for artists, then for philosophers, and now for theologians. It is a form, a literary or religious form, that can challenge any totality system, especially the totalizing systems of modernity. There are three kinds of contemporary thinkers for whom the category “fragments” is crucial: the first, the radical conservatives see fragments with regret and nostalgia as all that is left of what was once a unified culture. The second, the postmodernists, see fragments as part of their love of extremes and thereby as emancipatory toward and transformative of the deadening hand of the reigning totality system, the rationality of modern onto-theology. The third group, of whom Walter Benjamin and Simone Weil are the most suggestive in the early twentieth century, see fragments theologically as saturated and auratic bearers of infinity and hope, fragmentary of genuine hope in some redemption, however undefined. I am most interested in Benjamin and Weil in developing my own theory of fragmented forms.

Whoa. Tracy is, I believe, a friend of Andrew M. Greeley’s, and Greeley’s theology is mostly taken from Tracy. Sounds like he’s going interesting places. Reminds me of the sorts of things that Bob Sweetman would talk about when he was my history prof back in the early 90s. In fact, the very bio I linked to just now mentions a paper of his called “Of Tall Tales and Small Stories: Postmodern ‘Fragmatics’ and the Christian Historian.” Whoa.