Politics

A Compromised Evangelical Witness: A review of Vote Your Conscience

If you are an evangelical thinking of voting for Trump for President and if you are a progressive Christian scratching your head about evangelical support for Trump you need to read Brain Kaylor’s current book Vote Your Conscience: Party must not Trump Principles. The book is part an evangelical Baptist wrestling with evangelical support for Donald Trump, part critique of the Religious Right as it has largely fallen in line behind the Republican candidate for President, and part argument for the author’s view of a politics that is reflective of the politics of Jesus and not of a party, Republican or Democrat.  The book is a direct response to this election and to the candidacy of Trump (Clinton as a candidate is addressed but not a focus of the book). Kaylor argues that support for Trump by evangelicals deeply undermines evangelical witness of the Gospel.  Kaylor deeply believes in the relevance of Christian faith to being politically active, but is discomforted by how party politics seems to drag faith along and Christians allow this to happen

Kaylor first addresses the candidacy of Trump and Clinton and seeks to address his remarks to Christian supporters of both presidential candidates.  He makes a case that Trump and Clinton are both unacceptable candidates from a Christian perspective. Kaylor is his most convincing as he argues that Christians should hold to a holistic pro-life ethic and not simply anti-abortion.  In his view, both candidates fail as “pro-life” candidates, in this holistic sense.  While I appreciate Kaylor’s arguing for a holistic pro-life ethic it was clear that the author’s audience for this book isn’t Christians or the church catholic but conservative Baptists and evangelicals. His treatment of Clinton assumes you already are suspicious of her and might be thinking of her as the greater evil and Trump as the lesser evil.  That one may not see Hillary Clinton as the lesser “evil” or not an “evil“ at all doesn’t come into view. Similarly, his holistic pro-life ethic begins with the question of abortion and expand out from that standpoint, and the book isn’t aware that one may have a different beginning point in having a holistic “pro-life” ethic.  But in truth, this book isn’t addressed to all Christians in the U.S. rather the audience is Kaylor’s fellow Baptists and Evangelicals who are supporting Trump for President or considering doing so.

If you’re not evangelical, you will have to forgive some of the conflation of “Christian” with “Evangelical”. If you are an evangelical Kaylor has a well-argued position for why support for Trump is an abandonment of your Gospel witness. The strength of this book is a clear Biblical Gospel argument for not supporting Trump for President and a sustained prophetic Gospel critique of evangelical and Religious Right leaders who have thrown in with Donald Trump. For progressive Christians who tend to lump all Evangelicals in the same basket Kaylor’s book shows that Evangelicalism isn’t as univocal as our treatment of Evangelicals tends to assume.

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255

Listening for the Mind of Christ in Time of Crisis: Do not be afraid, Part 3

12 Meanwhile, when many thousands of the crowd had gathered so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing is secret that will not be made known. So then whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms will be proclaimed from the housetops.

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more they can do. But I will warn you whom you should fear: Fear the one who, after the killing, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. In fact, even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Do not be afraid; you are more valuable than many sparrows.   Gospel of Luke 12:1-7 (NRSV)

Fear is powerful and at times needed. Fear alerts us to danger and prepares our bodies for confronting that danger, either by fighting or fleeing.  Jesus though calls us to not fear those who would have the power to end our life, “…do not be afraid of those who kill the body”. Why might Jesus tell us not to fear such a threat as someone who has the power, opportunity, and means to kill us?

I suggest part of the reason Jesus encourages us to not live in fear even of those who can kill us, can be found in reflection upon the tenor of the GOP national convention in July.  That whole week the GOP and Donald Trump wanted us to be afraid, to be very afraid. We were told to Fear the terrorists, fear the refugees who might be terrorist, fear immigrants and the list of what to fear continued on. One may argue that there’s no need to fear these things. The terrorists aren’t refugees Yet there are those who aren’t controlled by any legitimate government nor represent a nation who seek to harm the U.S. and its standing in the world. There is a real danger, though, not an immediate danger to most of us residing in the U.S. One may even want to counter that it is more realistic to be afraid of a random person carrying a legal firearm than an Islamic Terrorist (who actually kill more Muslims than Americans).  Whether or not what the GOP and Trump wish us to fear is based in any actual potential threat, the effect is still the same: the focus on who or what is feared, a focus that doesn’t allow us pay attention to much else, let alone seeking to find other possible responses than fight or flight. Fear works at its best in instances of immediate threat, in which we can immediately respond in either standing to fight or in getting away. Then the fear and adrenaline can dissipate once the threat is dealt with. But to fear that there are people in the world who may harm or even kill when that threat isn’t imminent keeps us from seeing the larger picture. Fear about generic and non-immediate threats allows us to be manipulated by fear mongering and we begin to fail to make a distinction between actual imminent threat, possible future threat, and plausible but unrealistic threat. We saw this mix of real and unrealistic fear in the GOP convention in July.

Yet, Jesus’s remarks aren’t only set against this jumble of undiscerning fear mongering. For Jesus, the reason not to fear isn’t that the fear is misplaced, but that it is generic and not immediate. When we live in fear even if of a legitimate but not immediate threats our focus is still on the fear and the feared. Jesus, says do not be afraid of some future possibility that there are people in the world who can harm you.

In order to demonstrate this, Jesus goes on to say that if one must be afraid of a possible future bodily threat, then be afraid of God. Jesus isn’t counseling actually fearing God, but if one is going to fear a potential real future threat, God serves as good as anything else to fear, after all, God is much more threatening, and then at least your focus would be on the source of ultimate meaning and of all life. Jesus is pointing us to an awareness and a way of being beyond fight or flight of our fear response.

What is Jesus doing here? I suggest that the reason Jesus says to not be afraid of even legitimate possible future threat is that we know God the creator of the universe who knows us intimately and lovingly knows odd details about us (the numbers of the strands of hair we have on our heads). We are intimately known by and sacred to our creator. So if we are going to fear a legitimate but future potential threat then we should fear God, but if you know God, when you come to know God, you are aware that God is a ridiculous thing to fear. For the members of Christ’s Body, we know something further about this God who knows intimate details about ourselves that we can’t know about ourselves; this one not only cares for us but is joined with us in our humanity and suffers with us. In Jesus of Nazareth God went to the extremities of life even death.  This one who cares and upholds our life also knows what it is to suffer, to be oppressed and abused and knows what it is to die, Jesus of Nazareth the Christ.  This is the God we know and love.

Now this doesn’t tell us what to do in the place of actual imminent threat. But it can and has led many to face and submit to violent death without fear. Yet, it has also led others to flee in the case imminent danger, until it was no longer time to flee the threat. To not be afraid doesn’t mean to be passive and do nothing in the face of a threat. But, it is to be put in the place of discerning beyond fight or flight. It allows us to be critical of all calls to fear something by the powerful (including the call of the Clinton campaign for us to fear a Trump presidency.).

So be not afraid, and oppose the powerful, but do not fear them. Don’t focus your attention on such potential threats.  Focus on God and the transformative work of God’s coming kingdom in the world through Jesus Christ.

Part two can be found here and part 1 here

Sacramental Politics: A Review

In Sacramental Politics: Religious worship as political action, Brian Kaylor explores the various ways religion and politics commingle, focusing on acts of worship and political activism.   The book presents a problem: Two things that don’t go together and we think of as separate and radically different things do in fact often come together, religion and politics. Religious worship can influence and affect politics and politics can effect religious worship.  Given the dominant view of religion and politics that they are two irreconcilable and separate realms, Kaylor offers a theory of how to account for the times that religious worship and political action and activism do come together and commingle.  His theory for how this occurs uses the doctrine of transubstantiation as a  controlling metaphor as he explores this commingling of religion and politics varying from prayers said at Democrat and Republican party conventions to Shane Claiborne’s 2008 Jesus for President tour.

At first Kaylor’s uncritical acceptance of our current beliefs and assumptions about religion and politics was disorienting.  At first it seems that Kaylor merely accepts the assumption that politics and religion are entirely separate spheres that have (or should have) nothing to do with each other while seeking to give an account of the many and varied ways religion and politics do in fact have a great deal to do with each other.  This apparent acceptance of this view, affirmed that religion and politics really were these two absolutely distinct substances that couldn’t naturally commingle, yet the author also seemed to want to give a positive or at last neutral account of the transubstantiation of politics in worship and worship in politics.  It was difficult to tell in the early chapters whether Kaylor was arguing that this “transubstantiation” was something to avoid that violated the clear and true realms of political and religious activity, or if the author was meaning that religious worship had a relevance to the world and politics and thus “transubstantiation” was the way this was allowed to occure.

The first four chapters given the acceptance of our general assumption that religion and politics should be and are separate and irreconcilable things, seems to critique the ways both the religious left and religious right make use of  transubstantiation.  Though, Kaylor’s stance is one of academic and scientific description of what occurs without judgement.  Also, I had the unease of if one accepts the absolute separation, then religion and worship are meaningless activities that can have no relation to any real action in the world political or otherwise. By the fifth Chapter “Religious Worship as Political Space” the transubstantiation theory begins to be an indirect critique of the assumptions about religion and politics the author seemed to accept as a given.

Chapters 6 and 7 get to the heart of Kaylor’s position: “Religious worship as inherent Political Action” and “Relgious worship as Politics.”  For Kaylor there is no way to actually separate out religion and politics, politics will at moments simply be transubstantiated in religion or worship and religion and/or worship will be transubstantiated in politics.  However, Kaylor believes we should be aware of how and when this occurs and shouldn’t accept all instances of this transubstantiation

Sacramental Politics offers a good and extended reflection on the various ways that religion and politics interact, mix together and influence and participate in each other.  His theory of “transubstantiation” is useful only in the rhetorical structure of the book that seeks to undermine our assumptions about the absolute and impenetrable “wall of Separation” between religion and politics that if it were true would render religion and worship to be a merely meaningless private individual subjectivity that would have no effect or consequence for how one would live their daily life.  And would render politics as a realm that any true person of faith couldn’t enter into as a person of faith.  What Kaylor in the end offers is a way to move beyond our current assumptions and dogmas about the separation of religion and politics offering a way to evaluate and critique any particular instance of the commingling of religious worship and political action. However, I’d argue since the “theory” presented in the book functions more as a rhetorical device to avoid a direct critique of our cultural and societal assumptions and dogmas, for Kaylor or anyone to move forward one would need to leave the author’s theory behind.

On the Web:

Brian Kaylor

Brian Kaylor on Twitter

Biran Kaylor on Facebook

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.