Western Chauvinism

I’m about to use the term “big tent” a lot.

I don’t know if that’s a common term that people still use so I’ll explain it, please forgive the over explaining nature of this description. But everything I’m about to write depends on knowing what I mean by that praise.

The idea is that within a social or political movement you have to construct a space for movement.

The metaphor of the tent being that you’ve created a specific space under a tent.

The smaller your tent, the smaller and less diverse the group that fits under it.

A bigger tent just means you’ve created more room for your intended group, making it more diverse and potentially more influential as a result.

I see a lot of people talk about “White Supremacy” and I think we’re making a mistake to think that way.

A great into to the topic is the Proud Boys.

They self described as Western Chauvinists. This is actually a perfect way to understand how they are creating a bigger tent.

The general design of the ideology is nested. It starts with:

(Western Chauvinism)

that then has other ideologies nested within it.

Next we find:

(Western (nationalism) Chauvinism)

Often then we move to:

((Christian) Nationalism)

Then to:

(((Eurocentric) Christian) Nationalism)

In this case the “Euro” is about the specific cultural aspects of European society and history, including religion and colonialism and imperialism and so on.

This attracts many racist ideologies for sure:

((((White) Eurocentric) Christian) Nationalism)

But the movement in the US has been widening the tent to move past those racist ideologies. This is very notable in many Evangelical circles.

As a result you’ll find any number of variations nested within the movement of Western Chauvinism

In the minds of many Americans it doesn’t go much deeper than:

((Christian) Nationalism)

leaving behind the Eurocentrism for a much more generic western-centric ideology. Again, particularly attractive to Evangelicals of any ethnicity.

In many Evangelical circles the focus on Western or European culture is too broad and they have a much more specific:

(((USA-centric) Christian) Nationalism).

In both these cases the ancestral component is much weaker or less influential. This entices more people from every ethnicity.

The development of Evangelical ideologies that American exists in some kind of covenantal relationship with God similar to historical Israel are particularly strong and have made pervasive inroads into Latin, Asian, and African groups (both African immigrant communities and historical communities of the descendants of American slaves). In many cases those groups are the fastest demographics of the American Evangelicals.

But you’ll also find the same big tent outreach with the religious elements. In some cases you can replace the religious affiliation:

(((Eurocentric) Pagan) Nationalism)

Or

(((Eurocentric) Areligious) Nationalism)

This attempt at big tent proselytizing has been quite successful for a number of reasons.

The result of the expansion of Evangelicalism across every ethnic demographic.

The result of appeals to some construct of traditional masculinity.

The result of red-scaring tactics in communities with pervasive issues trusting government institutions.

They’ve even started spreading the ideology outside the US in parts of Africa and Latin American.

“White Supremacy” is not the right term.

The tent is getting bigger.

You can find evidence here.

And here.

And here.

Ignoring the expansion of the tent is dangerous.

Barack Obama frequently gets criticized for his criticisms of those he generally tends to agree with.

I imagine that’s the general reaction I’ll get.

But he does it for the same reason I am.

Being precise with our language matters

Losing Control

This is great but at the same time has a specific flaw that skews it slightly. Those three denominational categories of Evangelical, Mainline, and Fundamentalist are real enough. But at no point did they actually settle in such neatly defined camps with solid lines separating them.

The overlapping both across and within denominations, congregations, and American Protestantism as a whole has been constant and is still in flux.

It’s more like a polar triangle with each of the three poles representing the Evan, Main, and Fund. The leadership, theologians, and public figures being closest to the poles and congregants gravitating towards the poles, with many closer to the center than to the actual poles. My analysis of what Phil is getting at here is that there needs to be more acceptable space between the poles. I would even say that it’s easy to identify the historical moment that has slowly erased the acceptability of occupying space between the poles: the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

I would argue that it makes the issue of what people mean when they call themselves Evangelical in a modern context pretty simple. People who call themselves Evangelicals believe or have beliefs derived from the Chicago statement and to some degree its 2 subsequent summits.

The thing that makes it messy is that it is increasingly clear that affirming the statement’s content is forging an identity. This identity is trans-denominational, cultural, and political. You’ll find people affirming the core tenets of the statement from Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Regardless of how they developed this belief in the context of their own tradition the influence of and convergence with the statement is pervasive. I would also argue that religion is inherently political and that much more so in regard to the statement which has stark implications on how individuals engage with the society around them.

There is no way to separate politics from American religion whether it’s segregation or teaching evolution or selling alcohol on a Sunday. Those issues are all a woven fabric of social, political, and religious beliefs. It is in no way a shock that American Evangelicalism has emerged from its incubation as a theological movement within American Protestantism in general and transformed into a socio-cultural political identity. That transformation is not something that the intellectual and theological leaders can control at this point and I would say they lost control of it long before they realized they did.

I really like Phil and I do love his take here. As helpful as it is though, don’t be blinded by the simplicity.

Life is never as simple as we want it to be

To get some context on my claims go here to read about Billy Graham’s personal relationship with LBJ (hard to deny the inherent politics of friendship with a sitting POTUS)

Go here for some context about Graham’s intentionally moderate position on segregation & civil rights. It’s true that he was adamant about integrating his events but did not engage in direct protests regarding integration, which again shows a concern for the political implications of personal positions vs personal actions.

Definitely significant issues when it comes to the most influential Evangelical who would go on to be a spiritual advisor to every POTUS including Barack Obama. This longstanding relationship with political figures shows that Evangelicalism was imbedded in American politics well before the shift in the 70s that Phil discusses.

All that is Right & Beautiful

There is a house I walk by frequently that is owned by Calvin University.

Calvin is one of the major higher learning institutions owned and supported by the Christian Reformed Church in North America or CRC.

CRC is a major Evangelical and Calvinist denomination in the USA with influence and missions abroad. The CRC could even be used as an archetypal example of American Evangelical Protestantism in many respects.

As such the student body and academic structure of Calvin University is usually assumed to tilt strongly toward the American political right.

The university has even produced several high profile political figures on the right like Betsy DeVos, Bill Huizenga, and Dave Agema.

Yet, as I made one of my frequent passes by the house owned by this school I’ve noticed a curious thing.

In the window I notice a Black Lives Matter sticker.

The decal is one of the standard emblems of BLM with the raised first AKA the forceful salute.

Now I’ve watched any number of figures on the right lambast BLM with any number of accusations.

I’ve heard BLM called socialist, communist, anarchist, satanist, or feminist. And any number of extrapolations or combinations.

So what is that decal doing in the window of a house owned by an Evangelical institution?

The house is called Nizhoni House. Nizhoni being a Navajo word for beautiful and in this case used as a broader sense of “good”, lining up with the mission of the house. That mission is the University’s attempt to show commitment to the neighborhood as they try to spread the Good News amongst its residents.

And it should be noted that Calvin University also has strong ties to Calvin Seminary which is an educational institution for producing professionals trained in theological, scholarly, and leadership for the CRC.

(And to be fair, Evangelicals in general)

But this hasn’t cleared anything up yet. Why would the students living in this house, presumably on a path to some form of Evangelical leadership, have a BLM decal up?

Aren’t Evangelicals the very ones condemning BLM?

Aren’t Evangelicals the very ones denouncing communism? feminism? anarchism?

Here though is where you can find the divide, if you look hard enough.

Evangelicalism in the US is multifaceted to be sure but there is an element that is nearly universal: the centrality of the Bible.

The Bible is the authority.

The Truth with a capital “T” is found in the Bible and the Bible only.

All other authority is insignificant.

But at the institutional level, the academic and scholarly and expert theological level, there is far more nuisance to the concept of Biblical authority than the oversimplifications I’ve written out above.

You can dive deep into the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy to see what I mean. And that’s just a start. You can then move on to other statements like the Nashville Statement from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

These are complex and intricate statements that are meant to define the correct belief for Evangelicals in America and their international networks of Evangelical mission churches.

If you take the time to dig you’ll come across the Resolution On Racial Reconciliation from The Southern Baptist Convention.

And more pertinent to this house I walk by, the CRC Office of Race Relations.

Because the leadership of these a Evangelical bodies DOES acknowledge the reality of racism and the need for reconciliation. They have for several decades.

But their congregants do not.

Why not?

Because Evangelicals have been told NOT to trust authorities. NOT to listen to experts and academics. They’ve been ignorant of the fact that those tenets they’ve been following were developed by experts.

Experts in theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, and so on.

And slowly but surely a chasm has developed between the congregants and their institutions of leadership.

They’ve been told (by academics) that they shouldn’t trust academics.

They’ve been told (by experts) not to trust experts.

And now the experts have lost control. Those who imagined themselves to be leaders have lost any semblance of broader authority.

Their attempts to purge any reliance on scholarly analysis worked too well and when they try to exert influence on changes in ethnic reconciliation it is not working.

It’s the same with several other topics.

Immigration.

QAnon.

Identity Politics.

Religious Freedom.

That’s why the BLM decal in that window seems befuddling. The CRC leaders in training at their University recognize and believe in the need for racial reconciliation. But their congregants don’t care what they think.

Their congregants are forging their own socio-political culture and identity that despised expertise and study through higher learning institutions.

This is their reckoning; the reckoning of authority condemning authority without emphasizing that their authority should be the exception.

Those pundits denouncing BLM are the academics working on theology and religious scholarship. They are political figures, people with power on the mind. Not trained to lead as experts.

And therefore much more effective at leading their congregants.

Populist figures rather than institutional leaders.

A sort of logic

Many of the things we believe come down to our assumptions. We might look at someone else and think their beliefs don’t make sense, that they are irrational.

Sometimes true.

But frequently we are missing something. We are missing the set of assumptions they are relying on.

For example, think about climate change.

Then assume that the world is ending. Not that you think it might be ending or could be ending. Assume that you are 100% positive the world will come to an end in the next decade or two.

Not just a generic eschatology either. Assume one of the more common and ostensibly orthodox western evangelical Protestant Christian eschatologies: the world is about to be utterly destroyed by a supreme deity that will then bring into being a new, perfected creation.

Assume that you know for sure that those events are about to play out. Or that they have already begun.

If so, why would climate change matter?

Why would mass extinctions and biodiversity loss matter?

Why would overpopulation and population sustainability matter?

If that assumption is true then none of those things matter.

I know that it is easy to shrug this topic off. Easy to say to ourselves: no one really believes that eschatological stuff.

But they do. Some believe it fervently and it informs their every decision and defines their entire thought process.

Many have a more dynamic thought process influenced by a host of other assumptions. But this end times belief is still one of their foundational assumptions about the world. It still informs and shapes their beliefs and actions. Even if they don’t think about eschatology with any regularity it still has an influence on all their cognitive processes.

The whole Law of Moses

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In seminary a professor asked us this: if every person who calls themselves Christian had lived out their beliefs would the subprime mortgage crisis have happened?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot

If those involved in the crisis at any level had stood firm and said no to immoral and unstable and predatory financial practices?

From financial institutions to credit agencies to regulators, and even the consumers themselves?

I think of it again now

And the Law of Moses

And the Law of Moses in summary being: love God and love neighbor

Loving God being an internationalization, between the individual and God only

Loving your neighbor being then the externalization, your faith put in practice

The financial crisis was a failure to externalize the faith professed from so many in our society of that internalized faith

In our current crisis I see the same

I see in the reactions of those around me the failure to love our neighbor as ourselves

To be a neighbor to the one bloodied and destitute on the side of the road, to show mercy

As a culture we do not value mercy

Matthew 22:34-40
Luke 10:25-37

 

A bit of light conversation: who goes to hell?

We usually use the word punishment when it comes to hell

You break God’s rules so you’re sent to hell to be punished

I think we get it wrong
I think people chose to go to hell

Think like a freeway with a speed limit

Now I’m driving 90 in a 65 stretch
A police officer pulls me over
I get a ticket
I am being punished, I have to pay a fine. The goal is that I will want to avoid the fine in the future and that’ll motivate me to follow the speed limit.

I don’t think hell works like that.
I don’t think God works like that.

I’m driving that same stretch of highway. The 65 speed limit is there for a reason. There are a series of curves and if I take them too fast I’ll fly off the road. The limit is to prevent me from injury myself and others.

I ignore it again and drive 90.
There is no police officer this time and I lose control. I fly off the road and am horribly injured.

I’m not being punished now.
I’m suffering the consequences of my choices.

Ignored the speed limit and that choice resulted in the crash.

This is how God works
God gives us instructions
To prevent us from crashing
When we crash it’s not punishment from God
It’s the inevitable outcome of our decisions

Why do people go to hell?
Because they choose to.
It’s the inevitable outcome of their actions.

Jesus gave us clear simple instructions, the steps to avoid crashing.

Attend the hungry & thirsty & stranger & naked & sick & imprisoned

Love your God & your neighbor

Do it with all your mind and soul

Or you’ll crash

If you want to know where I got most of this, check out the parables of Matthew 25 and even 22. Even if just as a jumping off point.

Also, I’m not talking about earning salvation eyeroll but I’ll talk about justification and all that academic nonsense at some point later on. When I’m bored

Same with Hell

I’m def on the left side of Christianity where the concept of Hell is not as prominent. I’ll probably talk about why I still believe in it at some point. Though my belief, as outlined above, is definitely not in favor on the right side of Christianity

Water & Leaves

I like tea

It’s a simple beverage

Tea leaves soaked in hot water until the leaves flavor the water

You can fancy it up, add sweeteners or milk, chill and add some fruit maybe

But the basic ingredients are simple

Hot water
Tea leaves

Brings this Bible passage to mind:

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Matthew 22:34-40 NRSVCE

Jesus gives Christians two basic ingredients here:

Love God
Love your neighbors

Fancy it up however you want; you need these two ingredients

When you have them, you have the basic ingredients necessary to be a Christian

Some focus on the first ingredient, after all Jesus calls it the greatest commandment

It’s like the hot water for tea

Tea is something you drink after all
Without a liquid you don’t even have the fundamental basis for a beverage

The most important thing before you even try to have tea is to find some water

But you cannot ignore the second step
If you don’t actually put the tea leaves in the water, then all you’ll ever have is a cup of hot water

Many who claim to follow Christ do this with the greatest commandment

They proclaim their love for God
They have the cup of hot water

But they refuse to love their neighbor
They refuse to add the tea leaves

Dress the water up in the fanciest trappings and the excruciatingly intricate language you want

It’s still just a cup of hot water

If you want to make a commitment to Christ, he made himself clear

Get your water
And put the leaves in it

(Next post: Finding Fire & a Cup)

Expectations

It’s never good when we expect a person to accomplish something that they never set out to accomplish

Them judge them by their inability to complete the unattempted task

It’s deliberately misleading to say that someone failed at a task they never undertook

My brother is writing a novel, so I shouldn’t expect that book to be a detailed factual history

My cousin writes music, so I shouldn’t expect those songs to be methodical genealogies

Even when there is some overlap, when a person tries to use another subject to better accomplish their task

The original task is still the standard we should judge by

A piece of fiction about a historical event is still fiction

A song about genealogy is still a song

I should hold these works to the standard of what they were trying to achieve:

An entertaining tale

An engrossing tune

Meant to make us think and stimulate us in specific ways

The same for the Bible

The Bible is meant to make us think and stimulate us in specific ways

It’s books were composed intentionally

It’s authors had specific goals in mind

To expect the Bible to accomplish tasks it’s authors never set out to accomplish sets it up for failure

When the Bible fails at such tasks, it hasn’t really failed at all

We have chosen to read it incorrectly

We have expected it to do something it was never meant to do

Not just by its human authors, but by God as well

If you believe in God

And you believe that God delivered the Bible to us deliberately

In it’s current form

Then approach the Bible with the assumption that we are meant to read it as it is delivered

If God wanted the Bible to be something other than a collection of books written by different authors over long periods of time

Then it wouldn’t be what it is today

The Bible is a library meant to help you know God better

The Bible does what a library does: illuminate truth by viewing the world from multiple perspectives

That is the task it is meant to accomplish

There is plenty of room for nuance here. For me, I may try to accomplish a specific task but it’s clear that I should have approached it from a different angle. In that case I failed to accomplish something that I wasn’t trying to accomplish, but probably should have. Many more examples I’m sure but I still stick by the purpose of this post; it’s important to approach the Bible for what it is trying to do.

Not what we wish it to do.

Also, just a side note, the picture of books that I used in this post is the Nag Hammadi Library. Which is not part of the Bible. But come on, those leathery tomes are cool looking 😎

Cultures

Biology is the story that nature tells us about ourselves

Culture is the story that we tell about ourselves

True that we often attribute our cultural story to some other force

A deity
Or deities
Sometimes our ansestors

But ultimately we ourselves are the ones who pass on those stories

That’s why they’re so variable from group to group

Even groups like Christians who have a book that records their story can’t agree on how to tell the story

And as a result you get versions of the story so different that it becomes difficult or even impossible to see them as one

We tell our story
We create our culture and renew it
We tell ourselves who we are

I want to make sure I am proud of the story I tell myself
I want to make sure the story I tell others about myself is a story in which I actually want to be a character

As a Christian
As a man
As an American

And not only the story of who I am
But also the story of who I want to be
The story of who I strive to be

Be sure to tell your story well

A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall

I’m not Catholic

And I probably never could be, regardless any changes made to their ideology or institutions

Though I do REALLY like the Maronites

Compelling history

Worth learning about

But I do have a suggestion that would change some of my feelings towards the catholic institution

Maybe even heal the bitter divides that the current and long running abuse scandals have created

One of the clear instructions that Jesus gave was disestablishment of institutions

He definitely did not like the idea of humans creating institutions and investing them with power

Did not like humans building their own traditions and claiming authority through that tradition

He believed in communities

Communities where the individuals look to each other’s strength to keep the community together, instead of power invested in one person or one office

Communities where the individuals tended to each other’s weaknesses so that everyone had the means to overcome them, instead of relying on authoritative positions and offices that have sole authority to render judgement

Lifting up the broken instead of casting them out

Supportive them in their struggle

Binding the community through compassion and forgiveness

Not institutional authority

In the catholic church the institution is old and running strong

But it’s a mess

The priests that run the institution are a mess

If they want to enact change; take the priests from power and put the sisters in charge

At least for a while

It may not make a difference I guess

More of an experiment

But at least it would be an attempt at something different

Since they’ve not been the agents of institutional authority

Maybe they will be able to institute the

Just look at the ongoing scandals and it’s clear

The current institution is not regulating itself

And new leadership is desperately needed.

That’s my advice

My informed opinion from the cross-sectional religious perspective

Put the sisters in charge

It would upend millennia of church teaching…which is why I could probably never be Catholic: I don’t mind upheaval

But maybe an upheaval like that would be what the institution would need to transform itself

Maybe under that new leadership it would become the community it should be

Community of self sacrifice
Community that lifts up without judgement
Community where the leadership takes responsibility for it’s failures

This is where I got all that junk I said about Jesus and institutions

Mark 7

Matthew 23

Luke 11