Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Response to Relevant Magazine's Article: "Glenn Beck's False Gospel"

"If the churches are not forming consciences, consciences will be formed by the status quo, including whatever demagogues can yell the loudest or cry the hardest" (Dr. Russell D. Moore)
I am not very familiar with the works and writings of Dr. Moore; however, I am very familiar with the institution he represents and the denomination he promotes [1]. That being said, I found this statement, as well as his strong critique of the recent Beck-stock event held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last Sunday [2] to be surprisingly insightful and worth the Sunday morning read as I killed time before Sunday worship (see here for full article).  As I have stated in previous posts, I believe the Christian conscience has more often than not been co-opted by a wide variety of agents, the storied memory and gospel tradition intercepted by contemporary pop-icons and ideals, and God's people continually influenced to live in light of well-marketed political and consumer-driven rhythms rather than the cruciform narrative of Jesus and the peaceable (or peacemaking) kingdom he innaugurated in his life, death, and resurrection.  We are surely in need, whether we consider ourselves conservative evangelicals or progressive liberals, of a kick that wakes us up from the distorted dreams and corrupted imaginations that have been incepted by a long list of talking heads who believe they have been appointed as our country's theologians and pastors. [3]

I laughed this past week as I heard many folks, including those typically opposed to particular political figures, celebrate the "apolitical" nature of recent "religious" festivals and rallies. However, anytime a "religious" event couples the "unapologetic" support [4] of the work and mission of the American military with an address of a nation "turning back to God," the event is surely political, and favors a particular party's agenda no less. In other words, this was a classic display of passive agressive political agendas, reoccurant political and generalized theism, and manipulative scare tactics in which those who oppose these particular figure heads are led to believe that they then are also opposed to faith and God, even Christianity.  I beg to differ.

I also am confused about how Liberation Theology is being portrayed within this debate, including within the article above mentioned [5]. I do not consider myself to be an expert in this particular field; however, I do find myself enjoying these waters and so swim in them with regularity.  That being said, Liberation Theology is surely misrepresented and in need of fresh witness.  However, I will confess, when you are in a particular position of power, of a particular ethnicity, and ,even more so, a particular gender, it may be hard to read liberation theologians (as it once was for me) because it calls the very consciences Dr. Moore mentions above into question and demands a different sort of repentence and freedom so often proclaimed from our pulpits.  In that light, maybe I am not so confused about the particular angles and approaches to Liberation Theology made by certain critics and (un)informed officials.  Nonetheless, I highly recommend reading some of my favorite authors for yourself:

A Theology of Liberation  by Gustavo Gutierrez
On Job by Gustavo Gutierrez
Theology fo Hope by Jurgen Moltmann
A Black Theology of Liberation by James Cone [6]

One of the more brilliant components of this wing of theology is that it actually looks for not only the salvation and liberation of victims of sin, but also for the same for those who are in bondage to sin.  In other words, Liberation Theology looks for the redemption of both the oppressed and the oppressor, albeit beginning with the oppressed [7].  What a novel idea- universal redemption of even our worst of enemies as well as those so often shunned by people, systems, and (religious) traditions.  In this light, I am reminded that no matter how much I may struggle, debate, and disagree with the voices, behaviors, and agendas of certain political figures, God's redemption is also for them as much as it is for me and the poor and oppressed that we both often exploit and ignore.

That being said, I would be remissed if I did not critique those on the left along with those on the right.  I am grateful for Dr. Moore's article that reminds us that the culprits of the co-option of Christian conscience come from both parties, and all news stations for that matter. The proper response to the silly theology and naive religion of Beck-stock is not to hop off your elephant, leave the tea party, and pledge allegiance to a donkey or yellow dog.  All too often we hear the American-flag draped pulpits of republican preachers redressed with liberal, democratic agendas and left-winged ideaologies.  This is not to say that as Christians we cannot side with one argument or the other on particular issues; rather, we are reminded that neither Glenn Beck nor Keith Olbermann, Sarah Palin nor Barack Obama, Fox News nor MSNBC are our prophets, priests, or kings.  Instead, we pledge allegiance to a different party, a new kind of parade, that incorporates a circus of characters (dressed neither in red, blue, or even green, but in soaking wet baptimsal clothes), all who follow the Lamb in faithful conversation and humble dialogue around a beautiful Eucharistic table.  May this then be the pledge we rally around, neither at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial nor on the lawn of the White House (or maybe precisely at both), but at the foot of the cross:
I pledge allegiance to the Lamb, the Only Son of God;
And to his kingdom, for which he died;
Lived into by One people, loved and called by God;
Indivisible, proclaiming liberation, justice, and salvation for all. Amen.
May we make this pledge and then live into it for the sake of the world, and yes, especially for the poor and the oppressed.

[1] Dr. Russell D. Moore is an author and Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice-President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  If interested on my particular inclinations, feel free to ask me off-the-record.  However, I have come to learn the value of a pluralistic understanding of the Church and its witness, which has also, in turn, led me to recover some of the important contributions of this denomination and its members (not without critique, as I welcome upon my own tradition, PCUSA).
[2] Really? You chose this date because your calendar just so happened to be free and open? Come on.  Be real.  You knew exactly what you were doing and were surely trying to claim Dr. King as yet another proponent of your agenda.  Again, manipulation and pinning one group against the other...
[3] I also find it interesting that Conservative Evangelicals are taking their political and religious cues from a Mormon politician who they would condemn for his theological convictions.  He said in a recent interview that Liberation Theologians proclaim individual salvation only as a part of the salvation of the world (is this really such a tragic concept?), whereas "his Jesus" died for "personal salvation."  Well, Mr. Beck, your Christology says a lot of things, my friend, and this is only the tip of the iceberg of where we may disagree (and so would many of those at your rally).
[4] Sarah Palin said the following in her address, "Now, in honoring these giants, who were linked by a solid rock foundation of faith in the one true God of justice, we must not forget the ordinary men and women on whose shoulders they stood. The ordinary called for extraordinary bravery. I am speaking, of course, of America’s finest – our men and women in uniform, a force for good in this country, and that is nothing to apologize for." We would never want to apologize for any injustices we may commit, ignorance we may possess, or oppression we may promote? Also, if this is an "apolitical" rally, how is it that the military is a "force for good" built on the foundation of the "one true God of justice"?  That seems pretty political. Even more, how would you then define justice?  You sound like a Liberation Theologian ;)
[4] I also recommend reading another article from the Huffington Post.  A friend sent me this article which incorporates some helpful clarifications. However, nothing can replace reading the actual texts themselves...
[5] Unfortunately I do not have listed any female authors; however, this would lead to another wing of theology, Feminist and Womanist Theology.  These are both important traditions that need to be read...
[6] Jesus seemed to alude to the same concept, "So the last will be first, and the first will be last" (Mt. 20:16).  Luke is also helpful in his rendition of the beattitudes (which the wealthy tax collector Matthew spiritualizes, maybe for similar reasons wealthy Christians do the same with a lot of Jesus' statements), "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God, etc." (6:20).