The Election Port-Mortem, the Fundamentalist Takeover of The Republican Party . . . and The UMC?

Election Post-Mortem

Mark Davis, a right-wing conservative radio host and columnist, wrote this in his post mortem about the Presidential election:

But I lament a country where the middle class is more attuned to government benefits than the work ethic that was once our nation’s engine. I will blame the culture of dependency that leads millions to seek rescue paid by the incomes of others. And I will point to a society that has stood idly by while standards of family, self-reliance and independence have dwindled to mere shadows.

I found as I read his column that my normally quite low blood pressure began to spike.

Why I Voted Democratic

I voted for Obama, and it has nothing to do with needing rescue or wanting to enhance a culture of dependency. Furthermore,  I hardly “stand idly by” while watching essential standards dwindle.

I, as did many others and women in particular, voted Democratic in the Presidential election because I became increasingly horrified by what the right-wing extremists have done to the Republican Party.

I voted for the Democratic candidate for the same reason I left the Evangelical church, which came out in swarms for that same Republican Party.

But I did so with deep reservations. After Obama’s State of the Union address last January, I resolved not to vote for him in the election. I thought his policies and proposals were taking this nation very much in the direction of a socialist state, something that I think will eventually lead us to financial and social implosion.

I followed the Republican primaries and studied the possible candidates. One by one, it seemed to me that they had bought into the worst of Christian fundamentalism. Governor Romney appeared to be bought and paid for by them.

The World of the Right Wing Fundamentalist

I know that world very well. It is not a nice place to be. In my opinion, the leaders of that world have no business imposing what I have come to believe is flawed theology on the politics and future of this nation.

A core belief of the right-wing fundamentalist Christian world: women are simply worth less than men. Now, they’ll talk around it and use words like “complementarian” and “spheres of influence” and “how important women are as wives and mothers.”

They’ll also make sure that male sexual enhancing drugs are covered by health insurance, but not birth control for women, which might offer some protection against those sexually enhanced men. Also, I believe I finally understand something essential after a great deal of reading about this: the well-publicized comments about rape and “God’s will” for rape-produced babies, (which can only happen of course if the rape is “illegitimate”) have so permeated the Republican and Christian right wing that no one swimming and steeped in those waters sees how degrading such comments are to women.

Furthermore, no one really cares.  Why? Here the deep, often unspoken theological underpinning comes into play.  For them, males only, not females, are made in the image of God. Males only have the “Imago Dei” stamped upon them for God is male in essence.

Fundamentalists and The United Methodist Church

Now on this note I turn to the increasing influence of this type of fundamentalist theology in The United Methodist Church. One of the reasons I am an intentional United Methodist, as opposed to one born or brought up in this world, is that I saw this church as a place where theology could be openly explored, questioned and left ambiguous when necessary.

We are finite people are dealing with infinite things. We are unholy people exploring a world of holiness that we can only imagine but not yet fully enter. Ultimately, we do not have the capability to make final and holy pronouncements on those final and holy things. We must hold our truths with open and grateful hands, giving and receiving grace and space.  Christian theology has always been in flux.  It is alive, and living things change.

I understood that in The United Methodist Church, one could be respected for theological stances even when they differed from others especially when those stances were thoughtfully and carefully defended. I loved a world that honored the text of the Scriptures as inspired and authoritative, yet held that understanding in tension with the difficulties of properly interpreting words written in languages we cannot know as native speakers, at different times, reflecting different cultures, and with pre-scientific world views.

I reveled in a world where I, as woman, was no longer regarded as “unclean” or “not just quite . . . ” but as one in full covenant relation with all where we shared together equal worth before God and before each other.

I was delighted to learn that I would no longer be “proof-texted” and silenced with passages thrown in my face as final proof that I had no place in church leadership.  Passages such as these are used in that fundamentalist world that informs the Republican platform to keep women silent:

  • 1 Tim 2:12-15: “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”
  • 1 Corinthians 14, 33b-35, “As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

As one who had spent a lifetime on the theological outside, the underdog, and one not quite measuring up, I have developed huge compassion for those who are still marginalized. It has long been my hope that we would eventually learn that our systematic devaluing of our LGBTI brothers and sisters is equally as distasteful in the sight of God as our history of devaluing woman and people of color has been.

The Parallels Between the Republican Party and The United Methodist Church

But just as the ultra-right has taken over the Republican party with their strident rhetoric, their power and money, their insistence that they and they alone have the answers to our political malaise, I see the UMC being taken over by the religious right, their strident rhetoric, their numerical superiority, their insistence that they, and they alone have the right answers to our ecclesiastical malaise.

I have seen discussions on theological issues on FaceBook degenerate quickly because of the meanness and judgmental spirit of some of the responders. From my limited experience, the mean and judgmental spirits generally come from those on the conservative right. They offer no room for questioning their received truth. I observed the similar responses on the floor of General Conference last spring as I watched from a distance and read the commentaries of those who were present.

Today, the same type of de-contextualized proof-texting that kept me silent and in chains for many years is being used against those who do not fit the sexual mainstream.

Is this what God has called us to be? Really?

22 thoughts on “The Election Port-Mortem, the Fundamentalist Takeover of The Republican Party . . . and The UMC?

  1. A challenge to the bloggers here. Pick up a copy of the new book by D.A Carson entitled: The Intolerance of Tolerance. Carson—-research prof. at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
    There are many thoughts in his writing that give us pause. It may be that the culture has changed around us to the point that we are aliens in our own land.
    The question arises: does the UMC have an influence in what is taking place around us/ Or, are we the one’s who are irrelevant? Will we become so again?
    I write as a Layperson who is widely read in the social political economic and cultural issues of our time. I see a culture that is warped (shaped, influenced, driven) by the economic and social engineering clout of our federal government. That appears especially true as I watch the younger people feed upon the “information” shovelled out by our federal government and its helpers–the press / media in all its forms.
    As I watch this all unfold I see a Christian Faith and churches erode in their influence; actually the churches have been willing partners in this rapid and continual decline—their own decline as the federal system became the “Father”—the Giver of all gifts.

    Like

  2. Yes, the far-right Christian fundamentalists have so taken over the Republican party that they nominated a Mormon liberal for president.

    Hmm…

    The rabidly right-wing Christian fundamentalist zombie apocalypse is always coming, yet somehow never arrives. It’s the political version of the “man with one arm” story we used to tell at Scout campfires – scary but not actually real.

    Like

  3. Christy, First- I have been enjoying your blog for months. Your observations in England were both poignant and enlightening, and I look forward to the book I hope is growing from your theological “garden plots.”

    I don’t come from a fundamentalist background; I simply followed my wife and kids to church when, at age 35, I realized I needed to be where I could learn more. Thank you, Jesus, that it was a United Methodist church (White Rock). I am a reformed Republican, however, George W. being the last national Republican I will ever vote for (and I did that two times!)

    We are on the cusp of many changes, the primary affective one of which is economics. That’s the one umbrella we all share a place under, and when it finally, irreparably collapses, we will all be in a time of hyperchange. Ponzi schemes always fail- that’s a mathematical truth. When an economy is dependent on the health of a health-destroying company like McDonalds, and when we must root for a great Black Friday to help our end-of-the-year GNP stats, then the Tower of Babel has already begun to lean. The power holders and brokers are the ones to perceive that fact last; those near the foundation of that Tower have been watching the crumbling mortar for years.

    People reach out, both in desperation and in hope, during those times of change over which they feel increasingly little control. The Tea Party and Occupy are both reaching in many of the same directions, though it’s difficult for each side to look past the other’s rhetoric and placards.

    But some people are reaching out by reaching inward and backward, toward a sociological and economic remembered past. And reaching backward for illusory answers that can no longer be, is an impossible, therefore dangerous endeavor. The only backward answers available are artificial constructs; the only way to preserve answers that aren’t real is to build forts around them, or even be offensive in their defense. Thus the visible rise of fundamentalism wherever there is uncontrollable change

    Our role- should we choose to accept it- is to be community organizers. And we’ve got a whale a community to acquaint AND re-acquaint people with: the Community of God. (No..I don’t like the metaphor of ‘Kingdom’ anymore). Most of what I do in church is about building community- helping some old ones to heal, existing ones to grow deeper roots, and planting new ones. One of those communities- perhaps of interest to you- is Community and private gardens. We’re already harvesting, but there are several new endeavors happening in the late winter and spring: Junior Master Gardeners and other community plots, with the ultimate goal of having more and more people, as I just observed in Portland last week, digging up their gas-wasting front yards and planting potatoes and lettuce and flowers. And harvesting water!

    Gardens work on many many levels: they create community, reveal the rhythms and harmonies of God in Creation, and (I truly believe) help those steeped in the useless churchy cliches and harmful fundamentalist dogma to discover the grace and love of the Christ (flesh, dirt, bread, vine). Our agenda also involves canning and preserving and food preparation activities.

    There are other things, too- the arts, meals, and shared intellectual and spiritual learning among them. We must help people know that is not their inherent ‘badness’ that is the enemy, but fear. And “fear not” is my ministry.

    That understanding, then, gave birth to my (fairly) new political understandings. I hear and perceive more motivation born of love from Democrats. And if I’m wrong I will keep doing what I do anyway, as I was prepared to do even if the Republicans had won.

    These are things that can help people feel more in control, wend them from awful fast foods, and become part of a culture that is deep in the DNA of us all. Jesus knew, demonstrated, and died for that ancient, always new idea of community, egalitie/fraternitie :) And he lives in all of the Creation Continuing.

    Thank you again for your continuing creation as well! Blessings!

    Like

  4. The closemindedness is very much on both sides (every side?) of the debate, and rhetoric that emphasizes a “takeover” of one side over another only hardens those divisions.

    ‘Fundamentalist ‘ should not be used interchangeably with conservative or even right-wing, because it is a term coming out of early 20th century Protestant controversies. While there is certainly a conservative wing of the UMC, I know of no self-identified fundamentalists in our ranks.

    The parallel between female clergy and homosexual clergy/acceptance is understandable but not justifiable. There is a clear biblical stream of women in leadership positions and prophetic roles throughout Israel and the church; this is more than enough balance out some of the more problematic texts like those named above.

    On the other hand, there is nothing at all in the biblical revelation that can be read to view homosexuality in a positive light. It requires a whole different kind and quality of hermeneutics to find a biblical defense of homosexual relationships than to find female leadership in the ecclesial community. Richard Hays in Moral Vision makes this point admirably: we need to first be honest about what Scripture says about this issue before we can deal with it.

    I’m not saying that a more inclusive position is not possible or commendable; but it’s a much further interpretive leap than women’s ordination in reality than you suggest. Lord Carey of the Church of England, former Archbishop of Canterbury, was an ardent defender of female priests who was conservative on homosexuality, for instance.

    I appreciate what you are saying because I am a former fundamentalist and I left that world for similar reasons. What is needed, however, is not a left-wing resurgence to counter a right-wing takeover (which is nothing but a Wesleyan redux of the Southern Baptist implosion of the early 80’s) but a truly Methodist “via media” that asserts both the evangelical and social gospel, and personal and social holiness.

    And if I’m repeating any previous comments, I beg forgiveness, I didn’t feel like catching up on all the previous discussion.

    Like

  5. Christy, I wanted to take the opportunity to comment on your post. And with all love and due respect ,disagree in several areas. First, I would probably have to classify myself as a conservative on both fiscal and social issues. And yes, I am a white, male entering my late 40’s. I did vote for all Republican candidates, not for party affiliation but primarily on their positions and opposing many Democratic positions. And with that said, many might consider me right-wing and possibly a Fundamentalist. However, I must say that I do not fit many of your indicators for Fundamentalists. 1) I do NOT believe women are worth less than men, we are different in many ways but we are of equal worth. 2) I don’t like idea of paying for everyone’s contraception, which in my opinion seems to be a public endorsement for promiscuity. I ALSO do not like paying for men’s enhancement drugs. 3) I abhor the comments made by those two nit-wit candidates on rape and abortion. My wife is an incest and rape survivor and I wanted to reach out and shake some sense into these two dunderheads. However, I do believe abortion should be rare, but I do not think this can or should be accomplished through legislation. 4) I vehemently disagree that only males are created in the image of God. And for any to uphold this view is just nonsense. I know many conservatives, “right-wingers,” who believe as I do but unfortunately I am sure some do fit your description. I can only hope that myself and those I tend to know are more the rule than the exception when it comes to conservatives in the areas you mentioned.

    I do fear you may be right that Obama and a segment of those supporting him desire a socialist country as I read reports of college students in DC gathering in front of the White House celebrating after the election shouting “Karl Marx, Karl Marx … socialism!”

    I do agree that we are finite people in search of the infinite and holy God. I understand that our culture changes and we must adapt to living within that culture. But where do we draw the line of culture influencing our understanding of God that we uphold? If Fundamentalism is holding to a literal interpretation of Scriptures and the culture is moving away from our held beliefs, do we hold to the fundamentals of our belief or go the way of culture? To an unbelieving world, do we forego our belief in the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus? Are we not called to be in this world, but not of it? How much of the worldly culture can we follow without being of it? This is the tough question.

    And as far as theological discussions, I have taken part of a few and observed several (at least to me). My “perception” is that many comments from the left have also been inflexible, and some insulting the commenter as opposed to furthering the discussion. You state that the right “offers no room for questioning their received truth.” I can also say that for many on the “left.” I see the insistence from the left to force the right to change their held truth to make room for the left. I will admit that what has been considered “conservative” in the past has been wrong on certain issues, but does that mean that fundamental views are always wrong, that a literal interpretation of the Bible is always wrong? But this does leave us with the struggle of how both sides of politics and religion can work together for our common goal. But first we must agree on that common goal.

    Grace and Peace
    Wade

    Like

    • Wade, I do very much appreciate the way you’ve stated your opinion here. I know part of my issue is a background in that often rabid tightly fundamentalist world and knowing the nastiness and un-grace that underlies much of it. On the other hand, I do think we need to know and affirm our fundamentals–they are the rock on which we build our lives and churches.

      I also know that there are many different ways to describe those fundamentals, and there is significant differences, among the most loving and educated of believers, about what actually constitutes a fundamental belief. This is what makes it so difficult for us. But you and I, even where we differ, could have good conversation about it because there is mutual respect that will inform our words. That has been lacking–and yes, on both side.

      Like

    • Wade, if possible, could you please reference where you read that there were college students gathered outside the White House chanting “Karl Marx, Karl Marx, Socialism”?

      Like

  6. Christy,

    I believe there is a world of difference between the facile thinking of the Religious Right / Republican Party alliance — an alliance that has done great disservice to the church as a whole — and the rigorous intellect of those who defend historic orthodoxy within current UMC debates.

    Whether it’s Tim Tennent or Thomas Oden or William Abraham, those who labor for doctrinal and, yes, sexual, orthodoxy within the UMC are neither fundamentalists nor proof-texters, but folks firmly planted in the deep soil of orthodoxy.

    And that’s a soil that has precious little in common with the modern Republican Party which tried to re-baptize its LDS candidate as an evangelical.

    Like

  7. hmmm… I do not see the UMC becoming anything like the Republican party – it IS the Republican party demographically in the U. S. – overwhelmingly older, white and shrinking. However, if it is political in its affiliation at all, the connectional UMC church, through its agencies, their spokespersons and their media statements, is clearly blue in color.

    I realize the division over sexual role/identity issues as acted out (and yes, I use that phrase in its accepted context…) at General Conference 2012 was hurtful. The actors, however, have changed. It is no longer the U. S. fundamentalists leading the charge – it is the leaders from the exploding church growth in the emerging nations of Africa and Asia that guaranteed a strongly fundamental legislative agenda on sexual role/identity matters.

    Each of us identifies with different issues of importance to us. I am most concerned about the fundamental shift which has occurred in our electorate. We have seen a move, generationally, from being, primarily, supporters of governmental institutions/functions as taxpayers to being consumers of a broader array of government functions, much of which are funded by ‘others’ – others who are wealthier (very interesting to hear the various definitions of ‘wealth’), other companies/corporations (‘they can afford it’) and other people (‘I never use that-why should I pay for it?’). I also understand that the older members of our society are, right now, the single largest consumers, per capita, of governmental functions of the electorate…

    If you asked the bishop, “Should _____ UMC continue to incur debt for food and health services to indigent members of the community to the point it will not be able to pay its bills?”, a bishop’s answer would be, ‘no, we can’t saddle a church with that kind of debt. We need to find another way.’

    I don’t see us choosing a fundamentalist path at all. If anything, I still see the connectional church mired in 1960’s and 70’s thinking about what women ‘should’ care about and what persons of color ‘should’ be concerned about. It is illuminating that when we gather for Annual Conference, we _still_ sit with a stopwatch to measure the amount of speaking time of a white woman… or a white man… or an African American woman, or an Hispanic man or a person with special abilities or a young hearing impaired woman or an older person or a person with Pacific heritage or a Native American woman … you get the point. – in some quest for fairness that bears no relevance to relationship, commitment and faith.

    I am a United Methodist by birth AND choice. I find it a church with a heart and dirt under the fingernails. It also watches the bank account, because we are all, individually and collectively, called to be good stewards. God has called us to personal responsibility as well as collective, compassionate responsibility. If political parties could preach THAT message of the Good News, we’d ALL be in better shape – and the decibel level of the histrionics would be far less.

    Like

    • I really appreciate your words and wisdom here, Don. There is a middle way, one neither political party nor the UMC seems willing to find. Being split into two opposing camps makes for better press AND it means a great level of self-righteousness, for it gives greater opportunity to demonize the other.

      Like

  8. Christy, please excuse my misreading or thick head. I hear what you are saying about debates over what constitutes holy sexuality, but are you saying as well that you get — from the leadership of the UMC — push back on women’s equality?

    My experience — in Indiana at least — is that the UMC is not only embracing women in leadership but seeking to actively build up women leaders in the conference. That is not to say all local congregations are on board. I know it is a challenge to be a female pastor. But I was not aware of an upsurge in Mark Driscoll-like rhetoric from official and unofficial leaders in the denomination.

    If that is what you are saying, could you share some experiences? I need to be educated because I have a blind spot if this is happening.

    Like

    • Hi John. No, I’m not seeing a pushback against women here. However, I do wonder if it will happen with the African Conferences at some point–and all this is pure speculation. What I was trying to do here is explain how decontexualized proof-texting has done great harm to significant people groups in the past and I think is doing so now in the present as well.

      Like

  9. Oh, my gosh, Christy, you have nailed “it” for sure, the Republican takeover by radical fundamentalists. Once a Southern Baptist, I have watched the growing fundamentalism take over Baptists the past 25 plus years. First saw its ugly head surfacing at our yearly conventions, then saw its tenacles grow as the movement egregiously kicked out of office our finest leaders–seminary presidents, etc. I’ve watched as fundamentalist zealots spread their dogma through a highly organized plan, having secret meetings and using social media of all kinds. How Christians could join forces with persons like Mark Davis, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Karl Rove, and others of like ilk, who demean and oppress women, minorities, and the most vulnerable in our midst is totally beyond my comprehension. Yet most of the professing Christians I know in Denton, in Texas, in Oklahoma, and across the “Bible Belt South” have joined forces with them, believing every email they receive and everything they hear on talk radio. I read the same Mark Davis column that you did and felt my blood pressure rising, also. The biggest problem is: one can’t have a rational, calm conversation with such people. They shout you down, belittle you, and some go so far as to call you anti-Christian if you disagree with them. I could go on and on, but better not, or I’ll have a stroke.

    Like

    • Yep, no rational conversation is possible. That’s what really concerns me. We have no way to finding common ground on issues that are not central to our faith but which have the potential to irrevocably divide us.

      Like

      • I respect your experience of discrimination as a woman, and as a father of three daughters, I am glad that the UMC pushes for women’s equality. On the other hand, however, I do not think it is the church’s job to “keep up” with the culture. Our job is not to mimic the culture, but to be counter-cultural by following the teachings of Jesus. Christian values are in significant tension with current cultural values, not least in this whole area of human sexuality (not just homosexuality). We are called to be faithful to Biblical teaching, not adapt our teaching to be “popular” in the culture.
        The other point I would make is that I have personally experienced the same thing you describe–“no rational conversation is possible”–from folks on the progressive end of the spectrum. Once they find out I am evangelical in theology, they are not willing to engage in serious conversation with me. It becomes an emotional rant about discrimination and fairness, without really engaging with my perspective. In this way, I think the church unhealthily mimics the polarization of our culture (both “sides” do it).
        Evangelicals do not see themselves as far-right fundamentalists (believe it or not, there is a difference between most evangelicals and most fundamentalists). Instead, we are trying to be faithful to what we understand as the core message of Scripture and of Methodism. For 50+ years, the progressive wing has been in charge of the UM Church. The result has been a loss of 3 million members in the U.S. We think we can do better. Certainly, more of the same cannot be expected to produce different results.

        Like

    • And I do not see how Democrats can follow and accept $$ from ilk like Bill Maher. I don’t care who you are or if you think it is just for fun, a man does not call a woman a (insert vulgar terms here) period!! And some young adults look at Bill’s show as a primary news source. And I have also seen several liberal talking heads shout down, belittle and insult conservatives. Christ Matthews, Ed Shultz are some that come to mind. It looks to me that we have our “problem childs’ on both sides that distract from the voice of reason. We need to find the voice of reason on both sides (and ignore the distracters) so that we can have meaningful discussions and work together.

      Like

      • Wade, I am in total agreement with you about Bill Maher. I watched him one time and turned it off, sickened and dismayed. And yes, the insults have gone both ways, absolutely. Having real, honest, civil dialogue where parties agree at the outside that they will disagree and will do so respectfully would go a long way. But it makes for boring TV, and that is part of the problem here–ratings count more than truth. And truth is getting harder and harder to find under the rhetoric.

        Like

  10. Christy: an excellent blog.
    Like you, I have been mulling over what this elections says to us in the UMC. What I *fear* it says is that we are falling farther and farther behind the culture, and becoming more and more culturally irrelevant.

    I plan to blog on this some myself in the next few days, so you’ve given me some good food for thought. But let me spill the beans on some of my own learnings. (If you promise not to steal them ;))

    Muse on this fact for a few moments: The Republican Party has now *lost* the “popular vote” in the past five out of six presidential elections.

    Wait for a moment and let that sink in.

    I think the popular vote, while not enough to *elect* a president, tells us much about where the nation is. As a barometer, then, it helps *disprove* the oft heard refrain that we are a “center/right” nation. That’s just not factually sustained, when you look at this one key national barometer….over the past 20 years.

    We are, I believe, a “center/left” nation. We are neither a nation of flaming liberals, or reactionary conservatives. But we are, from a factual point of view, slightly to the “left” side of the fence, not the right.

    Meanwhile, during those *same* twenty years, the UMC has either held the line on social issues, or become increasingly *more* conservative.

    That puts us out-of-step with the greater culture, IMHO, and does not bode well for our future.

    As I said, I plan to put this in a blog of my own soon.

    I’m not so much concerned with the far right Christians, and what they are doing. It is clear to me that their influence, electorally, will continue to wane. I AM concerned that we’re out-of-step, falling behind (badly) the pace of social change in society as a whole. And, increasingly, I question whether or not we know how to change, or even have the will to, at the general church level.

    It will be interesting to see how people react, once they allow these election results, and the truth of “popular vote” for the past twenty years, soak into their brains….we’ll see.

    Like

    • I think we are very much thinking along the same paths here, Eric. We’re becoming actually less capable of reaching those who are actually in our parishes by this push to move to the right. And much of that push is coming from those who do not minister where we do.

      Like

What do you think? I'd love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s