Saturday, February 7, 2015

"Fred Phelps IS Your Cousin, By the Way:" Thoughts in Response to the President's National Prayer Breakfast Remarks

I acknowledge, own, lament, and despise the violence inherent in my Christian family's history. Within the half-century, Christians have lynched Black bodies and then taken pictures they shared as postcards, driven GLBTQ youth to suicide, to be tortured and murdered with hate speech from the pulpit, and generally, been prime examples of everything wrong with mis-used religion. I am a part of this family, and this tradition. There is no escaping that. Fred Phelps and the Grand Wizard of the KKK and MLK Jr are all part of my family. We're all part of the best and worst that humanity has offered.  To deny this is to already miss the point of the cross.  
Which is why the (mostly) liberal celebration of President Obama's brief comments at the National Prayer Breakfast calling Christians to remember their own history of violence has been hard for me to stomach. Not the President's comments - they seemed appropriately fitting, and came AFTER a round condemnation of the current violence perpetrated by ISIS. No issues there.  
Here's where I'm feeling torn:
1) When we condemn Christian violence, is it to imply a distance between we "enlightened modern liberal" Christians and either the barbarians of the past or the conservative rubes of the present? Ie are we somehow, tongue-in-cheek, implying that "of course WE know better?" Which is, I think, to miss the point of the presidents' address. Those who have suffered and are suffering don't need us to chide, moralize, or simply crown ourselves with a different brand of triumphalism. They need us to stop seeking crowns int he first place. 
2) ISIS is committing mass torture and murder against not only Christians, but also fellow Muslims, Zoroastrians, and seculars who refuse to submit to forced conversion (sometimes pre-emptive of that). I think the President's timing was great in waiting until after he had condemned said violence before turning introspective. At the same, time, brutal mass murder is being perpetrated, with media and political impunity. I often feel that there's a kind of "she deserved to get raped" mentality from people who think that Christianity's failures in the past mean that we somehow have to ignore the violence done against children, women, and men in the present. Not saying that this is people's intent. But the inescapable level of indifference and even apathy in the media, in government, and in the churches about what is going on is horrible - and it feels like people are using Obama's speech as justification to continue this. I repeat - Christian, Muslim, Zoroastrian, and secular CHILDREN are being raped, tortured, crucified, sold into slavery, abused, and murdered. And a simple google-search will show you the extent of the world's ability to give-a-shit. 
3) President Obama is one of those Christians who has and IS continuing to commit mass violence - using drones, the military, torture, etc - in the name of religion - the ideology of the religion of America. He is not a prophet - he's like any of us - a sinner-saint who gets it right sometimes, fails miserable in others, and most of the time, I think, is just trying to do his best to do some good amidst all of the impossible decisions he has to make. I'm less concerned with the President specifically here - and more concerned at how quickly Christians are jumping on his words as if somehow he's revealing something we don't all already know - and willingly participate in on a daily basis thorough our consumer choices, our taxes rendered, and our allegiance pledged.  There is no Christian hand unstained by the blood of innocents.  We are ALL still part of the problem - not just those conservatives/liberals/anyone-different-than-us. It's why, ostensibly, we need Christ in the first place.
I think we as Christians need to repent each and every single day of the violence of our family. But it is OUR family's violence - we don't get to pick and choose who our relatives are. And that should humble us, as well as keep us from self-righteousness, or from the kind of self-flagellating guilt that keeps us from acknowledging that many of our children - and the children of other faiths or lack-thereof- still need us to work together for their sake.

Imagine if we used all of the Facebook posts, all of the vitriol and outrage, all of the inspiration and all of the hope inspired by the President's speech, as an actual call to conversion, rather than condemnation; as a call to action rather than avoidance; as a call to active non-violence and love, rather than name-calling and lecturing.  I'm not sure religious people would not still be shitty to others.  I do think it's what Jesus would have wanted in His Name.    

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