Conservative Cringe-ianity

CPAC is a microcosm of American Conservative heresy.

If you want to see a US State Representative engaging in performative religiosity in a fake jail cell while kneeling in pantomimed prayer at the feet of an admitted insurrectionist pretending to be a martyr—you can go to there and do that.

While there, you’ll also see an endless parade of self-flagellating white Evangelical ministers advertising their defiance of non-existent oppression, a sea of Donald Trump-as-messiah airbrushed atrocities slapped on bellies and bumpers, and a small army of snarling and flexing “God and Guns” supermarket soldiers who regularly pack heat at the Piggly Wiggly, open-carrying Bibles they’ve never read.

What you won’t see there at CPAC—are any actual followers of Jesus, at least not the one from the Bible.

You won’t find his compassionate heart for the poor and vulnerable, his expansive embrace of disparate humanity, or his sacrificial love for those who are hurting at CPAC—nor will you find any of these things in this GOP or at Trump rallies or in Right-Wing Evangelical churches.

The only thing decent people of faith will find in Conservative religion is embarrassment.

Human beings earnestly seeking a meaningful and redemptive expression of empathy in the life and teachings of Jesus want no part of this heretical, predatory performance art. They want nothing to do with fear-mongering culture wars on same-sex couples and women’s rights and public education, or the overt racism of a white nationalism that would have been openly hostile to the Biblical Jesus.

They find it so cringeworthy that they are reluctantly leaving the faith tradition of their pasts and departing local churches, so as not to be mistaken for the precise kinds of charlatans and frauds Jesus spent his entire life warning people not to become.

Actual seekers of a spiritual path that calls upon their better angels and leans toward the common good, are embarrassed by Marjorie Taylor Greene and her party’s incessant mockery of genuine spirituality that aspires to love one’s neighbor and to do no harm.

Conservative Evangelicals are not the last faithful remnant of Christ’s Church standing firm for the Gospel in a Godless world that they claim to be—they are actively, violently, and almost singlehandedly triggering the exodus.  Their shameless religious whoring and their loveless, predatory theocracy is something people of goodness simply cannot abide any longer.

As someone who was raised in the Christian tradition, who has spent more than two decades serving as a pastor in the local church, and who is still working out a working religion with fear and trembling—I am gradually extricating myself from it all, not because I no longer find great beauty in the teachings of Jesus, but because I am finding none of that beauty in this grotesque mockery of him.

In the coming days and years, the narrative of the MAGA Christians will continue to be what it has been since Donald Trump ascended as their vile, belligerent, spray-tanned messiah. They will talk about people like me and about you, and about the millions of human beings who have departed from the pews, as if we’ve done this because we have rejected Jesus’ invitation to love God, others, and ourselves.

But the truth is, we departed it to escape them, because their shameless, wanton weaponizing of religion was too grievous and cringeworthy to be associated with.

We’re not ashamed of Jesus, MAGA Church—we’re embarrassed by you.

America’s Great Depression

A similar thing happens to me on many mornings lately.

My eyes open and I suddenly become aware that I’m awake. My mind quickly begins assembling the first few seconds of my day (making plans, organizing my checklist), when a terrible interruption breaks in and I remember:

Yes, that unhinged madman was actually our President. And yes, he and his administration really planned a violent insurrection that nearly toppled our Government, simply because he couldn’t admit that he lost an election. That really happened. And what’s worse, is that it feels like he’s going to get away with it.

The realization again turns my stomach, and I find myself contemplating going back to sleep but know that I can’t. I begin replaying everything in my head and struggle once more to make any sense of it all.

And just like that it’s January 6th all over again—and a fresh grief returns.

Sometimes, the sickening reminder of how close we are here to losing our elemental freedoms may abruptly intrude later in the day, while I’m having dinner with friends or driving through the countryside or playing in the yard with my children or laughing at a movie I love; tempering the joy, dimming the light.

Or, it may arrive at the end of the day, when the accumulated worries and the cataloged legislative assaults and the inventoried human rights threats of the day sit heavy on my chest and prevent sleep from coming because it feels like we are sliding inexorably toward the abyss.

And I know that I’m not alone.

I know that every single day, some variation of these moments is being played out millions of times inside the heads of people all over this country; people like me who have found the reservoirs of hope dangerously low in recent months, and who can’t seem to shake the profound sense of dread hovering always in the periphery of their daily life.

Yes, this is our Great Depression.

And it isn’t just the reality of the man who historically polluted the Presidency and abused his power no one has, or that he has mortally infected an entire party who is at the mercy of his rabid, cultic base (though that would be reason enough for despair. It’s the ugliness we’ve seen in his aftermath, it’s the collective delusion of millions of American. It’s the sickness that the country we love and call home has shown itself afflicted with. It’s the weight of every horrible reality about our nation: all our bigotry and discord and hatred set upon our chests, hampering our breath.

But it’s much closer than that, too.

It’s the words we’ve heard from family members, the stuff we’ve learned about our neighbors, the social media posts from church friends, the incendiary sermons from our pastors, the arguments we’ve had with co-workers. Every square inch of life seems polluted now. Nothing feels untouched by this movement of unprecedented cruelty.

And the question becomes: How do we transform this near paralyzing sense of sadness into something redemptive?

As with all grief, eventually there must be movement. When there is profound loss of any kind, the only real path is forward; to craft something beautiful and meaningful and life-affirming in response to what has been taken away.

It is the same in these days for those of us who feel cheated out of a kinder, more diverse, more decent America than the one we now have, and to rescue the nation that still could be from the one that currently is. Individually and collectively, we will have to be the daily, bold, defiant pushback against all that feels and is wrong here—and without delay.

This pushback will come in the small things; in the art we create and the conversations we have and the quiet gestures of compassion that are barely visible.

It will come in the way we fully celebrate daily life: having dinner with friends, driving through the countryside, playing in the yard with our children, laughing at a movie we love.

It will come as we loudly and unapologetically speak truth where truth is not welcome.

It will come as we connect with one another on social media and in faith communities and in our neighborhoods, and as we work together to demand accountability from our elected officials.

It will come as we use the shared resources of our experience and our talents and our numbers to ensure that our children inherit a world worth being here for.

But most importantly right now, our response must be a tangible and collective movement of good people to the polls. We have to transform our shared grief into a unified statement about what we stand for and what we will not abide.

Yes friend, there is a great deal to grieve over in these days and there will be more to ahead—but there is even more worth fighting for.

So yes grieve, but then move.

Be fueled by your sadness, strengthened by your anger—and into the fight.

Together we will survive this Great Depression—by resisting it.

 

Actual Followers of Jesus Don’t Want Conservatives’ Compulsory Christianity

There’s nothing more dangerous than professed Christians who have no real interest in Jesus. They’re rather easy to spot if you’re paying attention.

They’re usually the ones most loudly claiming things like religious liberty while methodically swallowing up the personal freedoms and elemental rights of other people.

They incessantly broadcast their devotion of God on their bumpers and bellies, while living antithetically to the compassionate heart of Jesus actually found in the Scriptures.

Their spirituality is largely performative: a showy firework display of culture war talking points and religious buzzwords that distracts from the truth that their lives are yielding almost nothing truly loving to anyone but people who agree with them on everything.

Most telling however, is that their theology is built on an idea that Jesus fully rejected: compulsion.

At the core of Jesus’ movement two-thousand years ago was a personal invitation to follow him in the ways of empathy, mercy, and justice. It was at its heart, an appeal to the voluntary orientation of the heart of each human being he crossed paths with. It was something to be embraced or rejected without fear of repercussions.

In other words, it is nothing like the Christianity of the Republican Party.

The United States is currently at the precipice of theocracy at the hands of a small and powerful minority of professed followers of Jesus—and it would have made him sick to his stomach.

Watching the highest court in this nation here being weaponized by a small number of religious extremists to legislate their morality on the majority, it’s a good time to remember that this wasn’t merely something Jesus would have refrained from—it was the very poisoned, institutionalized expression of faith that he railed against throughout his time here. If you read any of the Gospels, you realize pretty quickly that if Jesus’ feet were on the planet right now, the Conservative Church would be the first table he’d overturn.

Christianity as modeled by Jesus was never meant to hold power.
It was never about control or brute force or dictating the laws of the land or imposing itself on people’s lives.
It was never intended to be a political or religious institution, but a chosen community of like-hearted people working together for the common good.

This is why actual followers of Jesus don’t want Conservatives’ compulsory Christianity.
They don’t want legislated morality.
They don’t want people’s bodies and bedrooms and marriages invaded by someone else’s theology.

Actual followers of Jesus understand that spirituality is the most intimate of expressions, wholly and deeply personal and made by a human being for themselves alone.

Actual followers of Jesus aspire to a life tangibly emulating Jesus in the world and perpetuating the compassion they find there, but they would never pile those expectations on anyone else.

Actual followers of Jesus believe their personal faith shouldn’t dictate the laws others live under because they know he preached a kingdom that transcended the systems and paradigms of this place.

Actual followers of Jesus want a world where people’s most intimate of relationships and decisions are not the jurisdiction of any faith tradition, because they recognize that choosing or rejecting a spiritual path is a sacred and singular decision.

Actual followers of Jesus want no part of the Republican Party’s supposed Christianity.

They want something resembling Christ.

 

 

The Left is Bickering Into the Abyss

This should be easy.

We have just endured the most corrupt, inept, and relentlessly predatory presidential administration in our history.

We have witnessed a willfully and tragically mismanaged public health crisis and a coordinated insurrection designed to overturn an election and install a despot.

We have watched an extremist minority commandeer the highest court in our nation and mount an unprecedented repeal of the rights of women, of environmental protections, of voting rights.

The coming election should be the slam dunk of the century, but it isn’t.
We should be easily coalescing around our collective values, but we aren’t.
We should be rising up together to eradicate this fascism en masse—but we’re not.

That’s because the Left has a purity problem and if we don’t get over it, it’s going to destroy us.

Republican leadership across this country is declaring open war on diversity, on education, on the legitimacy of our elections. Our checks and balances are nonfunctioning, our systems of protection have been compromised—and we are warring with one another.

Our daily newsfeeds are is littered with knee-jerk Liberal objections to mainstream candidates and vice-versa: questionable past behavior, one-time verbal gaffes, or previous political positions that we’ve decided are certain deal-breakers. We immediately disqualify potential allies in the name of our personal values or religious beliefs, allowing no gray space of compromise, no personal evolution for people, and no possibility of future alignment with them. We passionately partner in the work of our adversaries.

Worse, we easily find ourselves violently fighting with one another over matters that are in fact trivial, when compared with all that hangs in the balance. As I watch tribes of deeply entrenched advocates of candidates warring with other Democrats over semantics and minutia, I realize we’re not paying attention to our recent history at all.

Meanwhile, the other side is simply circling the wagons, making concessions, consolidating power, and gaining traction—spirituality and morality and virtue be damned. This is why we’re where we are today.

For all their sermonizing and finger-wagging, Conservatives have never allowed their personal morality to get in the way of a political win. We saw this played out in the 2016 Presidential Campaign. Prior to Donald Trump announcing his candidacy, any self-respecting Evangelical would have declared a three-time married serial adulterer with multiple bankruptcies and a history of racist statements and predatory business practices—the complete antithesis of Jesus. What a difference a few months made.

As Trump’s political stock rose, their religious convictions began to miraculously evaporate in the light of political opportunity. Celebrity evangelists who previously claimed to abhor everything he represented, suddenly and gladly leased out their megachurch pulpits, social media platforms, and Christian University commencement stages. It turns out when the devil actually does bring you to the mountaintop and shows you what you get in exchange for your soul—your solid rock theology is a lot more like jello.

Politicians like Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, who at first made vehement, impassioned assaults on Trump’s character, intellect, and suitability to lead—have found themselves falling over one another to bow at his feet and kiss his ring—willingly discarding their previous disgust and gladly auctioning off their souls for a space in the bed of a powerful man who they are willing to sleep with for the shiny trinkets of power, position, and opportunity he gives them.

Professed Christians who’ve spent their entire lives loudly brandishing their family values, devotion to God, and steadfast commitment to the ways of Jesus—have proven themselves able to shove all that in a closet, hold their noses, and play dumb.

That has been the story for the past few years of this American story: millions of people on the Right trading in their personal and religious values for the coming of a kleptocratic kingdom they will all benefit from. They have sacrificed their individual convictions on the altar of the bigger win—or at least, what seems like victory in the moment.

I’m not asking moderates and progressives and liberals and Left-leaning believers to do that. I’m not suggesting we collectively sell our souls the way our counterparts have.

We are different from our political and religious adversaries, precisely because we are more committed to our personal convictions than to purchasing influence.
We do stand for something greater than empty pulpit pounding and phony public histrionics about Christianity under attack or returning to our days or former supremacist glory.
We are driven by moral and spiritual prompts that refuse to align with monsters or horde a consuming power that will corrupt us.
We aren’t fueled by a contempt that would snap its finger and wipe out everyone else.

But if we can’t lay down our all-or-nothing, my candidate or no candidate purity and set aside our strident virtue in order to stand shoulder-to-shoulder against a formidable threat—we’re soon going to find ourselves with no voice whatsoever.

Rank-and-File Democrats, this is bigger than you.
Frustrated Progressives, this is bigger than you.
Defiant Third Party holdouts, this is bigger than you.
Exhausted abstainers, this is bigger than you.
Ambivalent moderates of all parties, this is bigger than you.

We all need to understand how urgent these moments are. We need to stop killing our allies with friendly fire and we need to discard the inconsequential battles of preference so that we can win the singularly vital war of which we all will prosper.

When our republic is secured and our essential liberties are restored, then we can go about the necessary and very attainable work of navigating our differences to renovate America into something we all can take pride in.

But if we fail to confront this existential threat because we are distracted and divided by moral litmus tests, lazy squabbling, and performative purity politics, we will have all squandered the moment in front of us.

We need to win together because when we win, life and the planet and the future does too.

It’s time we pulled ourselves together.