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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bruce Prescott got me thinking some more about why he and I are writing different kinds of warnings about what churches need to be concerned about in the current day and age in the U.S. I agree wholeheartedly with his critique of the Christian America crowd and their more extreme cousins, the Reconstructionists. So it is a bit puzzling, as his comment on my previous post indicated, that we are talking about such different problems for the church. He wrote:

We must not be living in the same country.

I saw the culture-warrior Christians in the Religious Right rallying the troops for war with Iraq.

You write as if it were the ACLU, Americans United and progressive Christians.

So here are my musings, posted as a comment on Mainstream Baptist.

Bruce says that I seem to be living in a different country. You may be on to something, so I want to experiment with that idea.

Your earlier remarks had highlighted the prominence of Reconstructionist ideas in Oklahoma. You also encounter them on the web, a place where everyone can become a published author with a little time and access.

I know these people meet and write and organize. I've taught about them in my classes. I have a colleague who researches them. But they are speaking a language that has not made much sense to my undergraduate students (a few years back) nor to my divinity students now.

Moreover, when I deal with public high school teachers and students and with college or divinity students or professors from the other universities in our area, this kind of Reconstructionist idea is the farthest thing from their view of the US. If it is true that about 40% of the people in the US go to college, as I recall (the figure I found was 35% of people at the age to start college in 2002, see http://chronicle.com/free/v52/i27/27b05001.htm, which would not include those who go later in life) then one could assume that many of these people find themselves in a milieu similar to mine. Of course, prominent Reconstructionists include many college graduates, so I am not trying to claim that going to college is an absolute indicator of whether someone would be attracted either to Reconstructionist or to Secular supremacist ideas.

A second angle to take on living in different countries could be affected by the generally progressive politics of my county and city. Maybe a better argument would be that in Durham, NC, there are not many Reconstructionists to be found (even though one prominent Baptist pastor may be in sympathy with them). Your experience in Oklahoma may be different, and no doubt Idaho has attracted such people.

One might construe the two countries according to different kinds of churches and their agendas. As for the threat of conservative so-called Christians believing in a renewed crusade, in a war to bring on Armageddon, or in a revived Imperialism of the US as the supercession of Israel, I am with you fully that this is the current great threat to peace in the US and the world. Many of these people have so many doctrines wrong about the nature of the church and the nature of the state, sadly built upon certain versions of Puritan heritage of the Reformed tradition. That is part of what I was trying to address in my earlier post about non-violence.

On the other hand, churches who are engaging in grassroots democracy and community transformation, whether conservative evangelical or progressive evangelical or mainstream protestant or Roman catholic, are recognizing the failure of conservative or liberal politics-as-usual to help the poor or deal with white supremacy. Christian Community Development, IAF/DART/Gamaliel/PICO, Leadership Foundations of America, and a variety of local churches are making changes through their own efforts and by joining efforts with others to leverage social change. That is happening all over the country, and it is something I have focused my attention on. But nowhere that I have looked have these efforts managed to eliminate poverty or racism completely.

When I look at church-state issues from the point of view of what churches must do to faithfully be the presence of Christ here and now, in this country, under this government, then part of what I want churches to know is that they don't have to accept the hemmed-in, domesticated role assigned them in the doctrine of the spheres. On pilgrimage in the world, such churches and their people engage the thrones and dominions through participatory democracy and representative government, and also by building their own structures for social change. This latter is their calling regardless of what political order they are living in--one where the secularism of eastern universities shapes the thought of many, or one where Reconstructionists can get the ear of a regional newspaper.

When I look at church-state relations from the point of view of how government policies can maintain a proper relationship toward churches and "religions," then I still find 1st amendment jurisprudence which promotes benevolent neutrality a good place to hang my hat. Neutrality will never quite be neutral, so the effort has to be asymptotic. Practical reasoning of the highest care is required. I still tell my friends they are better off not taking the "faith-based" money from the government to do their ministries. I work to stop the attack on schools that "No Child Left Behind" legislation has put in place to redirect government funds to for-profit corporations and private religious groups wanting to get in on the government purse through vouchers. But this is a defensive effort, a way to maintain detente. It is not a constructive ecclesiology. It helps keep the civil society from going too far off the path of the common good. But it does not put the church on the path of Kingdom building.

Finally, when national elections are falling out 50-50 and opinion polls are falling out 40-40, then that might be one more reason to feel that we are talking about different countries.


Dr. Bruce Prescott said...


You are right about a lot of things in this post. Particularly about the country being fairly evenly divided in polls and elections.

Political power, however, is not so evenly divided. Spoils go to the victor in politics.

Half the nation or more may be against the war, but the entire nation is behind the war effort.

Half the nation or more may support the Geneva Conventions and the work of the United Nations, but the entire nation is being led by people who don't.

Half the nation or more may be against the politicization of religion and government funded proselytization, but the entire nation is being led by people who are doing it.

Half the nation or more may support public schools and oppose vouchers for religious schools, but the entire nation is being led by people who don't.

Half the nation or more may expect the government to provide a safety net for the disabled, unemployed, and impoverished, but the entire nation is being led by people who don't.

Half the nation or more may expect the courts to be fair and impartial toward the poor and/or powerless, but the nations' courts are being stacked with judges who are partial toward the interests of wealth and/or power. Those judges serve life terms.

Mike Broadway said...

Thanks, Bruce. I agree with this general understanding about power in the nation-state. What lasts from regime to regime, or as we like to say, from administration to administration, is the regulatory bureaucracy which is dominated by the interest groups it is supposed to regulate. Now that money has taken over national elections and many statewide elections, the plutocracy is almost complete. To quote a slogan I like (from the great political philosopher, Dr. Bumper Sticker), "This is not a democracy. It's an auction."

Well-funded, combined with well-organized, beats well-organized and disorganized almost every time. With a well-funded regime in place, well-funded forces of neo-conservatism are overtly and covertly changing the laws of the land to serve their agendas. They throw a few bones to the Reconstructionists and other wrong-headed so-called Christians, and keep their hopes up. They fund a few TV preachers with the understanding that the regime's policies will be supported and never contradicted. It has the potential to unfold as a Handmaid's Tale scenario.

My reservation about the nation-state's power is that government umpired pluralism will not on its own prevent such a devolution. Strong voices of opposition, alternate centers of power, and speaking the truth to power are also required. Again, they alone will not prevent the devolution.

There is no fool-proof so long as the fools continue to say in their hearts that there is no God, and the other fools continue to say, "Lord, Lord," when they are serving Self, Mammon, Mars, Manifest Destiny, Fear, Hate, Demagoguery, and all the idolatrous Pantheon.

While not wanting to be identified as either Republican or Democrat, I am sure there is a drastic change needed now. Regime change starts at home, to quote another slogan. But simply removing one lobby-bought government and replacing it with another lobby-bought government will not solve the problem. People will have to speak to Congress and potential presidential candidates clearly

against torture and for transforming initiatives for peace,

against prostituting the churches and for churches caring for their neighborhoods because it is their calling,

against starving the poor to feed the rich and for a social safety net that creates opportunities,

against destroying the health care system for half of the US and for a healthy workforce and society,

against local and global exploitation of workers and for living wages and health benefits,

against starving the public education system until it dies and for recreating public education through a curriculum and smaller schools that serve everyone,

against a court and penal system that warehouses unemployed minorities as forced labor and for recovery and re-entry programs that end the revolving prison doors.

And we have to hold them accountable. One vote every two years is not accountability. Organizing local groups across racial and ethnic lines about the common interests of the community, demanding that the public officials listen to OUR agendas, and working with them to see the agendas come into being is the best way to rebuild democratic institutions.

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