Bo Sanders: Public Theology

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Hopefully the Politicizing of Rape is over

This is part of  a series over the next 2 days of posts that were written a month ago. It is interesting to read them now. I will tweak the intros to each, but I fear that they will be ongoing issues until we seriously revisit some of our flimsy thinking behind these subjects.

Yet again a Republican candidate came out with an outlandish comment about rape  that has drawn widespread criticism from those outside the ideological bubble.

  Indiana Congressman Richard Murdoch, during a debate, made the latest in what has become a consistent string of rhetoric for white conservative men – notably on the heels of Senate candidate Todd Akin’s introduction of ‘legitimate’ rape into our vernacular.

Apparently Akin, who is on the House Science Committee, thinks that a women’s body can sense if the conception was because of ‘legitimate’ rape and take of the matter on its own. Richard Murdoch took it a step further, beyond biology, and introduced theology into the mix. The resulting pregnancy would be ‘God’s will’.

 Let me be clear: I get why some people hate abortion. I do. I get it. I was raised watching movies like ‘Silent Scream’ and listening to Carmen rap/sing about our nation’s demise and invitation of God’s wrath.  I get it. That is not what I want to address here.

 My concern is with the consistent and frequent rhetoric that is coming from the conservative right on the issue of rape. 
There are 3 reasons that this hits so close to home for me:

  1. My wife ran the rape crisis hotline and prevention education for the county where we lived in NY. For a decade this was a major part of our life and focus.
  2. As a minister, I have sat with countless women and heard their stories. We have walked a really tough road of recovery and healing with many.
  3. I have traded my narrow/shallow theological adolescence for a more critical-aware- sophisticated-and progressive one.

These three things come together is a very painful way for me when I hear these continuing statements from non-women candidates.

 One starts to ask “What exactly is going on with these guys? What in the world are they thinking?”
If two is a trend and three is a pattern then this is a full-blown school of thought!

Are they just trying to fire-up their base? Are they trying to out religion each other? Are they so fixated on abortion that it blinds them to the absurdity of their other positions?

 Or is it worse than that?  Is it that there view of God is fundamentally determining this stuff?  I’m afraid that this might be true. I think that these might be really good hearted christian men who have bought into a view of God that is so limited and narrow that it necessarily dictates utterances like we have been hearing.

I am suspicious that one’s view of God is like an operating system on a computer and that given enough time, this N. American conservative/fundamentalist program that gets downloaded just inherently comes with some unavoidable glitches and bugs that eventually result in stances like we have been seeing.

Thomas Jay Oord posted the following on Facebook:

 Candidate Richard Mourdock’s statements about rape, pregnancy, and God’s intentions point out a major problem with most theologies. John Calvin summarized the problem well, “There can be no distinction between God’s will and God’s permission! Why say ‘permission’ unless it is because God so wills?” The Mourdock episode suggests that those who (rightfully) object to his statements implicitly support a view of divine power closer to process theology’s view, even though they may not realize it.

 I’m not trying to pick a fight.  I am not trying to be partisan. I am simply heartbroken about these hurtful things that have consistently come to the surface during this election cycle.

Maybe a new guideline should be put in place: as a candidate you are not allowed to talk about rape unless you have walked a mile in those shoes.

At a minimum, I would like to see the name of God disconnected from this subject in political arenas. 

God is in charge of the economy?

I have always been suspicious that what I am about to say was true. If you follow out the way that folks talk about an interventionist God who meddles, tinkers, intervenes and interacts with ‘His’ (always his) creation … then it has to follow that some within that stream will think that God actually runs the economy.

I have met people who think this. I have reported it and based some of my posts on it – only to have it be consistently rebuffed as a case a few superstitious, uniformed or immature people or groups. Then, last week this article by Paul Froese came out in Religion & Politics called “How Your View of God Shapes your View of the Economy”.  It turns out that it is worse than I even thought!

People who look at data and conduct surveys and polls are always looking for variables. One of the wrinkles that has gotten a lot of attention lately why some conservatives – mostly based on social concerns like abortion and gay marriage – vote against their own economic interest.  Why do those who are not benefiting from the current economic structure continue to put forward policies and candidates who reinforce the status quo and hierarchy?

It turns out that even though Jesus says you can’t serve both God and mammon (whatever that is) but what if you didn’t have to make that distinction? What if within the protestant work ethic there was a mechanism by which God was in charge of the economy?

 To put this more concretely, approximately 31 percent of Americans, many of whom are white evangelical men, believe that God is steering the United States economy, thus fusing their religious and economic interests. These individuals believe in what I call an “Authoritative God.” An Authoritative God is thought to be actively engaged in daily activities and historical outcomes. For those with an Authoritative God, value concerns are synonymous with economic concerns because God has a guiding hand in both. Around two-thirds of believers in an Authoritative God conjoin their theology with free-market economics, creating a new religious-economic idealism. Nearly one-fifth of American voters hold this viewpoint, signaling that it can be a major political force.

It is actually a fascinating set of findings in the study (I would encourage you to read the whole article). The search becomes twofold:

  1. Does the willingness of God to fix the economy become dependent on us to deal with our social ills? In other words: does prosperity result from faithfulness?
  2. Believing in this Authoritative God, depending on where you live in the world can lead one to a socialist conclusion or a non-capitalist structure. Why in the US does it mean a unquestioned allegiance to a laissez-faire ideology?

The article explains:

… the United States stands as a clear exception. Americans who feel that “God has a plan” for them and their country are much more likely to think that “success is achieved by ability rather than luck” and that “able-bodied people who are out of work should not receive unemployment checks.” And over half (54 percent) of Americans who think God controls the economy feel that “anything is possible for those who work hard”; in contrast, only one-quarter of Americans who rely on human resourcefulness, rather than God’s plan, feel this way.

Perhaps it is the fervent individualism of American Christianity which makes free market capitalism seem like a Divine mandate. Because evangelicals assert that you alone are responsible for your eternal salvation, it makes sense that the individual is also responsible for his or her economic salvation without government assistance, especially if God is the only assistance you really need.

I am fascinated by this. I have written (and talked on TNT) so often about the implication of this type of evangelical-charismatic-protestant mentality that believes in personal piety (small) and super-structure cosmic spiritual warfare (large) but has no framework for (linking middle)  ‘powers the be’ in systems, structures, and institutions.

If God magically made the world in 6 days, made the Sun stand still, can time earthquakes to get Apostles out of jail and one day will pull back the clouds and ride into to dole out justice and end the whole bloody thing… I guess it makes sense that God is guiding the economy.

This is why I am so passionate about a better way to read the Bible – we need a mature hermeneutic that see the text with its eyes wide open, aware of the world as it is not just the way we want it to be or we used to think it was. Last week I wrote about the effects of Globalization and how it impacts our theological thinking. Global capitalism is no minor issue – how we think about the economy and participate financially as consumers should matter to believers.

I might need to apologize for my sassy tone here – but I truly am interested in your thoughts.

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