Archives For Ted Cruz

Unless you were premature preparing for the coming snowstorm by drinking yourself into oblivion, chances are you already know the Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, sent students at Liberty University into a spate of self-congratulatory titters this week by flubbing his wantonly staged zeal for scripture.

“Two Corinthians, 3:17, that’s the whole ballgame,” Trump said, not, as it’s said in nearly every congregation in North America, second Corinthians 3.17.

The verse in question says: ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’

Freedom, as in, liberty. Jerry Falwell’s school’s namesake.

Much gleeful criticism has been piled upon Donald Trump for unintentionally outing himself as an inauthentic evangelical, for so clumsily attempting ‘to close the sale’ among fundamentalists.

That all of the critique of Trump’s citation has centered around his mis-speaking a verse from Corinthians and exposing his pretense at piety speaks volumes, not about him but about the compromises American Christians make in order to have access to power (or normalcy).

Never mind for a second that the distinction between second Corinthians and two Corinthians gets at every thing I hate about the Christian subculture, who cares, really, whether Trump says ‘two’ or ‘second’ Corinthians? Its like laughing at him for not knowing how to hold his hands for communion or not knowing when to clap during ‘Lord, I Lift Your Name on High.’

I’m not usually sympathetic for The Donald but shouldn’t it be more cringe-worthy that so many political candidates, who aspire to lead the most powerful nation in the world, feel the need to speak at a school founded after a savior who was executed by the most powerful nation in the world?

What’s worse, really, a candidate who mis-states an epistle (that means letter) from the New Testament or a candidate whose surface gestures at Christian discipleship go unchallenged?

Snickers follow Trump’s profession of Presbyterianism, after all Trump is wealthy, pompous, possibly racist, and thrice married. But nothing- silence- follows those candidates who court Christians even though those candidates’ positions in no way correspond to the larger Church. Hillary supports both abortion in contradiction to her United Methodist faith. Marco, Kasich, Christie, and Jeb support the death penalty contrary to their Catholic Church. Don’t get me started on Ted, whose entire ‘carpet bomb ‘em,’ see-the-worst-in-everyone tone is dissonant to every strain of the gospel; meanwhile, all of the candidates minus Bernie and Rand espouse a preemptive militarism at odds with all of the Christian just war tradition.

I’ve read many conspiracy theories about how Trump is really a trojan horse for the Democrats, undermining the Republicans from the inside when, truly, his are just exaggerated versions of the falsehoods and pretenses that Christians accept from all candidates of both parties.

The giggles induced by Trump’s ‘Two Corinthians’ reveals more about us than it does The Donald.

rp_faith4.jpgStanley Hauerwas says the privatization of Christian faith, the reduction of it to belief and feeling, leads to absurd, unintelligible comments like:

‘I believe Jesus Christ is Lord, but that’s just my personal opinion.’

More cringe-worthy than The Donald’s mispronunciation is how we expect little evidence other than the personal opinions of those candidates who cater votes by claiming Jesus as their Lord.

The thin veneer of discipleship with which we’re satisfied in candidates reveals much about the depth of our own.

Sticking to just the text in question, the back-patting cackling and self-satisfied criticism shouldn’t be about how Donald introduced II Corinthians 3.17 but about the fact that any politico in a place like Liberty would cite any verse from those 2 letters of Paul.

In his letters to the Corinthians, Paul sees a serious threat in the way their life and faith are oriented to what Fleming Rutledge calls ‘the wrong center.’ The verse Donald cited sounds nice and probably it did to Jerry Falwell too, but in that larger letter Paul is critiquing two states of mind.

On the one hand, Paul rails against the religiosity of the church-going Christians in Corinth. Paul accuses them of preferring religious experiences, sentimentality and kitsch, uplifting spiritual teachings, and practical, reasonable faith-based lessons. In other words, Paul chastises them for making discipleship about privatized feelings and beliefs rather than a contrary way of life.

On the other hand, Paul critiques the secular Corinthian culture, in which the church found itself, which privileged materialistic values, common-sense demonstrations of fact and the proofs of science.

I don’t think I’m off-base in suggesting that the former corresponds to Liberty’s civll-religion ethos while the former more pretty well captures the worldview of both Trump and his critics in the media.

Fleming Rutldge BandWhiteBoth rub against the grain of the cross. Against both, Fleming Rutledge suggests, Paul puts forth his argument that the word of the cross is a stumbling block (standalone) and foolishness to both the religious and the secular way of seeing the world,

Says Rutledge:

‘The cross is not a suitable object of devotion for religious people, and the claims made for it are too extreme to be acceptable to secular people.

It is the paradox of present-day American culture to be both religious and irreligious. We are secular and materialistic most of the time, but also so pious that candidates for president must stage photo-ops of themselves coming out of church. Paul’s word of the cross opposes all of this.’

Was8864155Like many of you I’ve been- in equal measure- transfixed and sickened by the horror ISIS/L has brought to TVs and computer screens all over the world.

Watching martyrdom in the moment all but sanctions an anything goes retaliation, which can be seen in many Democrats’ willingness to jettison their rather clear Constitutional obligation when it comes to declarations of war.

It’s exactly when we think an enemy deserves no love and no forgiveness, neither compassion nor quarter- that we should submit to Jesus’ command to ‘love our enemies.’

It’s exactly when we’re faced with an evil for which there is no justification and to which any violent response seems justified that we should recall how we are justified- made right with God- by the faith of Jesus Christ alone.

            The faith of the One who died rather than kill unjustly.

The minute we think we’re facing a ‘real world’ situation for which the words and witness of Jesus have no ‘practical’ application is the moment in which we should shed ourselves of the pretense and cease bothering to follow Jesus.

Jesus’ commands are not abstract teachings to which we look for the exceptions; they are teachings to be applied no where else if not to the ‘exceptions.’

While pols and pundits now debate the scope and nature of President Obama’s ‘war’ it may be helpful, I think, for Christians to remind themselves that- speaking Christianly:

action against ISIS cannot rightly be called ‘war.’

The Christian journal Sojourners this week posted an editorial entitled ‘War is Not the Answer’ which seems to me not only cliche but beside the point. Dangerously so, for to accept the use of the term ‘war’ all but forsakes the Christian field of view.

ISIS is a terror group, a criminal network, representing no state (their chosen moniker aside) or government and abiding no exact borders- certainly not massing at our borders.

According to the demands of Christian Just War Tradition, then, war against ISIS cannot be just.

Indeed it cannot be war.

According to the Christian Just War tradition, the just and appropriate response to something like ISIS cannot be narrated in the language of war but only in the language of policing.

ted-cruz-350.gifStopping them. Not, as Joe McCarthy Ted Cruz recently said to cheers, ‘wiping them out.’

This isn’t just semantics or language games, for truthful speech requires that if a war is not just- if it’s not even rightly called a ‘war’- then we must call it something else and how we speak of it will necessarily shape how we prosecute it.

I suppose it’s not surprising (being Catholic and all, where the Just War Tradition has remained robust and urgent) but Pope Francis recently framed the threat posed by ISIS and a potential response in clear Christian terms.

That is, unlike President Obama et al, Pope Francis spoke Christian:

pope-francis-im-not-a-marxist

“Where there is an unjust aggression I can only say that it is legitimate to stop the unjust aggressor…

I underscore the verb ‘to stop. I am not saying ‘bomb’ or ‘make war,’ but ‘stop him.’ The means by which he can be stopped must be evaluated.

Stopping the aggressor is the legitimate [goal].”

 

ted_cruz2During the last- and apparently ongoing- campaign Mitt Romney infamously returned a heckler’s’ provocation in a ham-fisted way for which Romney became notorious:

“Corporations are people too, my friend.”

Liberals took to criticizing that gaffe in the predictable way you would expect while conservatives reliably defended the truth and humanism of Romney’s statement.

Corporations are not cold, impersonal Leviathans; corporations are comprised of and depend upon people. Ordinary, everyday people who are pursuing their vocational dreams, contributing to something bigger than themselves, or simply putting in their time to support their families.

As any honest, non-ideologue knows already corporations are people. Romney’s clumsy rhetoric was evidence not of any sinister truth about corporations but of his propensity for clumsy rhetoric.

Setting aside their motives, conservatives were correct to defend the substance of Romney’s retort. What’s curious, though, is why conservatives (and by conservative I have in mind the most radical of the Tea Party contingent) would not apply the very same principle to the largest corporation of all: the federal government.

Governments are people too, my friend.

I realize that sounds anathema to most conservatives, but, as is the case with much ideology, just because it strikes one as undesirable does not mean it’s untrue.

The government is people.

Need proof?

How about every third person in my congregation.

From scientists who work at the FDA to Secret Service agents to analysts at the CIA to musicians in the military bands to folks who work on the Hill, to government lawyers to to all the many others who work indirectly for the government.

Not only do I know they’re actual, living, breathing, human-style people, I also know that 3/4 of them are were conservative.

I also happen to know they’re Sunday School teachers and communion servers, trustees and prayer group members. They cook for the homeless in and around DC and they serve the poor overseas.

And now, for no other reason but arbitrary political theater, they’re ‘furloughed.’

Which is innocuous-sounding HR speak for wondering how they’re going to pay their bills and feed their kids while the show continues.

Oh yeah, most of these people make/made good but modest salaries whilst living in one of the most expensive communities in the nation. So there’s that injury to insult.

Given that ours is a time when activists on both sides are inclined to reference pedigreed thinkers, and politicians are inclined to be nauseatingly self-referential, I thought a helpful corrective might be to reference not an economist or political philosopher nor even Jesus but a theologian:

St Augustine. Saint_Augustine_Portrait

Living through the unthinkable collapse of Rome, Augustine responded by writing his opus, The City of God, a theological text which is thoroughly political in character.

Augustine saw firsthand how outsized national aspirations and political hubris could quickly unravel the the civitas into chaos; consequently, Augustine writes in the City of God that the danger in politics is that it tempts us into thinking of ourselves primarily along political and national lines. So, in our day, we’re Republicans or Democrats or Tea Partiers or Progressives or Americans. First.

But this is theological problem for Christians, Augustine points out, for we confess that in Christ- because of Christ- ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek…’ No labels or categories or parties or patriotisms transcend our ‘in-Christness.’

Politics, Augustine says, because it asks us to think of ourselves and others in terms of political categories, goes against the grain of what is accomplished in Christ’s redemption (the ‘in-ness’ of each other) and recapitulates in our lives the very divisions Christ came to overcome.

This isn’t to say that politics is evil or even useless for Augustine. To be a citizen, Augustine writes, is primarily to be ‘under judgment.’ That is, our civic life is a consequence of the fall. Our politics is necessarily partial and imperfect because humanity is sinful.

The Christian recognition that we’re imperfect (sinners) should impart to our politics the one thing so absent today: humility.

Humility.

Because we’re all sinners.

Therefore none of us is entirely right.

Or righteous.

A proper awareness of our sinfulness, Augustine argues, points out how our politics can never be what politicians so often want us to think it can be: a means to building the Kingdom of God on Earth.

Of course, politicians (most at least) don’t talk that way anymore but Kingdom language of antiquity isn’t very different than the speech politicians use today for ‘American Exceptionalism.’

Because our politics can never build the City of God on Earth, Augustine argues that our politics are much more a practice of necessity and realism and limited aims:

Establishing peace for the civic order

Serving the common good

Providing relative justice

Presciently, whenever Augustine writes of politics he hits upon the dangers brought by those who would tempt us into thinking (their) politics are a means to the Kingdom: idolatry, pride, putting power over the polis.

To this realistic view of politics, Augustine also sees civic participation as a kind of training for our life in the City of God, by which he means that Christians should bring to our civitas the virtues of our Ultimate City: humility, moral responsibility (both for our actions and towards our brothers and sisters) and a constant posture of confession.

And by confession Augustine means: the practice of turning towards another to admit harm and a willing expectation to be transformed by them.

In other words:

Augustine would say that ideology is the very opposite of faith.

Because we’re sinners, there is no such thing as a pure political ideology (or one that’s purely right). There is no perfect strategy to an idealized future that can only be realized in the Kingdom. Every strategy or platform or agenda is at best partial.

And for that reason, there is absolutely no justification to act in such a way that ignores the image of God in another person. Especially across the aisle.

Charles Matthews writes that Augustine saw how politics often functions as a parody of the Golden Rule where life becomes about:

‘…nothing but getting and spending- or worse, seeking to obstruct another’s getting and spending…[then] anything becomes legitimate to get one’s way.’

Anything.

Say even political theater, no matter who ends up the victim.

Collapsing all our meaning into politics, Augustine warns, risks collapsing our sense of moral order and duty to the common good.

Put differently, ideology is but another word for idolatry.

And so, while our duly-elected dolts continue to genuflect to the golden calf of their particular constituency, party or ideology, I just want to offer this simply Augustinian maxim:

Governments are people too.