The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
QAnon and “Trumplicals” (I just can’t use the lovely word “Evangel” to reference them anymore.) They both seem to have come out of nowhere, unleashed on the nation’s consciousness by the presidency of Donald Trump. But they were there all along, hiding in plain sight in the history of American Christianity.
I wish the “Qs” could find their way to the Second Apology of Justin Martyr or the Embassy for the Christians of Athenagoras of Athens. If they had any understanding of the past, they might see how charges of perversion and cannibalism were used against the early Christians. But, they’ve jumped right in, spurred on by their hatreds and fears, throwing in the “blood libel” against Jews for grotesque measure. All of this dread of being devoured from the new cult of “Q.” They still can’t figure out what to do with John 6. Don’t they get that Orthodox and Catholic are “munching” on the Body of God at every Eucharist? Should we be prepared for our churches and synagogues to be invaded like pizza parlors, by armed fanatics searching for an abattoir of horrors?
Moral courage is, by definition, acting on principle in the face of adverse consequences. The American presidency is filled with examples of moral heroism. George Washington stepped down after two terms, despite a fear of anarchy. Teddy Roosevelt stood up to robber barons to advance a progressive agenda. Lyndon Johnson pursued the Voting Rights Act in 1965, knowing it would subvert the Democratic party for a generation.
When politics are deeply polarized, courage between and across tribes adds depth to these acts. Or, as Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute recently said, “Moral courage is the act of defending someone with whom you disagree politically.” A generation ago, Texas Democrat Jim Hightower said this differently: “The only thing in the middle of the road is a yellow stripe and dead armadillos.”
Pete Wehner’s new book, the Death of Politics, is at its core a book about moral courage in both senses—obeying principles and embracing opponents. Its great accomplishment is to provide a practical, working definition of political morality that can appeal to all Americans when our politics appear broken.
The former head of Strategic Initiatives in the George W. Bush White House, and a committed Evangelical Christian, Wehner makes the case for why engaged citizenship itself must be a moral enterprise. Wehner’s vision is to weave the rights of individuals together with the needs of society, and to do so with humility, moderation and civility.
The book itself is an act of moral courage. Wehner regularly challenges a range of conservative politicians and Evangelical leaders. He regularly praises actors, thought leaders and ideas from across the aisle. He does this out of principle, not compromise or convenience. Continue reading →
The UN Climate Change Conference taking place this week in Bonn, Germany, is once again revealing how unrestrained exceptionalism is digging our country only deeper into global isolationism. As an American citizen, I am often confronted with the U.S. announcement to withdraw from the Paris Agreement at the COP21 meeting two years ago. America, the sole country deciding to abstain from the agreement, is alone in the world at this critical moment. But is President Trump alone in emboldening this disturbing dissociation?
Whether in public affairs or church politics, there is a tendency to criticize leaders and those with prominence and privilege. In Australia, we call it “tall poppy syndrome.” Over time, it can prove a moderate social leveler; but so often, because it results in nothing, it constitutes a meaningless personal catharsis and denigration. And while it may be a temptation to lay blame solely at the feet of leaders, it can frequently lead to a distraction of concern and deflection of accountability. In my modest experience with men of power, and particularly men in black, I have learned that it is sometimes futile to concentrate exclusively on those at the top and generally more fruitful to observe the loyalist admirers on the coattails and the uncritical adherents at the base. This may not always be a foolproof litmus test, but it is certainly a compelling indicator.
Robert E. Lee’s statue stands on 2nd Street NE in Charlottesville. I live two blocks away—in the same small redbrick Cape Cod where we have lived since 1999. For the last 18 years, this house and the rest of our idyllic downtown have been my retreat—the place to which I have escaped, after one world event or another.
This weekend my retreat became the frontline in America’s culture war. And yesterday’s event was different than any I’ve ever experienced.
Over the past two decades, as a government official or policy analyst, I’ve attended at least a dozen major protests—that is, protests that were so large or significant as to garner national or international media attention. At some, I was a White House official, including two G-7 summits and two climate change negotiations. At others, I was an observer—including the infamous riot-filled 1999 Seattle WTO meeting, several anti-globalization protests, and two major Greek-crisis protests.
I’ve seen the power of protest, and also the chaos that it can unleash. I’ve seen protests move public opinion. I’ve also had my eyes burned out by tear-gas more times than I’d like to count, and watched abuses by protesters and police alike.
Yesterday’s protest was different in two senses. First, the introduction of firearms into peaceful protests. Second, that hatred was the centerpiece of the protest. That toxic brew spilled over. Continue Reading…