Worth Reading - 6/30

Here are some links worth reading this weekend:

1. I hear it frequently from the theological left, "Conservative theology is abusive." Or, traditional orthodoxy prevents people from flourishing. Often the accusation is made because there are cases where doctrinally conservative Christians have enabled or participated in abuse. That reality is sad and undeniable. However, the causal link is much less clear as Samuel James argues.

But here’s something I’ve noticed. I’ve noticed that, for what feels like a growing number of younger professing Christians (whether they use the word evangelical or not), there seems to be a 4th statement that holds a lot of weight with them. You could put it something like this:

#4 Because theologically conservative institutions and people have been guilty of this abuse, it follows that theologically conservative doctrine empowers and facilitates such abuse.

I completely reject this statement for many reasons, most of which would probably be easy to guess for readers of this blog. But what’s interesting to me is that this 4th statement is, for a lot of young religion writers, so self-evident and so important to their worldview that to deny it amounts to nothing less than an instinctive valuing of theology and ideas over human beings at best, and at worst, an ambition to likewise abuse, control, or manipulate others with our religion. Arguing with this 4th statement is almost always construed to be really arguing with the first 3. The only reason (they say) that someone would dispute statement 4 is because they’re really living in denial of statements 1-3. Either you don’t really believe that theologically conservative churches or institutions have hurt others (in which case, you’re simply in denial of reality), or else you don’t believe that such hurting actually matters.

2. Michael Bird writes a bit about socialism making a comeback and how much of the movement relies on naïveté about the long-term failures of socialism.

Part of the problem is that when many people think about socialism they seem to have some kind of romantic vision of northern European countries like Sweden or nostalgia for South American Marxist martyrs like Che Guevara. What they are forgetting is that Sweden, and the Scandinavian countries generally, are not socialist, but are free market economies (see here). What is more, countries that have recently taken the road of socialism, like Venezuela, have turned their resource-rich nation into a nightmare of economic misery where even democracy is now under threat (see here). And I don’t see any leftists threatening to move to Venezuela to escape Trump, Turnbull, or May.

Ultimately socialism fails because, well, as Margaret Thatcher said, “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” It is one thing to create an equitable tax system, to redistribute wealth through government services and the like, make corporations pay their fair share, but it has its limits. That is because money can move. And if you keep pilfering it, people and corporations will simply move their money out of your grasp. I mean, just ask French actor Gerard Depardieu why he moved to Belgium?

Our best hope is for a pluralistic democracy with a free market economy characterized by economic opportunity, upward mobility, minimal regulation, a genuine safety net, and creating wealth that all Australians will be able to access.

3. My friend, Bekah Mason, wrote an excellent article for Christianity Today about how she, as a same sex attracted woman, found her identity in Christ rather than in her sexual desires. It's powerful and meaningful. Those on both sides of this issue would do well to hear her voice.

All this changed when I began undergraduate work at a small Christian college. There, I was introduced to a progressive Christian community that not only talked openly about homosexuality but also celebrated it as another expression of love given to us by an inclusive God. As a woman who increasingly identified as gay and felt called to ministry, it was an intoxicating combination. Going from silent condemnation to the other extreme—active encouragement to express my “true self”—left me more confused about my identity, my relationship with God, and my relationship with the church.

In the end, both legalistic condemnation and progressive license left me seeking more contentment and completeness than either could offer. One group had fallen short of acknowledging the genuine nature of my feelings and the other had overlooked the very real conviction I held about human sexuality by explaining it away as “residual guilt from my legalistic childhood.”

4. Peggy Noonan wrote an thoughtful article for the Wall Street Journal about the clear and present danger of our time: the increasingly vitriolic and likely to lead to more violence.

Too many in the mainstream media—not all, but too many—don’t even bother to fake fairness and lack of bias anymore, which is bad: Even faked balance is better than none.

Yes, they have reasons. They find Mr. Trump to be a unique danger to the republic, an incipient fascist; they believe it is their patriotic duty to show opposition. They don’t like his policies. A friend suggested recently that they hate him also because he’s in their business, show business. Who is he to be president? He’s not more talented. And yet as soon as his presidency is over he’ll get another reality show.

And there’s something else. Here I want to note the words spoken by Kathy Griffin, the holder of the severed head. In a tearful news conference she said of the president, “He broke me.” She was roundly mocked for this. Oh, the big bad president’s supporters were mean to you after you held up his bloody effigy. But she was exactly right. He did break her. He robbed her of her sense of restraint and limits, of her judgment. He broke her, but not in the way she thinks, and he is breaking more than her.

We have been seeing a generation of media figures cratering under the historical pressure of Donald Trump. He really is powerful.

They’re losing their heads. Now would be a good time to regain them.

5. As I've become more aware of the issue, one of the most powerful realities of the racial issues in our culture are the differences in how people are treated simply because of the color of their skin. I have witnessed it first-hand when a black midshipmen and I were treated differently by police at a sporting event; both of us were in our dress uniforms, both in the same place, but he got spoken to and I didn't. I also continue to hear stories like the one relayed by the lawyer in this article from people whom I know personally and trust. This isn't a made up issue. It isn't about dressing like a gangster. There is a bias based on race, and this story reveals a big piece of the problem.

Late one night several years ago, I got out of my car on a dark midtown Atlanta street when a man standing fifteen feet away pointed a gun at me and threatened to “blow my head off.” I’d been parked outside my new apartment in a racially mixed but mostly white neighborhood that I didn’t consider a high-crime area. As the man repeated the threat, I suppressed my first instinct to run and fearfully raised my hands in helpless submission. I begged the man not to shoot me, repeating over and over again, “It’s all right, it’s okay.”

The man was a uniformed police officer. As a criminal defense attorney, I knew that my survival required careful, strategic thinking. I had to stay calm. I’d just returned home from my law office in a car filled with legal papers, but I knew the officer holding the gun had not stopped me because he thought I was a young professional. Since I was a young, bearded black man dressed casually in jeans, most people would not assume I was a lawyer with a Harvard Law School degree. To the officer threatening to shoot me I looked like someone dangerous and guilty.

I had been sitting in my beat-up Honda Civic for over a quarter of an hour listening to music that could not be heard outside the vehicle. There was a Sly and the Family Stone retrospective playing on a local radio station that had so engaged me I couldn’t turn the radio off. It had been a long day at work. A neighbor must have been alarmed by the sight of a black man sitting in his car and called the police. My getting out of my car to explain to the police officer that this was my home and nothing criminal was taking place prompted him to pull his weapon.

Having drawn his weapon, the officer and his partner justified their threat of lethal force by dramatizing their fears and suspicions about me. They threw me on the back of my car, searched it illegally, and kept me on the street for fifteen humiliating minutes while neighbors gathered to view the dangerous criminal in their midst. When no crime was discovered and nothing incriminating turned up in a computerized background check on me, I was told by the two officers to consider myself lucky. While this was said as a taunt, they were right: I was lucky.

People of color in the United States, particularly young black men, are often assumed to be guilty and dangerous. In too many situations, black men are considered offenders incapable of being victims themselves. As a consequence of this country’s failure to address effectively its legacy of racial inequality, this presumption of guilt and the history that created it have significantly shaped every institution in American society, especially our criminal justice system.