Response to John Pavlovitz

This is my response to John’s February 7, 2017 post:

Conservative Christianity and White Supremacy’s Scary Kinship

As much as I was heartened by this piece, as much as it stoked my courage in the righteousness of my convictions—truly, you can’t claim to follow Jesus while shouting “America first!”, it’s idolatrous; you can’t love the Gospel and hate the stranger—, as much as I chuckled and gave a self-satisfied “Amen!” to riffs like “black boot-licking fan boys” as well as your swipes at their chickenshit anonymity behind which they hide their hypocrisy, logical inconsistency and inbred supremacism; and as appalled as I am as a United Methodist minister at the many people who call themselves Christians while at the same time chugging down the Trumpist Kool-Aid and by their allegiance in word and deed to what he stands for repudiating the heart of the Gospel; as much as I relished in thumbing the edges, the carbide sharpness, of your arguments, by the time I came to the end and looked up from the screen all the good feeling you invoked in me had drained away. A disquiet took its place. My indignation lingered as a sounding brass or clanging cymbal in an emptied out meeting-hall.

The people you were writing about and taking down, I know them. Or I thought I did before this partisan typhoon. I realized how much it has hurt me and many of us. How estranged I am now from people I have known most of my life, from friends and neighbors who I now come to learn stand on another shore. It is not that their political leanings disappoint me, it’s that their stance toward God and neighbor betrays all I aspire to. And I can’t hide any longer from the truth that they have turned away from and betrayed the very principle and foundation Jesus gave his life to give to us.  I am heartsick from having to tamp down my rage.

It dawned on me, too, as I was reading that no one who does not already agree with it will have ears for what you have to say. All the astuteness of your critique will be lost on the evangelicals and Twitter trolls you level charges against. There is too much contempt seething beneath your words, too much disdain. I recognize it, for I feel it too. We judge them, call them names, write them off. You and me and many if not most of us who label ourselves “progressives” or “liberals”, including those of with the temerity to believe our insight into the righteousness of God is right and true altogether. We have hung the leper’s bell around their necks and cast them into the outer dark.

We do this, we sweep “those people” into an undifferentiated jack-booted mass. It’s the form of prejudice we’ve reserved to ourselves so that we will no longer have to take them seriously as individuals, so that we will never come face to face with and be affected by the impoverishment of their spirits, an impoverishment that accompanies, in one form or another, every human life. In so doing we avoid having to extend hospitality, we will not have to practice the “counterintuitive compassion” you eloquently call for. We will preach love of enemies to those who think as we do, but not practice it with those who don’t.

We have become supremacists. I am guilty. I do what the Trumpists do, what the Alt-Right does, though in a different light, to a less pernicious degree and by a more discerning metric. So I tell myself.

•  •  •

Your tweet that kicked off all the rancor, about a child 5000 miles away being as precious as the one in your nursery, and the cynical response about which of the two you’d save from a ledge if one (not yours) were Muslim, this helped me understand the surge in white nationalist hypocrisy and hatred in a way you might not have intended but that I’m sure will understand.

The notion that my child is as precious as another whom I don’t know and have never seen is, theoretically speaking and from the point of view of the Gospel, is so ethically sound as to be unexceptionable. And it is equally unexceptionable that I will always love my daughter more than yours. This has nothing to do with her worth relative to your child’s or anyone else’s. It has only to do with that she is mine.

Now, the ledge hypothetical your Twitter respondent proposed is not the kind of situation any of us are ever going to face. It is however the kind of feverish scenario fear summons up. I don’t think I’m presuming too much to say that those who responded so viciously to your tweet are consumed by the fear that they and their children are hanging from from that ledge and the world has already chosen the Muslim, has already determined that Black lives matter more than theirs, as do the brown-skinned immigrant’s, the mother receiving food stamps, or anyone else who is other than them.

It is not rational. It does not inhere in the facts that prevail. It is largely unconscious, reactionary and impervious to reasoned and reasonable appeal. This is how fear works. It saved us on the savannah and in the bush. It is how any of us would think and act in a world we believe is indifferent to us. It is what any of us would become if we are not moved and transformed by the unexceptionable chosenness that God’s love confers, that God extends to each human life: You are mine and I will pluck you from that ledge before all others every time. When you are possessed of such a love, the other poses no threat to your worthiness or well-being or security.

We have entered the hyper-postmodern, post-factual age. The poor and down-trodden, the lepers and aliens in our midst whom Jesus would seek out first are the racists and xenophobes, the evangelical idolators and hypocrites who shout “America first!” and hunker down in hateful tribes. We cannot enlighten their minds until we convert their hearts.

How? How can we minister to and love the hateful without letting them off the hook for their sin?

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