Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Matter of Alliances

After Donald Trump captured the U.S. presidency in a highly questionable election, a number of resistance movements sprang up in the United States.  One of those movements is called Indivisible, and it is representative of those movements whose strategy is to try to oppose the Trump agenda through established institutional political channels.   That's not my particular style of fighting just now, so, while I wished them well, I never really felt compelled to join them.  However, over the last few weeks, I ran into someone who is involved in a local chapter of Indivisible, and this person told me some of the things that this local chapter is trying to do.  The person also commented to me that "it seemed to be hard to get people of color involved in Indivisible...they just didn't seem to be interested..."  At the end of our conversation, we exchanged email addresses, and later, this person sent me a couple of links to Indivisible "weekly action checklists."

One of those checklists contained the following language: "After the election…
Like many Americans, I grew concerned for my rights—like the right to free speech, the right to be married to my wife, to dissent, and to privacy.  Even more, I grew worried for my Latino friends, my Muslim friends, my Black friends, and my gay sisters and brothers—especially as acts of violence and harassment increase..."

These words were written by a blond-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian woman who had married another woman.  And her statement of concern for "equity" and "equal rights" were led first and foremost by her concern for the freedom to pursue her own lifestyle.

Reading those words and looking at her picture on the Indivisible website spurred me to think about how the Civil Rights movement has morphed and mutated from its origins in abolitionist movement in the early-to-mid 19th century to the present, and especially how the movement's focus and agenda (along with the focus and agenda of the American Democratic Party) was changed from the 1960's to now.  I was also compelled to revisit the way I view nonviolent resistance on its most basic level.  I am aware that in their excellent book Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, Chenoweth and Stephan emphasize the importance of building a large coalition of diverse actors in order to insure the success of a nonviolent movement.  However, I believe that alliances must be chosen very carefully and not indiscriminately.

And as I consider the practice of radical nonviolent resistance, I see a some very important characteristics, the first of which is that this kind of resistance consists of speaking truth to power in the full knowledge that the power to whom you speak truth may respond by trying to kill you.  Second, radical nonviolent resistance requires that you cannot respond to your oppressor with violence even when he is trying to kill you, even as St. Peter wrote: "Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are crooked..."  Note also that even though Peter wrote of the need for submission, yet he and all of the apostles wound up as jailbirds at various times in their lives because they spoke truth to power by living radically in the truth.  (Indeed, Peter eventually was crucified upside-down.)

To me then, to be a nonviolent resister is synonymous with being a Christian.  And being a Christian means that I have confessed the Lordship of the Boss I work for.  Since He has called me to a dangerous work in which I might lose my life, I believe the success of that work hinges very closely on my willingness to do exactly what my Boss says.  And my Boss (as revealed especially by the New Testament) has specifically condemned homosexuality as a lifestyle.  Therefore, I cannot join with those who seek to legitimize homosexuality as a lifestyle.  Otherwise, I run the risk of failing in the task which my Boss has given me.

Yet there is another element of obedience to my Boss which I ought to mention.  According to His orders, I am forbidden to try to use secular, earthly political power to punish other people for their private sins.  Paul's letter to the Galatians clearly lays out the futility of trying to get people to act like Christians by trying to force "Christian" laws on a fallen nation.  The entire Old Testament history of Israel illustrates this futility.  And the history of Prohibition in the United States is another clear example.  Also, in the story of the Lord's encounter with the adulterous woman in John 8, when the Pharisees were pressing Jesus to agree with stoning the woman to death, Jesus responded by saying, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."  Those who read the story to the end will notice that at the end, the woman was still alive.

There is one other thing to notice from the story in John 8, and that is the motive behind the Pharisees' efforts to force the Lord to condone stoning this woman to death.  He said, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone..." and this stopped them from throwing stones - so...I guess that means that they themselves had sinned, doesn't it?  And I think it is quite likely that some (perhaps many) of them had sinned in exactly the same way that this woman had.  Their motives in trying to put this woman to death had nothing to do with zeal for Biblical morality, but were rather a ploy to eliminate a threat to their secular, earthly political power and social status.  And Jesus knew it.  And they knew (from seeing and hearing about some of His miracles) that if they tried to continue their rush to judgment after hearing His warning to them, He would most likely have publicly declared some of their secret sins in the ears of the crowd standing around Him.

Which brings up a point, namely, the use which political actors in the United States have made of private sexual sin in order to advance their own political and economic power.  I am thinking particularly of homosexuality and how the response to homosexuality has been used both by the ostensible "Left" and by the Right as a proof of their "righteousness."  The Right, for instance, has largely succeeded in reducing Biblical morality to the question of how we should respond to a very small handful of issues related to sex.  This has been convenient for them because they have been able to say in threatening tones that God's "blessing" on this nation by which this "great nation" (meaning rich white folks) has been made "great" is under threat because "we have abandoned Biblical morality."  Therefore, the great issue of our time is the need to fight against departure from Biblical sexual morality.  We need a renewed "Focus on the Family!"  There are no other issues more important than this.

Such language conveniently ignores two things.  The first is that, according to the Scriptures, my Boss (whom they claim to be their Boss also, even though they don't know Him at all) is concerned about many issues beside sexual sin - and His concern for them is just as great as His concern about sexual sin.  One such issue (which they don't address because it would cost them money) is the issue of predatory behavior by one group of people against another.  Indeed, in Ezekiel 22, God promises to tear Israel apart, to destroy it economically and politically, and to send its residents into captivity.  When one reads Ezekiel 22 and counts the reasons why God promised to do this, homosexuality is not mentioned once.  However, economic oppression (and accompanying violence against the powerless) is mentioned fourteen times.  While sexual sin is mentioned four times, in two of those cases, God condemns men for forcing themselves on women.  (The word "humbled" can also be rendered "raped"!)

The Religious Right has condoned every sin listed in Ezekiel 22.  Indeed, their darling, Donald Trump, has been guilty of every sin listed in Ezekiel 22.  If we limit our focus solely to sexual sin, the list of Republicans and supremacists who have fallen is quite long, including Newt Gingrich, who was fooling around behind his wife's back during the Republican-led impeachment of Bill Clinton.  It also includes Bob Livingstone, who led the impeachment proceedings after Gingrich was outed, as well as Dennis Hastert who replaced Livingstone after he was outed for cheating on his wife.  It also includes Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor who investigated Bill Clinton.  Starr later became the president of Baylor University, where he helped to cover up a massive sexual assault scandal involving the Baylor football team.  And as far as homosexuality, Dennis Hastert was later found guilty of paying public money to hush up his sexual assaults of high school wrestlers while he was a wrestling coach.  And the current Republican regime in Washington is trying hard to remove every legal protection from women who are victims of sexual assault, harassment, or domestic violence.

("Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!...You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the damnation of Gehenna?")

So we can see how the Right has pushed zeal against sexual sin as a convenient gauge of zeal for righteousness, because such a gauge does not threaten existing economic or political disparities in power, nor does it threaten existing patterns of oppression which enrich the few at the expense of the many.  But what about the "Left"?  For it seems to me lately that the Left has largely succeeded in reducing concerns about equity and diversity and equal rights solely to the push to legitimize certain sexual lifestyles.  Indeed, I remember reading a few years back (although I am sorry that I can't find the source now) that during one of the "general assemblies" of the Occupy protests, a group of gay rights activists stood up and proclaimed that the struggle for civil rights for people of color had largely succeeded, and that now the main focus of struggle should be on promoting the acceptance of "sexual minorities."  I also remember reading that the people who said this were shouted down by several people of color who knew differently.  Indeed, there are people of color within the LGBTQ movement who themselves have pointed out the racism and overall whiteness of the movement, and how it has largely ignored the voices of the people of color in its ranks.  (See this, this, and this, for instance.)  Note also what one source has said about the alignment of some elements of the gay community with the global far right.

To an increasing number of us from communities of color, the gay rights movement seems to have hijacked the efforts in this country to fight for social justice.  The last year, for instance, has seen many well-funded "rights" organizations fighting for things like public "transgender restrooms" even as corrupt white police officers get away with murdering unarmed African-Americans.  What is also telling is that there is so little outrage within the broader American society over the murders.  To us, the LGBTQ agenda has no relevance to us; rather, the insistence on making this agenda so prominent is one of the factors which makes us increasingly distrustful of the so-called "Left", and unwilling to engage with them in their agenda.  This is one reason why we are not rallying behind the Democratic Party - a party which is home to a Governor who derailed the indictment of Darren Wilson, the police officer who murdered Michael Brown.  This is the same party who has as a member a man named Rahm Emanuel, Bill Clinton's former chief of staff.  Rahm Emanuel went on later to become the mayor of Chicago, where he helped the Chicago police department cover up police murders of unarmed African-American teens.  So as the Left extends its hand to us once again, we don't trust it.  To me, it seems that we must chart our own course.  And some of us are gaining the skills and tools to do just that.  For the Left as it is currently constituted is also no threat to existing economic or political disparities in power, nor does it threaten existing patterns of oppression which enrich the few at the expense of the many.


Five Hundred Pound Peep said...

I believe the focus on identity politics on the left is one reason we have ended up with Trump. The Democrat party abandoned standing up against real oppression and became about minority chosen lifestyles that are not widely accepted. I believe in leaving people in peace even ones I do not agree with regarding their lifestyles, but I noticed there sure was a lot of ignored people and issues, and well that's how we got Trump. Agree with your stand against Dominionism,and Trump's obvious moral limitations that were ignored by the so called Christian "right".

TH in SoC said...

Hello Five Hundred Pound Peep,
I would tend to agree with you to a point about the Democrats. And I absolutely agree with you about the Right. More later...