The center cannot hold

February 28, 2016

Well, I voted early for the primary. (I’ll be out of town on election day.)

As a follow-up to my last post, here’s another good article about where Trump’s popularity comes from: Trump: Fishtown’s Champion Against Belmont. (Charles Murray, the author I linked to in my last post, wrote a book about the growing divide between the well-educated and well-paid, who live in a place he calls “Belmont”, and the lower working class, who live in “Fishtown”.) I want to hi-light one part of this essay:

Listen up, my fellow religious and social conservatives of the middle class. Trump may well be a false messiah; that’s an easy case to make. But we should try to remove the scales from our eyes and see the conditions that a lot of our fellow Americans live in, and ask why it is that the kind of candidate we have been voting for all these years, and have been pushing, have no credibility with these people. The Democrats tend to think of people like that as racists, and therefore beyond caring about. What’s our excuse?

Charles Featherstone once told me that when he was in ELCA (Lutheran) seminary, he often felt alienated from his fellow seminarians, because of his own hardscrabble, messy background. The others were so very, very progressive, and held on to harsh prejudices against white people who didn’t fit their neat, middle-class progressive mold. Charles was not ordained, in the end, and he’s pretty bitter about it. The other day he wrote this about his experiences, and in it, I saw a lot of myself, and middle-class Christians like me:

I think Lutherans are afraid of the world, of its rough edges, of dirt and grit, of strange smells, of babbling tongues they don’t understand, of crowded and uneven streets, and especially of dark alleys where life is lived in shadow. Lutheran good works generally involve cleaning and tidying and organizing and installing bright lights rather than meeting people where they are in chaotic darkness and then grabbing hold of them and not letting go. Because of this, I would, as an ELCA pastor, never be free to walk in that world and to witness to the love of God the way that I am truly called to do. The ELCA, for all its professed theological and social progressivism, is at its heart a very culturally conservative community — Lutherans believe deeply in certain social norms and expectations, in a right order to the world, and they harshly punish those who don’t adhere and do not conform. They may genuinely be a kind and gentle and tolerant people, but as a herd, they have the power to crush and destroy and marginalize just as easily as anyone. And they do. Far too easily and far too much.

ELCA Lutherans love, but almost always it’s love in box, love that is bounded, love that knows its limits, love that is well ordered and not allowed to overflow and make a mess. It is love that knows exactly who it is for, and why, and how. In the ELCA, love is only for certain people, who behave themselves, are good, and have the foresight to be born into the right, well-ordered, bourgeois circumstances. I said this in my book, and I will repeat it here — Lutherans may preach unearned grace, but their lived confession emphatically states, “If you truly need God’s grace, you clearly have not earned it.”

Note well, Charles Featherstone is a Lutheran complaining about his fellow Lutherans. I think his critique, though, strikes at the heart of a lot of middle-class American Christianity, including my own.

Does Featherstone’s harsh judgment of the liberal Lutherans of ELCA have anything to say to the rest of us Christians who (as I used to do) go nuts when confronted by the fact that lots of people like Donald Trump? Are we missing something important? Have we been far too narrow in our understanding of what it means to live in a Christian society, and of what it means to conserve Christian values? We have done a good job of bracketing off economic questions from social and moral ones in our politics, and now it has come back to bite us on the backside. If Trump, as Ross Douthat has suggested, may be a judgment on the Republican Party, people like you and me should also consider him a judgment on ourselves and what we have done, or failed to do, with our influence in the Republican Party and conservative movement.

I’m afraid what he says about Lutherans applies to a lot of Latter-Day Saints, myself included.

I don’t know how this election will turn out, but it doesn’t look like it will have a good outcome. I still think Trump is a con man who doesn’t really mean what he says (see this for example), but that what he says appeals to so many shows how poorly we as a people have done for one another.

In the end, politics is important but not as important as many other things. I’ll just link to another post, about fathers, as an example of something that politics affects but can’t solve.

If I didn’t have faith that God loves us and will bless us if we turn to him, I would feel pretty depressed about the way the world is headed. Maybe we should just try living the gospel. Who knows, it just might work.


February 16, 2016

Charles Murray: Trump’s America

If you are dismayed by Trumpism, don’t kid yourself that it will fade away if Donald Trump fails to win the Republican nomination. Trumpism is an expression of the legitimate anger that many Americans feel about the course that the country has taken, and its appearance was predictable. It is the endgame of a process that has been going on for a half-century: America’s divestment of its historic national identity.

As they say, read the whole thing.

I will not vote for Donald Trump in the primary. If he wins the nomination, I’m not sure how I’ll vote in the general election. However, most of the criticism of him and his voters is coming from people who have embraced and encouraged the ideas and policies responsible for his popularity, the ideas and policies that have weakened and divided our nation. If they want to stop him, they should clean up their own act first.

Faith and doubt

February 7, 2016

We often talk about faith driving out doubt, but in reality it’s more complicated than that. You really can’t have one without the other.

Consider the following image:


It says “Faith” in white letters. You can’t really make that out, though, can you? Now look at this one:


This image is identical to the first one, except it has a black background to represent doubt. Now the “Faith” is clear.

Our Sunday School lesson today covered 2 Nephi 1–2, which includes Lehi’s famous statement that “There must be opposition in all things.” Faith and doubt constitute one such opposition; you can’t have one without the other. If you’ve never had doubts, I’m not sure you really have faith, and true faith means trusting and acting in despite of your doubts.

Sometimes people seem to feel there’s something wrong with them because they have doubts. As long as they follow the Savior, they really do have faith.