Mainline liberal Protestants look for a new name

It isn’t just [some] Southern Baptists–or [some] Missouri Synod Lutherans–who are looking for a new name.  So are mainline liberal Protestants.   From Amy Frykholm:

In a recent interview with the Century, historian David Hollinger talks about his preference for the phrase “ecumenical Protestants” to describe non-evangelical mid-20th-century American Protestants, instead of the more frequently used terms “liberal” and “mainline.”

“Ecumenical” refers to a specific, vital and largely defining impulse within the groups I am describing. It also provides a more specific and appropriate contrast to evangelical. The term evangelical comes into currency in the mid-century to refer to a combination of fundamentalists and Holiness, Pentecostals and others; ecumenical refers to the consolidation of the ecumenical point of view in the big conferences of 1942 and 1945.

I appreciated this shift in vocabulary because I have long disliked both the terms “liberal” and “mainline” to refer to whatever-kind-of-Protestant it is that I am.

“Mainline” emerged as a label in the early part of the twentieth-century to distinguish a certain kind of Protestant from a fundamentalist. Some have speculated that the name comes from the Philadelphia Main Line, a suburban rail line that passed by one denominational church after another. But its two parts, “main” and “line” are both utterly unhelpful in describing the people, theology, social commitments or religious identities contained under that category today.

If anything, so-called mainline Protestants are less “main” and less “line” than they’ve ever been.

“Liberal” likewise is useless. At our particular moment, it is primarily a political term. While it can apply to theology and abstractly to philosophy, that isn’t its main rhetorical purpose now, and it lumps people from a broad spectrum under a term that is awkward and uncomfortable for most of them. Many people in this category would not consider themselves “liberal” in theology, but they might in politics. Or they might be liberal in theology, but decidedly not so in politics. Or they might claim neither or both, or have no idea why it matters.

But “ecumenical” has its problems too. For one thing, is ecumenism still the defining impulse of the group of Christians in questions? What’s more, the word may no longer helpfully distinguish us from evangelicals, who are a whole lot more ecumenical than they used to be.

It isn’t that we must have a term that everyone can agree on, one that suits us all perfectly. But it would be nice to have something, as Hollinger says, that “refers to a specific, vital and largely defining impulse.” We know—at least I think we do—who we are talking about. Why can’t we put a name to it or to ourselves? Is it because of an identity crisis? An awkward transition toward a less central cultural role?

Evangelicals are just as “ecumenical” in the sense of accepting different churches as these other guys.  And isn’t defining today’s churches by their attendance at a conference in 1945 rather retrograde?  I’m not sure what’s wrong with “liberal” as a descriptor for those denominations that aren’t constrained by Biblical authority, that think the beliefs of the church should change to conform to the dominant culture, or, rather, the dominant cultural and intellectual elite.  While it’s true that many people who are conservative theologically are liberal politically, I’m not aware of anyone who is liberal theologically who isn’t also liberal politically.  But help these folks out.  What is a good name for them?  What is their “identity” today?

Obamacare punishments as a tax

Thanks to Todd, who helps me with the technical side of this blog, for stepping in with the news emergencies while I was away.  You’ve discussed how the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare in its insurance purchase mandate.  Litigation on other Obamacare issues is getting under way.  (There are now 23 lawsuits against the contraception and abortifacient mandate.)

What do you think about conservative Chief Justice Robert putting the best construction on Obamacare by construing its penalties as a tax?  The reasoning was that people who refuse to buy health insurance will face a penalty, but it is being collected not by a court, as with a fine, but by the Internal Revenue Service.  Therefore, it is as if a tax has been imposed, which you can get out of if you buy health insurance.

The bill itself never calls the penalties a tax, nor did its authors or President Obama himself (who specifically said it was not a tax).

Is this logical?  Is this a proper function of a court opinion, to construe a bill despite its wording so that it can pass constitutional muster?

Some people are praising Justice Robert for his Solomonic compromise.  Some conservatives are saying that at least he ruled against the overly-broad application of the Commerce Clause, which can subject just about everything to government supervision since just about everything has economic implications.  This was, in fact, the basis of the administration’s defense of Obamacare, that Congress can make laws regarding interstate commerce.  The court ruled that forcing people to buy something is not commerce, as such.  But since that argument was found specious, Justice Robert kindly supplied an argument of his own that he could accept, even though the administration’s lawyers didn’t make it.   Some Republicans are saying that, at least, defining Obamacare as a tax can allow them to score political points by attacking President Obama and the Democrats as having raised taxes.

But this strikes me as a very dangerous ruling.  What other behavior could the Executive Branch require using the tax code to enforce fines apart from the safeguards of the Judicial Branch?  Could General Motors get bailed out by imposing a tax on everyone who does not buy a Chevy?

Also, does anyone know whether the Affordable Health Care Act was initiated in the House of Representatives, rather than the Senate?  Tax bills have to begin in the House.  Maybe this bill did, coincidentally, have that origin, even though it was never presented as a tax bill.  If not, since the Supreme Court declared it a tax bill, I’d think it would have to have been.

At any rate, this strikes me as a crisis not only with the Constitution–with the executive, legislative, and judicial branches all mixed up and infringing on each other–but with language itself, creating new meanings (“tax”) for existing words (“penalty”).

The Wall Street Journal: A Vast New Taxing Power – WSJ.com.

Add these words to your vocabulary

The new volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English is out, and here are some good words that need to be adopted by the rest of the country (as chosen by Kevin Lamarque at Reuters):

1. whoopensocker (n.), Wisconsin You know when something’s wonderfully unique, but the words “wonderful” and “unique” don’t quite cut it? That’s why the Wisconsinites invented whoopensocker, which can refer to anything extraordinary of its kind—from a sweet dance move to a knee-melting kiss.

2. snirt (n.), Upper Midwest A gem of a portmanteau, this word means exactly what it sounds like: a mixture of windblown snow and dirt. Also, for your linguistic pleasure, try out the adjective version: snirty.

3. slug (n. or v.), Washington, D.C. In addition to describing that shell-less snail-looking creature, a “slug” describes a traveler who hitches a ride with someone who needs passengers in order to use a High Occupancy Vehicle lane. The verb form, “to slug,” refers to the act of commuting in that manner. In New Hampshire, to gee-buck means something similar: to hitch a ride on the back of someone else’s sleigh.

4. wapatuli, (n.), Wisconsin Nearly everyone who has been to college in America has either concocted, or been an unfortunate victim of, wapatuli: a homemade alcoholic drink with any combination of hard liquors or other beverages—Mountain Dew, white wine and vodka, anyone? A wapatuli can also refer to the occasion at which that jungle juice is consumed.

In Kentucky, the (perhaps more onomatopoeically correct) word for terrible liquor is splo, while in the mid-Atlantic, whiskey—especially the moonshine variety—is ratgut.

5. arsle (v.), Kentucky, Virginia, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Arkansas Depending on the state, this word can mean a few things—to fidget, to back out of a place or situation, or to loaf around restlessly—pretty much all of which describe my activities on an average Sunday afternoon. (In Maine, instead of arsling, I might putty around, and in Vermont, I’d pestle around, but either way, it still means not a whole lot is getting done.)

6. jabble (v.), Virginia You know when you’re standing at your front door rifling through your purse for fifteen minutes because you can’t find your keys again? That’s because all the stuff in your purse got all jabbled up. This fantastic little word means “to shake up or mix,” but it can also be used less literally, meaning “to confuse or to befuddle.”

7. sneetered (v.), Kentucky If you’ve ever been hoodwinked, duped, swindled, fleeced or scammed, you done been sneetered. The noun version, sniter, refers to that treacherous person responsible for your unfortunate sneetering. Also see snollygoster, a shameless, unscrupulous person, especially a politician.

8. slatchy (adj.), Nantucket This lovely little word describes the sky during a fleeting moment of sunshine or blue sky in the middle of a storm. The noun version, slatch, refers to that moment itself.

9. snoopy (adj.), Maryland, Pennsylvania A more interesting way of saying someone’s picky, especially with regards to food.

10. arky (adj.), Virginia This word refers to Noah’s Ark, not to Arkansas, so if someone calls your style arky—old-fashioned, or out of style—you can accuse them of being an anti-antediluvianite. (Which, full disclosure, is not technically a word, but should you ever actually employ such a comeback, you will win like a million gold stars in Nerdland.)

11. faunch (v.), South Midlands, West Meaning to rant, rave or rage, this fairly well describes what many Americans have been doing while watching cable news. (Also, try out the phrase, faunching angry, when describing the guy whose parking spot you just snaked.)

12. chinchy (adj.), South, South Midlands Not as direct as “cheap,” and less erudite than “parsimonious,” this useful word perfectly describes your stingy friend who never chips in for gas.

13. larruping (adv.), Oklahoma, South Midlands You know when food tastes so freakin’ delicious, but “yummy,” “scrumptious” and “tasty” just don’t do it justice? That’d be a good time to break out this fabulous word, used most often in the phrase “larruping good.”

14. mizzle-witted (adj.), South This satisfyingly Dickensian word means “mentally dull,” but depending on where you are in the country, mizzle can also be used as a verb meaning “to confuse,” “to depart in haste” or “to abscond,” or as a noun meaning, “a very fine or misty rain.“ So, if you were a mizzle-witted burglar, you might break into a house, get mizzled, trip the alarm, and then mizzle with your loot into the mizzle. Sans raincoat.

15. burk (v.), Georgia, South More fun than the word “vomit” and more polite than the word “fart,” this utilitarian verb describes both activities. Just be happy that if you’re in West Virginia, you don’t get the skitters—an Appalachian version of Montezuma’s revenge.

16. snuggy (n.) Iowa, Midlands Those of us who grew up with older brothers are intimately familiar with what it is to suffer from a snuggy—a friendlier word for a wedgie.

17. jasm (n.), Connecticut Meaning “intense energy or vitality,” the sentence provided in the dictionary was so good, I wanted to share it with you all, too: “If you’ll take thunder and lightening, and a steamboat and a buzz-saw, and mix ‘em up, and out ‘em into a woman, that’s jasm.”

18. mug-up (n.), Alaska When Alaskans take a break from work, grab a pastry or a cup of joe, and gaze out at Russia, they’re enjoying a “mug-up”—their version of a coffee break.

19. bufflehead (n.), Pennsylvania (mountains) You would have to be a real bufflehead if you didn’t think this word, meaning a fool or idiot, is not an awesome insult. Also, for your consideration, the related adjective buffle-brained.

HT:  Bror Erickson
What are some other good words from regional dialects, slang, or other sources that fit some “semantic space” that needs naming?

An inside perspective on the Islamic-friendly Bible

You probably missed the comment on the Islamic-friendly Bibles post last week by David Harriman, who worked for the missionary agency that put out the translation in question.  (I continue to be amazed at who all reads this blog.)  He offered an insider’s perspective that I wanted all of you to see:

Dear Gene,

For 18 years I served as director of development/director of advancement for Frontiers, the ministry which produced this  Turkish translation of Matthew.  While I believe the workers behind this project have good motivations, I also believe they effectively rendered the text compliant with Islam.  While the volume in question thankfully included a properly-translated Greek to Turkish Interlinear, the purpose of the contextualized translation–and the related footnotes–is to cast a specific “Muslim friendly” meaning upon the text itself.

This translation, and others produced and advised by Wycliffe, SIL, and Frontiers, have been the subject of a recent petition organized by Biblical Missiology:  http://www.change.org/petitions/lost-in-translation-keep-father-son-in-the-bible

The petition Fact Check document (http://biblicalmissiology.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/LostInTranslation-FactCheck.pdf) shows how even the footnotes to this Turkish translation fail to properly convey Christ’s ontological Sonship:

“The focus of our concern is the text of the Matthew translation, not the Greek-Turkish interlinear. In the Matthew text, “Son” is rendered as “representative” or “proxy,” and “Father” is translated as “protector” or “guardian.” However, “Father,” “Son,” and “Son of God” should be translated literally in the text, with explanation provided in the footnotes—and not the other way around…

“One example will illustrate the problems with the Turkish translation. At the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:17, “Son” is translated as “representative” in the text. In the footnote to this verse, “Son of God” is defined in several ways, such as “God’s representative,” “the king, Messiah,” and “God’s beloved monarch.” The note incorrectly says the term “is synonymous with the title of Messiah.” Jesus is portrayed only in kingly terms, with no recognition of his divinity or actual Sonship. Needless to say, such explanations have the effect of obscuring the full and true meaning of “Son” and “Son of God,” even if the terms are translated correctly in the footnotes.”

To get a sense of how Christian witness to and among Muslims has changed profoundly in recent years, I would encourage all Patrick Henry students to read the following article by former Muslim Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo of the Barnabas Fund:  http://barnabasfund.org/Recent-Changes-in-Christian-Approaches-to-Islam.html

Patrick Sookhdeo’s piece shows the organic relationship between the ideas and assumptions behind certain interfaith dialogue approaches (such as the Common World and related Yale Response), and “insider movement” approaches to work among Muslim.

David Harriman

In correspondence with me, Mr. Harriman adds this:

I work with a lot of former Muslims and they are outraged by this approach to translation.  What you have, actually, is the spectacle of Western translators (actually, only a couple of highly-committed advocates, but who are acting with the support of senior WBT/SIL leadership) attempting to tell native speakers of Arabic, Turkish, and other languages what their languages actually mean.

There are other translations that are actually far worse — one is an Arabic translation of the Gospels and Acts in which Father is not rendered literally, in any instance, and in which Son, Son of God, and Son of Man is redefined by paratext and footnote.  Similar to the footnote I noted on your blog, the commentary portion of this volume (advised by SIL, but funded by Frontiers) describes Christ’s Sonship as metaphorical.

An audio “Stories of the Apostles” volume is in fact far worse than this — Son of God is translated “Caliph of God” — Caliph of course referring to religious/political rulers of Islam who defended and promoted Islam by force; “saints” is replaced with “umma”; Islamic honorifics like “upon him be peace” are used after the mention of Christ’s name (an Islamic prayer for the dead).  This audio “Bible” produced by WBT/SIL is still online, BTW.

Playing to the local yokels

We’ve posted about various kinds of condescension to Southerners and Oklahomans (not exactly the same).  Here is another kind, one seemingly more friendly and yet just as ignorant and ridiculous.  Whenever politicians of both parties visit a Southern state to which they are not native to campaign, they try to affect a Southern accent and pretend to Southern folkways!  Thus, when when Mitt Romney visited Southern states for Super Tuesday, he was all “ya’ll” and “grits” (which he called “cheesy grits” instead of “cheese grits”–the funny part is that when they try to sound like they are just like their audience they nearly always get it wrong).  But, again, all politicians do this, as do many regular visitors to these states, as Melinda Henneberger observes:

His hat-tip to “cheesy grits” didn’t win over the locals, some of whom thought he was making fun of them. . . .

And if some of the coverage seemed skewed towards Southerners from central casting, well, as my late friend the New York Times reporter Allen Myerson once wryly observed, “You can never go wrong pandering to the prejudices of your editors.”

With Louisiana yet to vote, on March 24th, and thus more wonder at the diverse region’s quaint and colorful folk ways yet to be expressed, I’m here to tell you how the hog eats the cabbage: The idea that Southerners have any wish to hear politicians from other parts of the country talk like them is silly.

Still, lots of pols who go South do try to go native, with varying degrees of success. Barack Obama, who as everyone knows was born in southern Hawaii, can drop his g’s without any fear of embarrassing himself.

Whereas Hillary Clinton, after all those years as a Yankee in Bubba’s Little Rock, wisely made no further forays into her husband’s patois after that disastrous day in Selma in March of ’07 when she sounded like Scarlett’s Mammy quoting Rev. James Cleveland’s hymm, “I don’t feel noways tired.”

There may be something in the sweet tea, because Rick Santorum’s accent during his victory speech on Tuesday night was a little more deep fried than usual.

And Obama, if you recall, talked about his love of biscuits and grits on the stump in ’08 – oh, but that was in Evansville, Indiana, where they’re not on the menu, so that wasn’t so much pandering as just confused.

In any case, I move that we give all office seekers a pass in this regard, because many of us who aren’t running for anything do the same thing.

via Why Romney’s grits are fried – She the People: – The Washington Post.

Well, I don’t think anyone should give them a pass.  This sort of thing is brazenly fake, condescending, and the flip side of mockery.  It testifies to authenticity and the lack thereof.

Enough with the “war” metaphor

Charles Lane is sick of the “war” metaphor in political discourse, something all sides are doing:

The Democratic National Committee accuses the GOP of a “Republican War on Women,” to go along with its “war on working families” (according to the Progressive Change Campaign Committee) and “Paul Ryan’s war on seniors” (Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky).

Various Republicans accuse President Obama of waging “war on religious freedom” or even, in the words of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, “a war on religion.” According to the Republican National Committee, the president is also waging “war on energy,” the sequel, apparently, to what the House Republican Leadership has called “Democrats’ war on American jobs.”

Progressive author Chris Mooney called his book “The Republican War on Science”; not to be outdone, conservatives Grover Norquist and John R. Lott Jr. have published “Debacle: Obama’s War on Jobs and Growth.”

A Washington Times editorial warned Wisconsin taxpayers that “President Obama and the Democratic National Committee have declared war on you.” “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau observes that “[Rick] Santorum, [Rush] Limbaugh, et al. thought this would be a good time to declare war on half the electorate.”

And on and on and on — until you could almost lose sight of the fact that not one of these institutions or individuals is describing a physical conflict in which people fight, bleed and die.

There are, of course, plenty of real wars raging around the world; in some of them, Americans are dying. But the folks back home, busy with their election-year quarrels, have little interest in discussing such matters.

No, what the metaphor-mongers are referring to is political disagreement among citizens of the same democracy. And the last time I checked, most of those disagreements were being expressed through peaceful means — and neither side in any of these debates had a monopoly on the truth.

To be sure, we have been waging “war on” this or that for decades. America is such a diverse and disputatious country that war, actual or metaphorical, has been one of the few causes capable of bringing together its various factions, regions and races. That is why we had Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, Richard Nixon’s war on drugs and a series of presidents’ war on cancer. Heck, even Jimmy Carter tried to convince us that saving energy was “the moral equivalent of war.”

These metaphors attempted to recast an abstract threat as a particular enemy, thereby rallying the country to a common effort.

That is totally different from what the professional polarizers who dominate today’s politics, and their respective media allies, are trying to achieve. . . .

For both parties, the goal is to encourage Americans to think of one another as enemies and, eventually, to hate and fear one another. Today’s “wars on” are all civil wars. . . .

Multiplied across the entire electorate, however, the effect may be more corrosive. To the extent that sensible citizens tune out politics, they abandon the field to people who are receptive to constant cries of war, war, war — people who are prepared to think of their opponents as enemies.

When you think of someone as an enemy, it’s harder to contemplate trusting, respecting or cooperating with him or her. Indeed, those behaviors start to look like treason, instead of what they really are: the minimum requirements of democratic life.

via In the war of words, we are all losing – The Washington Post.

War imagery is a staple of today’s Christian discourse too.  We have “worship wars,” “the battle for the Bible,” and, of course, the “culture wars.”   I’ve sometimes used that kind of language myself.

Is it appropriate sometimes?  Or does it short-circuit thought, riling people up and creating “enemies” while doing more harm than good?


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