Scott Paeth returns to the subject of the “Church for Freaks“:
What I’m trying to get at is the very old idea that the church is the community of and for the outsiders.
If Jesus came to preach to the poor, the homeless, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the colonized, then he came, most profoundly, to preach the kingdom of God to the outsiders of the world. He didn’t show up in the center of Rome to proclaim a kingdom to supplant Rome, he came to the margins, to preach a kingdom coming to be within the existing kingdoms of the world. And Jesus’ kingdom would supplant and subvert those earthly kingdoms.
… Those who do not marginalize themselves, but rather are marginalized by society are the real heart of the gospel proclamation. Folks like me may desire solidarity with them, and may work in cooperation with them, but we always have the choice to opt out, and that is a problem for any Christian who wants to stand vocationally for the outsiders, but who is him or herself in one way or another inescapably on the inside.
What Paeth is describing there reminds me of something Jarvis Cocker et. al. wrote earlier. It’s not from their album Freaks, but it gets at what he’s saying about the difference between those who have no say in their outsider status and those of us for whom it is optional, who can choose “outsider status as a sort of fashion statement.”
But still you’ll never get it right
‘Cause when you’re laid in bed at night
watching roaches climb the wall
If you call your dad he could stop it all.
You’ll never live like common people …
* * * * * * * * *
Katherine Stewart isn’t writing about the church here, but about Karl Rove and the Republican Party. But I think her assessment of them also applies to the church — and to white evangelicalism in particular — and that it underscores some of what Paeth says above:
Think back on the extraordinary nature of the debate in 2012. Never before have the culture wars been fought so forcefully on both sides. While the spectacle of Republicans declaring holy war has become old hat, this was the first election in which one of the parties explicitly endorsed same-sex marriage; this was the first election in which one party defended a woman’s right to reproductive freedom without apology or hesitation; and this season also saw the passage of a number of same-sex marriage ballot initiatives, as well as the election of the nation’s first openly lesbian senator.
Some on the right could scarcely believe that this is what America really wants. “Millions of Americans looked evil in the eye and adopted it,” wrote Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver in his post-election commentary. He has a point — except that, for the majority of Americans, the “evil” they looked in the eye was the one they rejected on November 6. Others on the right, like the Rev. Dr. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, did get it: “It’s not that our message — we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong — didn’t get out. It did get out. … It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed. An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.”
This has always been part of the divide between insiders and outsiders — between “real murkans” and those people, or between real, true Christians and those icky poor, homeless, tax collectors, prostitutes and colonial subjects. Morality looks different from where “they” are sitting.
Staver doesn’t understand that at all, so he just continues to pretend that anyone who disagrees with his perspective morality must be deliberately choosing evil. As Stewart says, Mohler seems to grasp a bit more than that. He seems to appreciate that those who disagree with him on abortion and same-sex marriage aren’t choosing evil, but have a different perspective — a different framework for determining what constitutes good and evil. Mohler understands that “the entire moral landscape has changed,” but he cannot even consider the possibility that this might be a Good Thing — that the outsiders and the freaks might have something to teach us, something “we” desperately need to learn.