Remixing David Simon – for the Church

After the election, David Simon wrote a compelling post about change and our society. Simon is one of our best writers and thinkers, and I happen to believe that his show, The Wire, is the best show in the history of television. I have taken the liberty to remix his prescient words to the American electorate, because I think they’re equally applicable to the church:

David Simon (Wikicommons)

Barack Obama And The Death Of Normal Evangelicalism

I was on an airplane last night as the election was decided. As the plane landed after midnight on the East Coast, I confess that my hand was shaking as I turned on my phone for the news. I did not want to see dishonesty and divisiveness and raw political hackery rewarded. It is hard enough for anyone to actually address the problems, to move this country forward, to make the intransigent American ruling class yield even a yard of the past to the inevitable future. But going backwards last night would have been devastating. I read the returns in silent elation; a business trip had me traveling in business class and the gnashing of corporate teeth all around precluded a full-throated huzzah on my part. I abhor a gloat.

But the country church is changing. And this may be the last election liturgical year in which anyone but a fool tries to play — on a national level, at least — the cards of racial exclusion, of immigrant fear, of the patronization of women and hegemony over their bodies, of self-righteous discrimination against homosexuals. Some in the Republican party church and among the teabagged fringe will continue to play such losing hands for some time to come; this shit worked well in its day and distracted many from addressing any of our essential national ecclesiological and theological issues. But again, if they play that weak-ass game past this point, they are fools.

America The church is different now, more so with every election cycle liturgical year. Ronald Reagan won his mandate Both denominations and the Moral Majority were built in an America in which 89 percent of the voters parishioners were white. That number is down to 72 percent and falling. Fifty thousand new Latino citizens achieve the voting age every month. America The Church will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America Church in which it was otherwise is dying, thank god, and those who relied on entitlement and division to command power will either be obliged to accept the changes, or retreat to the gated communities from which they wish to wax nostalgic and brood on political theological irrelevance.

You want to lead in America the Church? Find a way to be entirely utilitarian — to address the most problems on behalf of the most possible citizens churchgoers. That works. That matters. Last night Of late, it mattered just enough to overcome the calcified political calculations of men who think that 47 percent will vote against them because they are victims avoid church because they are immoral, or that 53 percent are with them because the rest of us vote only from self-interest and without regard for the republic as a whole will attend church out of fear for their immortal souls. It was a closer contest than common sense and the spirit of a truly great nation should dictate. But unless these white guys who have peddled “normal” orthodox for so long — normal orthodox as in racial majority, normal orthodox as in religious majority, normal orthodox as in sexual orientation — unless they have a hard moment of self-reflection and self-awareness, well, it will not be this close again.

Eighty years ago, the Democratic party non-denominational, progressive church became a national utilitarian enterprise, molding the immigrant waves of Irish and Italian and Jew into a voting bloc that stunned the political opposition and transformed American society, creating the world’s greatest economic engine in the form of a consumer class with vast discretionary income. The New Deal asserted for American progress — shaping and influencing administrations both Democratic and Republican — for three decades before running aground on the shoals of the civil rights movement, resulting racial fears and resentments, and, of course, the Southern strategy of political cynics.

Well, a new voting bloc as formidable as the New Deal coalition certainly isn’t yet complete, and the political results are still fitful. To be sure, venality has transformed the upper house of our national legislature into a paralytic failure, with a new standard of a filibuster-proof supermajority now the norm. The lower house of that legislature reflects less of any national consensus than it does the absurdity of post-census gerrymandering. Never mind Obama. If Romney had won this election, our government would be just as broken. It is the legislative branch that remains an epic systems failure.

For lost and fretful white men, unwilling to accept the terms of a new America Church, Congress politics is the last barricade against practical and inevitable change. But there, too, the demographic inevitabilities are all in play. All the gerrymandering in this world won’t make those other Americans Christians, those different Americans gay and female and progressive Christians, go away. And the tyranny of minority and lack of compromise that you employ to thwart progress now will likely breed an equal contempt when the demographics do indeed provide supermajorities.

Hard times are still to come for all of us. Rear guard actions will be fought at every political theological crossroad. But make no mistake: Change is a motherfucker when you run from it. And right now, the conservative movement in America is fleeing from dramatic change that is certain and immutable. A man of color is president for the second time, and this happened despite a struggling economic climate and a national spirit of general discontent. He has been returned to office over the specific objections of the mass of white men. He has instead been re-elected by women, by people of color, by homosexuals, by people of varying religions or no religion whatsoever. Behold the New Jerusalem. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a white man, of course. There’s nothing wrong with being anything. That’s the point.

This election marks a moment in which the racial and social hierarchy of America the American Church is upended forever. No longer will it mean more politically theologically to be a white male than to be anything else. Evolve, or don’t. Swallow your resentments, or don’t. But the votes people are going to be counted, more of them with each election liturgical year. Arizona will soon be in play. And in a few cycles, even Texas. And those wishing to hold national office prominent pulpits in these United States will find it increasingly useless to argue for normal, to attempt to play one minority against the next, to turn pluralities against the feared “other” of gays, or blacks, or immigrants, or, incredibly in this election cycle liturgical year, our very wives and lovers and daughters, fellow citizens Christians who demand to control their own bodies.

Regardless of what happens with his second term, Barack Obama’s great victory has already been won: We are all the other now, in some sense. Special interests Christian? That term has no more meaning in the New America. We are all — all of us, every last American, even the whitest of white guys — special interests Christians. And now, normal evangelical isn’t white or straight or Christian. There is no normal evangelical. That word, too, means less with every moment. And those who continue to argue for such retrograde notions as a political theological reality will become less germane and more ridiculous with every passing year.

Lots of waste and shouting and ignorance still to come, of course. But last night was a milestone.

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  • Frank

    And herein lies the heart of Tony Jones fallacious beliefs: “There’s nothing wrong with being anything.”

    • Frank

      To be fair he did get something exactly right: “Lots of waste and shouting and ignorance still to come, of course.” Look for it right here in the blog posts to come.

      • Kevin

        Actually, Frank, it looks like I can find it right here in the comments, from you. Waste and ignorance, if not shouting. I REALLY need to stop looking at comments… (must…not…take…bait…from…contrarian…trolls…)

        • Frank

          One mans waste is another mans treasure. The issue is whether its a treasure we are storing in heaven or not.

          And if it makes you more comfortable to think of me a troll that’s your choice.

          • Kevin

            This is a test…can Frank resist not having the last word? Let’s see…I am going to sit back in relax in the “comfort” I find in calling Frank a troll, and see if he can resist not having the last word. You do realize what a “troll” is in this context, don’t you Frank? I’m not calling you a mythical creature that lives under a bridge. And by the way, your comments are very ignorant and unhelpful. You may be a lovely person, but your comments reveal a malicious and arrogant attitude (even if, in fact, you are not a malicious and arrogant person at your core).

            (Let’s see…can he bear not having the last word? Let’s watch and find out…)

          • hahahahahaha Frank, dude, you kill me. Because you’re obviously joking. Obviously.

  • Evelyn

    Frank, why don’t you go find a conversation to which you can make a positive contribution. It might get you in the mood to actually enjoy Thanksgiving. Then again, I know there are some people who live for spite so perhaps that is what you enjoy. Unfortunately, it is not Jesus’ way.

    • Frank

      Trust me I am making a positive contribution by pointing out the fallacies here instead of just confusing people like you do. Jesus’ way has been partly abandoned here.

      • Phil Miller

        I don’t trust you…

        Do you really think you’re convincing people by trolling this comment section? All you’re doing is ticking people off. I’m surprised Tony doesn’t ban you outright. I know I would.

        • Frank

          Tony is welcome to ban me if the truth I post becomes too uncomfortable.

          • Evelyn

            LOL Frank. Then only person who is made uncomfortable by your “truth” is you. I just want you to be happy Frank. I hope you find your people some day.

          • Frank

            Evelyn I have much joy in my life thank you!

          • Everyone: IGNORE FRANK.

            Happy Thanksgiving.

          • Frank

            I agree with Tony. It’s kinda silly to respond only to say that I have nothing important to say.

            The reason I won’t be ignored, whether you respond to me or not, is that the truth demands a response and the truth cannot be ignored forever.

            • And the reason that I will not ban Frank is that he is always respectful and civil. I have only banned three persons: one for repeatedly lying, and two for personally insulting me and others.

      • Sven

        Expressing a dissenting opinion isn’t “pointing out a fallacy”.

        • Frank

          Not always no but the theology here is mostly fallacious and scripturally unsupported. So, many times there are great fallacies posted here.

          • HAHAHAHAHAHAHA oh man, the magic continues!

            Never change, Frank.

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  • Patrick S

    Wow. First off, what Simon wrote is uniformed at best, tripe at worst. Second, amazing all the Christians and liberals who want to silence those they disagree with, namely Frank. Thankfully Tony is smart enough to see the person being respectful is Frank, not his “tolerant” opponents.

    Sadly, this is the natural outcome of liberalism: my opinion is sooooo right that you absolutely must agree with it or be silenced. By law if possible, at gunpoint if necessary.

    That said, I am thankful America is the greatest country on earth, proving that freedom and liberty always concur statism and despotism.

    • Phil Miller

      I’m pretty far from a liberal. See some of my other comments around here if you doubt that. I respect Tony’s choice to not ban Frank, but personally, if it were my blog, I would simply do it because he does not anything substantive to these discussions. My personal feeling about a blog comment section is that it is something like a person’s living room or office. Free speech doesn’t really apply in such spaces, and someone should be able to kick out anyone they want to for whatever reason they want.

      I also don’t know why anyone would want to continually hang out and comment on a blog where they literally disagree with every post. Perhaps they see it as a mission or something. I have yet to hear a testimony of someone converted from reading a comment on a blog, though.

      • Chris

        “My personal feeling about a blog comment section is that it is something like a person’s living room or office. Free speech doesn’t really apply in such spaces, and someone should be able to kick out anyone they want to for whatever reason they want.”

        Your personal feeling doesn’t make it so. A blog is nothing like a person’s living room or office. It is a public place. No membership is required. No private invitations sent out. Nothing that would make it in any sense like a living room or office. I agree that a certain decorum and baseline respect should be upheld, and if someone gets really out of line with slander or personal insults then removal should be considered. But make no mistake, Tony seeks to persuade. As such he should welcome pushback. Maybe you don’t see Frank’s comments as productive or maybe you just fear Frank, I don’t know. But his is a view and he has shared it on the whole respectfully. You may not like it or the stridency with which he holds it. But neither he nor people like him are going away, so as Tony is fond of saying, put on your big boy/girl pants.

        One thing I do know though, as per Patrick S.’s comment, when so-called progressives get challenged too much then let the silencing, banning, and vicious ridicule begin.

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