Sunday, March 1, 2009

Ways of being brought into Community take 2

After discussing this post with Michele this morning, I have given it an overhaul. Basically I think there are two concerns that deserve our close attention in the contemporary situation in which Prop 8 has led to a good deal of distrust and alienation being experienced by religious people of all political stripes.

These two issues are first, the risk that ideology in general and politics in particular pose to specific aspects of our theology. First and foremost our commitment to the other. The second issue concerns finding ways for groups, religious groups in particular, that oppose one another in the public sphere, and that are driven apart by mutual distrust and misunderstanding, to initiate meaningful dialogue with one another. Not for the sake of extending political battles but for the sake of living up to shared theological commitment and teachings.

As I see it the main problem of political involvement for people of faith is that the nature of political competition encourages us to change our view of the other. We trade in the substantial Hebrew and Christian tradition that insists upon our extending generous hospitality to the other, for a view of the other as a competitor who must be defeated in pursuit of extending our own influence over social policy and governance. Another risk is that ideological positioning and belief can reduce the fullness of our theology. For example, not too long ago a friend said in passing that Christ was a socialist. Being liberal I find this an appealing idea but one I need to resist. No doubt, Christ's concern for the poor, the marginal and powerless has sympathies with American socialism of the early 20th century that sought to empower and bring justice to the poor and working classes. But noting that sympathy does not make Christ a socialist. There is no way that Christ can be seen as participating in any modern political ideology. If we attempt to conform our political thought to various aspects of Christ's message found in the Bible, that is one thing but to claim Christ as participant in our own political ideology is another. Its a way of creating a divine endorsement of our views, of asserting our confidence that our political beliefs are correct and that others need to believe and behave as we do. This is a move that we can't make no matter what our political views are and no matter how much passion we have for them.

What I am interested in trying to work through in the public sphere is finding ways to dislodge a vision of a theological commitment to community and to the other from a situation in which politics keeps trying to extend its influence and control over how theological commitments find expression in the public sphere.

There are a number of tools that we have access to that are particularly helpful. I'll start with just one that I gain access to through Walter Brueggemann. One thing that he describes in his essay A Welcome for the Others is the reality and memory of exile as influencing both the social condition and theology found in the Old Testament. Brueggemann uses the exile and the emphasis on gathering that follows it as providing context and impetus for imagining a radically inclusive society in general, and an inclusive Christian community in particular.

One things that both Mormons and gays have in common is the reality and memory of exile. Or more directly the reality and memory of persecution, which is actually ongoing for both groups, all be it in different ways. Further, the two groups may not understand or even be aware of each other's history and what each group has overcome, as well as, the strength and support found in both communities. This is one possible point of dialogue between the Mormon and Homosexual communities. Both groups have first hand knowledge of literal exile, of violence being done against them, of being misunderstood, criticized, mocked, devalued and dehumanized. In short both groups know well the experience of being other.

During and after Prop 8 it was apparent to me that numbers of people in both communities viewed each other with distrust, suspicion and as competitors or enemies. This is a natural result of Prop 8 and the aggressive public discourse that surrounded it. As I think many people knew in advance Prop 8 going one way or the other would not, did not, settle anything but it continues to create social and religious divisions. Divisions that we need not accept.

One thing we should be able to accept is that two communities that share identities as a persecuted peoples can and should be able to come into empathic dialogue with other persecuted peoples. That each can look for ways to mourn with those who mourn and find a common bond in each other's stories, heart ships, and triumphs in the face of persecution. This can be the basis of a dialogue initiated from the theological desire to practice ethical listening, it can be a way of learning how to stand down from our defensive positions in relation to each other. It can be a way for us to find compassion and care. This sort of dialogue is difficult and demanding. The resentment and distrust are real making empathy that much harder to desire. Nonetheless, such dialogue is a necessity if we believe that theology must not be subordinated to ideology.

And I think that may, in fact, be the larger issue here; that politics continues to find wedges to drive people apart, encourage distrust, and to give into our own worst impulses to divide and give up on each other, and that this is a direct threat to our best religious teachings and impulses.

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