It has been written by smarter people than me that the Liberal church as a political and cultural force has been dead for a long time. We can track the moral code of our national community through the changes in our economy, the wars we have fought, and the social upheavals. The rise of religion in the 1950’s is one such example, discussed here by Kevin Kruse. Slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and all of the iterations of racial power throughout our history are examples of our hypocrisy, but also more. As with every generation, in every nation, we are still trying to define ourselves, and then re-define ourselves. I believe that we are at a time once again when we have the opportunity to redefine ourselves for the better. We can choose who we are as a nation. At this time, we are at a crossroad.
The terms of our morality have been poorly defined. Among the strong cultural voices are the post-values, neutral and objective minds, those who believe that the ultimate decision-making unit is the individual. These uphold the perspective, story, and experience of the individual as the highest priority of truth. This has been a redemptive move in so many ways, in that marginalized and oppressed people are valued for their stories and their voices are held at the same level as the dominant culture. What’s been lost to some degree is the wider community narrative, and the connectedness, the communal nature of our truth. This is the first problem: we lost something in this move to post-modern thinking.
The second problem I believe comes from the authoritarian, fundamentalist, and hierarchical way of thinking that still remains in a large portion of our culture. As with my previous definition of the individualists, I am speaking in broad strokes. Take what I’m saying with a dose of “sometimes.” Sometimes individualism has these downfalls, and sometimes we lose this or that. Like I was saying: People who define their truth by some objective reality outside of themselves are in the unfortunate position of being individuals themselves. People like Donald Trump are pointing to a reality in America that is beyond their own experience, with the obvious counter-argument being that they and those like them are the only ones who experienced such a time. The American Dream didn’t exist outside of cis white men until very recently. This generation, really. Trump wants to go back to the time before that. There just isn’t a version of reality offered by politically minded people (eg. Clinton, Trump, Cruz, Palin, Obama, et al) that I want to be a part of. The “this is the way things are” ideals are dead. I just can’t make myself believe in it anymore, and maybe it’s just my generation’s mindset coming through. There’s no one I look to as being able to define reality, as being able to define the truth. I don’t want Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump defining the moral good for our nation.
How do we return to morality? I keep hearing the voices of the right-wingers who talk about “goodness.” They are just so corrupt, disconnected from huge segments of our population, they are so horrifyingly oppressive. And could I say anything better about the Democrats? What’s missing from the Democrats, what’s missing from the left is a moral argument. It seems that the moralistic language comes exclusively from the Evangelical Christians, who seem to vote exclusively for the Republicans.
I believe it would be valuable to our people as a whole if we adapted moral language to all of our conversations in politics, society, and culture. Yes, we might have to judge someone. It won’t be the end of the world if we judge an idea or a person as being bad. We have to be able to call a policy immoral and wrong. We have to be able to call a misguided war as evil. It was, it is. We have to be able to look at oppression in our country and call it what it is. It is evil. When we see a justice system giving 15% (on average) higher sentences to African American men for comparable crimes, we have to call that evil. It is evil. When the Justice Department reports their findings on the horrors and oppression of what’s happening in our country, we have to look at it. We have to define it as evil, as wrong. I hear, so much of the time, everything short of that. It’s a misconception of the locals, as if they are imagining their pain, it is a policy mistake, it is a statistical anomaly. Can we just say it’s wrong? Not that saying it has magic, but it would put the problem in it’s place. It would put the police system, the justice system, all of it where it belongs. It would shine the light on what’s real.
I want to specifically exhort my brothers on the right and the left to develop a common language for how to talk about the oppression in our midst. What’s missing from us on the left is that we don’t talk about the evils in our country in moral terms. There is power in truth, and I believe that we can bolster our common cause if we join the right wing, the Republicans in talking about the oppression in our country in moralistic terms. To my brothers on the right, I would invite you to consider that we have a common cause. What is true is that in my city, there are so many people who are seeking systemic, societal and political change. There are so many men and women seeking equity for those who have no voice, trying to find foster care for the many children in the system, trying to change the justice system – creating redemptive justice systems instead of retribution. We can do better in those areas. What confounds me is that, while there are so many people in this city trying to make change, Christians and spiritually minded people are rarely in the same room working on the same cause. Churches somehow have decided to avoid those circles, where people are working legal and political means to change. And the reverse is true. It seems that the good secular and humanists won’t engage with churches where they meet. I think churches have failed much worse in regard to collaboration outside. I believe that if we had a common language to define our reality, we would find ourselves fighting the same battle. The religious and irreligious both would fight poverty, hunger, oppression, racism.