Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hate Wall Street Not Gays

Tis the season to talk about love, not hate. But I can't help inverting and rewriting the old anti-war slogan just for a moment. Because we are at a crucial juncture for the role of Christianity in American political culture.

Lamentably, for years--even decades--now, Christianity in politics to most people has meant activism against cultural progress on issues like freedom of religion in schools, abortion rights, feminism in general, and gay rights. Lately the latter has dominated, especially the issue of gay marriage, where the regressive position can still often gain 50%+ support (e.g., California in the recent election). This politics of grievance against liberal cultural progress, analyzed so eloquently by Thomas Frank and others, was finally appearing to lose steam (despite California) due to the pressing crises of the economy, health care, and the environment.

Indeed, the time seems perfect for a rejuvenation of a prophetic Christian tradition of attacking unjust social and economic structures, not scapegoated groups such as gays. (Isn't that what Jesus spent much of his time doing in the Gospels?) We are never going to solve any of our problems by attacking gays and denying them equal rights with everyone else. Rather than scapegoating gay people, then, why can't we redirect our hate towards the power structures that prey on all the working and poor people (often the same) in our economy, prevent meaningful health care reform, and recklessly destroy the environment? I'm not saying that we should hate the people who occupy these positions of power as individuals but rather than we should hate the power structures that corrupt and shape them--above all, the toxic environment of elite finance capital on Wall Street.

We are learning more every day about how Wall Street has taken our bailout money with minimal accountability and continued to pay themselves million-dollar bonuses and do very little if anything to help people in unemployment and foreclosure across America. The situation is dire, as everyone off Wall Street knows, and this is going to be one of hardest Christmases ever for so many hard-working families. It is sick and disgusting (yes, morally outrageous) that the same people who have made millions and billions of dollars in an exploitative and recklessly speculative lordship over the economy keep on doing it. And, sadly, some of these same people are already ensconsed at the helm of President-Elect Obama's "new" economic team. The time is now in American political culture for full-blown outrage against the tyranny of Wall Street over our lives, including the lives and souls of those who inhabit its upper echelons. Especially for those of us whose religion was inspired by a man who threw the money changers out of the temple and preached for the poor and outcast and against the power structures of his own society.

Why do I mention all of this now? I guess I am just reaching the breaking point on a whole variety of fronts. As just one small example, consider Obama's selection of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. Warren embodies almost everything that is WRONG with American Christianity in the public sphere (yes, he is kinder and gentler, but mostly in tone, not substance). He not only backs California's anti-gay proposition and puts the same ol', same ol' cultural issues on his non-negotiatable list, he has publicly belittled the tradition of social gospel that would redirect our public Christian voice away from scapegoated groups and direct it at unjust social and economic structures. Rick Warren is a self-aggrandizing publicity seeker who has the temerity to portray himself as the face of American Christianity, fit to have America presidential candidates grovel at his feet during the campaign season and now to receive his blessing. Giving this man such an imprimatur is just one more in already long series of disappointing decisions from Obama (and he isn't even in office yet).

I would submit that Christianity is never going to reclaim its prophetic voice in the public sphere without giving up the shameful politics of anti-gay, anti-feminist, and anti-pluralist culture wars and embracing the politics of speaking truth to power. And Obama is never going to be a great President unless progressive and populist Christians join with allies in other religious groups and among non-religious people to form a political movement that will push more vigorously and strongly than we have been so far. Contrary to what many seem to believe, we cannot expect him to do all (or any?) of the right things without determined populist pressure--and we certainly will not gain anything by giving him a free ride while his big Wall Street donors and supporters press him to do their bidding.