AMERICA THE TROUBLED
Citizens by the thousands, even the hundreds of thousands, are in economic distress. 401(k) plans are suddenly valued at a fraction of what they were a few months ago. Retirement has become a distant prospect for baby boomers. Businesses are closing their doors, because their credit sources are frozen. Their employees are pounding the pavement in search of jobs. Lines are now longer at soup kitchens than they have been in 80 years. Panic and desperation are everywhere in the air, and the word "depression" is being used with increasing frequency.
It so happens that the escalating economic crisis is taking place while a Republican occupies the White House. He is a man who for multiple reasons – some meritorious and others not – few people perceive as a leader. During the present election cycle, the battle cry is "Throw the bums out!" This fittingly describes the visceral, uncritical sentiment of most Americans toward George W. Bush and company.
There is, of course, another place for the disenchanted to turn, and that is to the Democratic candidate, a man who leans farther to the left than anyone else in the United States Senate and who has long-term associations with America-haters, whom many of us would not welcome into our homes. For those who support Barack Obama, his election means "Change" for the nation – first and foremost, a symbolic appeasement of the nation's corporate guilt for its mistreatment of those from Africa and, secondly, the promise of a utopian society in which every need of the poor is addressed, from "free" daycare to government-subsidized retirement accounts. It will be interesting to observe how much wealth these programs create and what the response of hardworking, productive Americans will be to them.
I highlight the nation's economic ills only because they are paramount in the minds of most citizens nowadays. Yet, as one looks at America, there are many problems, which while looming large, have not been addressed in the least during the current election campaigns. The sorry, corrupt media have, as usual, been allowed to frame the issues. As a result, I have not heard the word "immigration" used, except in passing, by either candidate. Nor the phrase "the state of popular culture". While Obama speaks of "education," he never mentions how closed-minded and "politically correct" our public universities have become. Nor has either candidate discussed the growing atomization of our civil society, such that Americans are, in the graphic words of Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, "bowling alone." The individual, in other words, avoids associations, like churches, civic clubs, lodges, and political groups. Americans have ceased being "joiners." The candidates are, for practical reasons, also reluctant to zero-in on the fact that leading newspapers are no longer watchdogs over government, but are primarily political advocates themselves, largely tendentious in their reportage. The candidates have not talked much, if at all, about the numerous dangers posed by the internet or about the degrading programming on television. The fact that two families have controlled the executive branch of government for the last twenty years in aristocratic fashion constitutes scarcely a bleep on the candidates' radar screens.
When in lectures or media appearances I make observations such as these, demonstrating how impoverished American public life has become, I am repeatedly asked, "Why do clergymen not speak out about these matters?" or "Where are our churches?" I respond that mainline Protestant churches are little more than a reflection of popular culture, actively embracing the "right" to abortion, affirming the homosexual life style and gay marriage, and trumpeting the concerns of feminism. These churches are part of the problem.
Consider Brite Divinity School, a Fort Worth, Texas seminary of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which not long ago paid rich tribute to the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright. Further consider the World Council of Churches, which recently hosted a dinner at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in New York, welcoming with open arms the world's new Hitler, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
It is not pleasant to say or to hear it, but most mainline Protestant pastors suffer from craven cowardice. Prophetic biblical religion is as foreign to them as Swahili. They could not bring themselves, as Dr. Carlyle Marney explained it, to damn a church mouse. They are content to decorate their sermons with stories about the American civil rights movement, without mentioning that most of their predecessors opposed those initiatives at the time or supported them only tepidly and, then, behind-the-scenes. No, sir, one can attend church each and every week of the year in this country and never hear a single prophetic word about the fact that America, as well as its mainline churches, is unraveling and in need of repentance. "And the response from the clergy?" you ask. It is the hackneyed neo-orthodox line they were taught once upon a time in seminary: "We don't support any idea of 'public faith' – it's idolatrous and reminiscent of Nazi Germany." To which I respond with an admittedly contemptuous question, "Well are, or are you not, concerned about the moral and spiritual climate in our country?" Amid a cavernously empty sanctuary, the typical Protestant pastor notes my question, his jaw drops, he swallows hard, and he then excuses himself to go drink coffee with another parishioner.
Am I being destructively negative? No, it's called "painful realism." If you are optimistic about this country's future and the state of its institutions, including the church, I invite you to share your impressions with me. Perhaps I am missing some great truth here, although I think that I have gotten this one right.
October 25, 2008