Over at Ref21 my friend Carl has posted what I believe is a very balanced and thoughtful rebuke concerning the nature of contemporary political discourse among evangelicals.
Carl is interesting to most American Christians. It would be difficult to find a man of greater orthodox or "conservative" theological convictions. He is also pro-life and believes that biblical sexual ethics are not to be re-imagined for our own day. You will also find few men who can more ably skewer contemporary liberalism. And yet he is also, in some ways, a man of the left. Some of his ideas about the role of government would drive most conservatives a bit crazy. So what are we to make of a man like Carl? It seems to me that he is, in some ways, a man without a home (politically speaking). He is as offensive to liberals as he is to conservatives.
This is one of the reasons I like spending time with Carl. When it comes to politics I don't always agree with him but he makes me think (and he usually makes me laugh as well). Plus, he's a fun pub mate.
Anyway, I found this piece to be spot on and convicting for I have been guilty of breaking the 9th Commandment in some of my own discourse (believe it or not!).
One of the most depressing things about the current season of political stumping in the USA is the mindless nature of so much of the discourse. The recent sight of the unbearably self-important and ill-informed Bill O'Reilly and the overwheeningly self-righteous and equally ignorant Whoopi Goldberg squaring off in a TV spat about as realistic and spontaneous as a Hulk Hogan smackdown just about says it all. The most popular TV pundit of the Right, who yet cannot define `socialism,' versus the advocate for women's rights who does not regard the drugging, and forcible and perverted sexual violation of a thirteen year old girl as `rape.' If ever we needed a microcosmic demonstration of all that is wrong with left and right, those two say it all: it is all about empty posturing, extreme slogans, and, above all, entertainment.
More worrying, however, is the role of the religious in all this. The culture of extreme nonsense that leads many to regard the O'Reillys, Becks, Goldbergs and Olbermanns of this world as serious contributors to intelligent debate and discussion is, sadly, alive and well in religious circles, and frequently fed by such. Just recently, I read a comment in World Magazine describing Obama as a `Marxist-Christian syncretist.' Of course, Marxism, like socialism, is a term the Religious Right love to hate, even as they often struggle to be able to define it with any degree of precision. For myself, while disagreeing with many of Obama's policies, I find characterisation of him as a Marxist to be ridiculous, risible, and an affront to those who have truly struggled (and continue to struggle) under real totalitarian Marxist regimes. Indeed, when the `M' word is used by the Religious Right in the USA, it would seem to function in the same hyperbolic way as the phrase `You've totally ruined my life!' functions for the typical teenager whose cell phone has been confiscated for a couple of hours by an irate parent.
More seriously, however, if I myself were to apply such a term to Obama, it would surely represent a breach of my ordination vows. I subscribe to the Westminster Standards and, in the Larger Catechism, Question 128, on the Fifth Commandment, `What are the sins of inferiors to superiors?' carries the following answer: `The sins of inferiors against their superiors are, all neglect of the duties required toward them; envying at, contempt of, and rebellion against, their persons and places, in their lawful counsels, commands, and corrections; cursing, mocking, and all such refractory and scandalous carriage, as proves a shame and dishonour to them.' I will not bore readers with the LC on other aspects of the Fifth commandment or, indeed, on the Ninth Commandment; suffice it to say that neither really allow much room for hurling accusations of `Marxist' or `Fascist' against those with whom we simply happen to disagree on marginal tax rates, health care, or Wall Street reform.
So here are two fun suggestions: Christians, right and left, should model intelligent civic engagement, not help to destroy it by pandering to the moronic soundbites and posturing of the TV pundits. And anybody who holds office in a confessional presbyterian denomination and who calls the President a Marxist (or carries around a picture of him at a rally photoshopped to make him into Hitler or the Joker), or anyone, for that matter, who claims that the Republicans are all Fascists or racists -- anybody who does such, I say, should be charged in the courts of the church with breach of vows and, if unrepentant, dismissed from office. Criticism and dissent are vital in democracy; but how we express that criticism and dissent should be shaped by our Christian commitments and, for those of us who hold office, by our solemn vows.