Friday, September 12, 2008

Responding to Michael Gerson

I sent this to the Washington Post today after reading one of their op ed pieces.
I love Michael Gerson. Only a former Bush speechwriter could so artfully speak out of both sides of his mouth at the same time. In an essay ostensibly taking liberals to task for mocking the religious beliefs of evangelicals he mocks Episcopalians! I suppose it must be simply a matter of whose ox – or sacred cow – is getting gored. Still, Gerson’s two-faced tactics bother me less than the fact that he simply ignores the ideas at stake in looking carefully at the theology proclaimed by Sarah Palin’s church and, indeed, by the governor herself. Her church has called same-sex relationships an illness that can be cured by God, and Gov. Palin has not denounced that idea. As pastor of a congregation that insists that God loves all of us, including gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual people, that idea bothers me a lot. Gov. Palin has also insisted that America’s founders intended to create a Christian nation. Never mind that most historians doubt that or that the founders themselves were deeply divided on questions of faith, as a pastor of congregation with the deeply held, Biblical conviction that God’s house has many rooms open to folks of many faiths, and as an American who believes that our religious diversity is one of the nation’s great strengths, Gov. Palin’s idea scares me. I am a Presbyterian, and we often call ourselves “God’s frozen people.” I would love it if our worship was a bit more lively like the “whoop and holler” congregations Gerson describes or the African-American church tradition that has shaped Sen. Obama’s faith convictions. But it is not merely a question of style or cultural differences. Ideas matter. Proclaiming that the end times are very near, and that Alaska has been chosen by God as a place of refuge from the coming deluge, surely has implications for the way one views public policy, international relations and the role of government in general. So as the campaign moves on these next 55 days or so, let us all pay attention to the ideas voiced by the various candidates, their advisors and their spiritual guides and move beyond mocking the styles in which those ideas are expressed.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Coffee Talk: God & Epistemology

I was at my favorite coffee shop this morning solving all the problems of the world with a colleague when the young man at the table next to us chimed in with a couple of comments on our problem-solving skills. We were talking about music and shared with him James McMurtry's CHENEY'S TOY (which you can find at McMurtry's MySpace page but which will not link here for some reason).
None of which is particularly interesting (except for the song, which is a biting anti-war piece). But as our conversation continued and we introduced ourselves as pastors to this young senate staffer the talk turned more compelling.
I invited him to visit us at Clarendon and he politely declined saying that he was not religious. Indeed, he said, "there isn't a place for God in my epistemology."
It was an intelligent, respectful way to decline an invite to church. I was getting ready to leave before the threatening storm so I couldn't follow up, but I hope to run into him again. I'd like to ask him about both his epistemology and his idea of God.
How does God fit into the way we comprehend the world around us? What difference does it make if such comprehension does not include God? What difference does it make in the way we comprehend the world if we understand God differently? That is to say, in terms that are particularly pressing in our present context, does a conservative, evangelic Christian understanding of God lead to a different comprehension, understanding, or knowledge of the world that a post-modern Christian understanding of God? (This is a blog, not an encyclopedia article, so I’m not diving into definitions.) Moreover, would a secularist’s understanding of God lead to a still different understanding of the world?
Or, perhaps, there is no difference between the secularist’s understanding of God and the conservative, evangelical Christian understanding of God. If that is the case, then they are seeing themselves in the mirror and it’s no wonder there is such a gulf between them.
I don’t know, but I hope the young man takes me up on the invitation; his voice would add something important and compelling to the conversation.