Engaging With Christianity: It is a hassle, and I feel like a jackass

  I find myself working on an amicus brief on behalf of  a small group of Wheaton College alumni.  We have something to say in a lawsuit Wheaton has filed. We oppose Wheaton suing the HHS saying that the Obamacare contraceptive mandate violates Wheaton's religious liberties.   Wheaton decided to file this lawsuit as a political act.  If you don't think so, then consider this.  As it turned out the contraceptives that Obamacare required -- the ones that were such an affront to the school's religious liberty -- had long been available on Wheaton's private insurance and indeed they had to cancel provisioning of the contraceptives in order to file suit.

As an alumni, I see this lawsuit as a dangerous retreat from Wheaton's position as a beacon of tolerance and intellectualism in Christianity.  In contrast to the dangerous anti-intellectualism that characterizes much Evangelical Christianity, Wheaton taught me never to fear the life of the mind.  Not to say that all of the students had one.  I remember correcting philosophy papers as a teaching assistant and being bowled over by how many people simply wrote a variation on God Is Awesome!  Why worry about Hegel!  We are AWESOME for being Christians.  But then, a lot didn't.  Jon Sweeney and Jen Grant are two authors from my class who spring to mind.  They had baptists at Wheaton, Catholics even, Methodists and Evangelical Free Church members.  Many strains of Christians were under one roof and got along.  The creed was   "in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity." 

Wheaton cheapens and narrows Christians by arguing that "Christians" do not support morning-after type pills when actually some Christians do.  And Wheaton cheapens religious liberty when it tries to give itself (a school, a legal fiction) more freedom of conscience than it is willing to give to its own students and staff.  Even calling compliance with Obamacare a violation of religious liberties makes me nauseous.  Who can't practice their religion in this situation?  Who is denied religious expression?  It's a perversion to even bring up religious liberties. This lawsuit is extreme evangelicals trying to test the waters on making Wheaton more extreme.   

So despite it likely giving me a Class A Moron designation, I  want to remind these guys about love and charity being at the forefront of Christianity, and tolerance and respect for individual's consciences being a chief virtue.  I basically want to remind Wheaton of all the great things that I learned there, things that I miss about Christianity.  I remember learning the ontological argument for the existence of God - that which nothing greater can be conceived.  Well, I am a fish with a big imagination and I can conceive some pretty great things.  I still hold out some hope that this God  greater of which I cannot conceive  (so very like Nina Simone) exists.  The God I can imagine would not be interested in ghettoizing and isolating religion by trying to strike a blow against a president some people don't like.   the God I imagine would not confuse the culture of the religion with the religious practices itself. I used to calmly make this point in my annual appointment with Dr. Chase, who was the President of Wheaton during my time.  I made the appointment in the fall to complain about the football team praying for victory during chapel.  It's like praying for a parking space.  That cheapens everything.  You think God is going to listen to your prayers about winning a football game when tens of thousands of people pray for food yet starve to death or pray for peace and are refugees of war?  Come on!  It's that kind of stuff that really gets me going. Remember Joe McClatchey?  Frederick Buechner?  Arthur Holmes?  How would they react to this lawsuit?  Jonathan Blanchard was more like Lincoln than he was like Pat Robertson.

Somehow I can't walk away.  And the same self-righteous jackass impulse that got me into that mess with the Wheaton alumni is getting a workout at my son's school  

I find myself with a son enrolled at a Christian school despite being an ex-Christian.  I have a great group of friends at the school, it is a magic place in many ways.  However, we are seeing Evangelical influence on the secondary culture of the school, where the values and practices of American Evangelical culture (i.e. big fat cupcakes in bake sales, condemnation of homosexuality as sin)  as distinct from American religious practice (i.e. prayer) are becoming an increasing phenomenon.  What is the culture that hosts the religion and what is the religion?  Those bake sales are the culture - the one legal high for an observant Christian - sugar.   But its a blurred line.

 My son's school is a private school, it goes from age 4 - 14 so far, 130 kids in nine classes.  You need not be a Christians to enroll.  But many are (some very serious evangelicals from the US) and there is a feeling that while the school is a Christian school, the community should defer to a narrower view of community, a smaller group called Evangelicals.  People who are not Christians are feeling a little cowed, a little silenced and a little concerned.

I really hope our feelings are wrong.  The parent committee is called the Community Association.  And it is open to anyone who has a child there.  So it is open to me.  So I am in this community just as much as anyone else and I will not be cowed.  Let me tell you about one member of the Community.  I am a latte-drinking, sushi-loving, liberal leaning,  yoga practicing human who loves television. I am an ex-Christian. I went to a Christian school, then went to Harvard law school  where Barack Obama introduced me to my roommate.  I even taught Sunday School at St. Peter's in Porter's Square, sometimes despite catastrophic hangovers.  But the more I thought about it the less I could believe that the bible had more truth than other books, or that the resurrection was a thing that happened. I don't think that the bible is the inerrant word of god (many Christians do not) but I still love lots of it very much.   I love plays.  I write them. My brother is a gay rights activist  and I am very proud of him. He is followed like Gandhi whenever we walk down 17th St in DC together, so many little rent boys has he homed and helped and loved when their own parents kicked them out of the house.  My son has three godmammas, two are a lesbian couple.  I don't believe creationism is valid science and I wish people would stop throwing shade on Charles Darwin.  I don't believe that submission to authority is a virtue, sure I know classrooms must have order.  But obedience for the sake of obedience, garnered by fear not by love, is  a pretty hollow thing.  Almost a year ago I kind of turned into a protester.  I was on the streets with Occupy London and it changed me.  I think people should spend less time parenting and more time tending the world that the children they are raising will eventually have to inhabit.  As we stress about secondary Evangelical influences and bake sale obligations, the centre of Cambridge is being reconfigured and privatized, Europe's economy is collapsing- yes, you see, I get like that.

I have many many generations of Christian missionary blood in my veins.  But instead of the classic missionary manifestation: cultural hegemony of going somewhere new and saying,"Hey, hi, do you want to go to this hospital?  Just say you are a Christian." or "All your religious beliefs are wrong and mine are right", I had some kind of mutation.  My missionary work is to keep Christianity as big and important as the god it is supposed to serve.  Ha!


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  2. Thanks for this. You embrace justice; I will value and fight for truth. Truth, justice and liberty. What a trio.

    I really haven't worked everything out, and feeling you have to means that it's harder to start. I have never known where to start, but I think I have to start HERE and NOW and risk sticking up for the truth, even if other people have been too deeply embedded in cultures that don't respect truth to see it or hear it. Cultures like some evangelical christian cultures. "Normal" Christianity here - I went to a village church in England - was very different to the norm in the States, I guess, because as I was growing up here Anglican bishops were questioning the virgin birth, and vicars were questioning all sorts of things. So that kind of ancient village christianity was allied with a progressive questioning and was my norm. Now I feel "my" christianity (though I'm not religious) has been invaded by evangelical bible-clutching immigrants, who are louder and bolder and happier and stupider and cheerfuller and badder, and they may be nicer and more loving, and more fun and warmer, but they are badder, badder than the reserved and quiet and sometimes even chilly Christians of my youth, because the invaders know already; those who know do not question, and the self-righteous cannot question (and let us admit that the invaders are less humble in their belief, less humble in their acknowledgement of mystery), and it is only by questioning that we can approach the truth.

    I am not a fighter; you clearly are. In front of me is always a wall of fear, a bit of a pain really. It's in front of my nose. But this is no way to live.

    A friend of mine was a lawyer and is now training to be a vicar and she is a tenacious verbal fighter, and will fight for the truth, I believe. So we are here on all sides. And we have enough in common, I believe.

    Thank you for your post. I will take my position, and my sign shall read
    The truth will set you free.


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