Who’s in Charge?

Written by: Joe Morris Doss

Democracy is supposed to maximize the agency of the individual citizen, to give everyone, to the extent possible, the opportunity to control her or his own destiny together with fellow citizens. Today, few of us in the United States who are ordinary citizens feel that we have much of a say. We share a profound sense of being out of the loop, in some else’s control, helpless. This is leading to rather scary possibilities. I make no secret of my most immediate fear that could come of this: election of a pseudo-strong-man hyper-nationalist who will “take charge” by running over whole categories of population that he opposes and seek fatuously simplistic solutions that will not come close to working, but instead can be devastatingly counterproductive. Whatever may come in the fall, the fact is that our collective sense of being out of a political ballgame that feels rigged begs some analysis and evaluation.

It will not surprise anyone that people of faith are unsettled by the institutional decline of the church and by the overwhelming secularization of western culture. A society that has no faith in religion, and takes so little interest in transcendent reality, will become faithful only to matters that cannot ground us and are bound to fail us. If being out of touch with reality is the definition of insanity, then it is hardly surprising that human society seems increasingly crazy, for it is more and more out of touch with the fullness of reality. It is especially dismaying to a Christian to grasp how misunderstood the gospel of Jesus Christ is within this society – despite the assumption that it knows all about it. In fact, the Christianity that is popularized in American society comes closer to the first century pagan religious understandings of God and humanity than to the vision of the man from Nazareth. But let’s come back to this after some consideration of facts “on the ground.”

We will need to think about this in a series of offerings. This will be more productive if you contribute to our thinking about why we feel that we lack the personal agency that we once enjoyed. Nothing would be more helpful than a conversation. I would be happy to post whatever you have to say.

I have to begin with an admission that I don’t understand the world as clearly as I used to think I did.

I wrote a book (The Songs of the Mothers) in which I asserted that the world is changing so much and so rapidly that the church, as an incarnational faith, was going to have to change in order to adapt to it, and serve it as the body of Christ. Thus did I predict the coming ecumenical reformation and issued a plea that we begin reforming now – even if full and ecumenical reformation is not so immediately at hand.

I based this assertion regarding the church’s reformation on the premise that there have been only three watershed reformations (The Constantinian Settlement of the Fourth Century, the Gregorian Reformation that established the Medieval Church, and the Protestant and Catholic Counter Reformations of the Sixteenth Century) and they came about because of two simultaneous forces. First, there was, in each instance, so much pain being experience by the faithful within the church that the internal call for reform was insistent. But at the same time, the world was changing so profoundly that the church too had to adjust just as radically, by way of reform.

That brings us to the question of what is forcing change in the world today. Historically it takes a turning point crisis or a technological revolution to bring about the magnitude of change the world is in the process of going through. Today we have both. We will begin our discussion there.


Where Is the Leadership of The Military and Law Enforcement in Protecting Us Against Guns in the Wrong Hands?
Written by: Joe Morris Doss

Shame on you, Officials of Law Enforcement!

Shame on you, Leaders of the Military!

Trained officers who use guns professionally, and lead men and women who use guns professionally, know what these killing instruments are for and what they are not for.

Why are you not standing up and demanding that society rid itself of the wrongful use of guns through controls you know very well how to set up and employ?

Why are you not leading the rest of us in the establishment of laws that limit the use of guns to what you as professionals understand to be intentions that are suitable and right?

We take note that you do not allow anyone to go onto military posts with a gun – including soldiers – with the singular exception of military police. Yet, you say nothing as criminals, drug dealers, gangs, and kids walk the streets of American cities, towns, and villages with guns in their pockets – as innocent citizens are killed in our land each and every day.

The truth is that you have the standing, authority, and respect to succeed in providing the leadership needed for gun control. Why do you fail us?

You talk about providing leadership, but you fail to provide it at the most fundamental level of your professional aims. You claim that the very purpose for your existence is to protect citizens, but you fail to do the single most obvious thing you can to actually protect us – prevention of violence. Prosecutors and judges, people throughout the system of criminal justice, claim that they are working for our protection – including putting away human beings who use guns wrongfully – and yet do nothing about having the guns themselves put away.

Enough!

You are guilty. You are in neglect of your duty.

You are called upon to turn about and act in accord with your purposes as law enforcement and military leaders. You are called upon to demand laws that effectively protect the innocent people of the United States from the foolish proliferation of weapons of war and crime!


The Sound of Glass Cracking in the Proverbial Ceiling
Written by: 
Joe Morris Doss

Put aside the matter of choosing for whom you personally will vote. The fact that each of us will have the opportunity to vote for a woman has to be recognized as a highly significant moment in American history, and it is my hope that all Americans – Republicans, independents, and Democrats alike – are, at least to that extend, proud of our democracy. Equality is hard to come by for some categories of persons, and throughout history, women – more than half of the human race – have suffered inequality that should now be viewed as shocking. The day is coming, and this nomination is a big step forward, when all forms of discrimination against women will be unacceptable.

I offer my viewpoint as a white male who knows something about authority and power that seems to come without necessarily being earned. I am a husband and a father, and therefore someone who realizes the need to empower women at a very personal level. I am a leader of the church, and therefore committed to the welfare of all of her members. I am a theologian and therefore someone who understands the religious and moral issues relevant in the quest for equality and justice. I am an attorney and therefore someone who is familiar with the Constitutional and legal issues at hand. But I offer you my personal perspective on discrimination against women especially as a pastor.

The first thing I have to say is really outrageous. That is, it is outrageous that it has to be said at all: Every human being is equally a child of God. Women are equal to men, and to one another, and women are due nothing less than that recognition and that standing. It simply is not enough to acknowledge that, it has to be constitutionally established and made effective within our legal, political, social, and religious spheres.

In fact, I have an outrageous question: If Mrs. Clinton is elected, should she be paid at the same level as her husband when he was President? Noting that most women holding the same job as a man do not receive equal pay, it is an outrageously meaningful question, and one that must be removed in the only way possible.

The next thing I have to say to you as a pastor is very important but seems too little considered. Those of us who participate in a system that discriminates are the people most in need of being freed from it. Martin Luther King spoke as a pastor to those who cannot see the harm to themselves in prejudice and actions of discrimination. From a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, he shed the light of reality on fellow clergymen who wanted to avoid the struggle of their day in obtaining equality for all human beings:

“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…This is the inter-related structure of reality.” 

Finally, I want to say how obviously this nomination makes the case against discrimination within the institutional life of God’s church. The church is intended to be the pioneer for justice in society, but when it comes to women the church is being dragged kicking and screaming into the inevitable realization that it is its own worst enemy. The faith community in which I have a formal role as a bishop, together with most of the mainline protestant churches, has been and remains guilty enough, though decisions have been made to begin correction of our path. But when one sees the determined prejudice and discrimination against women in the very largest of our communities, ranging from the fundamentalist evangelical churches to the sacramental Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, one is staggered by the realization of how far the Christian church is from the way of our Lord. We must call each other to reform whatever is required in order to fully include women in all of the life of the church, including all leadership roles, into which they are baptized!

The model for Christians is Jesus himself, and despite the failures of his church down through the centuries of patriarchal domination, despite the way certain parts of his church still oppress women in his name, Jesus himself treated women exactly as he did with men. We see that he surrounded himself with women; He not only gathered them and associated with them, he made them part of his inner circle. We see how much trouble he got in because of his interaction with women. He was declared unclean and unworthy of leadership in that patriarchal society. We see that the first person he appeared to after the resurrection was a woman and it was this woman he chose as his first apostle to send with the news and spread it as The Good News.

Matters like racial bigotry and the oppression of women was, and for some Christians remain, examples of religious conscience. It is the religious conscience that has to change! The inequality of women and all offenses against justice must be prohibited in the church as well as in law. For where justice is violated we may find religious beliefs, but we will not find God.


Distinguishing Duke and Trump From Other Politicians

Written by: Joe Morris Doss

Author’s Note: The church should be non-partisan in elective politics. This includes organizations like At the Threshold that are not official but purport to speak to issues theologically and on behalf of concerns of the church. It is extremely rare for the church to find itself having to speak out against a serious candidate for office, much less a nominee of one of the two major parties of the United States, much less a nominee for President. But there are examples in history – too important to ignore – in which it is clear that the obligation of the church demands, or should have demanded, that it take a stand against certain leaders and forms of leadership. Without identifying reasons in the abstract, At the Threshold has been offering a series of statements about the candidacy of Donald Trump that should reveal why we think just such an exceptional case has arisen. Please be aware that these statements are not written due to political opinion, but are based on careful employment of well-honed moral theology.

Recently I asserted on behalf of At the Threshold that the voter who supports Donald Trump on certain selected matters, and thus chooses to support his election, is supporting all of what will happen if he becomes President. The point was that Trump has promised to take actions and positions as President so toxic that voters should balk at supporting some of his positions unless willing to take responsibility for all. An analogy was drawn to the White Supremacy position of David Duke.

Someone I dearly respect asked: “What is the precise distinguishing factor(s) between applying this ‘if support some, then support all’ principle to Trump and Duke but not to all candidates?”

The difference is that there are some candidates who take certain defining positions that are “out of bounds” of what is tolerable and become personifications of actions and ideas that must be rejected unconditionally by the electorate. Their leadership is to be categorically rejected. David Duke has been recognized as one such politician; Donald Trump should be another.

David Duke could not be supported on ordinary matters, like tax reform, because standing by him on anything would have conferred on him more power and standing to use in his fight for white supremacy, hyper-nationalism, and thuggish authoritarianism. In the story that was previously used, for the State Treasurer to support him on an issue such as tax reform would have been taken to mean that the official was supportive, or at least open to, his stand on race.

Normally it is appropriate to support candidates without agreeing with them across the board. To support Bernie Sanders on equalizing pay for women does not mean one must oppose the international trade agreements he criticizes. Nor is it clear that a majority agrees with him on either issue; they are matters currently being debated and not yet settled. But to support Trump on his stated plan for tax reform, and thus to vote for him on that basis, is as well a vote to endanger the world, to exclude people of certain religious beliefs and affiliations, to denigrate and discriminate against women, to elect someone who will say and do anything without regard to truth or even to personal belief in what he himself is saying, etc., etc., etc. He cannot be supported in one or more parts deemed desirable without bringing about proposals that must be avoided. It is an either/or vote. That indeed is unusual, but in this case it is very real.

The distinction we are talking about has to do with how absolutely positions taken by a candidate must be avoided. In something like nuclear proliferation it is damningly close to absolute. Throughout my adulthood, the greatest fear has always been that some crazy person, some greedy maniac, or some terrorist group might get their hands on nuclear power and use it against a city or region. If the nuclear power is available, “the market” will find it. Do we no longer fear that rogue leaders and/or nation states will gain the use of nuclear bombs and use them?

A policy like excluding Muslims may not be absolute — eventually the policy could be corrected — except in how real flesh and blood human beings and families will suffer the consequences in the meantime, and especially except for the great violence done to our values, traditions, and identity as a nation. Then, there are the issues that were once in conflict, but finally have become settled. Often a minority of citizens may continue to hold to a position after the controversy over right and wrong has been clarified and decided, and even when it would be unacceptable to go back on that settled resolution. For example, we have decided that slavery is wrong and being the United States of America is good. Yet, 38 percent of those who voted for Donald Trump in South Carolina acknowledged that they wish the South had won the Civil War; another 38 percent say they aren’t sure which side they wish had won, while just 24 percent say they are glad the Union won. Thirty-five percent of Cruz supporters said they thought the U.S. would be better under the Confederacy.

There must be a line drawn between disagreement and political “debate” over a controversial issue, such as when the south largely refused to allow most black citizens to vote, and when that issue has been settled, as after the civil rights movement and voting act. To revive the previous controversy is unacceptable and must be avoided. Trump’s candidacy has raised several of these kinds of issues.

Then, there are issues on which we have been moving rapidly toward political resolution, but on which Trump would reverse course. We could decide that women are just less worthy as workers and deserve less pay, but women are about done with that kind of suppression. We can rely on fear for our basic motivations, but that is doomed to become exhausting, oppressive, and counter-productive. The United States can try to become a modern empire on a model like the old Roman Empire – but that is fantasy and immoral. We could try to maintain a white majority in the US, but that will prove a simple denial of reality. We could raise established and fundamental issues of civil rights again, but that is just asking for pervasive pain. Racism in many of its manifestations is definitely at stake in this election, but we must move forward instead of backwards. Keeping Muslims out of the US and many of Trump’s other promises comes pretty close to the sort of ridiculously negative standard exemplified in slavery. But there are other proposals that are even closer to an absolute “NO”: like a proposal to proliferate nuclear weapons! 

Another valued friend that I deeply respect opined that change is needed and that it is Trump who would bring it about. I can appreciate the way most of us are sick and tired of all politicians seeming to play the same game in which “the fix” is on and “we the people” are not in on it; I share the yearning for some genuine political reform. But going where Trump would take us is only to jump from the frying pan into the fire.