Pete Buttigieg, Episcopal Snob

The first round of Democratic Presidential debates is, mercifully, over.  Winners and losers will sort themselves out in due season, but in the meanwhile let’s consider one whom the media fawned over: Pete Buttigieg, South Bend’s mayor.  He’s made quite a career doing something that none of his rivals have done to the extent that he has: taken shots at the “Religious Right.” starting with his own former governor, Mike Pence.  In a party which has gone very secular, and this is the primary stage, it’s hard to know what’s to be gained from such other than publicity (and, of course, in politics the only thing worse than bad publicity is no publicity.)  None of his rivals have any use for the Religious Right, so what’s the big deal?  What’s his game?

Personally, when I hear him go after conservative Christians, it sounds like it’s a 2019 version of the old “Episcopal Snob” going public with his grievances against these people.  Buttigieg is an Episcopalian and it sounds like he’s repeating the stuff he hears at church, whether from the pulpit or in the legendary Anglican/Episcopal coffee.

It’s something people in the Anglican/Episcopal world don’t like to admit, but it’s true: the core appeal of the Episcopal Church to those outside looking in is one of snob appeal.  The church has always attracted refugees from “fundamental” groups.  People for whom the narrow way has lost its appeal are attracted to a religion which is aesthetically pleasing and, most of the time, not dogmatic, even if they don’t have a good grasp of what they’ve gotten themselves into.  But coupled with that are the church’s elevated demographics: those who join it get to rub shoulders with people at the top of society.

As part of the “schtick” Episcopalians who have been at it for a long time are good at putting on the proper airs when confronted with those of religious persuasions they feel are beneath them.  They tell you that they neither need nor want to do the things you feel they should do, and the impression they leave is that they’re superior for it. It can be intimidating; my wife and I have run into it when out and about on church-related errands until we mention we are good friends with certain of their fellow parishioners, at which point they beat a hasty retreat: they realize we know too much.

Buttigieg mixes this up with current shaming and virtue-signaling techniques, using the fact that he’s gay to amplify his point.  His own schtick is that, if he “calls out” the spiritual and political failings of the unwashed, they’ll realize the error of their ways and come around to his idea.  That’s straight out of the Episcopal snob appeal playbook, only in the past both positive and negative presentation of the point was more subtle and in better taste.

I don’t think that the “unwashed” are going to flock en masse to either his church or his campaign, let alone his political party.  He might pick off a few careerist types but not many.  And the barriers which have bedeviled his church will come back to do the same to his candidacy and his party.  Nominating a snob might have worked in 2008 with Barack Obama, but this is an angrier country.  Elizabeth Warren has a better shot at ginning up resentment, if she doesn’t get bogged down being the policy wonk.  But then again, the last Scots-Irish President, Bill Clinton, was something of a policy wonk in his own right.

A Lesson from Herodotus About the Perils of Invading Iran

There’s a lot of talk these days about why we should or shouldn’t invade Iran, but I would submit this cautionary note, from all places my devotional book Month of Sundays:

King Cyrus was on top of the world. From mountainous Persia he ruled a vast empire; he was secure enough to allow the Jews to return to their homeland. In doing so he was God’s instrument, doing his will.

But Cyrus had other choices to make, too. A man named Artembares had an idea: that the Persians abandon their mountainous homeland and settle in a richer part of their new empire, probably what is now Iraq. Cyrus told them that Artembares and his friends could do what they wanted, but that he wasn’t going anywhere: “’Soft countries,’ he said, ‘breed soft men. It is not the property of any one soil to produce fine fruits and good soldiers too.’ The Persians had to admit that this was true and that Cyrus was wiser than they; so they left him, and chose rather to live in a rugged land and rule than to cultivate rich plains and be subject to others.” (Herodotus, The Histories)

The Jews returned to their land and began to rebuild their temple. Cyrus’ descendants would rule from their rugged land for another two hundred years. And Cyrus’ decision still works: one reason why the U.S. attacked Iraq and not Iran (Persia) was because of the rugged terrain from whence Cyrus came.

We always want the “easy way” out, and our lives to always be smooth sailing. But rugged terrain—physically and in life—can build character and endurance in a way that nothing else can. Jesus Christ won us freedom on an old rugged cross: don’t throw it away for easy street!

Iran’s mountainous terrain has always been a barrier to it being conquered.  Not an insurmountable one, to be sure, as Alexander the Great, the Islamic conquerors (which engender a great deal of resentment amongst many Iranians) or Tamerlane showed.  But it’s a major problem, especially with the broad-front nature of modern warfare.

It’s also helped the country develop a singular civilization, one that has had a greater impact (especially via its diaspora) than most Americans are aware of.  Iran, like Russia and China, has an educational system which emphasizes the sciences, and even with the brain drain they’ve experienced, they’re still a technological powerhouse.  Invading Iran isn’t something to be taken lightly; I hope American emotionalism doesn’t get the best of us.

Revivalistic Christianity Requires a Christian Society? Not Quite.

Albert Mohler makes an interesting point:

Third, looking specifically at the baptism numbers, the decline is both remarkable and lamentable. The most obvious insight is that we do not care as much about reaching lost people as we once did. That would be the observation that should cause Southern Baptists greatest concern. We will consider that question below. The second observation that would quickly come is that our methods of evangelism are not as effective as they once were. Honestly, that argument is beyond refute. Southern Baptist growth was largely driven by revivalism and its programs. We should not be surprised that revivalism is most effective in a context of Christian cultural dominance.

I think he’s half right.

Finally admitting that the future of the Southern Baptists–to say nothing of American Christianity in general–won’t be forwarded by a revivalistic model is something that’s gone down hard for many, and not just Baptists either.  Pentecostals and Charismatics keep looking for that great revival to “win American back for God,” but it’s a Pickett’s Charge approach that will get Pickett’s Charge results.

But to say that revivalistic Christianity is facilitated by “Christian cultural dominance” leads to a chicken and egg problem.  Which comes first: the revival or Christian cultural dominance?  I think that American history, from the days of Finney (who brought eighteenth century religious torpor to a grinding halt) to the SBC’s own efforts to convert the Booze Belt to the Bible Belt, would put the revival first.

What revivalistic Christianity does require is an open society where the Gospel can be set forth in an open forum to “poker playing dog” kinds of people, and get an open response.  The openness is fast fading, driven by such things as restrictions by social media, the “shaming and doxxing” culture of Christianity’s enemies, and the heavy hand of the state.  Coming up with a “Plan B” to something that’s worked for two centuries is what’s flummoxed Evangelical leaders, Baptists and otherwise.

Fortunately we have the examples of places like Iran and China to show us that you don’t need an open society to have the growth of the church.  Getting that message through to our leadership is another story altogether.

But there’s one problem Mohler neglected altogether: the ethnic makeup of the SBC.  Being as white as it is, it’s just in the crosshairs for the assault we’re seeing on the church, demographic and otherwise.  (The Episcopal Church, for those of you tempted to crow, is even whiter.)  What we need to do more than anything else is get out of the way and let those whose numbers swell our ranks to take the lead.

Ah, but that’s the really tricky part…

Renunciation is Central to Christianity, But You’d Never Know It

I recently had an interesting back and forth with a guy I went to prep school with on “Renouncing Privilege.”  Evidently he and I have a different take on what that means, as evidenced by his comment:

Many of the students were, and probably still are wealthy, still privileged. I would not try to make the point that the young men became followers of Gandhi, just that they recognized an abusive power that they had the means to abolish and voted accordingly.

Some of my idea comes from the current assault on “white privilege,” the only logical solution being that white people just step aside and let everyone else run things.  (I document here how some well-heeled and bi-coastal white people have tried to get around that obvious conclusion for their children’s’ benefit.)  But much of my view on the subject is conditioned by the New Testament itself:

“I tell you,” answered Jesus, “that at the New Creation, ‘when the Son of Man takes his seat on his throne of glory,’ you who followed me shall be seated upon twelve thrones, as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel. Every one who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or land, on account of my Name, will receive many times as much, and will ‘gain Immortal Life.’ But many who are first now will then be last, and those who are last will be first.  (Matthew 19:28-30 TCNT)

Calling the people and his disciples to him, Jesus said: “If any man wishes to walk in my steps, let him renounce self, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, and whoever, for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, will lose his life shall save it. (Mark 8:34-35 TCNT)

I’ve spent time on the rich young ruler elsewhere.

In the past Christians have understood what this meant.  Consider this from J.N.D. Kelly’s Jerome:

In the fourth century it was common for really serious Christians, at their baptism or when they experienced a deeper conversion, to break with the world, abandoning career, marriage and material possessions in order (in the expressive phrase of Cyprian of Carthage) ‘to hold themselves free for God and for Christ.’  The ascetic strain which had been present in Christianity from the start, and which in the west tended to set a premium on virginity, inevitably received a powerful practical impulse with the disappearance of persecution and the emergence of a predominantly Christian society where much of the Christian colouring was skin-deep.

That’s something that advocates of the “Benedict Option” should keep in mind.

In any case such is virtually unknown in American Christianity, which is too hog-tied to upward mobility (and that link is a big reason why American Christians do what they do politically, on both sides of the spectrum.)

Since straight-up renunciation doesn’t go down well, is there another way to meet the challenge of the Gospel?  One comes from the Anglican/Episcopal George Conger, who has tried to deal with this by putting this verse into practice:

The servant who knows his master’s wishes and yet does not prepare and act accordingly will receive many lashes; while one who does not know his master’s wishes, but acts so as to deserve a flogging, will receive but few. From every one to whom much has been given much will be expected, and from the man to whom much has been entrusted the more will be demanded.  (Luke 12:47-48 TCNT)

He explains the “critical moment” for his commitment to “givebacks” here, in an encounter with then candidate George H.W. Bush:

I commented on that idea years ago:

If one were to name the Episcopal Church’s strongest point from a practical standpoint, it was this: the emphasis on the importance of “give back”. It’s something I miss in a Pentecostal church. This isn’t to say that Pentecostals are not willing to help others–they certainly are, and are for many reasons better positioned to do so than Episcopalians–but the context is entirely different, and it doesn’t percolate to the upper reaches of the organisation the way one would like it to. But that’s also generational: baby boomers, for all the talk and their self-righteous insistence of making the next generation volunteer, are mostly too self-centred to know what true give-back is.

That said, I think that the road to that needs to run through some kind of renunciation.

Although there are many people who don’t have a lot to renounce (that’s another lesson that comes from many years in a Pentecostal church) American Christianity would do well to learn from Our Lord on renunciation, if for no other reason than that, if things go south, renunciation will be a lot easier than having it taken away from you.

My Response to “Renouncing Privilege” — Chet Aero Marine

I’ve posted elsewhere on my prep school, and it was a pleasure to hear that someone else thought enough to do the same: Tico Vogt, two years my senior, has done so in his post Renouncing Privilege. There’s a lot of ground to cover here; I’ll try to be as succinct as possible. It shouldn’t […]

via My Response to “Renouncing Privilege” — Chet Aero Marine