Sunday, February 26, 2012

Prayer Breakfast speech

I just heard this speech/sermon by a fundamentalist minister, Eric Metaxas, from the National Prayer Breakfast this year, followed by a speech of President Obama's. As Metaxas actually mentions in his speech, it's sponsored by a very conservative, fundamentalist group called The Family. He scoffs at critics of The Family as being conspiracy-mongers. But the critics of which I'm aware don't call it a conspiracy, they call it a Christian fundamentalist group that quietly cultivates members of Congress and has a theocratic political agenda. (See Jeff Sharlet, Sex and power inside "the C Street House" Salon 06/21/2009)

This National Prayer Breakfast video is a sobering look at how political fundamentalism deals with contemporary American politics and social realities.

Southern Baptist minister Wade Burleson praises the speech extravagantly at his blog. Burleson has had some interesting comments on the authoritarian practices of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leadership. But what look almost like a dissenting position in the SBC sounds like a very conservative position to people not involved following internal SBC politics closely. Methinks Metaxas Meant It: Eric Metaxas' Stunning Speech at the National Prayer Breakfast Methinks Metaxas Meant It: Eric Metaxas' Stunning Speech at the National Prayer Breakfast 02/14/2012. Here's the speech:

He criticizes "dead religion", saying that Jesus intended to do away with it. Probably most of his hearers understood that to mean non-born-again Christianity, which at least to doctrinaire fundamentalists is not real Christianity at all. So this is a pretty exclusionary viewpoint. Just to be clear, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists don't have any valid relationship to God at all in that outlook, either.

Burleson is bubbly about the speech:

Masterpieces of word and craft are sometimes not recognized by either the author or the audience until the passage of time. A couple of weeks ago, Eric Metaxas delivered what may one day be considered the greatest speech ever given at a National Prayer Breakfast. The National Review has written of Metaxas' address in a remarkable article entitled The President and the Prophet: Obama's Unusual Encounter with Eric Metaxas. After Metaxas delivered a speech for the ages, the President followed with his own speech, amply illustrating with his words Metaxas' mantra that "A dead religion uses the words of God to do the opposite of what God does. It’s grotesque when you think about it. It's demonic. Keep in mind that when someone says 'I am a Christian' it may mean absolutely nothing[.]"
Burleson thought Metaxas was funny. But I thought his efforts at humor are snarky at best.

He tries to identify present-day Christian fundamentalists with the early anti-slavery activists, though the continuities between today's Christian Right and the hardline pro-slavery Christians in the slave states are far stronger than any links to Abolitionists. But this is a favorite conceit and marketing image for the Christian Right.

And in another favorite marketing ploy the Christian Right, specifically with reference to abortion, is to identify themselves with German Christians during the Third Reich who opposed the anti-Jewish policy. Metaxas does this with Dietrich Bonhoeffer in this speech. He makes a specific link to the anti-abortion cause.

In other words, it's largely a whiny-white-people kind of speech. Those who take a "Biblical view of sexuality" - by which he presumably condemnation of same-sex relationships and sex outside of marriage - those mean God-haters will call you bad names.

And he encouraged everyone to love their enemies on those issues. But it was, to put it mildly, an ambiguous call. Since he had just made it clear that anyone who opposed the fundamentalists on those two issues were not practicing true Christianity.

Burleson's own comment quoted above seems to indicate that he also doesn't believe the President is a Christian. This is a favorite game of the Christian Right.

Obama gives a decent speech, included in the video above, explaining his general approach in the context of religious values. It's a careful, sensible presentation, and relates his Christian person to those of Islam and Judaism. (Pam Spaulding provides a full transcript in Transcript: Remarks by the President at the National Prayer Breakfast Pam's House Blend 02/04/2012.

But such a mainstream Christian presentation, with its distinct ecumenical elements, is jarringly out of harmony with the narrow exclusivity and obvious hostility Metaxas shows. I don't see what sense it makes for a President not part of the same narrow fundamentalist perspective to lend the prestige of the Office of the President to a gathering like this with a narrow sectarian purpose and a hardline conservative political bent. Or, if he does, he needs to directly confront the narrowness and bigotry that the Christian Right practices, something he has so far steadfastly refused to do.

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