Prairie View

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

No McCarthyism Needed*

*See the section following the asterisk at the end of this post.

If you're old enough to have been aware of national news between 1947 and 1957 you probably remember something about Joseph McCarthy, who served in the US Senate during that time.  Even if you're not that old, you might remember him from studying history.  At the height of his influence, McCarthy was hailed by some as a hero.  Others watched his actions with horror.  Some of his colleagues and others in government saw their career destroyed when McCarthy labeled them as Communists. 

Joseph McCarthy's legacy leaves an imprint on the English language in the form of a term (McCarthyism) that means "the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence."  This term encapsulates the judgment of history on McCarthy's actions.
Some of what I see now in the Anabaptist world reminds me of McCarthy's actions. 

In trying to learn more about McCarthyism I found a really interesting account from Smithsonian magazine about a congresswoman who was one of the first people to challenge McCarthy publicly.   Read about that here   More on that later. 

I also learned that McCarthy's influence declined markedly after a defense attorney named Joseph Welch (reportedly a mild-mannered but incisive and witty person) uttered these words in a courtroom on June 9, 1954, addressed to Joseph McCarthy:  "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.  Have you no sense of decency, sir at long last?"  At this, the audience broke into wild applause, apparently relieved that at "long last" someone had scored a direct hit on the senator's toxic hubris.  It happened on my second birthday, although it was some years later when I learned more about McCarthy--first from my mother, probably when I was an adolescent.  Read about the 1954 event here

People who know me well know that I profess to value truth, honesty, and transparency.  In the early days of McCarthy's career, I believe some people saw him as valuing these things also.  From this vantage point, however, McCarthy appears pathetically self-serving, small-minded and mean-spirited.  How did that transition happen?  Was it McCarthy who changed or did observers become more discerning as time went on?  For the purposes of learning something about how Anabaptists should behave in the current crisis, concentrating on being discerning observers offers the most help to the largest group of people.  Here's what I see as being part of being discerning observers:

1.  Don't rush to judgment.  Allow time for investigations to be conducted properly.

2.  Don't pronounce sweeping generalizations about systemic problems among any groups.  All groups and individuals have failed at some time in some way.  Most groups and individuals have also done many, many things right.  Don't lay a burden of guilt on those who are not guilty of any specific sins related to the current crisis.  Especially, take no part in interfering with any good work that is still underway or that might develop in the future. 

3. Remember that justice and mercy come together perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ.  We should aspire to value both in our own actions and attitudes, and we need the mind of Christ to do so. 

4.  Don't denigrate laudable cultural and Christian values in an effort to correct wrong.  Forgiveness and mercy are Christ-like qualities.  They should be present in all Christians. 

5.  Do nurture a desire for truthfulness, and respect for lawful government authorities.  Cooperate with authorities without making unwarranted assumptions about their ability to set all things right  and without making assumptions about what action they need to take.  This is one way to express our stated position that the state and the church operate in separate kingdoms, and each has a proper role. 

6.  Resist the compulsion to spread ugly details and slap accusatory labels on others publicly, especially on the basis of flimsy evidence.  Appropriate reserve can be honorable and considerate of others.  Don't demonize it.  And don't assume that being quiet is synonymous with engaging in conspiratorial activities or that being noisy equates to being honorable.

7.  Don't insist that until certain terminology is used and certain actions are taken, things are not being handled well.

8.   Do care for victims--all of them.  Recognize especially that abusers themselves often have at another time in life been victims. 

9.  Do recognize that with great responsibility comes great accountability.  Don't shield others from necessary accountability or become complicit in keeping systems intact that silence or shame victims. 

10.  Don't lionize victims.   This is unhelpful, just as is a lack of compassion.

11.  Do acknowledge that suffering is a normal part of Christian experience.  A desire to avoid it at all costs is natural, humanly speaking.  Christ's example, however, reveals that it should be willingly endured when necessary.   This calls for the supernatural to supersede the natural inclination.

12.  Strengthen your own resolve to live with integrity and humility, especially by being part of a Christian brotherhood who calls you to a high standard and helps you reach it.  Participate in helping others achieve the same.

13.  Pray for wisdom.  Scripture tells us that God gives it liberally, without scolding us for asking.

14.  Live in the expectation of redemption.  By the power of God, this is a reasonable hope, no matter what must be endured on the way to realizing that hope. 

In 1950 Margaret Chase Smith provided a valuable service by sharing her "Declaration of Conscience" providing insight into the true nature of McCarthy's "witch hunts."   I admire her courage and wish for similar acts of courage in Congress in our time.  I would be slow, however, to assume that her actions in a government role should be adopted as a model for roles in Christian brotherhood.  Certainly honesty and integrity serve well in both milieus,  but the two-kingdom concept (and the resultant functional separation of church and state) that Anabaptists brought to the forefront of European awareness back in the 1500s should inform our understanding of how to behave as part of the Kingdom of God.  This understanding is a valuable part of our tradition, and even the present distress should not separate us from that tradition.  Specifically, we should not be telling the state how to act, and we should not adopt the state's policies for the church. Our standard is the Word of God, and our efforts are wisely applied to doing a better job of upholding that standard rather than to becoming more socially or politically correct.

In an email from my brother (L---) I was reminded of an incident in history when Jesus dealt with a sexual offender whose guilt was well-established. While Jesus recognized the law, he did not call for the lawful penalty to be enacted.   What he did instead was to effectively silence the accusers by inviting them to consider their own heart's condition before God.  Having done so, each accuser lost his appetite for exacting retribution.  Jesus continued by assuring the accused that he would not condemn her, and that she should live differently henceforth. 

I don't remember very specifically what my mother told me about Joseph McCarthy, but I do know that I have always thought of him as an instructive example, but not a role model.  Jesus is different in that his way of dealing with the woman "taken in adultery" provides both an instructive example and a safe model to follow.  According to the way of Christ, as observers in the drama unfolding around us, we are called to forsake our own sin--not to make sure that justice is served on offenders.  Beyond that, we must rely on the collective wisdom of the body of believers around us, and on the power of the Holy Spirit within us to move beyond the present distress. 


*I will not be entirely forthcoming in what is written in this post.  I will refer only to facts that are well-known to be true, but I will intentionally omit details, especially of names of individuals and organizations.  Much of my reading audience already knows the details, thanks to news reports in mainstream media and through knowledge of events in individual churches, in para church organizations and in the legal system.  Information and commentary has been disseminated through social media as well. I will be glad to interact privately with anyone who needs to know more or who wants to communicate further.

I do not know personally any of the people who have been named in news reports or in legal documents. None of them reside in this area.  I do know and love many innocent people around them who are no doubt now feeling betrayed and deeply hurt by the actions of people they have trusted.  Although these people are not the primary victims in the wrongdoing that has taken place, they are worthy of care and support, just as is true of the primary victims. 

It's hard to know what to say about the primary perpetrator involved in having sexually molested minors in the US and elsewhere.  Certainly everyone understands that failure occurred, and some aspects of it were truly horrific. It's hard to wrap one's mind around the extent of suffering endured by those who were abused, although our sympathies are aroused and our sense of justice is violated.  Much suffering is ongoing.  My brain does not have the necessary mechanisms for reconciling these evil actions with an outwardly "nice" persona. 

It's even harder to know what to say about people around the perpetrator who had some knowledge of the situation.  I see some evidence that some of them (perhaps all of them) tried to do the right thing at various points along the way.  Hindsight reveals that these efforts were not enough.  Perhaps the efforts were even ignorant and misguided, and undertaken with too much interest in preservation of position, power, influence, reputation, and even money.  Perhaps the individuals involved had some comeuppance due for a long time, and it's finally happening.  All of these possibilities suggest mountains of brokenness and much need of repentance and amendment of life.  At the very least, the circumstances call for reflection, humility, and being open to the light and life of the Holy Spirit who is our comforter, healer, teacher, guide, and helper. 

 What I still have hope of seeing is redemption.  That it will take much prayer and a miracle of God's grace are some of the few things I feel certain about right now. 

Now, back to the beginning of the post (and more phraseology lifted from Scripture and from church documents) . . .

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Worship, Service, Provision, and Nurture

This morning, while putting together cherry pies to contribute to the meal after Sam D.'s funeral tomorrow, I thought of the four categories in the title.  I believe they could serve as touchstones for what should be taught in a Christian school.  Learning how to worship, serve, provide, and nurture is important.  Specifically, I'm thinking of them as emphases for Pilgrim Christian School.  While they do not fall under typical academic courses of study (which are also needful for most students) they encapsulate some of the core values that seem to me to be essential for living well individually, in the family, the church, the community, and in the wider world.

In curriculum committee meetings, we sometimes talk about topics like this, but usually we end up dancing, or perhaps merely squirming,  to try to fit these ideals into predetermined parameters--state requirements for public schools, in our case.  I have caveats in mind in relation to this, but I feel that we are long overdue in rethinking our allegiance to the predetermined parameters.  State requirements simply are not predictably friendly to living well in ways that are vitally important to the values inherent in Christian living.  Doubling down on academic rigor seems far afield of the mark if we actually aspire to placing a primary emphasis in our schools on living well as Christians in a tumultuous and needy world.

Academic subjects provide tools, and almost any useful endeavor calls for tools, so there is value in learning academic subjects.  In a conventional classroom setting however the amount of time spent in school, the space and setting required , logistics and schedule complications, and group dynamics often actually preclude using those tools while they are being learned.   In short, they are limitations to effective learning, and we often label them instead as "efficiencies." 

When we regard the need for application as being permissably on hold until after school is over--for the day, or the semester, or the year, or the date of graduation, application is so far separated from when the tools were acquired that what was learned may have been forgotten entirely.  What is needed is an environment in which actually using tools in practical ways is seamlessly intertwined with acquiring those tools.  In cases where the tools cannot be applied practically at all in the process of learning them, perhaps we need to examine their necessity.

It's time to take the pies out of the oven.