I didn’t anticipate writing more about Marx beyond my comments last week about how despite being an avowed critic of religion, Marx has had profound impacts on Christianity, but here we are because I couldn’t help notice some parallels between the Europe of Marx’s time and the America of ours.
In honor of Karl Marx’s 200th birthday, I’m reading Gareth Stedman Jones’ Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion.
As a philosophical biography, Stedman Jones’ work is focused beyond just the nuts-and-bolts info of Marx’s life; instead, he takes pains to paint the social and philosophical context into which Marx was born and raised. This is very helpful, as no one thinks in a vacuum, and if we are to understand Marx and what he believed, we should also understand the currents into which he was born.
Saturday was the 200th birthday of Karl Marx, occasioning a slew of think pieces and hot takes (he was a genius! he was a monster!) – but here’s one that rarely gets made: Marx, that notorious skeptic of religion, was arguably one of the most influential figures in shaping 20th century Christianity.
On the one hand, this is obvious – Marx’s influence on world history generally is hard to overstate, and to the extent that Christianity partakes in world history, it must also have been influenced by Marx. Likewise, because so much of American Christianity, especially the fundamentalist and evangelical strains, embraced anti-communism, Marx obviously exerted a significant, albeit negative influence in the development of those traditions.
But I mean something more specific, and more positive – that Marx’s critique of capitalism’s inherent depredations and his yearning for a better, more just society shaped at least two significant Christian movements in the 20th century.
When Billy Graham was born in 1918, American Christianity was engaged in something of a civil war between Fundamentalists and modernists.
Harry Emerson Fosdick
As Christians, mainly in colleges and big-city churches, increasingly accepted scientific explanations for the origins of life and accordingly changed the way they viewed the creation and transmission of the Bible, they were subjected by conservatives within their denominations to heresy trials, sometimes successfully ousted from positions of leadership.
That division was memorably described by Harry Emerson Fosdick, the famed pastor of First Presbyterian Church in New York City, who in 1922 – when Graham was a toddler – delivered his sermon, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”
“Their apparent intention,” Fosdick declared, “is to drive out of the evangelical churches men and women of liberal opinions.”
The other night, I went to a local candidate forum organized by the various Republican Party groups in the county where I live. It featured people running for offices from justice of the peace all the way up to U.S. senator.
Where I live in Central Texas, the Republican primary functions as the general election for local races. Even this year, in what seems to be shaping up as a big election for Democrats, the chances are minuscule that any of the small handful of Democrats running for county-level races will win any of them.
The ideological hegemony here is smothering. In November 2016, the least-supported Republican in any race on the ballot received 63 percent of the vote. Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton here by 50 points.
Meanwhile, the county sits within various districts that also are overwhelmingly Republican. In the Texas Legislature, it’s part of the 73rd House District, where no Democrats were on the ballot in 2016, and the 25th Senate District, where the incumbent, a hard-core Tea Party conservative, won re-election in 2014 with more than 76 percent of the vote. On the federal level, infamous climate-change denier Lamar Smith has represented the bulk of the county for three decades, defeating his Democratic challenger in the county by 60 points.
The point is: This is a conservative county in a conservative state. Republicans have nothing to fear here.
Which is pretty much the opposite of the message several hundred attendees heard at this forum.
Instead, they were told they should in fact be quite afraid.
Sixty million years ago, what is now south-central Alabama was the shore of an ocean. Over time, the continents shifted, sea levels receded, and the nutrient-rich mud deposited by those waves eventually became nutrient-rich black dirt perfect for planting crops like cotton.
Two hundred years ago, the Industrial Revolution and the rise of textile manufacturing made cotton an increasingly vital part of the Southern – and the American – economy. The children and grandchildren of enslaved Africans, kidnapped and brought over the ocean to harvest tobacco in Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas, were torn from their families, chained together and marched southwest to Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi to expend their bodies scooping bowls of cotton from thousands upon thousands of plants growing in that ancient shoreline. The modern American economy, from which some of us benefit more than others, was built on their backs.
War. Emancipation. Reconstruction. Segregation. The well worn story, still somehow not told often enough or understood well enough. When I visited Alabama to do thesis research two years ago, I was struck by the extent to which the history of those slaves and their descendants has simply been ignored. Jefferson Davis, traitor to his country, has his statue on the grounds of the State Capitol in Montgomery. Down the street, where men and women and children were chained and sold like animals – where their descendants were beaten and brutalized and ghettoized – no marker stands.
At the risk of generalizing too much, Alabama seems to have a knack for ignoring. Forty years after KKK members bombed a Baptist church, killing four black girls, it took a prosecutor named Doug Jones to finally bring them to justice; their identities had long been known to authorities. They were just … ignored. That bombing, in Birmingham in 1963, occurred as the South convulsed with marches and demands. Martin Luther King Jr., a young preacher in the first capital of the Confederacy who every Sunday delivered sermons extolling the need for equality almost literally in the shadow of the statue of the man who led a war to deny that equality to men like King. By 1965, King led a march for voting rights up the same steps where Davis had delivered his inaugural address as president of the nation founded explicitly on the denial of humanity to dark-skinned people.
For decades, the descendants of the enslaved had been denied their voice. In a nation that preaches the power of the vote and the principle of democracy, black men and women had been stripped of that power, and with it their place as true citizens of a country they had been forced to inhabit. Even after the march from Selma to Montgomery left bloodstains in the 60-million-year-old dirt, African Americans found themselves struggling to make themselves heard. Restrictions on voting for convicted felons. Voter ID laws. No early voting. No online registration. Police intimidation at polling places. Voting, the one measure of power granted to every person born in the United States, the primary tool of self-governance, was granted only reluctantly to those who arguably needed it most desperately.
Ignore it or dismiss it how you will, history is always there. That long chain of events leads directly to yesterday’s election of a new senator from Alabama. Yesterday, people of color – many of them residents of that “Black Belt” of south-central Alabama that once was a seashore – overcame obstacles, waited in line for hours and cast provisional ballots after being wrongly classified as “inactive voters.” They did so because, for the first time, the established power structures of the state – which for so long had domineered and silenced them – were vulnerable. That power structure long had said they were unfit to vote because they were black, or because they were female, or both. Today, they told the power structure it was unfit to represent them on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
Against a candidate who embodied everything wrong about the current American political moment – a likely serial sexual abuser of teen girls who, according to his spokesman, “probably” believes homosexuality should be illegal and rejects the rights of Muslims to hold political office, who just this week pined for the days of slavery – people of color, and especially women of color, rose up. As they have been doing for the past year. As they have been doing for generations.
They rose up to take one of the most powerful actions any person in our society can take – an action so consequential its potential use by African Americans sparked dread among white Alabamians for more than a century: They voted. And in so doing, they pulled down a bastion of power that said they should stay in their place, the place carved out for them as women, as people of color.
By all accounts, it wasn’t easy. Progress never is. It takes a long time for that sea to deposit its grains on the beach, imperceptibly building a fertile land in which freedom and equality can eventually take root, even if only after violence and oppression trample it first. It takes persistence, against long odds, against a bloody history too often whitewashed and denied. It takes being assaulted and insulted and gaslighted by monsters who claim the backing of God and sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” while you dismantle their corrupt edifices.
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends – with difficulty – toward justice. Nevertheless, they persisted.
So it’s been a few days years since I’ve blogged. I’ll talk more about that in a future post. But nothing gets the Disorientedblog-outrage juices flowing like an unexpected, vicious, evil assault on LGBT Christians.
And make no mistake, that’s what the “Nashville Statement” produced by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood this week is. Not only was it unexpected, but it comes at a time when LGBT people are feeling particularly vulnerable. It is certainly vicious.
And, yes, it is evil. I’ve discussed in this space before how the words of prominent Christians affect the lives of LGBT youth, who are at increased risk for homelessness, addiction, self-harm and suicide – almost all of it traceable to the shame and ostracism they feel from people who claim to love them.
Lots of people have said lots of things about the Nashville Statement (the condemnations have been refreshingly swift and fierce), but if I had to summarize the most interestingshockinghorrifying elements, it would be these:
Articles III and IV describe differences between men and women as “divinely ordained,” but does not attempt to describe what those differences are.
Article V says that genitals “are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female,” and posits a “God-appointed link” between a person’s genitalia and their self-conception.
Article VI acknowledges the existence of intersex people and affirms that they “have dignity and worth equal to all other” humans … but makes no effort to reconcile their existence with Article V’s emphasis on genitals being “integral to God’s design for self-conception.”
Article X is truly shocking, as it labels support of same-sex relationships and “transgenderism” (which isn’t a thing) “an essential departure from Christian faithfulness,” leading to the inescapable – and, to their credit, explicitly stated – conclusion that “faithful Christians” cannot “agree to disagree” on whether to affirm same-sex relationships and transgender people. This draws the line, and millions of baptized Christians who affirm the divinity and resurrection of Christ while also affirming same-sex marriages are on the wrong side.
Article XIII argues that the grace of God, rather than providing room to disagree on complex and sensitive issues like transgender identity, “enables sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions … that are at odds with God’s revealed will.”
And, going out of order, because this is the crux of my post: Article VII says a person’s notion of their masculinity or femininity “should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.”
But, um, where is the Scripture in the Nashville Statement? Article XIII discusses “God’s revealed will.” Article V mentions a “God-appointed link.” Articles III and IV mention “divinely ordained” sexual differences.
But where are the actual words of God?
Here, so far as I can tell is a complete rundown of all of the Bible verses directly or indirectly quoted in the 14 articles of the Nashville Statement:
Article VI quotes Matt 19:12 regarding intersex people: “… our Lord Jesus in his words about ‘eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb.'”
That’s it. One verse that likely was never intended to address the subject the CBMW rips it out of context to address. For a group with “Biblical” right in the name and 14 articles discussing what they allege are biblical views of gender and sexuality, that’s awfully skimpy.
Rather than go any more at length into the manifest wrongness of the Nashville Statement – and make no mistake, it is wrong on nearly every count, whether you’re looking at it morally, psychologically, scientifically or biblically – let me just respond with a few Bible verses the CBMW maybe could have used to create a statement more in keeping with the Jesus they claim to follow:
“And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for a person to be alone.'” – Genesis 2:18
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Leviticus 19:18
“Love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. … Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.” – Song of Songs 8:6-7
“Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. … Stop doing wrong; learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. – Isaiah 1:13, 17
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:6
“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings? … He has shown you, oh human, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:6, 8
“So in everything do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30
“‘ Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40/Mark 12:30-31
“‘Which of these do you think was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” – Luke 10:36-37
“Woe to you, Pharisees, because you [tithe] but you neglect justice and the love of God. … And you experts of the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” – Luke 11:42, 46
“This is my command: Love each other.” – John 15:17
“You therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself because you who pass judgment do the same things.” – Romans 2:1
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.” – Romans 8:37-39
“Each of us will give an account of themselves to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.” – Romans 14:12-13
“Now to the unmarried I say: … If they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” – 1 Corinthians 7:8-9
“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The person who thinks they know something does not yet know as they ought to know. But the person who loves God is known by God.” – 1 Corinthians 8:1-3
“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames but have not love, I am nothing. … And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:3, 13
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28
“Therefore, my dear friends … continue to work out your own salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and act according to his purpose.” – Philippians 7:12-13
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. … And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” – Colossians 3:12, 14
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. … God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. … There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because God first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates a brother or sister, that person is a liar.” – 1 John 4:7-8, 16, 18-20
I think about health care a lot. We are blessed with three healthy children – but not so healthy that there haven’t been scares and emergencies. We’ve been to the hospital at least once with each child in the last five years, not to mention the hospital visits to actually give birth.
So I think about health care a lot. Because many families are not as lucky as we have been. Their children need many more hospital visits, or round-the-clock care, or expensive medication taken every day. And that’s expensive, more than they can afford.