Friday, June 01, 2012

Checking in on Brother Wade and his brand of rhetorical Christian militance

I made a couple of posts earlier this year about a blog post from the Rev. Wade Burleson, a Southern Baptist minister and blogger, called The Absolute Absurdity of Apologizing for Burning the Koran 02/27/2012. This was after one of the flareups in Afghanistan over Americans desecrating copies of the Qur'an. (Update 10/29/2012: The Rev. Burleson has changed the name and graphics on his blog to Istoria Ministries Blog; he seems to have kept many of the posts from his previous blog but not the one quoted here. As of this update, the post is cached here.)

Bro. Wade went all butch in that post, blasting President Obama for expressing regret over the incident because "ONE SHOULD NEVER APOLOGIZE" when you're "dealing with religious fanatics who believe murder is an appropriate response for the burning of their religious material." Bro. Wade's Christian recommendation was to follow the example of Gen. Pershing in the infamous colonial war in the Philippines. The example, as described by Bro. Wade, was to murder prisoners and desecrate their corpses. The primitive Filipinos were so impressed by this that, according to Bro. Wade, "The Mullahs even made Pershing an Honorary Chieftan [sic] and never again gave him trouble during his military career."

He included this statement of his Christian philosophy:

Unfortunately, our President is apologizing for our military burning the Koran. That is absolutely absurd. I wonder what Obama would say if the U.S. commander in Afghanistan did what Pershing did in 1911? Sound too tough? Well, the U.S. government should be tough. The U.S. military should be even tougher. Our government bears a sword of vengeance, and it should be used. Churches are in the business of redemption, forgiveness and love. The United States government is in the business of justice. Any government that apologizes to murderers for burning their holy book has lost its moral bearings. You don't apologize when at war. If you have to apologize, you shouldn't be at war. The United States is at war. NO MORE APOLOGIES. The more you apologize, the weaker you look. The weaker you are perceived, the more your people are murdered. [my emphasis in bold]
This is no doubt drawn directly from the teachings of Jesus as found in the Gospel of Republican Warmongers, a portion of the New Testament that those of us not within the magic circle of Republican war cheerleaders can never seem to get access.

This kind of butch war puffery sadly too often passes for serious Christian thinking in the US these days.

But Bro. "Sword of Vengeance" Wade didn't like it much when I suggested he must be thrilled at the merciless massacre of civilians in two Afghan villages in Kandahar province that came to light not long afterwards and to which Staff Sgt Robert Bales confessed. In fact, he was defensive enough that in an update to his post he kinda-sorta suggested that there might be, well, something to apologize for!

The U.S. soldier who murdered women and children in Afghanistan should be executed. In fact, he should be handed over to the Taliban and let them execute him. To murder women and children, as what happened in 9/11, is not war, it is genocide. Anyone guilty of genocide should be put to death (see the Nuremburg [sic] Trials).
His updated comment, to which I also responded, sounded more like someone who howls for lynch-murder trying to verbally disassociate himself from some actual lynch murder that occurs than someone thinking seriously about the problem at hand.

Republicans have a weird fixation on this "apologizing for America" thing. They even make stuff up to beat that particular drum, as Glenn Kessler explained in Obama's 'Apology Tour' Washington Post 02/22/2011.

So, on what other topics has Bro. Wade been offering us his viewpoint the last few months on his blog? What attracted my attention to Burleson's blog in the first place was that occasionally he makes what seem to be thoughtful reflections on the problems of authoritarianism in the churches, in particular his own Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Like this one from "God Will Kick Your Tail" - A Critique of Beth Moore's Teaching on James 4:10-11 from Mercy Triumphs 03/07/2012:

Beth Moore defines cynicism this way: "Cynicism is carnality that thinks its smart." According to Beth, all cynicism carries an air of superiority. Maybe. What I've seen in my experience is believers in Jesus Christ become cynical when church leaders present themselves as perfect, cover up sin, and take their place as God's alleged vicars on earth (authoritarianism). In my experience, the church is the one producing cynics because our religious teaching has departed from the radical teaching of God's amazing grace in Jesus Christ and has turned the church into a performance place, much like the corporate world, Hollywood, or any other secular environment. The gospel is radical, and the gospel I read about in Scripture is the good news that God takes cynical, hardened sinners and softens them by His goodness and grace. I guess what I'm saying is its Christian leaders pretending they speak for God ("God will kick your tail") that produces cynicism. So maybe cynicism is not such a bad thing after all. It helps keep us Christian teachers down to earth.
Another post, Legalism Gives Birth to Resentment and Rejection 03/15/2012, seems to fit into this kinder, gentler mode.

But it's well to remember that for Bro. Wade, the "radical teaching of God's amazing grace" which "takes cynical, hardened sinners and softens them by His goodness and grace" is perfectly compatible with cheering on the American Sword of Vengeance being brought down on the heads of prisoners of war by murdering them and desecrating their corpses in order to subjugate them thar Muslim foreigners to the "radical teaching of God's amazing grace".

To his genuine credit, the Rev. Burleson has pointed out the long-neglected problem of sexual abuse among Southern Baptist clery, a problem that is made more difficult to address even if the national leaders wanted to do so by the decentralized mode of pastor selection in the SBC. (The Time Has Come: Another Reason the Southern Baptist Convention Needs a Clergy Sexual Abuse Database 03/19/2012; THREE SEBTS Students Guilty of Serious Sexual Crimes 03/19/2012) SBC churches select their own pastors in a kind of "free market" approach. Though this brand of intra-denominational democracy and autonomy does not extend to doctrinal matters, as he points out in The Sin of Opinions Becoming the Test of Orthodoxy 03/26/2012: "When a man-made document (2000 BFM), filled with possible fallible interpretations of the sacred and inspired text, is demanded by SBC leaders to be placed on equal footing with--and given equal authority to--holy Scripture, then we have a massive theological problem."

Bro. Wade's general political-social outlook is also suggested by posts like The Charitable Spirit of R.E. Lee Toward His Enemies 03/09/2012, encouraging the neo-Confederate canonization of the military leader whose armies killed far more American soldiers than any group with "Al Qa'ida in its name ever did. Along the same lines is his post on one of those convicted of participating in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln: The Challenges of Life Reveal True Character: Samuel Mudd and His Imprisonment at the Dry Tortugas 05/20/2012. To put it mildly, not everyone takes such a benign view of Mudd's role in the assassination as Bro. Wade does; see, for instance: Doug Linder, The Trial of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators (2009) UMKC website, including the article on Dr. Samuel Mudd; Edward Steers Jr., His Name Is Still Mud (1997) and Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (2001); and, the long review by Phillip Stone of Blood on the Moon and two other books in Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 27/1 (Winter 2006).

Bro. Wade goes to some lengths to dismiss any involvement of Mudd in the assassination plot, e.g., "Both Dr. Mudd and his wife swore to their graves that Dr. Mudd had no knowledge of the President's death when he treated Booth's leg, and even had he known, he would have been obligated by the Hippocratic Oath to treat the assassin." It would presumably come as a surprise to Hippocrates that his oath also forbade notifying the law that an assassin who had just shot your country's leader was in your house. As Phillip Stone writes:

In light of this [repeated previous] exposure to Booth [on the part of Mudd - something Bro. Wade also minimizes], it is not credible that Dr. Mudd, even in the pre-dawn of April 15, while examining and treating someone in his home, did not recognize Booth, a famous actor, a particularly handsome man, and a man with whom he had had an extended conversation less than four months earlier. Even with a false beard, and certainly in the ensuing hours of daylight, Booth would have been recognizable. The suspicion that Mudd was not telling the truth is corroborated by his claim that he left these strangers in his home with his wife and children, went to town for supplies, learned of the assassination and even Booth's involvement, but said nothing. Later, he started to realize that it was indeed Booth at his house. When he returned home, he told his wife, but because of her fears of being left there alone again if he should return to town to tell the authorities, he waited until the next day. Even at that point, he provided the information only through his cousin. The most dramatic news in Dr. Mudd's entire life was breaking around his own home and, even after realizing who Booth was, he delayed going to authorities. Steers has it right: These are the actions of a man who knowingly treated and sheltered Booth.
But to admirers of the Lost Cause, Lincoln was the evil Yankee dictator, quite a different man from the Christ-like traitor Robert E. Lee. So it's not surprising that Lost Cause advocates jump to the defense of his murderers.

And Bro Wade promoted a flack for a Koch Brothers sock-puppet climate-change denial shop, who apparently was once on his church staff in A Ben Cole Sighting on FOX: Looking Mighty Dapper! 04/29/2012. Bro. Wade praised him for what might sound to us outside the magic Christian Right circle as a pretty authoritarian-minded comment.

He also endorses the stock fundamentalist anti-gay position. (Not Speaking the Truth In Love Is Ultimately Unhelpful 05/01/20120 The nature of his Christian attitude toward LGBT people is conveyed by the sleazy title of this post, "Loving the Homosexual, the Pedophiliac, the Adulterer, the Masturbator, and the Fornicator in Your Life (Which Includes You): The Power of Grace and Truth" 05/03/2012. All of those named conditions, he says explicitly, are "sexually deviant desires." He further shares his view of human sexuality in Why Human Life Cannot Be Created in a Petri Dish - God and In Vitro Fertilization, Gene Therapy, and Cloning 05/15/2012.

At the same time, he can declare, "Unfortunately, over the past 200 years, we Baptists have lost sight of our foundational convictions and have become far too political, far to ideological, and far too egotistical for our own good." (Houston Baptist University: Being a Convictional Baptist Is Far More Important than Being Called a Baptist 04/13/2012)

The point of all this is that, with the Republican Party now effectively a party of Christian fundamentalist religious factions, the kind of pastoral double-speak we see from Bro. Wade Burleson is becoming more and more common in politics. Not that politicians need preachers to train them how to be duplicitous. But religious certainty and politics have always made a powerful and often toxic combination. Benign pastoral declarations of love and mercy and good will often dwell side-by-side with calls to bring the Sword of Vengeance down on the enemies of God and his Holy Party and His Chosen Exceptional Nation. In both the religious and political, we not only need to distinguish clearly between the two. We also need to recognize that for many people who understand themselves to be conservatives, what look to others like screaming contradictions may not seem to them like contradictions at all: Loving gays while comparing them to pedophiles; arguing for integrity in church leadership while praising a former staffer acting as a spokesperson for an oil-industry disinformation operation that manufactures hokum to pretend that climate change isn't a problem; mourning that Baptists have become too political while promoting neo-Confederate nostalgia and screaming for the blood of hostages to terrorize Muslims in Afghanistan; performing bombastic American patriotism while idolizing the treason of the Confederacy.

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