Tuesday, April 23, 2024

On the Partisan Mind

Late last week, I woke early and puttered into southeast DC on my scooter.  I was headed to a formerly industrial area near the DC Navy Yard, where I planned to spend a day amongst members of a different Jesus tribe.

My own tribe is rather particular.  I'm a cradle Presbyterian, the child of a storied old church in downtown Washington.  It's the church of Lincoln, of Eisenhower.  The pastor who baptized me, and who was a regular guest at my house?  He preached the sermon that helped put the words "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.  Let me note, because history warps weird: that same pastor also marched with Dr. King in Selma, and fiercely opposed our misbegotten war in Vietnam.  

I've been part of the PC(USA) since before the PC(USA) was the PC(USA), and after years of conservative flight, we're now a very uniformly progressive gathering. 

The purpose of my day last week was to attend something called The After Party.  There, I intended to listen to the voices of evangelicals lamenting the toxic direction of American political discourse, and challenging how the partisan mind has seeped into the faith.  Two of the three primary speakers...Russell Moore and David French...have been vigorously outspoken about the poisonous impact of Trumpism on the Christian witness, and their presence was a significant draw.

It was, I will say, a very different experience than attending Presbyterian gatherings.  The event was held in the worship space of an evangelical congregation, which was...as such spaces tend to be...a sleek conversion of a former industrial warehouse.  The seating, theater-style.  The tech, stunningly sophisticated, with a board exceeding the width of my congregation's sanctuary, gimballed cameras, and a primary ultra HD screen that spanned the entire front wall.  To my oldline sensibilities, such spaces parse as functional rather than sacred, but one has to appreciate the depth of the functionality.  

So it didn't look like most progressive Christian events.  Meaning, pastel fabrics wantonly festooned everywhere, like someone set off a grenade in a Michaels.

The attendees were a diverse mix of races and genders, as evangelicals tend to be.  There were also plenty of folks in their twenties and thirties, which was...different.  The oldline, progressive as it has become, remains remarkably and increasingly old.

It was a vigorous, intellectually bracing, remarkably grace-filled day of engagement.

I'm not sure, from my conversations and observations, if there was another mainline liberal in attendance.  

This got me to thinking about the partisan mind and progressivism.  

In this gathering, at least as my frank and remarkably civil conversations at table about queer folk and inclusion were concerned, I felt very liberal.  In mainline gatherings, I almost invariably feel like a conservative.  Decades of reimagining and reframing and deconstructing have created discourse that...to my soul...often wanders from the heart of the narrative.  Justice is a worthy fruit of the Gospel, but when it supplants grace as our purpose, we are no longer telling the same tale.

There is a point, without question, when the partisan mind...the mind that divides, that is motivated by hatred and resentment, that embraces the useful falsehood...infects any movement.  This is true of left and right.  If we understand that Christian faith is not and cannot be a creature of the saeculum, that disciples of Jesus are committed to the Gospel first and foremost, then there are places where we set bounds against our partisanship for that highest principle.

Unlike the bat from Aesop's fable, which claimed allegiance to whatever party held power, the Christian witness is to affirm commonality wherever it can be found, but also to retain integrity of witness to our own tribe when partisan conviction subverts the call to grace and redemption.