The Word of the Lord to Democrats: A Review
The popular Christian author Brian McLaren has written two pieces of short fiction that imagine God entering directly into the American political “conversation” (or should I say “head-on collision”). God speaks to both Republicans and Democrats in their own book and I decided to read The Word of the Lord to Democrats first. Why? Because I know me. Though I’m not nearly as political as I used to be, I still think of myself as a Democrat, a disconnected-from-politics-hoping-someone-else-will-change-our-dysfunctional-system Democrat, but Republican – never! (I did marry a Republican, but love makes strange bedfellows.) I knew it would be too easy for me to pick up the The Word of the Lord to Republicans and at the least hint of a critique, begin to think, “I knew they were a worthless lot! Democrats, even lapsed ones, are so much better.”
And though I’m a lapsed Democrat, I am certainly on the progressive end of the Christianity scale. Again, I’m not there with any degree of comfort. The word “progressive” smacks of smugness, because if I’m progressive what does that make you? Regressive? Stunted? Conservative? I don’t like over against identities, but my admission that I could too easily scapegoat Republicans reveals I’m not quite as free of it as I’d like to be. I guess I am in need of a word from the Lord, so I thought I’d face the music and hear what Brian McLaren imagines the Lord wants to tell uncomfortably Democratic and progressive me.
The good news is that Brian’s God has a sense of humor. He dishes out His criticisms with wit and even humility, but the message is clearly a scolding. I won’t give away any of the characters or plot because that would spoil your fun in reading it. But it turns out that God is frustrated by the Democrats’ failure to recognize the urgency of the moment we are in. Various heavenly indicators are registering at or near the danger zone on everything from the economy, to the environment, to our “exceptional military liabilities” (God explains, “We don’t call them ‘assets’ here.”) It seems that the only things Americans are truly exceptional at is “naivete and arrogance.” Ouch, that hurt. But God is pretty clear that He will not be sending any further messages to Democrats until we admit we need to change. “Stop grousing about the splinters in the Republicans’ eyes and start facing the beams in your own eyes.” Well said, God – nothing like quoting yourself!
All kidding aside, I like this God. He’s a good antidote to the progressive God who tends to be more like your pal than a deity. God is someone who encourages you when you’re down, cheers for your successes and holds your hand when you are grieving. I agree that God is all those things, but God is also testy, impatient, and can be angry or distant, immovable or impersonal. When God is only a comforting presence, you can get a little pleased with yourself because God never makes demands or dishes out criticism. And if no one is criticizing you, heck, it must be because you are perfect! I think that’s where the progressive smugness comes from and I’m glad Brian’s God doesn’t let us get away with it. A good tongue lashing now and then is good for the soul.
I think the hardest thing about this book for Democrats will be that God thinks the United States does not currently have a progressive party. This strikes at the heart of Democratic identity, and so, as God says, Democrats will object. Brian takes a playful approach because he knows that a call to change is a challenge to identity, and shifting our identity is a painful process. So painful that we’d rather believe God is wrong on this than believe that we are. (I said we, that’s right.) But for God, progressive doesn’t mean better than Republican. It means connected to the past and the future, conservative and liberal at the same time. The best kind of progressive is able to see the world through both a Democratic and a Republican lens. Here it is in God’s own words:
“Having created the universe through evolutionary processes, we in Godhead-quarters are fond of progress, bearing in mind that our kind of progress always builds upon (and therefore conserves) advances of the past. In this way, from a divine standpoint, all good conservatism is progressive and all good progressivism is conservative. (That dynamic and creative tension, we trust, will not be excessively post- or nondualistic for you to grasp.) We are grieved by the lack of true progressivism in either of the major political parties.”
McLaren, Brian D. (2012-03-08). The Word of the Lord to Democrats (Kindle Locations 178-182).
Creative Trust Digital. Kindle Edition.
To be truly progressive, Democrats would have to stop seeing Republicans as adversaries or obstacles, and begin to see them as valuable partners whose perspective is as essential and insightful as ours. God wants us to see that our future is not served by choosing between a Democrat OR a Republican identity, but in embracing a hybrid of both, a combo pack that shifts us out of partisan warfare into a creative, mutually beneficial partnership. As weak as my Democratic identity is, I can feel a resistance to that Word because it means letting go of a cherished lump of certainty. I like knowing I’m right, they’re wrong; I’m good, they are bad; I’m smart, they are stupid. But what if shutting out their point of view from my thinking has been wrong, bad and stupid? Yikes! What if I am the thing I have been campaigning against?
I think I’m feeling sufficiently humbled to see what God has to say to Republicans. I can already feel their pain.