Angry White Boy Polka

I’m an upper-middle-class American heterosexual white cis-male which puts me pretty close to the top of the food chain, privilege-wise.

I watch the news and see Alton Sterling and Philando Castile die for no reason, then William Ray not die for actually being threatening.

You can truly grieve for every officer who’s been lost in the line of duty in this country and still be troubled by cases of police overreach. Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive. You can have great regard for law enforcement and still want them to be held to high standards.
– Jon Stewart

I read stories about a 6-year-old kid getting suspended for singing a song he heard on the radio or a 13-year-old for sharing his lunch or about an Eagle Scout getting suspended for having his grandfather’s penknife in his car.

I read stories about the TSA’s failure to protect us again, or beating up a disabled teenager, or destroying medical equipment, or sexually assaulting another rape victim (these stories don’t come up much anymore because they’re so common), or someone getting kicked off of a flight for doing math, or daring to speak a foreign language (Arabic, Swahili, French, doesn’t seem to matter), or having a gun embroidered on a purse.

I read stories about the gross mistreatment of LGBTQ+ individuals through psychological, verbal, and physical abuse in many forms, usually in the name of “Christian love”.

I read stories about Planned Parenthood clinics getting vandalized whether or not any abortions are performed there. I read stories about women jailed for miscarrying—something they usually have no control over.

I hear my wife talk about students who are only able to eat when they’re at school, who’ve actually witnessed their parents or siblings murdered, whose parents work so many jobs to make ends meet that they don’t have time to help their kid struggling with homework, or teaching them to deal with menarche/periods.

And that’s barely scratching the surface here in the good ol’ US of A.

I read stories about academics in Bangladesh getting hacked to death for associating with someone who may or may not be non-Muslim. I read stories about non-Hindus getting murdered by Hindus for owning beef (they didn’t). In El Salvador women are occasionally executed for having a stillbirth. Even stereotypically peaceful Buddhists get in on the violence in Thailand, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. There’s nearly constant conflict in Syria, Iraq, Israel, Gaza, Afghanistan, Sudan, South Sudan, and Somalia (probably other places, too). Bombings in Turkey and in Paris.

There are far more things than I listed above worth getting angry about, worth doing something about, but what? We have governors who seem to make a sport out of cutting school funding, congressmen who deny anthropogenic global warming despite mountainous piles of evidence against them, celebrities who insist that vaccines cause autism despite, well, mountainous piles of evidence against them…I could go on. Despite my privilege, I haven’t nearly the influence that the aforementioned idiots do.

Get involved, I know. The problem is deciding which of the bazillion issues to focus on. I can’t divide my time between 74 different advocacy groups, nor can I handle the toll so much outrage would take on my sanity. Do I care more about women’s choice? Rights of minorities in the US (racial, religious, sexual, etc.)? First, Second, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, or Fourteenth Amendment issues? Law enforcement overreach? There are too many that I’m too upset about. Ease of access? That might provide me a way to narrow these down, as proximity gets me near AU and local government. But currently, my schedule precludes me from involvement in either!

For the time being, I’ll try to avoid the issues that boil my blood and focus on the here and now, the paycheck-to-paycheck daily grind.

Lost as Anyone

This post will primarily deal with something I’ve not thought to do until today: I’m going to examine church belief statements, and how my views on these beliefs have evolved. I’ll be going through the current statements of beliefs of churches I have attended regularly throughout my life, though I will not use their names to protect the innocent/guilty parties. Also, these very well may have changed since I attended these churches—one church, in particular, has undergone a complete rebranding, but what I see it seems to maintain many of the things I remember. While the statements themselves could be used to identify the churches, I’ll be summarizing and combining them—noting differences as I find them, of course—to get a general sense of the world I grew up in.

I’ve attended 10 churches regularly in my 34+ years, which makes this a rather larger task than I thought when I started this post a few minutes ago, but something I’d still like to do. These churches have been from a variety of traditions/denominations: Evangelical Covenant, “Independent”, “Baptist” (meaning, I’m not sure what flavor), Southern Baptist, Nazarene, and Evangelical Free (not necessarily in that order). Some of these are more “legal” in structure than others; I’m not sure this is a requirement, but as I dug into the overview of a few I found the more legal language behind the overviews. Anyway, let’s get started:

The Bible

Statements

There of course exists more than one interpretation of the Bible or its role in the church throughout the statements I’ve collected. “The Bible is the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine, and conduct,” states the Covenant churches, and that is about as far as they go. Most of the others have some version of the idea that the Bible is the inerrant word of God—without error. Some say it was “verbally inspired”, some specify that it is inerrant “in the original writings”, and others say it was written by human authors under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Nazarenes specify 66 books. Regardless, every church I attended has pushed some version of Biblical inerrancy.

Commentary

The creation of the Protestant Canon is an interesting story. I’ll focus on the New Testament here (though the development of the Old is far more fascinating). One reason given for the idea that there are four gospels is because “there are four quarters of the earth…four universal winds…the church…should have four pillars…the gospel is quadriform.” Most people I know would likely consider this idea ludicrous. While the 27 books used today by most traditions were generally agreed on by 367 CE, this was far from a settled matter. Some churches rejected the Pauline epistles (a few also eliminated Acts); many eliminated Hebrews; the Armenians added a third letter to the Corinthians; Martin Luther wanted to remove Jude, James, Hebrews, and Revelation entirely from the Bible (after some pushback he simply relegated them to the end of his Bible). Mark 16:9-20, Luke 22:19b-20, Luke 22:43-44, John 7:53-8:11 did not appear in the Bible prior to 24 April 1870. A significant portion of 1 John 5:7-8 did not appear until 2 June 1927. So the Bible that we use today was modified even in the 20th Century, yet “God has promised to preserve every jot and tittle of what He inspired (Matt 5:18).

Salvation

Statements

The Covenant church doesn’t use the word, but speaks of “new birth” using the same terms as the other churches: commitment to Christ, receiving forgiveness, and eternal life. All the other statements specify its dependence on the death on a cross and subsequent resurrection of Jesus. The SBC goes to some length to detail each step of a process: regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. But the Nazarene church goes several steps further, speaking additionally of atonement, prevenient grace, repentance, justification, regeneration, adoption, holiness, and sanctification. Unlike the other churches I’ve attended, the statement of faith here specifically says (though not in these words) that salvation can be lost in apostasy. This comes from the Armenian tradition, while other churches I’ve been a part of have been generally in the Calvinist tradition.

Commentary

Despite the majority of my upbringing in Calvinist churches, I always read the Bible seeming to support “conditional preservation.” This led to a great deal of guilt over every stray thought, the tiniest alteration of the truth, etc. I remember one instance of being in tears because, after returning from the grocery store, we discovered a candy bar that we hadn’t paid for in one of the sacks, and I was afraid that by participating in eating it (mom divided it between us) I was stealing, and thus sinning. I was very young at the time and such things eventually didn’t weigh on me as much—it was an honest mistake by the bagger or cashier or a previous customer. But lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride, even in the smallest degrees, haunted me for nearly 30 years. Salvation by faith, not works, saith all these statements of faith. While that’s what’s preached, that’s not what’s taught between the lines. Guilt was the rule, not the exception, and fear of hell was ever present, despite assurances to the contrary.

The Church

Statements

The statements all agree that the church is to be defined simply as a group of believers, and that this group should be self-governing and fully engaged in the work of evangelism, discipleship and missions. Some add additional duties such as education, worship, observance of sacraments, etc. Only one, the Southern Baptist, as far as I can tell, specifically excludes women from any office (that of pastor), though most of the churches I’ve been to would have the same opinion.

Commentary

While given its history the Baptists maintain a strong statement of faith about avoiding the use of civil power for the pursuit of its ends, and promotion of the free exercise of religion within a state, I find the political/religious entanglements promoted by Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and Mike Huckabee to be hypocritical (which, considering the people mentioned, is hardly surprising). Other than this notation about the SBC statement of faith (which pertains more to politicians than to the church itself), I find little objectionable here.

Eschatology

Statements

Three statements of faith out of those I collected do not mention the “end times” at all. Those that do, some specify pre-millennial, or pre-tribulation, or “in his own time”, but agree that Jesus will return personally, visibly, and bodily to the Earth, that the dead will be raised, and all will be judged (the Sorting Hat will consign us to Heaven or Hell for the rest of eternity). Three of the churches specify the existence of a being called Satan as a supernatural evil counterpoint to God’s goodness.

Commentary

I did have three pastors at two different churches disagree with their respective church’s statements of faith on this issue, explaining that they believed in at least a post-tribulation return of Christ. The placement of this event in time has created and destroyed many churches over the course of time. Even placing the return of Jesus at some point in a futuristic 1007 year span causes division (the most common interpretations in Western churches whose traditions I’ve been exposed to seem to be at the beginning, 3.5 years in, or 7 years in). Ignoring the question of “when”, even the churches silent on the return specify some sort of judgement, where the emphasis on Satan and Hell or God’s wrath is often striking. Only a few seem balanced: one says “everlasting bliss” versus “everlasting suffering” in a single statement where others spend entire paragraphs talking about Hell and barely mention Heaven beyond its existence.

Conclusion

The structure of the statements given from here on are so divergent as to defy easy comparison, but I’ll probably construct a post or two focusing on the SBC statement—it’s by far the most comprehensive of all. I personally like their sections regarding Peace and War and Religious Liberty (though I disagree on minor points), but their sections on Education and Family I might consider outright dangerous.