Service Interrupted: A Political Memoir-Chapter Eight

   The supreme claim of his Church on an individual is set in his belief that its meaning alone gives meaning to his life. So it is that the Church, the Bible, some Rite of Passage or Sacrament may replace God as the spiritual icon by which the Churchman guides his life and judges his history.

   There are few commitments for which one will give up his own life or willingly harm another. The rise of nationalism in the 18th century gives protection of the nation, when the nation be threatened, that kind of status.

   The national, secular politics of America over the last fifty years have been made more and more sectarian since John Kennedy had to tell Houston area ministers he would not let his Church dictate policies to him as President. In fact, he would not even consider the wishes of his Church in policy making. Imagine such a statement today, from a baptist Christian, a Catholic or a mormon, should any of these sects actually produce a presidential candidate.

   Religion, thought to be passe in national affairs, or, at least, unremarkable beyond the private profession, is become a driving force. Televangelists run for president and win, if not state primaries, a straw vote or two.

   There is an enormous muddle of Church-State, in which Americanism/Free Market Capitalism is often twisted into bizarre shapes by the secular political need to appear religious, militaristic and patriotic, all at the same time and in proper proportion. One fears the end of Church-State separation if the religious life of Europe is any indication but Americans appear to blur the line more easily with each passing year.

   I am a muddle from that puddle, as well. A fundamentalist disgusted with mendacity, a liberal weary of cliches, a centrist despairing the despair of the center; add to that September 11, 2001. Three months before my first TEC as Director, the nation, one, under God, indivisible, was dealt a major body blow.

   What do you do? Ignore the first terrorist attacks on mainland American soil since the British burned the White House and executed civilians? Or simply enter into a period of hysteria?

   I ordered several hundred small American flags, opened the TEC with hymns of God for the nation and prayed for world peace. We painted the scene with one broad, expansive gesture that had some weeping and others rolling their eyes in solid disgust.

   Understand, America has an agreement with God, we believe. The American people revel in a civil religion, accepted tacitly by most generations and overtly by others. It is not denominational, sectarian, or even Christian. America just believes inwardly it is the New Israel, chosen by God for a special use in the world.

   Two of the three Latin phrases chosen by the Founders for the republic they were forming have religious overtones. Annuit Coeptis means "God smiles on our undertakings." Novus Ordo Seclorum translates "New Order for the Ages."

   This feeling of call can be perverted, as can any feeling of call, to a sense of entitlement, so that sacrifice morphs into status, while privilege goes up on the national altar next to power and prestige as an unholy trinity. Americanism is not Christianity. It is not even religion, though it certainly partakes of the aforementioned civil religious sentiments.

   Still, baptist Christians, among our most patriotic citizens, needed to know their leadership understood the individual shocks felt by the collective body. Our leadership, alas, was again asleep at the wheel. This was not remarkable. It was just increasingly maddening.

   Later, I would discover the only thing worse than our Executive Director’s careless disengagement was his direct involvement. I had been repeatedly warned about his attention lapses and tendency to personalize every issue but I was thoroughly unprepared to meet his penchant to suddenly appear and give contradictory instructions on projects about which he knew copious amounts of nothing.

   So, though I knew it not at the outset, I had to somehow let Texas baptist Christians know we still cared about evangelism, understood American civil religion, supported meaningful separation of Church-State for the sake of the Church and yet caught their shock over the Terrorist attacks, from which they were just beginning to thaw in January. I needed to do it with a dispirited staff, no money, no sizzle in the lineup and a promotional staff stretched thin to produce a magazine no one much wanted.

   Then, there was a snowball I needed to carry through the infernal regions. It was a highly prized frozen ball and needed to pass through unharmed.




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