“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13:6). That is the fault-line that I try to follow whenever I write about a public figure’s sin, especially a brother in Christ. Delighting in evil is cynicism; rejoicing with the truth is prophecy. I am often a cynic rather than a prophet, and I have a very difficult time discerning between the two. Dinesh D’Souza is someone towards whom I feel a lot of wrath, some of which God has put into my heart and some of which is my sinful flesh. D’Souza has been a key player in what I call the outrage industrial complex, the group of pundits and professional hyperventilators who have seduced a large number of evangelical Christians with a form of ideological pornography that has poisoned the witness of our church. So I think it’s legitimate to say that I “rejoiced with the truth” to learn that D’Souza was caught attending a family values conference with his mistress and forced to resign his presidency of King’s College as a result. And I think that events like this are how God reveals His wrath against His people so that they can repent of misrepresenting Him before He has to up the ante.
My wrath against D’Souza is based largely upon his role as the author of the hugely popular documentary 2016: Obama’s America for which many evangelical churches organized screenings over the summer. I am very sickened by the fanaticism with which many of my fellow evangelicals hate our president. I am also deeply anguished by the way that the scary bogeyman at the center of D’Souza’s thesis about Obama — liberation theology — has been a profound influence on my own theology. It is because I am a Christian that I find the doctrine of American exceptionalism to be a very dangerous idolatry and I agree with the Roman Catholic Church’s Vatican II Council that Jesus shows a “preferential option for the poor.” D’Souza’s film does not merely attack Obama, but it attacks an entire branch of Christian thought that white affluent evangelical Christians would do well to listen to even if we don’t accept everything it has to say. His insults have fallen upon the Head of the body (Romans 15:3) that includes James Cone, Gustavo Gutierrez, Jon Sobrino, Elsa Tamez, Leonardo Boff, Jose Miguez-Bonino, and other theologians who have helped me discover a side of Christ I had not known by writing out of their love for the poor who are their people.
Let me give you a sampling of this scary bogeyman theology to show you how it can be helpful to us despite the radical, abrasive form it can take. James Cone, who is the bogeyman of bogeymen and a key influence on Obama’s former pastor Jeremiah Wright, wrote a book called God of the Oppressed at the height of the black power movement in the Sixties. In this book, he makes a very radical and offensive claim that for white people to be saved, they have to become black. Crazy, right? Here’s how we can appropriate this in a way that is a useful challenge to our spiritual growth.
Jesus makes a distinction between the “kingdom,” which is the reality where He reigns, and the “world,” which is the fallen reality where
Satan reigns. Most evangelicals recognize the need to leave the world behind to follow Jesus. Here’s the problem: we make the world that we’re leaving behind too small in order to justify keeping the worldliness that we want to keep. We say that “the world” is public school and MTV and high school parties where alcohol is served, but we ignore the worldliness of our privilege — the size of our houses, the number of clothes in our closet, the ski trips to Aspen, the elite soccer camps for our kids. The privilege that we ignore is the “whiteness” from which we need to be saved for Jesus to be truly Lord and savior over our lives. “Whiteness” is not literally an ethnic category (at least not in my metaphorical reading of Cone); it describes the privilege of thinking that what you have and others don’t have is perfectly normal and something to which you are entitled.
When we are not saved from our worldly privilege, then we reshape Christianity as a means of justifying our privilege instead of seeing it as the liberation from our privilege. This isn’t to say that every single one of us has to follow the 4th century Desert Fathers who started Christian monasticism by interpreting Jesus’ command to the rich young ruler to “sell all your possessions and follow me” as a literal command for every Christian. But it does mean that calling Jesus Lord and savior with integrity requires thinking in kingdom terms about whether we can afford to buy a new jet ski when there’s an urban ministry in our community that’s a few thousand dollars short of making its payroll. So as abrasive as James Cones’ theology is, it can be of benefit to us privileged white folk, which is why it shows contempt for the prophetic movement of the Holy Spirit to make liberation theology into a bogeyman for the purpose of assassinating the character of our president.
In any case, to get back to the main point, D’Souza’s public downfall functions in the same way as the evidence Paul declares in Romans 1 to be the revelation of God’s wrath against humanity. It is part of the porneia (perversion) that God condemns, exposes, and punishes for the sake of the repentance and healing of His people. There are two prominent strands of porneia in our culture right now. We do continue to suffer from the sexual hedonism that is the legacy of the Sixties and the fetishized identity that results from it in which people think they are supposed to “discover themselves” by trying on different sexual partners like they’re in a changing room at JC Penney’s. One of the reasons that the Sixties failed to usher in a glorious new age was because the hippies turned it into an orgy, the after-effects of which are God’s continued judgment against it today.
But the other widespread porneia of today is grounded precisely in the backlash against the Sixties. This porneia is the pornography of the outrage industrial complex which Paul describes quite well in Romans 1:29: “They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful.” We are hating God when we show contempt for integrity in how we treat our political opponents. For example, if a president says “acts of terror” in a speech responding to the tragedy in Benghazi and we want to make hay out of the fact that he didn’t say “act of terror” instead, that is a textbook example of insolence and part of the porneia Paul is speaking of. When a prominent Christian woman like Sarah Palin makes a joke about our president not having a “big stick,” that is porneia. When a radio talk show host who many Christians listen to calls a woman a “slut” and Christians stick up for him, that’s porneia.
The way that we have fallen into this God-mocking porneia is traceable to an undercurrent of loathing that the family values movement inherited from its segregationist predecessors in the wake of the civil rights movement. My friend Seth Dowland wrote his dissertation at Duke on the transition from segregationism to the family values movement among white Southern evangelicals. When I used Dowland’s dissertation for a seminary term paper, I didn’t see evidence of true repentance from the former segregationists; Roe v. Wade presented an opportunity to change the subject and get revenge after being humiliated by the freedom riders. I do not say this to discredit those who believe families are disintegrating (which is true) and something needs to be done about it (which I strongly affirm). Nor do I think that abortion is in any way okay. But there is no reason for people who want to propagate holiness throughout our land to hate environmentalism and see guns as something that religious people are supposed to cling to. When we take ideological positions out of contempt for the positions of those we perceive to be our enemies (rather than trying to find common ground on some issues in order to build trust and have reasonable conversations about our differences), then we are not serving Christ; we are serving the Enemy whose goal is to make everyone each others’ enemies.
We must stand up for holiness, but we have to do it in a different way. For the most part, I have found the Roman Catholic Church’s approach to be a lot more dignified than the Protestant evangelicals. I have shared how Sister Simone Campbell is the best witness that the pro-life movement has. I also attended mass at the DC basilica during the Catholic church’s Fortnight for Freedom. The prayers and readings were not slanderous or partisan; they showed integrity. The Council of Bishops are on record standing up for the poor even though I would quibble with the way that they whisper and mumble about “left-wing” issues and make a ruckus about “right-wing” ones. I am not at all in disagreement that we should stand up for religious freedom.
I have argued both sides of the contraception issue. It’s hard to even know what I think anymore because the cynical opportunism of evangelical leaders on this issue has been a huge distraction to me, and I’m tempted to simply oppose whatever they think (which is of course what I’m accusing them of doing to the liberals). My wife and I use health-insurance provided contraception that our church pays for since we want to be good stewards of our bodies and have the size family that will allow us to be effective ministers. At the same time, something needs to happen within our culture to confront the porneia of sexual hedonism other than simply “educating kids about safe sex.” I don’t think legislation is ultimately the answer. Rather, we need a complete social paradigm shift in which our society abandons the pop culture which uses sex to make money for a localized culture where there are no more celebrities and we invest as communities in more wholesome ways for our youth to discover their identities.
In any case, until evangelical Christians wake up from our hypnotic entrapment in the web of the porneia of outrage, we will continue to be a part of the problem rather than part of God’s solution. He will continue to expose our leaders’ sins and create scandal to teach us until it becomes clear that we are going to remain intransigent, and then He will do to us what He told Isaiah He would do to Israel in Isaiah 6:10-13. I honestly think our Heavenly Father needs to take His proud, triumphalist evangelical church to the woodshed, whether it happens through this presidential election or through the complete leveling of our church in response to our continued unwillingness to put cruciform evangelistic witness above worldly power-broking. If He does have to cut our tree down to a stump, then like He says to Isaiah, “The stump shall be the holy seed.” So let us stop delighting in evil, and start rejoicing with the truth. I pray for the repentance and restoration of Dinesh D’Souza and any other Christian leaders who have fallen into sin; I pray that we would learn what God has to teach us through the revelation of His wrath.