Last week, Senator Ted Cruz (TX) announced his candidacy for president. A lot of the members of the media were freaking out because Cruz was filmed “preaching to the choir” so to speak at Liberty University. While peers and colleagues displayed shock, at the utter terror of yet another Texas theocrat in the White House, as for me, I shrugged it off; it’s just what I am used to here in the Lone Star State. There have been a number of columns and think pieces out there that have scrutinized Cruz’s every words, so I won’t repeat what’s already been said. Instead, I just wanted to place this particular essay in context, the anxiousness of liberals, conservatives, and apolitical concerning the fragility of the U.S. American political arrangement. It is fragile in that this particular social contract, the U.S. Constitution is exists as a contested reality. As a governing, human-made instrument, it, the U.S. Constitution is a living document in need of updating from time to time at the minimum, and at the maximum perhaps its utter annihilation which the document itself points toward as a possibility.
I do not wish to discuss Ted Cruz as a politician any more than I have to, but to briefly go back to refer to him as a symbol, in both the media’s fear-mongering as well as many Christians’ uncritical reception of his Tea Party politics is something to be less than desired. Cruz, if I may take a metaphor from Nerd culture (Scott Pilgrim Versus The World), represents our American past; his candidacy is a symbol of America’s League of Evil Exes, each unique and bringing their own history of political disasters.
#1. The Very Thin Line Between Church and State: Of all the Exes that haunt the U.S. the most, perhaps the biggest scare crow that we see used in the media and even in Christian circles is the Church-state separation. The Founders were a religiously diverse group of Deists, Free Masons, Unitarians, and Protestants. Part of their common experience as white men under the tyranny of Great Britain is the King serving as both political leader and Defender of The Faith. The Founders took a quite ambiguous stance on religious freedom, opting to allow the states to do as they pleased (a few states had state religions) while the Union as a whole disallowed for such a thing. At the same time, enslaved Africans were denied religious freedom, the freedom to assemble, and other rights as such that were granted to them the Creator.
#2. Fundamentalism: There have been a number of comparisons of Ted Cruz with the campaign of Pat Robertson in 1988. Many religious conservatives will inevitably bring about this charge. Pat Robertson is portrayed on his worst as that looming figure of cultural backwardness that white moderates wish to escape. Pat Robertson losing in the primaries is seen as a political failure to some, given that short-sighted analyses of politics sees it only as a win-win, sum zero game. However, failed attempts to fly can galvanize political bases (in this instance, conservative evangelicals) and since everyone loves a loser, some can turn what seems like a moment of defeat into a defining moment of prestige. Robertson’s 700 Club remained successful, and grew in the 90’s and continues on today
#3. Texas. Perhaps it’s the fact that Texas has such great weather or so so so many megachurches here, but the national media’s fascination with Texas as exotic gets annoying. Texas gets vilified as the home to the worst elements of what extremist right wing politics has to offer, and never gets any credit for having had an abolitionist leaning president at its founding or the home of the late Barbara Jordan.
#4. Corporate Greed : Many politicians have been exposed as the puppets of the Koch brothers, and yes everything is terrible. The country was founded on first and foremost the economic interests of white male land-owners. Oligarchy is as American as baseball.
#5. The Irrelevancy Of Church History, American or Otherwise: At the center of contemporary debates on Christian involvement in politics, many Christians have made the Roman Emperor Constantine the Girardian scapegoat for making Christian imperialism possible. One such post was featured by a guest on Kurt Willem’s Pangea Blog on Patheos. While the post made the point of making Christian politics a matter of Christology, a matter I plan to attend to shortly in this piece, I want to take issue with NeoAnabaptists pointing the finger at Constantine. Philosopher Cornel West is also guilty of using the category of Constantinian Christianity in his work too, especially in Democracy Matters: Winning The Fight Against Imperialism. There are a couple of problems with naming Constantine and this “Constantinization” of Christianity. First of all, if we go by the historical records, Constantine did not convert to Christianity until a little while before his death. He is not an example of a Christian ruler, for a Christian needs to be a part of a community of faith, living a life of discipleship. This gets me to my other point: it is more likely that modern USian Christians in politics are looking to Robert E Lee, Andrew Jackson, Richard Nixon as their models rather than Constantine. Can one honestly look at World History, let alone, Church History, and say that Constantine was coercing Christ-followers within the early Church to follow him? We like to imagine that the early church was this nice, pure, hegemonic (ideologically) body which did not struggle with issues such as violence and political engagement. The fact is, the reason why Church fathers such as the apostle Paul and Tertullian were writing letters were because their fellow Christians had to be persuaded of their positions; we just do not have access to all of the early Christian literature do to them getting lost or burned in some purging. Blaming Constantine is popular and may seem insightful, but it’s just not rational in the US context.
*editor’s note: keep a look out for a forthcoming essay to address Christianity, political movements, and political orders, “The Politics Of The Holy Spirit.”
#6. Race: The very last of America’s League of Evil Exes, and the leader very much like Gideon in SPVTW is the history of American racism. Every time you hear someone ask, “Where are the Birthers asking for Cruz’s birth certificate” There is RACE. Every time Cruz discusses his proposals for “border security” coded with racist dogwhistles. There is RACE. When one looks at the fact that just something over 600,000 people voted for Ted Cruz, you can be sure: there is RACE.
In many reflections about the political life of Christians in the U.S., members of the dominant culture will find a myriad of ways to avoid discussions of race. They may come up with the general sense of loss they feel concerning the culture wars with the sexual revolution as the reason behind the fall of Western civilization. Or perhaps it is the fault of MTV, moral relativism, and John Locke? John Stuart Mill? Any number of Enlightenment philosophers? In post-Christendom Christianity, there are sincere groups of believers who want The Church get back to an evangelical or Catholic or Anglican or Mormon conservative version of Christianity. Within these claims of historic orthodoxy, there is a certain identity politics of exclusion involved. Who we imagine in the past as orthodox and faithful determines who we determine in the present as faith-less and reprobate. It is no coincidence that there is a current Renaissance of slave-holding Jonathan Edwards and his hyper-Calvinism. Claims to historic orthodoxy in the U.S. American context is used as a marker of Western Gentile cultural hubris. This artificial quest in the USA for evangelical protestants to be “orthodox” is in all probability an overcompensation for being brought up in an overdeterming, heresiological reality: RACE.
*editor’s note: I plan on expanding on this idea of orthodoxy, heresy, and racial identity in a forthcoming essay, “Historic Orthodoxy and Symbolic Blackness” *
One such examples is the aforementioned article from Pangea blog is a case in point when it comes to persons striving for private possession of classic Christianity and its spirit. The argument is that it is Constantine’s low, Arian Christology that leads to his belief in his own violent, gory lordship. As I mentioned before, this line of argumentation can only be held as true if it is based on the pretense that Constantine was a disciple prior to his death-bed baptism. Unless NeoAnabaptists can show evidence other than the fact that Constantine did a few favors for early Christian communities (Constantine also gave state benefits to non-Christian religions as well), there is no reason to assume that the Emperor can be considered a model for Christian politicians and activists. To the contrary, what we are left with is being emplaced on this soil within a history of displacement: settler colonialism and enslaved African persons, and the political traditions of majoritarian politics. Majoritarian politics as I have argued once before is the zero-sum game between at least two political factions. The thing about majoritarian political structures is that they are built in such a what to keep the majority population, the dominant culture, in power. Critical Race theory as common sense should inform us as such. The trap of idolizing majorities rather than pluralities and consensus renders us incapable of seeing other political possibilities. The so-called “orthodox” even in retreat have consumed a failure of theo-political imagination as they are incapable of transcending the prevailing political system.
It is quite inadequate for Christian thinkers to point backwards to the early Christological debates and Constantine. What that sort of rhetoric does is derail discussions about concrete political realities into abstract conversations that have for the most part been settled through Ecumenical Councils. This brand of derailing in the name of Christological orthodoxy permits Christians from experiencing genuine lament and repenting of past and current social sins. Appropriating the work of Juergen Moltmann, this Christology is also a refusal to dialogue with Jesus’ Jewishness while shaping Christ in the image of the Occident. A Christology that is in dialogue with Judaism is most likely to be a Christology that is politically engaged, one that is centered on being de-centered by our Neighbor and oriented towards the Outsider.
Inward-looking libertarians and NeoAnabaptists alike are living out a problematic, escapist fantasy, of moving towards some 21st century form of monasticism: that is, Christians from the dominant culture understand Christian participation in politics as one of wielding influence in the political order. This current order however is built off of the backs of enslaved Blacks and over the dead bodies of First Nations. This order would not be possible without genocide, rape culture, and anti-Black racism. The Sexual Revolution did not find its way in the libertine youth culture of the 1960’s; it has its roots in the subjugation and sexual exploitation of People of Color.
Constructive proposals for improving the body politics must do more than just blaming the Baptists (I am looking at you, Rod Dreher) for society’s ills. James Cone argues in Black Theology And Black Power that just as alien forces can possess human beings to lift up evil racist structures, so too does the Triune God inspire human beings to resist evil: “there is only one response: fight it!” This calls for Christians to transition from discussions of Christology to a politicized Pneumatology. The Christian doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity is of the utmost importance to Christian political thought. We must join M. Shawn Copeland in understanding tradition as “that one who yearns to incarnate Tradition in daily living and to witness to and struggle for its transforming power for in the world.” So for Copeland, the Holy Spirit, in other words, was meant and is meant for the Body. Embodied praxis is the Spirit’s mission. This is why the practice of Baptism by Immersion points to our reality as citizens of the New Creation, a political society consummated by the Seven-Fold Spirit of Creation. Faithful social justice warriors seek to live into a baptismal reality, being immersed in the love of Three Equal Persons perichoretically sharing in each others’ life in mutuality. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we receive the traditions of the One, Holy Apostolic, Catholic Church in faith as a gift of divine providence. Because only the Church can incarnate universal love as the presence of Christ here on Earth, all claims of Whiteness’ universality must be invalidated as false, and must be resisted. With the early Black Christians on these shores we sing, “Did not my LORD deliver Daniel?,” and with our Black Catholic sisters and brothers, we can whisper, “Didn’t my church canonize Perpetua?”
Photo description: drawing of “Ted Cruz: The Crusade Begins” by Mike Licht; Ted Cruz as an Early Church Icon, with a red, white and blue tea kettle for the Tea party