Roberto Rivera

Fighting over Scraps


Roberto Rivera

Lately, I’ve been binge-watching nature documentaries on streaming services and, to a lesser extent on Blu-ray. For those of you old enough to remember “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” the stuff I have been watching is nothing like the adventures of Marlon Perkins, or to be more accurate, the adventures of Jim Fowler and, later, Peter Gros, as Perkins kept a safe distance.

These documentaries, the best of which are produced by the BBC, are “nature red in tooth and claw.” (It’s fascinating that the same poem that gave us that phrase also gave us “Tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” But I digress.) Lots of animals die in these documentaries, from baby caribou to baby whales. There’s nothing sentimental about them.

The lack of sentimentality includes seemingly-mandatory scenes of scavengers, like vultures, crows, and perhaps the most disquieting one I’ve seen, the hagfish. To be fair, scavengers get a bad rap. For starters, very few renowned predators, such as the big cats, will turn their noses up on a carcass if they’re hungry enough, and even if they’re not. And, as the people of India have learned the hard way, scavengers play an important, even vital, role in the ecosystem.

Still, it’s impossible to love scavengers, or even like them. Watching them quarrel over gnarly remains, as in this segment (starting at about the 17:20 mark) from one of my favorite nature documentaries, “Ganges,” is, if anything, even more distasteful than what they’re quarreling over.

Which is why I’m distressed by the way some of my brethren and friends have been carrying on like so many lammergeiers, vultures, and crows fighting over a goat carcass.

I’m referring to the quarrel over what Christian leaders should do regarding the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Note that I said “Christian leaders,” not “Christians.” While many people still bristle over the infamous 1993 Washington Post quote describing Evangelicals as “largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command,” many Evangelical leaders act as if the last one is true.

Therefore, they not only take a position regarding the unusual circumstances Evangelical voters face this November, they also insist that their position must be communicated to those voters.

Of course, given the unusual (the sound you hear is my backbone snapping in two as I bend over backwards to be fair) circumstances, there’s an unusual amount of disagreement accompanied by anathemas, insults, and the culture war equivalent of crying “treason.” (Rather than cite specific examples, I suggest that you peruse your Facebook newsfeed. If it’s anything like mine, you will have plenty of examples to choose from.)

Besides being a public spectacle that’s even less edifying than the quarrel over the goat carcass I linked to above, it’s an unnecessary quarrel, given what is at stake.

Lost in all the quarreling over what to do about this November is the fact that what small “o” orthodox Christians — Evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox, etc. — are being offered is an already picked-over goat carcass. At this point, the only “sustenance” to be found requires the political equivalent of lammergeiers dropping bones onto rocks to get at the marrow inside: a promise to appoint the “right kinds” of justices to the Supreme Court. That’s it. That’s the list.

In other words, it’s the same thing we have been promised for going on 40 years, which, as the historical record will show, hasn’t exactly worked out as planned, has it? What’s different this time around is that, one, there is even greater reason to doubt that the person making the promise intends to keep it; and, two, we are even more desperate and scared. (Actually, there are plenty of other meaningful differences, but I want to stick to the terms of the quarrel.)

While the presumptive nominee’s sincerity is beyond our control or even our ability to affect, we can do something about our desperation and fear. The first thing is to recognize that these are largely self-inflicted wounds.

The rhetoric of the “Christian Right” has always had more than a whiff of the apocalyptic to it but, in the past few years, that whiff has gotten stronger and, in some instances, has morphed into a full-on stench.

A case in point is the “bathroom wars.” I shouldn’t have to say this but I will: I completely agree with this BreakPoint commentary. I think that the idea of allowing an anatomical male to use a female bathroom or locker room simply on the basis of his self-identification is risible.

At the same time, there are constructive ways to make the case, and there are destructive (at least to ourselves) ways to make the case. This BreakPoint commentary is an example of the former.

What’s an example of the latter? Invoking the specter of sexual assault in ladies rooms. Not because these things don’t happen, they do. But they are rare, and by any reasonable estimate, exceedingly rare. (Repeat after me: “The plural of anecdotes is not data.”) Just about the only place they aren’t exceedingly rare is in social conservative arguments in the bathroom wars.

If the only problem with these arguments were that they are inaccurate or even misleading, that would be bad enough, albeit distressingly par for the course in contemporary political discourse. What’s worse is their effect on us: They breed fear and desperation, and desperate and fearful people make all sorts of mistakes.

The first and biggest is that they forget that, for the Christian, there are far worse things than being on the losing side of a political or even cultural argument. November’s election will decide who gets to replace the late Justice Scalia on the Supreme Court, and, with it, how broadly the First Amendment’s Free Exercise clause is interpreted. It may decide if the Obama Administration’s recent “directive” concerning school bathrooms becomes the law of the land.

But these aren’t even penultimate issues. They don’t determine “how then shall we live.” At most, they may influence the amount of effort that is required to live as we should live.

And how we should live isn’t on the ballot this November or any November: “I then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:1-6).

That brings me to what I’d love to hear someone with some influence say: “This is such a weird year that all I have to say is prayerfully weigh your options and vote or don’t vote as you deem fit. Hopefully, we will have better options next time and, if we don’t, never lose sight of this truth: Jesus is Lord. Caesar, in all his multifarious guises, is not.”

And that’s not up for a vote.


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