I get nervous when preachers start to sound like politicians. You know how politicians like to talk in a way that suggests they stand for goodness, sweetness, and a chicken in every pot-all at no cost to anyone who isn't a devil-worshipping tax cheat. The goal of the politician is to suggest there's no dividing line between decent people, that the only line that exists runs between all of us who are good and well-intended, and those wicked people over there in the corner hatching a plot against America.
It makes sense, if you think about it: Politicians are better off when they maximizes the number of votes they receive, yet make no clear commitments to actually do anything once they're in office. The moment they start talking about hard choices, they begin to limit their ability to garner votes from a public still hoping for a messiah who will simultaneously cut our taxes in half while maintaining government programs and eliminating the deficit.
That's all well and good. I've watched politicians long enough to suspect that there'll be very few of them littering the streets of heaven. That's an overly negative and uncharitable view, I know, but I'm reminded that the devil was, in many ways, the first politician, what with his campaign to unseat the incumbent, and his distortion of the Almighty's record when he took to the soapbox in front of Eve and Adam.
So politicians will be politicians, which is to say decidedly unclear, but shouldn't we expect preachers to be exquisitely direct? I'm thinking about this after puzzling through the Rev. Roger Wolsey's recent essay at the Huffington Post, which seems dedicated to publishing anything by anyone purporting to be an unorthodox Christian.
It's the usual stuff -traditional Christians are mean, today's youth want something different, thankfully there is a groundswell of kindhearted Christians developing a new doctrine that is really old doctrine except insofar as it is new, but not really, and who's to say what the Bible really means anyway?
It's meant to be squishy and unclear, except for the inevitable part about same-sex marriage, perhaps the only clear tenet to which "progressive" Christians hold, with the breadth of one's loving-kindness indicated by the number of initials one embraces in the ever-expanding acronym of deviance, where G=gay, L=lesbian, T=transgendered, and so on. (The good reverend embraces a whole mouthful of letters: LGBTQI. I am not even kidding.)
Here's the part from Wolsey's essay that arrested me, and then made me giggle, and then laugh out loud:
"Today's generation embraces a more nuanced, experiential, paradoxical, mystical, and relational approach to faith and spirituality. We like it relevant, down-to-earth, and real."
Now, the construction of these sentences indicates that the second sentence serves to clarify and extend the first. But in reality they are polar opposites. What is paradoxical and mystical is not, almost by definition, down-to-earth. But no matter, because building a coherent doctrine is not the point. It's to serve as a rallying point for everyone who has a bone to pick with Christian dogma.
To be sure, I can find plenty wrong with a wide swath of churches. But my starting point is my understanding (limited and errant, I'm sure) of Christian doctrine, of the Word. In other words, I strive to hold to an anchor. But once a group of people calling themselves pastors becomes unmoored from the Word and from orthodoxy, all bets are off. And, not surprisingly, they begin to sound more like politicians than pastors. I'd like to think that today's young people would sense that. I'd like to think so.