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Remember that phrase from the Clinton Administration?  I do.  I also remember lots of arguments with “more sophisticated” colleagues (including some affiliated with prominent evangelical colleges, but I’m not naming names) who suggested that we should look past President Clinton’s personal peccadilloes to focus on the greater good he was accomplishing.

For the record, I didn’t agree with either element of that proposition.

Well, today we have Professor Laurie Essig attempting a bit of what she regards as humor at the expense of South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint.

God, you know I don’t ask for a lot.  OK, a successful tenure review here or there, but really, I haven’t asked for an Austin Mini or an iPad for months.   And yet lately my life is lacking in joy and purpose and I think I know why.  We haven’t had a creepy political or religious leader who spews hate and venom into the body politic get their comeuppance lately.  We haven’t had one of those “SHUT UP!  You mean that man was having sex with men, prostitutes, a mistress, his wife’s sister?” moments that let me know that there really is a God and that You have a really perverse sense of humor . . . .

I need You to smite this character Jim DeMint (R-SC).  There are a lot of people praying to You to help DeMint spread his hate.  In fact, according to the Family Research Council (FRC), they’ve organized tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of people to pray to You for DeMint’s success . . . .

But God, Your work shouldn’t be based on the people’s will.   It should be based on right and wrong and of course the occasional smiting of those who use your name to do the Devil’s work of hating all who are different.  The Family Research Council is one such organization, God.  They say that  ”homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large” . . . .

That’s why I’m hoping You’ll listen to this one prayer and smite this man.  I’m not asking for much.  Just a little gay scandal.  Perhaps he could be caught with another man like Rekers?  Or maybe a mistress like South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford?  Or a very expensive sex worker like Eliot Spitzer?

Really, God, it could be anything at all that would make the hypocrisy and hate of this man evident to everyone.  A kinda the Emperor Has No Clothes moment.

Let me begin by saying this.  I too pray for Senator DeMint.  And Barack Obama.  And Nancy Pelosi.  And John Boehner.  You get the picture.  I pray for all of our political leaders.  They all need the wisdom, judgment, compassion, and grace that only God can give.

And then let me add this: Apparently unlike Professor Essig, I can distinguish between moral disapproval and hatred.  Without knowing anything in particular of her work, I can guess that she has drunk deeply from the well of liberal tolerance, which prohibits the disapproval of anything except intolerance.  From that point of departure, she cannot imagine moral disapproval as the function of anything other than ” irrational animus ,” which (I guess) makes her eligible for a seat on the Supreme Court.

Next, I guess I should add that there’s one other sin in her book—hypocrisy.  I agree that hypocrisy is a sin, but since I believe that there’s more behind a position than the character of the person who holds it, I don’t think the fact that a person is a hypocrite discredits his or her opinions, however much it might discredit him or her.  Indeed, if we could only believe arguments made by people of impeccable moral character, in this fallen world we couldn’t believe anything.  (Fortunately, as I mentioned earlier, we can pray.)

Finally, I wonder why her tolerance can’t go all the way down.  What basis does she have for disapproving of anything ?  Perhaps these are just her personal and particular loves and hates.  Perhaps that’s why the most effective way she can think of discrediting a position is to engage in the politics of personal destruction.  You’d think she could do better than that.

But perhaps not.  Her stance reminds me of that of the “Conditioners” in C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man .  Having departed from “the Tao,” they end up ruled by one or another of their passions.

Update : Here’s some background on the FRC webpage that gave rise to the snarky posting with which I take issue above.

FRC’s campaign is a thinly veiled call to support DeMint. The website shows DeMint, fists clenched. It asks people to “stand with Americans across the nation as we pray for Senator Jim DeMint.” Elsewhere, FRC stated that the purpose of the one million prayer project was to support DeMint because an attack on the senator is “an attack on all conservatives and people of faith.”Indeed, those who pledge to pray for “America’s elected officials” give FRC their name, e-mail, and Zip Code. What is not mentioned on the website but is listed elsewhere is that while the FRC will control the list, it will be used to communicate DeMint’s prayer requests to pledgers. The list will keep pledgers “updated with specific requests as he works with the new Congress [on] our family issues.” 

Is it right for FRC to use Scripture to urge someone to pledge to pray for all elected officials, when the goal is to put that person on a DeMint e-mail list with prayer requests for his political battles?

I know that when I give an organization like FRC my contact information that they’re going to contact me when it suits their purposes to do so.  I’m free to do with those communications what I please.  (Full disclosure: I do receive email from FRC, but don’t always read it.  To quote Tim Hawkins , “Don’t judge me, Christians!”)

I would never claim to be a sophisticated theologian of prayer, but I certainly wouldn’t be inclined to answer FRC’s call to pray for Senator DeMint’s agenda items.  I’m more inclined to pray for God’s will to be done, for the wisdom to know it, and the grace to accept it.  I’d pray in the same terms for Senator DeMint, as well as for his political adversaries.

Despite my apparent theological differences with FRC, I might still from time to time find the information they provide me useful.   I might also from time to time agree with the positions they take.  And I might also from time to time cooperate with them.  But my reasons for doing so—and this is my political lesson here—would be the result of my considered “human” judgment, informed by prayerful consideration of all the factors involved.  Prayer is an instrument of discernment, which is to say a propaedeutic to action, not an instrument of action.

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