Holy 💩, I Need a 💒

by Ben Carter in


On Wednesday morning, some of the first people I sent texts to were Geoff and Derek, friends I’ve made through Douglass Boulevard Christian Church

“I have always viewed DBCC as an important presence in our community and an important voice in the conversation,” I said. “Now, 'important' has changed to 'necessary.' We have a lot of work to do.”

I said that on our Slack channel, because, you know, we fancy. 

Since then, a few of my friends have expressed a desire to connect or reconnect with a faith community after the election. And, at church this morning, I noticed a dramatic increase in visitors (from our usual 2-3 to 9 or 10; so, dramatic for us). 

I think there are three things (at least) animating this interest in faith communities despite the reality that Americans are not really "joiners" anymore. We keep our social commitments loose and the number of groups who can lay claim to our precious free time pretty low, but still...let's talk about faith with the orange visage of Donald Trump on the horizon rising like a terrible tropical sun. 

First, it is disorienting and scary to see your friends and neighbors be willing to elevate “economic issues” above things like, say, basic human decency, not watering the seeds of hate in our country, and not grabbing women by their pussies. “But, wait,” we are thinking, “I thought religious freedom and racial equality and not committing sexual assault were things everybody has agreed on for decades.” Apparently not. Or, at least, we learned Tuesday that huge numbers of Americans (like, tens of millions!) are willing to tolerate a little wink-and-nod racism and a lot of fearmongering about Mexicans and Muslims and refugees if we think America isn’t winning anymore or enough. 

I think it's natural to want to orient ourselves in anticipation of President Trump. And, for centuries and for many of us as kids, church was where we have gone to get moral guidance and clarity. Not to mention providing a community of people who can hold us up and hold us accountable and be our friends. (Meanwhile, many people at my church were hurt by the faith traditions in which they were raised, so I don't want to ignore the very real fact that "church" has also been a source of hurt rather than solace in for many.)

Many of us feel like we are on the precipice of a long national gaslighting. We are already being told, “[Insert one of a dozen odious, cruel, or unconstitutional policy proposals] will never happen.” “He didn’t really say that.” “He didn’t really mean that.” “Now is the time to come together.” 

Listen: I’m never, ever going to “come together” with the KKK. And, I’m not going to support a President who still—stillhasn’t denounced the hundreds of acts of violence and intimidation that have been perpetrated in his name since his victory on Tuesday night. 

People: this is just gaslighting. 

And, when we're being gaslit by the soon-to-be Commander-in-Chief, I think it is natural to want to gather with other people and be like, “I’m not crazy, right? Like, it is still important to show compassion for the dispossessed and to try to heal the hurting, right?”  Like, "Donald Trump totally said he wanted more countries, not fewer, to have nukes, right?"

RIGHT. 

Second, I think there is a growing realization in the wake of Donald Trump’s candidacy, hurtful, divisive statements, irresponsible silences, and his ultimate election that, “OMG, we have so much work to do.” And, combined with that first realization is its corollary impulse: “I don’t want to work alone.” I know this is how I feel about it, for sure. DBCC gives me events to go to, actions I can take toward living a life of faith and conviction.

As I said in the only sermon I’ve had the chance to give

This faith community gives me, us, the foundation and opportunity to start doing something—anything—toward living a faithful life. And, more importantly for me, gives me role models to emulate, people every day modeling what faith—an active faith, a heroic faith, not some middling, weak sauce faith; what a courageous faith—looks like in the world.

When I come to church, when I go to events, when I read the emails, here’s what I see: people working to expand access to healthy, local foods, people welcoming the outsider in. Since I have been here, this church has been an example in Louisville and around the nation of a community that says, “There is no them and us, in and out, cools, dorks, your side, my side. There is only we, us, together.”

Most recently, you all have worked to make a home and a welcome for Syrian refugees and for a lesbian couple outed against their will who can’t safely return to their home country anymore. Think about that. You have made a home for two families who had no home and a welcome in a foreign land to people who have lost everything.

I see our choir providing encouragement, comfort, solace, and beauty with a song. People performing thousands of selfless acts each year to make this campus nicer, more efficient; people working to make our community fairer, greener; to make sure everyone has access to the same opportunities, the same justice. I see people visiting the sick, the lonely, the inconvenient.

Sometimes, there’s a church. I won’t say a heroic church, because what’s a hero? But, sometimes there’s a church that opens its doors wide and says, “Come inside. Those weights look heavy. We’ll take those for you. Welcome.”

Church, after Tuesday, seems not just important, but necessary to many of us and ¿maybe? relevant and potentially useful once again for many more.

Third, and I have the least to say about this, I think when people are feeling out of control, it is comforting to believe that there is a Larger Plan™️ being executed by a Higher Power. As I have said before, this kind of faith is hard for me, but I think it is part of the renewed interest for some people in finding a faith community.  

Now that I’ve outlined why people might be interested in engaging or re-engaging with a faith community, I want to be clear about something: I’m not writing this essay to invite you to Douglass Boulevard Christian Church or suggest that DBCC is right for you, specifically. (Though you are invited, of course.)

Most of the people reading this aren’t in Louisville (though we do have a podcast of the sermons 😉 and the one from today is a great place to start) and there are other options for those who are. Sarah goes to St. William Church, a #hyperlegit Catholic Church in Old Louisville. I have friends at Highland Pres and Highland Baptist and know them to be welcoming, compassionate communities of faith that act on their faith and conviction, too. And, though I've never heard him preach, Rev. Bruce Williams of Bates Memorial gave a speech earlier this year that I will never, ever forget. 

Instead, this is just to say that Donald Trump’s election to be President of the United States is baffling and frightening thing. On Wednesday morning, I was glad as hell to have a church community to reach out to, to SMDH alongside, and who I knew would double-down on its commitments to the poor, the marginalized, the fearful and oppressed.

This is just to say that all across the country there are churches and mosques and synagogues and meditation centers working damn hard to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. That is, places of worship who are doing their best to deliver justice to the oppressed, comfort those in pain, feed those who are hungry. Places of welcome. Places that are way less concerned about "saving your soul" than they are figuring out how the refugee family is going to get to their doctors' appointments on Friday. 

If you are feeling an impulse toward connecting with a community of faith, you might be surprised in 2016 by what you find. (At DBCC, you’ll find at least one member who cusses more than he probably should.)

If the Jesus that resonates with you is the one who told the parable of the Good Samaritan, the one who turned over the moneychangers’ tables in the temple, the one who told his followers to invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind to dinner, well, you’re not alone.

There are, literally, every day, people being beaten in the streets by Trump-inspired thugs. There are still moneychangers’ tables that need upending. And, there people waiting for invitations to dinner all around us. 

Our neighbors' wounds won’t bind themselves. We are the Samaritans they have been waiting for. The tables are too heavy for just one person. And—let’s be real—I’m a terrible cook.

These communities of faith need you to help them do their urgent work of loving the forgotten and welcoming the disregarded just as you might be thinking that you need them. 

There’s plenty of work to be done. Joyfully and together.  

Here is a gratuitous pic of my beautiful family. 

Here is a gratuitous pic of my beautiful family. 


Republicans:Government :: Atheists:Church

by Ben Carter in


Electing a Republican to run your government is like electing an atheist to be your minister: fundamentally, they’re just not fit for the job. I don’t want a member of the Flat Earth Society piloting my cruise ship. And that’s what we’ve got with Republicans in government.

Republicans believe that government is the problem, not the solution. They abhor government so deeply, they long to drown it in a bathtub.

We don’t call ministers who believe that God is the problem. We don’t call ministers whose most fervent dreams include drowning God in a bathtub. Why would we elect people to serve in government who don’t believe government can work as a powerful force for good in America and the world?

This is the challenge for Democrats and America more broadly: governing effectively in a two-party system in which one party’s guiding thesis is that government doesn’t work. Democrats must not only pass legislation that improves people’s lives, they must do it while being opposed by a party for whom government’s failure proves their point. This is the structural imbalance of power in American politics today. Republicans don’t actually have to do anything. Victory for them can be as simple as an erosion in the faith of the American people in their government to govern. When 45% of people (across party lines) say they are “very dissatisfied” with the country’s political system, that’s a Republican victory.

Politically and strategically, Republicans have staked-out a no-lose position. By claiming that government doesn’t work, that it can’t work, Republicans can win the argument even as they fail to govern. Supply-side economics failed? See, government doesn’t work. Tax cuts didn’t increase tax revenue? See, Washington is incompetent. Intransigence on raising the debt ceiling caused a downgrade in America’s credit rating? We told you: government doesn’t work.

Are you jaded yet? Are you cynical? Are you skeptical that politicians will ever do anything but serve the monied and the powerful? Do you think government only works for the beautiful, the famous, the rich, the jet-setters, the cigar smokers?

There: Republicans win.

The more Washington bumbles, the more Republicans win. The less you believe that government can function effectively, create opportunity for all Americans, distribute justice to the oppressed the more Republicans win.

Governing as a Democrat is like being on a road trip with a guy sitting shotgun who every once in a while tries to grab the wheel and run you both into a bridge embankment. So, how are Democrats and responsible lawmakers supposed to govern when their opposition wins when the process of governing falls apart? How can they build consensus when Republicans have every incentive to never consent?

I don’t have any answers to those questions, but I don’t mean them to be rhetorical, either. When government’s divided, we have two options. First, we can build compromises along largely Republican lines—welfare reform in the 90s, spending cuts in the recent debt ceiling negotiations. (Note how both of these bipartisan compromises reinforce the message that government cannot work.) Second, we can use Republican’s selfish intransigence against them. We can use what power we have to force vote after vote on bills that are popular with the American public.

Massive majorities support raising taxes on the super-rich. Massive majorities support closing corporate tax loopholes that allow 38% of the richest companies in America to pay zero taxes. A smaller (but a clear) majority support increased spending to repair America’s crumbling infrastructure.

In a recent special to the New York Times, Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg outlined the problem with our eroding faith in government to work on behalf of the public’s interest. Following Bush’s bailout of Wall Street and Obama’s bailout of the auto industry, “They think that the game is rigged and that the wealthy and big industries get policies that reinforce their advantage. And they do not think their voices matter.”

As people across the country told me, the average citizen doesn’t “get money for free.” Their conclusion: Government works for the irresponsible, not the responsible. […] Everything they witness affirms the public’s developing view of how government really works. They see a nexus of money and power, greased by special interest lobbyists and large campaign donations, that makes these outcomes irresistible. They do not believe the fundamentals have really changed in Mr. Obama’s Washington.

What makes Greenberg’s article useful is not his diagnosis of the problem, but rather his prescription for restoring people’s faith in government. He provides a few policy positions that Democrats can adopt to restore American’s confidence in their civic institutions.

First (and most important in my mind), is campaign finance reform. In a separate essay, I will address the poverty of our cash-rich process and the damage it does to the foundations of our democracy. Here, it is important to recognize that having a process that allows shadow organizations to take millions of dollars from undisclosed individuals and corporations works to make the average citizen feel like the game is rigged. The more our political process makes people feel like they are not represented—that government works for the monied and connected—the more Republicans win. Republicans’ primary message—government can’t work—is reinforced by an electoral process that makes our democracy look like a plutocracy.

Greenberg:

The Democrats have to start detoxifying politics by proposing to severely limit or bar individual and corporate campaign contributions, which would mean a fight with the Supreme Court. They must make the case for public financing of campaigns and force the broadcast and cable networks to provide free time for candidate ads. And they must become the strongest advocates for transparency in campaign donations and in the lobbying of elected officials.

Greenberg closes his article by proposing additional policy areas where Democrats can show the American people that government can work: tax reform (transparency), immigration reform (responsibility), and deficit reduction (accountability). The whole article is worth a read.

Governing is hard. That much is obvious. But, electing Republicans makes governing doubly hard because they win, politically and ideologically, when government fails. The unfortunate reality of modern two-party politics requires the Democrats to win overwhelming majorities in Congress before anything can get accomplished. With compromise foreclosed, our only option remains building a popular movement that can send to Washington an overwhelming force of elected officials who believe government can—must—work to improve the lives of all Americans. Without overwhelming numbers, Republicans in Congress can continue to sabotage government for their political gain.

Writing about the Republican Presidential primary candidates, John Dickerson observed, “When you see government as a rampaging elephant, you want a candidate who can shoot the elephant dead, not someone who can manage to ride the elephant better." This is the difference: Republicans elect people to kill the elephant while Democrats want to throw some saddlebags on the elephant and cover great distances on its back.

Right now, Americans are deeply skeptical of our government’s ability to travel any distance for the common good. Until Democrats can show the American people that government can still work for everyone, Republicans’s message will continue to resonate and the American people will continue tolerating Republicans, hiding in the bushes, guns trained on our government’s heart.