Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Letter to the Editor

A month or so ago, I was in a meeting at my local church and we were collectively bemoaning the Texas Legislature and the draconian proposed budget. One person commented that it's interesting that you always hear the preachers on the news announcing how some hurricane is God's judgment against gays or liberals or feminists. But you never hear that it's God's judgment against those who aren't taking care of the poor or the widows or the children. I began to play with the idea and the following letter to the editor was the result. It was published on April 27 in the Austin American-Statesman.

“With all of the wild fires breaking out in Texas, I’m surprised we haven’t heard from our brethren on the right who are quick to see disasters as God’s hand of judgment against personal/sexual sins. So I’ll make a pre-emptive strike with an alternative scenario and with all due respect to those who have lost homes and family.

“God has seen how Texans are scheming to treat the poor, the widows, the immigrants, the elderly and has unleashed fire and flames from the heavens, in fulfillment of the prophecy from Isaiah: 'Woe to you who make unjust policies and draft oppressive legislation, who deprive the powerless of justice and rob poor people—my people—of their rights, who prey upon the widowed and rob orphans. What will you do on that Day of reckoning when disaster comes from far away?' (10:1-3)”

I added my church email address to the letter and so the emails arrived before I was even aware that my letter had been published. The responses divided about equally between those who agreed with the basic point and those who found it sadly wanting.

I received some truly wonderful compliments, including one person who had about given up on the church, but would be at University UMC soon to visit. Another came from an avowed “secular humanist” who said my letter had caused her to rethink her views.

Several came from conservatives who were unhappy that a “reverend” was espousing political views. (Can you get much more political than “the kingdom of God”?) And there were a few who misunderstood the intended satire and thought I really had it in for the good people of West Texas. (I don’t.)

Only one person who disagreed took up the verse from Isaiah, which I thought was telling. That verse typifies prophetic discourse, and it’s a line of thinking sadly ignored by Christians who must believe that free market capitalism, low taxes and no safety net are in the Bible somewhere. (And I suppose if they follow pseudo-historian David Barton, they may feel entirely justified in their fiction.)

Becky Garrison, a Christian writer and a satirist, understands satire as the jester to the king, the one who keeps those in power honest. There’s satire in scripture: Amos marrying Gomer. I wonder, though, in a period of such heightened tension between opposing sides, does satire have a place in Christian discourse?

1 comment:

  1. Satire is one of those great devices that allows you to simultaneously distance yourself from the subject and communicate a very clear position. This topic, with it's mile-wide inconsistencies and stances at odds with themselves is ripe for satire. But will it help or harm the discourse? My opinion - any time you can bring humor into a conflict, you relieve some tension, and allow some perspective to develop. There is always the downside that the satire is lost on some. But a little humor goes a long way when discussion becomes all out, bible wielding debate in the God-o-sphere.