Thursday, July 06, 2017

Nazarenes, Moralism, and _ru_p

I got to spend a few days at the General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene - this is the every-four-years gathering of my denomination, with delegates from around the world, but still largely dominated by very traditional, white middle-class Americans (despite the awesome fact that such people now makeup less than a quarter of our global membership). For ten days, there was a pretty big, insular bubble over downtown Indianapolis - one summed up by a tweet from a local waitress saying we weren't buying much alcohol,but the place is fresh out of dessert.

I had more than a few conversations about the crazy year in US politics. Most every friend I had from outside the US and/or under 40 had a similarly head-shaking confusion about the whole thing - a now familiar response. Those in another category were shaking their heads for other reasons. More than once I got some version of the same question - "Why have you [liberal/young/progressive/contrarian] gotten so much more upset that we [older/traditional/evangelical/Nazarene] voted Republican this time around; we've been doing it your whole lives?"

I recognize I had some angry responses to the election, inauguration, words, actions, tweets, thoughts, etc of Donald Trump, but I do think I've found some distance as a result of incredulous, but begrudging acceptance of reality. For the first time, I didn't really think about that question in terms of politics or even theology. Maybe it was the comfort and familiarity of the Nazarene bubble, but it feels like people in my generation - both radically liberal and heart-warmingly conservative - ended up with the same answer.

In short, our parents' generation* spent vast amounts of time and effort to make sure that good little Nazarene kids were uncommonly moralistic.
We were taught a vast array of dos and dont's with seemingly incomprehensible levels of logic that we just ate up and internalized. We didn't watch the Smurfs, because magic, or the Simpsons, because Bart was so disrespectful - I even remember having a conversation with my Dad about why I could watch GoBots, but not Transformers where the reason amounted to "the good guys don't always win on Transformers."

We skipped proms and dances, avoided movies, and thought the neighbor having a beer was as hell-bound as any terrorist. I spent most of my childhood genuinely believing you couldn't be a Democrat and a Christian (but that being American and Christian were almost synonymous) - and that abortion was the only issue worth voting about. We were inundated with the evangelical subculture, which I only realized in about fifth grade when a friend of mine thought I was talking about Opera when I told him my favorite musician.** (Notice I didn't even mention sex, because that's not something we do... mention sex, that is - definitely out.)

So, even if we learned to question and react against what amounted to benevolent indoctrination later in life, that foundation remains; it's buried deep inside each of us at subatomic levels. We've been shaped and formed with a guilt complex second to none,*** where even thoughts of the taboo were met with fear and hidden away. Above all else we were taught that Nazarenes - that good Christians - did things in a very specific, particular way (the right way).

We're the third generation, really, our parents were the kids of true believers, so they didn't understand exactly why we do things the way we do, but they respected them enough to drill them into our heads by rote. We learned all the whos, whats, whens, and wheres, even if the whys were sorely lacking.

So perhaps you might begin to grasp just how earth-shatteringly disarming it was to see those same people who spent so much time making sure we had a sound moralistic way of life so easily embrace a man whose very existence epitomizes the opposite of all we were taught was good and holy. That last word's not even a pun; one guy, last week, actually said to me, "I'm willing to be corrected if I'm wrong, but I'm hard-pressed to think of a single thing in Trump's life that would be acceptable to Nazarene thought and practice."

Yup. Not an exageration. He said it and it echoes everything I've been thinking and resonated pretty strongly with my Nazarene peer group - regardless of whether they were living out that moralism wholesale or striking against it in vividly intentional ways. Politics don't even enter into the equation - we're all just scratching our heads how the denomination we're trying to inherit could so totally accept a dude they (without name recognition or money) would never let walk in the doors of the church when we were kids.

It's a simple as that. You trained us to be this way. How else do you expect us to react?

*I do mean this collectively - as one generation to another - not so much my (or anyone else's) specific parents.

**Super props to fifth grade Troy for being so knowledgeable about opera, by the way.

***This sounds super harsh, because I'm focusing just on the moralism, but, really, there's a lot of benefits to this kind of upbringing - we had a strong sense of identity and a fantastic grasp of scripture and it's importance. Not incidentally, both of these things are really coming back to bite that previous generation, since we are challenging the status quo at present with a lot of well-earned Nazzy street cred.


Anonymous said...

Let me guess...Carmen?

Anonymous said...

I hear you loud and clear...let's push on through to rediscover the one true holy apostolic church that crosses the barriers with the love of God...the Holy Spirit in you and in me somehow can find the Way...

bethwarn said...

Thanks for this!

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the church of the Nazarene, and was a Nazarene for 40 years. I understand why you have stated you viewpoints in this way, and agree that judgemental nazarenes at their core would likely agree with you. However faced with the alternative, my vote was not necessarily for Trump, but against Hillary and not solely because of my political affiliation. Nazarenes collectively could not have swayed the Republican nominee for President. Therefore, faced with the two options, I stand by my vote.

Ryan said...

Yeah, I think that's precisely the point.

Anonymous said...

Befor being Nazarene we're call to be followers of Jesus, before being republicans or democrats we're call to be followers of Christ, I understand the options were not great, but honestly HiLlary's Life is closer to what the Jesus I know thought us, than this inmoral self-centered, lier, we have seating in the same place great man have seated before. It is a pitty that Christians are more faithful to their political preferences than to the Living Word of God

Bruce said...

Thanks for this, Ryan.

PapaD said...

Ryan, My daughter forwarded this blog to me this week and I'm grateful or the insight it provided. I've been a Nazarene for 24 years, and only nominally Christian for the 40 years prior. I believe the US constitution is the best secular protection anyone in this country has. I'm fearful that separation of powers, the foundation of our government, is in inreasing danger, that courts have been inclined to overreach, that congress has abrogated its responsibilities, and POTUS is closer to a monarch than any of our founding fathers could have imagined. ive never really believed that the end justifies the means, but I believed Ms Clinton would nominate a Supreme Court judge who would add to my fears-and Mr. Trump would not. In that, I have not been disappointed and would do it again. I do hope that the Republican Party nominates a better candidate in 2020, I'll be pleased to vote for that person in the primaries. Failing that, if the Democrats found a strong centrist to run against Mr. Trump, well I've crossed party lines before and would do so again. Thanks for your thoughts.