Thursday, June 9, 2016

Righteous Intransigence, or Yellowstone and Politics, or Yellowstone and the Church

After a long absence, I am returning to a series of musings that will include war, evil, hell, inspiration, and other fun things (maybe). For tonight, a thought from National Geographic.

The May 2016 edition of the National Geographic magazine was about Yellowstone Park. One author wrote the entire issue, covering the history of Yellowstone National Park, the pre-history (i.e., why it looks like it does), the wildlife, and the controversies--which are many. It was in the context of the controversies that the author used the phrase "righteous intransigence." Before diving into my point, here is some background on the issues at hand. Most of the issues revolve around the wildlife of Yellowstone, and particularly the large mammals that reside in (and around) the park. In fact, this last parenthetical statement is part of the problem. Almost one hundred years ago, scientists realized that, if the goal was to preserve the wild nature of the west, Yellowstone was entirely too small. Hence the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem came into being. The elk, bear, bison, and wolves travel outside the park regularly, with many making annual migrations out of the park. This brings them into contact with ranchers, cattle, sheep, hunters, and neighborhoods. Who should decide what to do with bison on the ranch? Who should decide if the grizzly bear should be removed from the endangered species list? Are we sure that bringing wolves back was a good idea? Should we be killing off lake trout just to save cutthroat trout? Should private landowners be forced to keep migration routes open for thousands of elk? Many people are very passionate about all of these issues. You can read the magazine if you are interested in the topic. I was interested in this statement, near the end of the magazine. The author argued that passionate people need to realize that "righteous intransigence is not a strategy, it is just a satisfying attitude." Amen to that!

As the 2016 presidential race winds down to the two primary candidates, I think that we can see this quote fully at work. As President Obama has said, democracy can only work if people compromise, even if they are 100% right. Many of us have lost the ability to compromise. We have made everything that we believe into a hill on which to die. We have few strategies, but we have a lot of intransigence. We believe it, so we won't compromise on it. Ted Cruz's actions in the Senate are one example of this. Whether his position was right or wrong is not the issue. The issue is that he had no strategy, only intransigence and the ability to make sure that nothing happened. Now there are hills on which to die, but if you run a government there are compromises to be made so that the nation can move forward. (Honestly, I am not sure that either of our candidates can move us forward, but I guess we shall see!)

I also fear that "righteous intransigence" is alive and well in the Christian church. I have experienced those of liberal theological traditions belittling their congregants and other leaders who are less "enlightened" than they are, when the real issue is that they read their sacred text in a different way. I also see evangelicals who are running scared of any new idea. Richard Foster tries to connect the evangelical church with long-established traditions of spiritual formation, and he is vilified for bringing non-Christian traditions into the church (without considering that the traditions he is re-introducing were in the church long before Christians and Buddhists had any conversations). Lesslie Newbigin and those after him call the church to missional living, believing that we are all called to be on mission for God. The kingdom of God is alive in us as we live incarnationally for Jesus through the power and leading of the Holy Spirit. The gospel is certainly about personal salvation, but it is also about reconciling the world to God, and we have a role to play in that reconciliation. And the missional movement is accused of being too psychological or being too works-oriented. "Righteous intransigence" at work! When will we be willing to hear the "other," whoever that might be? When will we love our neighbor, even if that neighbor is a Muslim (I mean a Samaritan!)? When will be driven by faith in God, love of neighbor, care for widows, orphans, and aliens (immigrants?), repaying evil with good instead of evil with evil, and listening before we speak instead of being driven by "righteous intransigence"? Hmmm, I personally think that is a good question.