IMHO: A Weekly Commentary from our Publisher
‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” Boy, oh, boy, is that ever wrong. When Joe Feuerherd, writing in the August 28 (my birthday of all things) National Catholic Reporter called me an ‘aging white protestant southerner,’ it really hurt.
Here I am, born in middle class, ethnic Detroit, typical liberal, nominal Roman Catholic family, who just happened to get caught up in the William F. Buckley, Jr.-led conservative movement at the beginning of the 60’s and converted to Christianity near the end of that decade. What happened?
Well, I think Mr. Feuerherd got it right. Here’s part of what he wrote:
In Losing Mum and Pup Christopher Buckley recalls his father’s funeral planning. If still famous when I die, William F. Buckley Jr. instructed his son, have the funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was a majestic Mass. Henry Kissinger provided one tribute, Christopher Buckley another.
“José Martí famously said that a man must do three things in life: write a book, plant a tree, have a son,” Christopher eulogized. “I don’t know that my father ever planted a tree. Surely whole forests – enough to make Al Gore weep – were put to the ax on his account. But he did plant a great many seeds, and many of them, grown to fruition, are here today. Quite a harvest that.”
One suspects Buckley — founder of National Review, author of more than 50 books, host of the first combative political face-off television program, and Catholic crafter of a conservative movement that dominated U.S. politics for two-plus generations – would have appreciated the sendoff. But if it is a tragedy for a parent to survive a child, then Buckley’s death was a blessing. For in less than nine months, with the election of Barack Obama, the final nails were being hammered into the conservative movement he fathered. Bereft of ideas, facing a demographic tidal wave, and scornful of the economic concerns of the largely Catholic “Reagan Democrats” who were key to the Republican Party’s success, the once mighty American conservative political movement Buckley husbanded lies in ruins, its base reduced to an aging core of white Protestant Southerners.
The political analysis hurt enough. But it got me thinking. Is there a parallel in religious analysis? Certainly my faith group – evangelical, Reformed, Presbyterian – has gone through exactly the same growth and (this is not prophetic, but I think it might be true) decline during the same time period.
Why is this so? (Assuming it is so!) Sadly, my first take is that the culture has infiltrated the church to a far greater degree than most of us are willing to recognize.
Earlier this year I found myself getting sick of watching Fox News. I had credited the rational for this to my aging grumpiness. Now Feuerherd tells me it’s because the conservative movement is dead. That REALLY hurts.
Not so much because it is probably true (on a political level). It really hurts because I really am among the many aging white Protestant southerners who have allowed our political judgments to not just affect our religious thinking, they have far too great a degree become the foundation for our religious thinking. And we didn’t even notice it.
I think I’ve been suffering from a moderate depression since last November and have been trying to examine the possible sources. At least today, I think part of it might be political grief. I became ‘conservative’ while at Vanderbilt. I became a ‘movement conservative’ working on the Goldwater campaign. When I was converted, I was immediately a ‘conservative’ Christian. And now, Feuerherd says the conservative movement is dead.
OK, OK, maybe it’s dead. What do to? Apply Kübler-Ross? First, denial. Second, anger. Third, bargaining. Fourth, depression. Fifth, acceptance. So, if I’m at depression and need to move to acceptance, what happened to anger and bargaining? Come to think of it, I was never angry. I must still be in denial.
Could it be that far too many of us aging white Protestant southerners are at that same point of denial and we need to let the Holy Spirit shake that cultural, political stuff out of us and allow us to clearly see that a sovereign God really is in control and apply his promises to our lives. Kübler-Ross? No! Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Yes! I’m just saying.
IMHO, Don K. Clements