Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Stranger Than Fiction: Tony Perkins' Christmas Card

Note: Please keep in mind that I am writing this as one who has studied sociology, comparative religions, theology and history (almost as much as Glenn Beck) and does not look kindly on people who try to press stupidity on the uneducated for the sake of socio-political ideals.

Christmas cards are not supposed to come with a hidden agenda. These missives are supposed to uplift humanity, not degrade it. But the Grand High Mystic Ruler of the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins, wants to stuff your holliday greeting with as much politicizing as possble, damn the outcome.

And what a cobbled-together crock it is! I expected Perkins to pull out all the stops when it came to his Christmas message, but this one barely makes sense: Perkins pastes together all the greeting-card images of the Matthew and Luke Gospels while taking vague jabs at Obama, Afghanistan, same-sex marriage and abortion. The buzz words that fly around are certainly more numerous than the Heavenly Hosts. And it all smacks of the dictum "keep 'em stupid." So here it is - in Tony Perkins own self-righteous words (with some commentary to keep things on solid ground).

God with Us

As we retreat into the peace of this Christmas season, it's a relief to feel the distractions of this world fall away.
Retreat: as in military retreat. Let's talk war from the get-go.
For a few quiet days, Christians everywhere can humbly reflect on the greatest miracle in the history of mankind. In no other religion does the Creator of the universe come down to earth and live among us, His own creatures. 
Huh? Perkins ignores a lot of religions here. Of course, he's never been one to quote scholars accurately. In ancient times there were over twenty dying-and-rising gods to which people prayed, several having virgin births! His revisionist historian, David Barton, must have been feverishly hard at work here.
Yet Jesus came -- not as a king or conqueror -- but as a babe. What greater way could God express His approachability than by coming to earth, His earth, in the form of the most vulnerable creature on the planet
Vulnerable? Here our beloved but deluded Tony is taking a swipe at the EPA, saying we're not responsible for things like global warming or the extinction of thousands of species of the more powerful creatures. An image comes to mind: back in the 1800s, people shot buffalo from trains for sport, letting the carcasses rot miles away from Native Americans to make use of. Vulnerable? Gimme a break!
He who would be the King of Kings was sent to us -- not in a royal palace or great Temple -- but in a lowly stable, surrounded by animals
He's going for the holostic approach to the Nativity scene here. A trip to Bethlehem will reveal the site: a cave. Not as picturesque as a stable, I grant you, but a big hole in a big rock. Of course, he has to stay with the traditional script in keeping 'em stupid or else he'd seem wierd to his readers, so it has to be magi, shepherds, sheep, stable crowded into one tiny card.
He may not have been a child of wealth or privilege, but Jesus possessed something much more important: a family.
Perkins goes for the main point early and then hammers away at it: every child needs a family which consistists of: a mother and a human stepfather. He'sobviously nervous about DOMA being repealed. And after the demise of DADT...
He grew up -- not in brokenness of this world, but in the loving care of his mother and her husband.
According to scripture, poor Joseph almost didn't go through with marriage to a pregnant woman: "When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with the child of the Holy Ghost. Then Jospeph her husband, being just a man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily." (Matthew 1; 18-20) He certainly didn't want to parade Mary around (so obviously pregnant) too soon. In a way, Joseph was bucking the Christian Right of his day.

"Brokenness" sounds vaguely like a new word coined for the situation like Steven Colbert's "Truthiness." What's he's really saying here: "This crappy world we're living in can be changed if we just keep mandating one-man-one-woman marriages. And go back to the Fabulouse50s." He doesn't mention the very high rate of divorce among Fundamentalists (sssshhh! it's a secret!)
On that silent night -- His first in this new world -- the Messiah's arrival was heralded. But this special birth announcement wasn't shared with the country's elite, but with her excluded
Yes, the kings did come, but it was the shepherds who first made their way to that primitive throne. They were summoned to Bethlehem by choirs of angels from the hills, where they were tending their flocks by night. To the people of Palestine, these men and boys were the least important of the Roman Empire
The three wise men are portrayed as kings, perhaps to hide the fact that they were illegal aliens. And the shepherds were downgraded. Maybe they weren't much in the Roman Empire, but shepherds were important in Israel: shepherds were guardians of a very necessary and valuable property: sheep.  Why did Jesus preach that we should go after the one stray lamb? Simply because it was too f*ckin' expensive to lose!
But it was to these simple peasants that the heavens proclaimed peace on earth, goodwill to men.
Great Caesar Augustus in Rome was not bidden to come to the stable. Even he, who was worshiped as a god, wasn't given the privilege of seeing the holy infant. But three wise men were brought from afar. They followed a star in the sky until it led them to the place where the Christ child lay. 
Caesar Augustus, as with all Caesars after him, was made a god, but few people actually took it seriously and worhipped him as one: regicide was commonplace at the time and Roman senators and Centurions knew that gods couldn't be killed. Perkins is really referring to our own Barack Obama and the adulation he first received when he became President.
When King Herod, whom the Romans had chosen to rule over Judea, heard from the wise men that a child had been born, one who would rule over His people, Herod ordered his soldiers to find that child and take his life. To protect Herod's power, every baby boy less than two-years-old would be slain. In God's providence, even the slaughter of those innocents could not prevail over the Chosen One. Joseph and Mary were warned by the Angel of the Lord and they fled into Egypt, taking the baby with them. 
Why two years old? Did it take the wise men (down-graded from kings) two years to reach Herod? They didn't have a GPS? And after the birth, who's right, Matthew or Luke (who stated that they went instead to Nazareth)? Notice that Perkins in all his wisdom doesn't explain why God sacrificed all those infants. The narrator, of course, wanted to make a correlation to the Passover before The Exodus, but Perkins knows that metaphor would go way over the heads of his readers.
The Lord God might have sent a fiery chariot to spirit Jesus away. He might have provided a great bird or a giant fish. He might have drowned all of Herod's men or visited them with a plague. Instead, our Father in Heaven entrusted the infant to Mary and Joseph, a mother and a father. The baby Jesus was protected- and the Scriptures fulfilled: The Messiah would come out of Egypt
Perkins' imagination gets the better of him with giant birds and fishes. The bird I can understand, but a giant fish? Where was it supposed to take them? On a Disney Cruise? The flight to Egypt being an important part of the Nativity, Perkins makes it into a FAMILY outing, getting in a covert dig to gay adoption.
To us, the ancient story has a terribly modern ring. Powerful rulers determined to do anything to preserve their power -- even promoting and funding the shedding of innocent blood. Earthly kings worshiped as gods. Peace proclaimed on high while violence stalks the streets. 
This is Perkins' biggest pitch. "Look how rotten the country has become: Planned Parenthood, a socialist dictator, and liberal pot-smokers have ruined it!"
But out of all of this is the greatest message ever given to man: God is with us. The miracle is that He didn't just come down from His heavenly home thousands of years ago. He comes today -- to live with us, suffer with us, and- praise God -- to save us.

At the end of an overwhelming year, we can take comfort in the fact that this helpless baby, who came in relative obscurity, will soon return as a triumphant Savior that no one will miss! He won't just be a King among kings- He will be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! And unlike the men of this world, He will reign forever and ever! I pray that we all embrace the simplicity of the season and rejoice in the Love reborn each day. From everyone at FRC, we wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 
Perkins has now gone into a triumphal blast of the Allelujah Chorus for the finish: "King of Kings and Lord of Lords...He will reign forever and ever!" And after all that, we're supposed to believe in "simplicity"?  It's about as "simple" as the Gordian Knot!

It's all too silly, really, but buzz word after buzz word entertains and lulls Perkins' readers into thinking that he's written something profound. 

He hasn't. He's written a slightly covert polemic about the evils  of same-sex marriage and the Obama administration.

But he wants you to buy it, hook, line and manger.

My First Christmas With God, Pat Robertson, and The Devil

I'm not really looking forward to Christmas this year. It's a day away, but I'm over it all: overweight, overworked, overdrawn and overwhelmed. Eight months ago we were forced to move to a smaller place, so despite the Christmas tree, the apartment looks as if it's going to explode, spewing boxes of nick-knacks and old bank statements over the rest of the apartment complex. If it does, "Christmas" will be somewhere in the rubble, but don't look to me to find it. Instead, I'll be dealing with other things, like the fact that there's no money for the usual presents, that I look like hell because I haven't been able to keep up my exercise regimen and that my former partner (for whom I'm a caregiver), has just been told that his liver cancer is inoperable and he will live only nine months.

But, you know, I can handle all of that. I've been through worse (I think).  The real reason I'm not looking forward to Christmas is because this will be my first Christmas as a minister (I just received my ordination papers  -along with a supply catalogue!) AND my first Christmas in a war with God. Oh, up until now, I've had a very good relationship with Him, but my being a minister changes that relationship. Notice that I said a "war with God," not a "war against God." I have to deal with Him as a comrade-in-arms.  It's now me and Him against His nemesis. Satan? No.

Pat Robertson.

You may think it an easy war, seeing that Pat has become so senile that even his proteges distance themselves from him whenever a natural disaster occurs, but war under any circumstance, as they say, is hell.  Of course, Robertson's old partners-in-crime have gone: Jerry Falwell, Jesse Helms and the old "Cadaver of Congress", Strom Thurmond; Oral Roberts, his University and his memory are fading away; the Crystal Cathedral will soon be a mass of glass shards and few people remember that alarmingly insipid little man, Rev. Lou Sheldon. But like weeds that Robertson so judiciously sewed into the nation's ground, new, vigorous, (and deadlier) strains of self-righteousness and hypocrisy have already taken their place: Tony Perkins, Bryan Fischer, Bill Donohue, Lou Engle, Cindy Jacobs to name but a few.

So I have to prepare for war - and on Christmas! I have to shine up my old verbal zingers and invent new ones. I have to research and catalog as many self-righteous hypocrites as possible (a daunting task seeing that there were so many this last year ala "Bishop" Eddie Long) while their hypocrisies keep pummeling us like giant hailstones. I have to build a barracade of educational references to use against falsehoods. I have to assure everyone (and God as well) that we will prevail. And I have to build alliances, maybe even with the Devil ("the enemy of my enemy is my friend"). See, I can rationalize anything just as well as they can.

Oh, there will be some wicked fun in store for me: the latest dimiwitted, hysterical rant is that gays "stole" the rainbow symbol from Christianity and now good Christians want it back! Coming up with barbs about that one will be delicious. Cream pie, anyone?

In the past, however, I've been able to juggle life's personal exigencies with the demands of an activist: this year, however, I will need to have more drive and stamina suited to a minister. This year, Christmas comes with a powerful caveat: the beautiful love and hope may only intensify the hypocrisies.  Will I  have the stamina to write/fight against not only Pat Robertson, but all the other televangelists, the lobbyists, politicians and frauds? I honestly don't know. My ministry goals are simple: help people survive by getting them back on the track of charity, compassion and social justice - those things that Glenn Beck is telling us to avoid at all costs. But the simplest of goals can require enormous effort, and placing a "Rev." in front of my name will put me in hostile, uncharted territory.

Christmas. Oh joy.