Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

The Palins and Changing Gender Attitudes

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Sarah Palin has burst onto the national scene with her selection as John McCain’s running mate. She has generated an unusual amount of excitement. When someone generates the level of excitement she has, it is usually because they represent something to people. Somehow, they strike a chord.

Palin is a politician with a generally right wing perspective. It isn’t her views which excite people. There is nothing particularly notable about them. And in fact many who are excited by her don’t share most of her views.

Some call her “hot” but it isn’t her looks which are responsible for the phenomenon. She doesn’t dress provocatively or project an “available” image. And she has generated the most enthusiasm not among men looking for a sex object, but among women - and usually moms. She has an 80% popularity rating among white women, and there has been a remarkable political shift of 20 points in that demographic since she was nominated.

So what does she represent? She calls herself a feminist, but is definitely not aligned with the feminist establishment - mostly upscale white women with a heavy ideology that has never attracted the masses. She lives out the idea that a woman can do anything, and importantly that it is not a choice between having a family and doing something in the world. She is proud of having defeated the “good old boys” in her amazing gubernatorial election where she first toppled an incumbent governor in the primaries and then defeated a popular former governor in the general election. She is definitely feminine and not a man-hater, but unafraid to challenge men in what were traditionally the provinces of men. Her life becomes a symbol with which many ordinary women strongly identify.

Let’s not forget the man she calls “my guy” - her husband Todd. He seems like a “man’s man” - a TV commentator during the convention called him “studly.” Blue collar oil production worker, commercial fisherman, champion snowmobile racer - he really seems to fit the typical masculine image in so many ways.

And yet he is not the stereotypical macho male who feels the need to dominate women. He doesn’t seem interested in dominating his wife. He doesn’t seem to feel challenged by her success, but to be genuinely proud of her. And he doesn’t seem to have a problem with staying home and taking care of the kids while his wife is governing the state. Being “First Dude” is just fine with him.

The Palins have been flexible about roles. There was a time when she was a stay-at-home-mom - the “hockey mom” - and Todd was the breadwinner, and they were largely living “traditional” roles. Now she’s Governor and Todd spends a lot of time on the home front, taking care of the kids. They adjust to changing situations. They seem to have a secure, happy marriage, and love their kids and can adjust when their children don’t do what they hoped.

The Palins present a model of not being boxed in by rigid role assignments. It is a model that in no way challenges marriage and family, but shows that you don’t have to choose between that ideal and doing what draws you regardless of traditional gender roles. Their right wing politics highlights that this is not a way of living associated with a particular political ideology, but is something for everyone across the spectrum.

In some ways, the Palins seem to represent the triumph of the feminist movement. Those who have flown the feminist flag are divided in their reaction. Some have exploded in rage, because Sarah Palin is clearly not one of them. Others admit to admiring her, while being appalled at many of her views. Sarah does not spend her time bashing the feminist establishment, although the only feminist group she has felt able to identify with is Feminists for Life, which itself attracts mostly people with a very different political perspective than hers. And it has been interesting to see the dynamic between Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. They seem to respect each other. Some would like to see Hillary lash out at Sarah, but Hillary doesn’t seem to be interested in that. I think she will keep their differences political, and not make it personal.

In part what we are seeing is a generational shift in attitudes. In that, Palin has a lot in common with Obama. They are of the same generation. Just as Obama is African-American but doesn’t get boxed into being a black politician like prior black candidates, Palin is proudly a woman but doesn’t get boxed into the old image of a feminist politician. So, while there is much going on in America that discourages me, I can see signs of important positive movement in my lifetime on some very important matters. The younger generations just aren’t hung up on race and gender in the way so many Americans were when I was young. They’re more willing to let people be people, and not box them in.

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An Evangelical Manifesto

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

On May 7, a group of prominent evangelical leaders issued An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment. It was developed by a Steering Committee of 9, including the President of Fuller Theological Seminary and the Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today, as well as one of my favorite writers and a leader in the Renovaré movement, Dallas Willard. In addition, there were 75 Charter Signatories, including many very prominent names in evangelical circles - conservative, moderate and liberal. Hundreds more have also signed. So this is a very important document.

The document is the latest development in a growing movement in recent years to rescue Evangelicalism (the Manifesto insists on this capitalization, and I am following their lead in this commentary) from the narrow stereotype of a bunch of fundamentalist conservative Republicans whose concerns are mostly limited to a couple of very controversial issues. Another prominent landmark in this movement was the 2004 statement by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility. Much credit for these promising developments should be given to evangelicals who have been actively laboring for many years for a broad agenda of social issues such as Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action and Jim Wallis of Sojourners (both Charter Signatories of the Manifesto).

The Manifesto asserts three major mandates for Evangelicals:

  1. We Must Reaffirm Our Identity
  2. We Must Reform Our Own Behavior
  3. We Must Rethink Our Place in Public Life

The wording of these mandates sounds like a call by the signatories to the Evangelical movement; an internal document for those who identify themselves as Evangelical. And it is that, and very rightly so. But it also serves an important function of speaking to those outside the Evangelical community to rectify misimpressions of what Evangelicalism is about. I feel it does a good job of speaking to both of these audiences.

I want to highlight some key elements of this landmark Manifesto (I can only here identify a few; the Manifesto is 20 pages and I encourage you to read the entire document for yourself), and offer some comments on them:

  • In reaffirming Evangelical identity, the Manifesto provides a useful definition: Evangelicals are Christians who define themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth. Personally, I can wholeheartedly identify with that definition.
  • It notes that Evangelicalism should be distinguished from two opposite tendencies to which Protestantism has been prone: liberal revisionism and conservative fundamentalism. This is in fact its historical place, but developments in the last half century came to blur the lines between Evangelicalism and fundamentalism, and I think this point is important. [Side Note: While insisting that Evangelical and its derivatives be capitalized, they don't extend the same courtesy to fundamentalists.] Again, personally I have sought to distinguish my own faith understanding from either of these tendencies, although I have done it outside of mainstream Evangelicalism.
  • It reiterates the concept of sola scriptura and the “supreme authority of the Bible.” This is well in keeping with Evangelical tradition. Personally, I believe this contradicts the centrality of Jesus Christ and is in conflict with their own definition of Evangelicals. This is a major reason why I consider myself evangelical but not an Evangelical. This is not the place to go into depth on this issue, and I plan a separate post addressing it.
  • The second mandate the Manifesto identifies really constitutes confession and repentance. This is very healthy. It does an excellent job of identifying major areas where Evangelicals have often gone in the wrong direction.
  • In the third mandate of the Manifesto, it does a good job of identifying “two equal and opposite errors” of privatizing faith and of politicizing faith. It correctly calls for engagement with politics, but avoiding identification with party or partisan ideology. I appreciate its call to a civil public square — a vision of public life in which citizens of all faiths are free to enter and engage the public square on the basis of their faith, but within a framework of what is agreed to be just and free for other faiths too. This sets the proper balance.
  • It addresses a key historical issue for the Church in stating, We Evangelicals trace our heritage, not to Constantine, but to the very different stance of Jesus of Nazareth. I think the truth is more mixed, and the Manifesto itself is somewhat weak in its argument in this section. It follows that statement by noting While some of us are pacifists and others are advocates of just war . . . This is a factual observation (and putting the two on an equal plane is a step forward, as pacifists often don’t get much respect), but it is somewhat ironic as the Just War Theory is itself a Constantinian development. In this respect, the Manifesto may represent an important step forward, but also illustrates that there is some distance still to go.
  • Importantly, it shares with the earlier landmark NAE Call a call for an expansion of our concern beyond single-issue politics.

While I am not 100% in unity with the Manifesto, I heartily welcome it as an important and positive contribution to the Church finding its way to more truly be the Body of Jesus Christ.

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