The Lost Cause : Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
The Phoenix Preacher became known for exposing church leaders involved with pastoral abuse. When such persons were identified, the call was for them to step down from their positions of leadership. Yes, there was the hope that they would repent, but repentance did not in and of itself provide for the resumption of a leadership position within a church.
So, what do we call for in the present situation? Is the introduction of Christian nationalism into the life of a congregation an example of false teaching? If so, what should be the consequences? Is the encouragement of viewing a secular elected political official as some sort of messianic figure idolatry? If idolatry seems too harsh a word, one would at least have to consider it as heretical. Again, what should be the consequences?
Judging from this last Sunday, it would appear that while some (a distinct minority) are expressing repentance, there are a much larger number of evangelical leaders who are either equivocating or, more dangerously, doubling down.
Meanwhile, an old myth is being dusted off and prepared for a new life. It is the myth of “The Lost Cause”. After the American Civil War, the defeated southern states promoted the myth that they were not really defeated on the battlefield (although they were) but rather lost the conflict owing to the North’s manpower and economic resources. “The Lost Cause” promoted the idea that southerners were chivalrous and brave who fought for states’ rights and to maintain their way of life. Their generals were all brilliant and were always victorious in a “fair fight”. As the myth of “The Lost Cause” took root in the South (and among some in the North) organizations such as the KKK were formed to use violence to reassert control over the African-American population, to end the program of federal reconstruction (including voting rights) and to put in place the Jim Crow laws that defined the South for generations. Along the way, statues and monuments were raised to honor “The Lost Cause” and to remind persons of color as to their place in society.
Now, a new “Lost Cause” is coming our way and my fear is that it will be embraced by those churches that were, and are, so willing to embrace Christian nationalism and the idolatry of partisan politics.
What then will we say to those who make this myth a part of their structure of religious belief? What will we say of the pastors and church leaders who, I have no doubt, will promote such a myth?
While we hope and we pray that the coming weeks mark an end to a dark period of American history, it appears to me that we may have to confront a new myth that may extend into the future and taint all attempts at reconciliation. It seems to me that without repentance (and I include all of us in this) there can be no reconciliation… and that makes me fear for the future.