Thursday, September 04, 2008

the truth shall make you odd

The coronation of Sarah Palin by the Republican Party has ushered in a confusing time with a number of unintended consequences. I mention a couple: she is female, and brings much needed gender representation at the pinnacle of political power...and yet she brings no great comfort to those who have worked hardest for just this outcome. Why? She seems, on a number of levels, to be unqualified for the task, and yet if one voices this, the identity politicians quickly label this as sexism. But is it? Is there an objective criterion for truth? Palin has apparently attended several colleges on the way to a bachelor's degree. In contrast, Barack Obama served as editor of the Harvard Law Review, meaning, one might argue, that he had risen to the peak of one of the most rigorous academic institutions in the world. In saying this, is one being elitist? Or are there objective measurements for educational excellence, and, if there are, does this equip one for leadership in a complex world. Palin's daughter prepares to give birth to a child, out of wedlock. Far from bearing the stigma of a former time, Christian conservatives marvel that she is keeping the child, and bemoan the judgmentalism of the media. But haven't Christian conservatives been noted for their judgmentalism, and liberals for their permissiveness?

It seems that the events of the week have overturned all of our categories of making sense along sociological lines, and this is unsettling, to say the least.

I have lived through this reality, and the week's happenings underscore the chaos brought on by reducing human beings to labels, genders, ethnicities. The United Methodist Church, at least in its general church manifestation, has identity politics as its only orthodoxy. And yet the presence of a Sarah Palin reveals the fallacy of such a posture. The placing of her in this role by people who have had no interest in gender equality reveals further a cynicism about it all, but...and this is the cold, hard truth: they are correct. Surely there are qualities that we seek which transcend these labels, qualities such as compassion or truthfulness or competence. I think a woman as vice-president would be wonderful. Should Sarah Palin be vice-president? I don't think so. I think a woman would be wonderful as president. Should Hillary Clinton be president? I don't think so. Do the last two convictions mean I am misogynistic? I hope not. Could my convictions flow from an inability to see particular qualities in each candidate? And does my being male disqualify me from rendering such a judgment about women in leadership? Others will be the judge.

I ramble here, but it is my attempt to grasp what is going on. "You shall know the truth", the great southern novelist Flannery O Connor quipped, "and the truth will make you odd". So, the peculiar outcomes of a bizarre couple of weeks: Inclusiveness may not always be a good thing. Conservative Christians can find a way to be less judgmental. And be careful what you pray for: you may get it.


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