Episode 322: Keep Christianity Weird with Michael Frost

Much of the Evangelical Industrial Complex has been created to make Christianity relevant, acceptable, and attractive to our consumer culture. Author and missional expert, Michael Frost, says this is a mistake. Instead, we should be emphasizing our faith’s weirdness and call more Christians to be eccentric—literally “off center.” Also this week: Phil and Skye take on “The Good Place,” a TV show about heaven without God or religion, the UK’s Supreme Court rules in favor of a Christian baker, and (fake) butt news from a Hawaiian seal hospital.

Trump’s Reckoning Arrives

The president’s unpredictability once worked to his advantage—but now, it is producing a mounting list of foreign-policy failures.

.. Trump’s election jolted almost every government into a frantic effort to understand what to expect. Other countries’ uncertainty enhanced Trump’s relative power—and so, perversely, did Trump’s policy ignorance and obnoxious behavior.

.. presidents are surrounded by elaborate staff systems to help them—and oblige them—to think through their words and actions.

If we impose tariffs on Chinese products, how might they retaliate? What’s our next move after that?

If we want to pressure Iran more tightly than our predecessors, what buy-in will we need from other countries? What will they want in return?

What do we want from North Korea that we can realistically get?

Team Trump does not engage in exercises like this.

.. Team Trump does not do it because the president does not do it. His idea of foreign policy is to bark orders like an emperor, without thinking very hard about how to enforce compliance or what to do if compliance is not forthcoming.

The administration canceled the Iran deal without first gaining European, Chinese, Japanese, or Indian cooperation for new sanctions.

Trump started a trade war with China without any plan for response to the inevitable Chinese counter-moves.

.. The U.S. has abjured its right to inspect Iranian nuclear facilities without any workable plan to impose global sanctions instead. India and China each trade more with Iran than with the entirety of the European Union—and neither is very vulnerable to U.S. pressure.
.. First, because he talked so much and tweeted so much, he revealed much more of himself much earlier than other presidents. His ego, his neediness, his impulsiveness, and the strange irregular cycles of his working day—those were all noted and analyzed before any formal action of his presidency.
.. for example, Australia, his offensive words had limited the ability of Australia’s democratically accountable leaders to cooperate with him.
.. Second, foreign leaders have concluded that the shortest path to Trump’s heart runs through his wallet. Oil states such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have rushed to be helpful to the business interests of Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, seeking an advantage over regional rivals like Qatar. Authoritarian leaders who could hamper Trump-licensed businesses—like Turkey’s Recep Erdogan and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines—have exploited their perceived leverage, acting with apparent impunity.
.. Third, Trump’s highly suspicious dealings with Russia before the election potentially put him at the mercy of countries in a position to embarrass him.
.. Only 17 percent of South Koreans trust Trump to do the right thing
.. At a time of relatively low military casualties and strong job growth, the president’s popularity at home roughly matches that of George W. Bush’s during the worst months of the Iraq war, 2005–2006, and Barack Obama’sduring the most disappointing months of the weak recovery from the recession of 2009.

The Meaning of Ryan’s Departure

Paul Ryan’s fate over the past several years is as good an indication as any of how far our politics have fallen.

.. Though the anti-Ryan vitriol faded after Steve Bannon’s defenestration, he continued to be viewed with suspicion by the talk-radio crowd and other arms of Trump Inc.

This was his reward for attempting to drag his party, and the country, toward a grown-up reckoning with our debt. Nearly singlehandedly, Paul Ryan had managed to put tackling entitlements on the national agenda.

.. making incremental reforms now—with no changes for current beneficiaries or those in their 50s—can prevent drastic shortfalls and extreme benefit cuts that will be necessary in just 16 years when Social Security is depleted. The outlook is even worse for Medicare and Medicaid.

But Donald Trump arrived on scene with the supposedly blinding insight that changes to entitlements are unpopular. Well, no kidding. He promised never to touch Medicare and Social Security—not even to ensure their future solvency. And so, the responsible, future-oriented Paul Ryan found himself governing with a backward-looking, whistling past the graveyard president.

.. Ryan and the party he helped to lead also lost its compass on Ryan’s own signature issue—fiscal responsibility.

.. it would have been nice if the party that fulminated about the dangers of deficits in the Obama years had found anything at all to cut—particularly when the economy is growing and unemployment is low.

.. Under Republican guidance, the federal deficit will be roughly double what it was in the final year of the Obama administration.

.. What has Trump taught? That trade wars are the way to improve the lives of the working class? They are popular, at least with Republicans.

.. 65 percent of Republicans favored Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs.

.. We are not behaving as responsible adults. Our greatest political challenge is out of control debt. Our greatest social challenges are declining families, increasing dependency, and eroding social cohesion. The debt could have been addressed by government.

The Price I Paid for Taking On Larry Nassar

But on Aug. 29, 2016, when I filed the first police complaint against Larry Nassar for sexually abusing me when I was a 15-year-old girl and chose to release a very public story detailing what he had done, it felt like a shot in the dark. I came as prepared as possible: I brought medical journals showing what real pelvic floor technique looks like; my medical records, which showed that Larry had never mentioned that he used such techniques even though he had penetrated me; the names of three pelvic floor experts ready to testify to police that Larry’s treatment was not medical; other records from a nurse practitioner documenting my disclosure of abuse in 2004; my journals from that time; and a letter from a neighboring district attorney vouching for my character. I worried that any less meant I would not be believed — a concern I later learned was merited.

.. I lost my church. I lost my closest friends as a result of advocating for survivors who had been victimized by similar institutional failures in my own community.

I lost every shred of privacy.

.. When a new friend searched my name online or added me as a friend on Facebook, the most intimate details of my life became available long before we had even exchanged phone numbers. I avoided the grocery stores on some days, to make sure my children didn’t see my face on the newspaper or a magazine. I was asked questions about things no one should know when I least wanted to talk.

.. And the effort it took to move this case forward — especially as some called me an “ambulance chaser” just “looking for a payday” — often felt crushing.

.. These were the very cultural dynamics that had allowed Larry Nassar to remain in power.

.. Some were abused when they were as young as 6 years old.

Some were victimized nearly three decades ago, others only days before my report was filed. Far worse, victims began to come forward who had tried to sound the alarm years before

.. they were suffering deep wounds from having been silenced, blamed and often even sent back for continued abuse.

.. More than 200 women have now alleged abuse by Larry Nassar.
..  at least 14 coaches, trainers, psychologists or colleagues had been warned of his abuse.
.. a vast majority of those victims were abused after his conduct was first reported by two teenagers to M.S.U.’s head gymnastics coach as far back as 1997.
.. Because most pedophiles present a wholesome persona, they are able to ingratiate themselves into communities.

.. Research shows that pedophiles are also reported at least seven times on average before adults take the reports of abuse seriously and act on them.

.. a symptom of a much deeper cultural problem — the unwillingness to speak the truth against one’s own community.

.. The result of putting reputation and popularity ahead of girls and young women?

.. extending or removing the statute of limitations on criminal and civil charges related to sexual assault, and strengthening mandatory reporting laws

.. Predators rely on community protection to silence victims and keep them in power. Far too often, our commitment to our political party, our religious group, our sport, our college or a prominent member of our community causes us to choose to disbelieve or to turn away from the victim.

.. Fear of jeopardizing some overarching political, religious, financial or other ideology — or even just losing friends or status — leads to willful ignorance of what is right in front of our own eyes, in the shape and form of innocent and vulnerable children.

Alabama Says No to Trump’s Tribalism

Thank you to the majority of Alabamians for loving our country more than you hated Democrats. Thank you for voting as citizens, not as members of a tribe.

.. I have peered into this tribal abyss.

.. Back in the late 1970s, when I was covering the Lebanese civil war, a story made the rounds in Beirut that the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia had come up with a novel way of discovering a Palestinian trying to pass through one of its checkpoints. The Phalangists would show the driver a tomato and ask: What’s this? If the driver used the standard Lebanese pronunciation, “banadurra,” he was allowed to pass. If he used the Palestinian pronunciation, “bandora,” he could be pulled out of his car and shot on the spot.

That is tribal politics at its raw essence: It doesn’t matter how you live your life or what you aspire to for your society. All that matters is your sectarian or tribal identity, revealed by how you pronounce the word for tomato.

Middle Easterners have a saying for this kind of thinking: “Me and my brother against my cousin. Me, my brother and my cousin against the outsider.”

.. Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya tell CNBC on Tuesday that social media is creating a society that confuses “popularity” with “truth.” 

The Trump Fever Never Breaks

In the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump has achieved at least three things that few presidents ever have.

  1. His approval rating is in the 30s.
  2. His former aides — and reportedly the president himself — are under federal investigation.
  3. And members of Mr. Trump’s own party are running what has been described as a shadow campaign to replace him in 2020.

.. The more Mr. Trump’s candidacy was said to flatline, the more life I saw in his crowds.

.. In August 2015, a month after a high-ranking Republican National Committee operative promised me that America would never tolerate a man with no military service disparaging an American military hero, I was standing on a football field in Mobile, Ala., surrounded by 30,000 screaming Trump fans, an unheard-of turnout six months before a primary. Were they mad about the candidates words on Mr. McCain? No. The opposite. “He’s not afraid of anybody,” one woman told me.

.. But then, as now, the view from armchairs in Washington and newsrooms around the country missed something that it was impossible to miss out on the trail. Mr. Trump’s supporters were tired — of Washington, of the media, of waiting. And that fatigue allowed them to overlook a lot. They knew he was flawed but at least, they thought, he was on their side.

.. “Why do people fighting for a raise relate to all of this?” I asked a man in a tuxedo. “Because deep down, they know he’s one of them,” he said.

Trump sees us,” his supporters would tell me, everywhere we stopped. “You don’t.”

.. Sure, they liked a lot of his policies and ideas, but they weren’t married to any of them. They wanted the man above all. And if he said it, they’d find a way to support it, even if he reversed himself the next day.

.. I once asked a man heading into a rally why he supported Donald Trump.

“Because he is going to build a wall,” the man said.

“What if he doesn’t?” I countered.

“I trust his judgment,” the man said.

.. The building blocks of political life are too complex to predict, too unstable to rely on. But I do know what political devotion looks like, and I do know what happens when you choose to discount it.

Why does Emmanuel Macron’s presidential approval rating keep falling?

In many countries, the 39-year-old French president remains a symbol of youthful dynamism, a darling of social democrats shocked by Brexit and the ascent of Donald Trump. But in France, the man whose landslide victory in May marked the end of Europe’s populist surge is falling out of favor — and fast.

.. just 36 percent of the French now approve of their president, roughly the same as the percentage of Americans who approve of President Trump. On May 7, 66 percent of French voters supported Macron.

.. Among the frequently cited factors his team noticed, he said, were reactions to the president’s perceived lack of respect for the French military and the relative inexperience and lack of discipline shown by his party’s parliamentary deputies.

.. the president enjoys far broader powers than many of his Western peers — including the power to dissolve Parliament. As a result, he receives all the credit or all the blame whenever either is due.

.. reluctant to grant interviews, preferring to deliver lengthy orations in the halls of Versailles, France’s historic seat of absolute monarchy, and such regal optics have not played well with the media or the public.

.. A vague proposal to make his wife, Brigitte, an “official” first lady — a title that would have come with a separate taxpayer-funded budget — was abandoned after an online petition garnered more than 300,000 signatures.

.. After his inauguration, the new president quickly set his sights on military expenditures, a not-unexpected move given his promises to slash government spending as a way to keep France in line with European Union budgetary guidelines. Although he pledged to increase military spending by next year, he plans to go ahead with previously announced cuts of almost $1 billion to the 2017 defense budget.

.. That amount represents a small fraction of the French military’s total annual budget of $37 billion. But against the backdrop of France’s efforts to combat terrorism at home and abroad, Macron’s decision was seen by military officials as a betrayal. In mid-July, the country’s top-ranking general, Pierre de Villiers, resigned in protest.

.. The young president — who has never served in the military — dismissed the protests of his troops, telling them in a widely discussed public speech last month, “I am your boss” and insisting that he needed “no pressure and no commentary.”

The speech was poorly received by military families, Desportes said, adding, “He knows nothing.”

..“He’s adopted a very clear strategy of not talking to the press,” he said, noting that Macron has so far preferred to appear in the spotlight only alongside other world leaders or pop stars.

.. if you keep doing that for too long, people will start to think you’re only interested in the glamorous things and not in the everyday problems people have.”