Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Moses, Joshua, and Barack

by Dr. David Pence 

Moses led the Israelites through a parted Red Sea, out of slavery in Egypt some 2500 years ago. He received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai to bind the people in a covenant with the living God of History. Because he doubted once, he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. That was left for Joshua – who honored the primacy of God by sending the priests with the Ark of the Covenant to first enter the Jordan River. The Jordan, too, was parted by the God of Nature; and the sons of Israel entered the Promised Land. In preparing to fight the battle for Jericho, Joshua encountered the sacred and removed his sandals. He bound the men together by ordering that they submit to the sacrificial sign of the covenant: circumcision. They fought as one, and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.  

President Barack Obama has referred to himself as the Joshua of a new generation. He refers to Martin Luther King as his Moses. Reverend King himself, in a sermon shortly before his assassination, said he had been to the mountaintop and seen the Promised Land but he knew he might not be allowed to go there.  King really was a Moses figure, but President Obama cannot be confused with Joshua.  Better to recall another leader of the Israelites – his namesake Barak.

Joshua united the men for battle. He did not squander a legacy or betray it. He took on the next necessary task.  President Obama has done nothing distinctly for young black men as men. They still leave our high schools too early and enter our jails too often. He has no heart for the men who will make their living by labor, not college. He has never tried to unite the men of the country as brothers, as fellow men with common duties as social protectors and fathers. In his inaugural address, the masculine pronoun never appeared.  As American men are murdered in cities at home and deserts abroad, he does not inspire the fraternal love of American men by binding us in a common circumcision of duty and protective sacrifice. He cannot call us fellow soldiers and policemen and citizens and fathers and brothers. Calling forth his countrymen, as countrymen, would be too sexist. It is not a strategy he has rejected. It is a formulation that is not conceivable in his thought patterns, which have replaced the Fatherhood of God with the feminist implant. The biblical cadence of Martin Luther King does not shape his tongue. The masculine patriotism of John F. Kennedy does not square his shoulders. The heart of Joshua does not fill his chest.

He sings of little girls, and parrots the whining of amply-paid college females. He is his mother’s son. The only male union he exalts is a private one that Joshua would abhor. He hitched those braking baggage cars of Seneca Falls (feminism) and Stonewall (a homosexual bar) to the freedom train of Selma.  Just when Christian souls of the religious civil rights movement rose from their graves to cry “sacrilege,” his soaring rhetoric listed another task for his generation: to make sure no one has to wait in a voting line for more than an hour.  That quieted those angry righteous souls who were prepared to shake the monuments with their screams. They receded… to let the text condemn itself with concerns not ready for monuments. They saw – this is definitely Barak, not Joshua – and they let him be.

The Israelite leader Barak would not go to battle without Deborah as his cover, and because he endangered and hid behind women in a time of battle, he was deprived of the honor of killing the enemy chieftain. Deborah told him, “The journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honor.” The glory went instead to a woman who found the chieftain in a tent (see Judges 4; the movie ‘Zero Dark Thirty’; or the Hillary Clinton retirement parties for details).

Certainly the men of our country know what has not been mentioned at Barak’s inaugural address or Deborah’s retirement interviews. We are not ending a decade of war. We are entering another century of conflict. We do this with little agreed-upon assessment of the strategic relations of the countries who may be our allies or enemies. Empowering women may be a great theme for conferences uniting three female 'baby boomer' secretaries of state, but it has not given our Senate or the public any sense of our geo-strategic alternatives in a game with a lot of players on the board.  We look out on this changing religious and military landscape, with offenses against God in our midst that some would perpetuate and extend as the natural heirs of the civil rights movement. Exalting these offenses bears a cost.  Re-configuring the nature of love and duty undermines our spiritual task of perfecting the Union and deprives us of the moral grammar necessary to shape a just peace among the nations.  The men of our country will fight again as one, but we cannot be one if we do not seek firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right. If we forsake God, there will be no brotherhood.

“My fellow countrymen” is a form of address we wait to hear.  Joshua will know how to speak to us when his time shall come.        

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