Becky Garrison, Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church; Eyewitness Accounts of How American Churches Are Hijacking Jesus, Bagging the Beatitudes, and Worshipping the Almighty Dollar (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006), 177pp.
When I was in seminary twenty-five years ago we would hoot and holler over the biting satire of The Wittenburg Door magazine. I still remember a piece on "Dogs Who Love the Lord." Becky Garrison is a senior contributing editor for the Door and self-described "non-partisan religious satirist," and in this book she collects some of her material to parody the pious. She reports on her coverage of the Republican National Convention, reflects on the environment, does a drive-by shooting on the gay issue in a way-too-short chapter (three pages), wonders about pro-Israeli ideology and anti-Semitism, touches on volatile issues roiling our public schools, grapples with abortion, and decries our worship of mammon.
Satire carries inherent risk factors. Skewering everyone equally can be hard. Garrison lambasts the left and its "mainline insipid drivel," but most of the fuel for her fire comes from the right. You read more about Robertson, Falwell and LaHaye than you do about Spong or the Jesus Seminar. Sanctimony and sarcasm are close cousins of satire; it is hard not to sound unctuous. At times she lapses into ad hominem swipes that add little to her humor. Do we really need to hear about the bad behavior of Bush's twin girls? Not every reader will warm to her smart-alecky style. Like most satire, you will need to consult other resources for the heavy lifting on the issues that she raises. Finally, satire has its limits in that it is always easier to criticize what you are against than to explain what you are for, to tear down rather than to build up, to generalize and exaggerate rather than to work through the complex details of difficult issues.
These are minor quibbles, though, given the underlying message that Garrison conveys. First, as she notes in her preface, her mission as a Christian satirist is to "mock idolatry." Given the seductive power of the many idols that tempt us, we should not shoot the messenger, however risky her task. Second, I am always challenged by warnings about the cultural captivity of the church. However much believers might disagree about social, political, economic and global issues, surely we should be able to agree that whatever a "Christian" point of view looks like, it ought to look and sound very different than the cant and cliches from either the left or the right. Finally, Garrison sounds a clear note about the command to love those with whom we disagree. She echoes the wisdom of the German Pastor Martin Niemoeller (1892–1984), who protested Hitler's anti-semite measures in person to the fuehrer, and who was eventually arrested, then imprisoned at Sachsenhausen and Dachau (1937–1945). He once admitted, "It took me a long time to learn that God is not the enemy of my enemies. He is not even the enemy of His enemies.