obama waffles and binary minds

I watched the comments on the last post, Obama Waffles, with interest.  Yesterday Lynn wrote, “I am neither liberal or conservative, I am neither black nor white on the issues, I am neither Red nor Blue…”  After such a long season of electoral politics and with 46 days until the presidential election, something about how Lynn defines herself is very appealing.

I suppose it’s normal to separate ourselves into different camps.  We are often more comfortable describing what we are against rather than what we are for.  And by “we” I am thinking of those us within the evangelical tradition; specifically white folks within that tradition.  In a thoughtful post yesterday, professor John Stackhouse writes that,

evangelicals tend toward a binary mind (as historians Mark Noll, George Marsden, and others have delineated in detail). Some things are appropriately thought of in binary terms, to be sure: “Jesus is Lord,” “Ye must be born again,” and so on. But the world of politics is the world of assessing a situation and making the best of it with what, and whom, you have to work with. Binary thinking rarely helps get anything done, because politics rarely presents an actual choice between Good and Evil.

I agree with Stackhouse and yet the language of good and evil is exactly what drives so much of the political rhetoric found in speeches, advertisements and cable news.  Is it a stretch to say that Obama Waffles are the result of Christians who believe this election really does present a choice between good and evil?  How many of us are tired to the point of frustration with binary thinking that pushes us towards one extreme or the other?

I’m two-thirds of the way through A Purple State of Mind by Craig Detweiler.  Craig is a friend and I’ll recap his book more completely in the next week or two.  For now, here’s one of the ways he defines the book’s title.

A purple state of mind follows and worships Jesus.  It doesn’t place faith in politics, power, or in people.  It adopts the long view.  It is hopeful that despite the ugliness of today’s situation, the reign of Christ will prevail.

Like Lynn’s comment, something about Craig’s definition rings true.  But in a binary and polarized culture is such a way of living possible?

obama waffles

First, the back story…

The Family Research Council was founded in 1983 by Dr James Dobson and a few other conservative Christian folks.  In 1988 the FRC merged with Dobson’s Focus on the Family.  In 1992 FRC once again became an independent organization, though Dobson remains on its board of directors.  In 1992 FRC founded Family Research Council Action in order to “educate the general public and cultural leaders about traditional American values and to promote the philosophy of the Founding Fathers concerning the nature of ordered liberty.”

Last week FRCA hosted the 2008 Values Voters Summit with speakers like Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Sean Hannity among many others.  Focus on the Family was one of the event’s four sponsors and one of the many exhibitors at the Washington DC Hilton, site of the Summit.

And this is where it gets bizarre…

One of the Summit’s exhibits featured two guys, Mark Whitlock and Bob DeMoss, selling Obama Waffles.  Whitclock and DeMoss, authors who worked togetether at Focus of the Family and FamilyLife Publishing, apparently came up with idea for the waffle mix while eating pizza late one night.  According to the Associated Press,

While Obama Waffles takes aim at Obama’s politics by poking fun at his public remarks and positions on issues, it also plays off the old image of the pancake-mix icon Aunt Jemima, which has been widely criticized as a demeaning stereotype. Obama is portrayed with popping eyes and big, thick lips as he stares at a plate of waffles and smiles broadly.

Placing Obama in Arab-like headdress recalls the false rumor that he is a follower of Islam, though he is actually a Christian.

On the back of the box, Obama is depicted in stereotypical Mexican dress, including a sombrero, above a recipe for “Open Border Fiesta Waffles” that says it can serve “4 or more illegal aliens.” The recipe includes a tip: “While waiting for these zesty treats to invade your home, why not learn a foreign language?”

The American News Project has a video interview with DeMoss and Whitlock at their waffle booth that left my mouth agape.  To the question of whether this Aunt Jemimah-like box is racist, Mark answers, “Bob has mentioned that to him Aunt Jemimah means quality.”  Mark adds, “I prefer Aunt Jemimah.  So I’m not sure what the issue is.”

And herein lies the “issue”…

There are plenty of folks for whom, unlike DeMoss and Whitlock, Aunt Jemimah is not a sign of quality.  Princeton University’s Melissa Harris-Lacewell puts it well,

In the late 19th and early 20th century Aunt Jemima became indelibly engraved in the American psyche. Her role as a cultural icon and a marketing technique was to soothe the anguish of the slavery question and allow white Northerners and Southerners to reunite as Americans.  Her happy servitude quieted the notion that slavery was immoral and brutal. It allowed Americans to be both romantic and wistful about the lost days of Dixie when the world was properly ordered and Negroes knew their place.

According to the Values Voter Summit, they were unaware of the “offensive material” displayed on the boxes of waffle mix.  Eventually they pulled the plug on DeMoss and Whitlock, though business appears to be brisk on their website.

This story raises two questions for me…

Is it actually possible that DeMoss and Whitlock do not see the racist nature of their product? I want to believe that these guys, along with those who are buying the waffle mix, do not see the racist nature of Obama Waffles.  I prefer to believe that they simply have no clue how so many people see the images and language of their product.  Is such ignorance and ethnocentrism better than intentional racism?

Second, why do Christian organizations continue to closely align themselves with political ideologies? The reality is that many Christians in America would be flabbergasted and hurt by the words and actions of DeMoss and Whitlock.  In order to make a buck and a political point, these Christian men have alienated and demeaned many of their own Christian family.  And for what purpose?  As we’ve discussed before on this blog, it appears these folks believe God can only accomplish God’s purposes through certain political parties and platforms.

Your (charitable) thoughts and reactions to these two questions are very welcome.