I have absorbed enough Protestant sermons, homilies, and parables over the years to think that I can usually pick up Christian "dog whistles" in political speeches. Those are the words and phrasings that signal to some listeners that you are part of their "faith community," but that other members of the audience don't hear at all. Simplest example: when George W. Bush talks about "Providence" in his speeches, he doesn't mean a city in Rhode Island.
But I guess I must have really lost some of my high-frequency hearing. Because I entirely missed the cue in what I previously described as the "weird" and illogical homily in Mike Huckabee's convention speech.
As a reminder: Huckabee told a shaggy-dog story about a teacher who wouldn't let students have their school desks until they explained how to "earn" a desk. The punchline was that they didn't have to earn desks at all! US military veterans had earned them for the students, through their sacrifice.
At face value, this simply makes no sense. If the U.S. had no brave veterans and had lost every single war, it would still have schools and desks, since even conquered countries do. (It would be different if the story concerned voting booths, the free press, protest marches, or other signs of liberty that American veterans had defended things that on the battlefield.) But, as explained in this post at the Taking Steps site, the story makes perfect sense once you assume that its real subject is eternal salvation through the grace and sacrifice of Jesus:
This is the doctrine of "Grace, Not Works" or "Grace Alone," a theological position expounded during the Reformation, cuddled by Calvin*, and popular among evangelical Christians. It's not a desk, it's a place in Heaven. And it's not soldiers we're talking about, it's Jesus Christ.
The post goes on to interpret the whole allegory. Of course that's the explanation, as anyone who has listened to religious radio shows should know. I feel silly to have missed it. (Why else would Huckabee, an ordained minister and very smart person, keep using the story in his stump speeches, despite its surface-level pointlessness?) Thanks to Karen Seriguchi for the lead.
At one level, I feel better to see that Huckabee was getting at something with this tale. At other levels.....
* One could argue that Luther works better here than Calvin, but that's not the main point for now.
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