Why Do Christians Hate on Christians (the preposition takes the edge off sin)

It was striking to see the difference between the initial Christian interpretation of the riot at the Capitol on January 6th.

David French called it a Christian insurrection. He had to be honest.

Michael Gerson specifically identified evangelicals as Trump’s chief supporters in his column about the riot:  “It was their malignant approach to politics that forced our country into its current nightmare. As white nationalists, conspiracy theorists, misogynists, anarchists, criminals and terrorists took hold of the Republican Party, many evangelicals blessed it under the banner ‘Jesus Saves.'”

In a tweet he added: “Trump evangelicals have tightly connected their movement to insurrectionists and domestic terrorists. They have done massive damage to the reputation of Christians in politics.”

Odd to worry more about evangelicals’ reputation than the damage done to the nation’s political system.

John Fea analyzed the prayer of the QAnon Shamon and decided that it used the basic cadences and tropes of evangelical prayers.

You might think then that the New York Times’ story about the protestors so far arrested would indicate the religious background of these people. But they mention evangelicalism zero times.

At least 21 of those charged so far had ties to militant groups and militias, according to court documents and other records. At least 22 said they were current or former members of the military. More than a dozen were clear supporters of the conspiracy theory QAnon. But a majority expressed few organizing principles, outside a fervent belief in the false assertion that President Donald J. Trump had won re-election.

The accused came from at least 39 states, as far away as Hawaii. At least three were state or local officials, and three were police officers. Some were business owners; others were unemployed or made their living as conservative social media personalities. Many made comments alluding to revolution and violence, while others said the protests had been largely peaceful.

A New York Times review of federal cases through the end of January suggests that many of those in the horde were likely disorganized, but some groups and individuals came to the events of Jan. 6 trained and prepared for battle. The early charges set the stage for those to come as the Justice Department promises to prosecute even those accused of misdemeanor trespass and also devotes resources to more serious crimes, like conspiracy and homicide.

This is even more surprising since one of the Times’ original stories about the January 6 events, written by two graduates of Wheaton College, were quick to link the protests to evangelicals:

The fruits of the alliance between far-right groups — Christian and otherwise — were clear on Wednesday, before the rioting began, as thousands of Trump supporters gathered to protest the certification of the presidential election results, with Joseph R. Biden Jr. definitively defeating Mr. Trump, even after attempts to discredit the election. Many in attendance were white evangelicals who felt called to travel hundreds of miles from home to Washington.

All the more reason to raise questions about the way evangelicals regard evangelicals. It doesn’t feel loving.

What Could Have Gone Wrong?

Has American evangelicals’ love affair with Dutch Calvinism (in its w-w forms) finally run out of steam?

Remember back to Francis Schaeffer who popularized Kuyperianism for figures like Jerry Falwell (the elder) and Tim LaHaye. In Christian Manifesto (1981), Schaeffer wrote:

The basic problem of the Christians in this country in the last eighty years or so, in regard
to society and in regard to government, is that they have seen things in bits and pieces
instead of totals. They have very gradually become disturbed over permissiveness,
pornography, the public schools, the breakdown of the family, and finally abortion. But
they have not seen this as a totality—each thing being a part, a symptom, of a much
larger problem. They have failed to see that all of this has come about due to a shift in
world view—that is, through a fundamental change in the overall way people think and
view the world and life as a whole. The shift has been away from a world view that was
at least vaguely Christian in people’s memory (even if they were not individually
Christian) toward something completely different—impersonal matter or energy shaped
into its present form by impersonal chance.

W(orld)-(vie)w analysis basically had free reign among evangelicals for the next thirty-five years thanks to its comprehensiveness. Everything became spiritual or religiously meaningful because everything was under the Lordship of Christ. Even if you raised questions about the differences between the spiritual and the temporal, or the ecclesiastical and civil, such “dualism” was in denial of Christ’s sovereignty.

That explains why even Baptist English professors drank Kuyper with gusto:

Within the North American context, Mouw explains, these core points can be boiled down to “an appreciation for the ‘not-one-square-inch’ manifesto regarding the kingship of Jesus, a broad acceptance of the idea of sphere sovereignty, and a commitment to the integration of faith and learning.” Mouw’s examination of these essentials—fleshed out and applied with varying levels of specificity within the thirteen essays which cover topics including public theology, education, and baptism, as well as more esoteric intra-reformed issues—reveal just how great an influence Kuyper has wielded, even among those of us caught unaware. The reading leaves me with awe and gratitude in the recognition that even my own quintessentially Baptist and evangelical educational institution would not be what it is without Kuyper and his fellows. After all, our university catalog promises in its “Statement on Worldview” that students will “receive an education that integrates [a] Christian and biblical worldview,” and the institution increasingly equips, expects, and holds accountable faculty for doing just that—even more noteworthy considering that the memory of a time when “Christian education” was understood there and elsewhere to consist of opening class in prayer has not quite faded into the past.

Even as late as two years ago, Kuyper drew appreciation from the likes of the Muslim-American political theorist, Shadi Hamid, though a non-Christian appropriation of the Dutch statesman would lean toward the pluralism (and the pillarization that went along with it in twentieth-century Dutch society) in Kuyper’s thought:

Christian pluralism sees the city of man as inherently broken and fallen from sin, which, in turn, means that politics must be acknowledged as a site of uncertainty, rather than certainty. The solution, then, wouldn’t be walling off one’s Christianity from the domain of Caesar, but rather applying it in a more self-conscious manner.

That was not how evangelicals read Kuyper. Pluralism went with secular humanism and watch out if you have a diversity of views among Christians about the actual structures of Christ’s Lordship.

But now that many know (what they always knew) about the true nature of Donald Trump and now that the likes of Betsy De Vos and Josh Hawley, Trump supporters of different degrees, have made positive references to Kuyper — now, Trump has finally revealed the problems of Kuyperianism:

we who inherit the legacies of white Christianity are called to acknowledge and seek to repair harm that has been committed on behalf of our traditions. Kuyper’s notion of the lordship of Jesus, articulated in the famous “square inch” quote, has more problems than it being used to baptize a wide range of questionable endeavors or to convey that Christians are the arbiters of the kingdom of God. The very notion of Jesus’ ownership of all things has imperialistic overtones, reflecting Kuyper’s Victorian-era white/European Protestant Christian triumphalism. While Kuyper celebrated cultural “pluriformity,” he maintained that outside of Europe and North America, most cultures had not benefited humanity as a whole. . . .

Even when taken on his own terms, there is much in Kuyper’s legacy to repudiate. And while it would be unfair to label Kuyper a white Christian nationalist, it is easy to see how his ideas could be employed in the service of white Christian nationalism, with its grievance ethos, its “color blindness” as a cover for its racism, its paternalism, its patriarchy, and its “populism” favoring white working-class interests.

What I don’t understand, once again, is why the flip-flops among evangelical scholars — evangelicalism used to be good but now its bad, Kuyper used to inspire but now he’s troubling — don’t raise more questions about the flops. Isn’t it obvious that the change of perception is largely a function of opposition to Donald Trump? If part of the Protestant world showed an attachment to Trump and we are dissecting those Protestants to see what ideas they held so we can purge those notions (and Trump) from our midst, is this really very deep? Isn’t it just another indication of the hold that Trump has on the minds of his biggest foes (and supporters)?

But if not for Trump, evangelicalism and Kuyper would be salvageable, right?

Liberal Presbyterianism before Erdman

Not science or naturalism but politics, community, social capital, and civility have weakened Presbyterian convictions way more than higher criticism or evolution. The situation in Scotland after the Glorious Revolution and the restoration of Presbyterianism in the Kirk:

This new urban sociability reflected and contributed to the pan-British and European shift towards latitudinarianism near the turn of the century. The clergy’s co-operation in pursuits that lay outside the narrow boundaries of theology fostered camaraderie among individuals from across the religious spectrum. ‘We perfectly agree with you in your sentiments’, the London Society for the Reformation of Manners wrote to their Scottish counterparts, ‘that however Christians may differ in opinion as to other things, yet they should all agree in advancing the common interest of Christianity in promoting the practice of piety and virtue.’ In turn, the Scottish Societies resolved ‘not to meddle with the particular opinions or practices of persons in religion, [for] although we differ in our sentiments as to some things, yet that we are united in our zeal for God, our charity for men, and concern for our country, do invite and entreat all’. When the Scottish Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge sought donations to establish parochial libraries throughout northern Scotland in the early 1700s, they relied on English clergymen of all theological stripes for assistance. An analysis of the libraries’ catalogues reveals an interesting result from the joint endeavour. In addition to the expected staples of orthodox Presbyterians, English men and women sent discourses that were disproportionately comprised of moderate English Episcopalian bishops or archbishops, such as John Tillotson, Gilbert Burnet, Edward Stillingfleet and Benjamin Hoadly, as well as Robert Leighton, the former archbishop of Glasgow who had attempted to unite Presbyterians and Episcopalians in the 1670s. Furthermore, scientific and philosophical writings by John Locke, Francis Bacon, Robert Sibbald, Robert Boyle,William Chillingworth, Hugo Grotius and Samuel von Puffendorf, in addition to Cicero and Euclid, were also quite popular. Records for Inverness, Dumbarton, Dingwall, Dumfries, Sleat, Duriness, Kilmoor, South Uist and Bracadle all confirm this pattern to be the norm.

Against this trend of tolerance and intellectual innovation, a majority of Presbyterians vehemently resisted with protests in the General Assembly and legal depositions in the parishes. There was a noticeable dichotomy between the Assembly’s leanings and those of the Presbyterians who comprised it. How, then, did the moderates attain their victories and enforce their influence? They relied upon the Williamite state, which was committed to forging inclusive national churches in Scotland and England, to turn a numerical disadvantage into an opportunity via diplomacy and undemocratic means – namely, the strategic manipulation of key religious institutions. (Ryan K. Frace, “Religious Toleration in the Wake of Revolution: Scotland on the Eve of Enlightenment, 1688-1710s,” Journal of the Historical Association, 2008, 369-70)

Thompson to Dreher: “Say it Better”

Greg Thompson’s review of Rod Dreher’s new book in the Neo-Calvinist publication, Comment, should be good news to those worried about progressive PCA pastors (if Thompson fairly qualifies as such). Thompson agrees with Dreher that America is undergoing a disturbing number of changes:

[Dreher’s] argument is this: The liberal order of America and of the West is currently under attack from a progressive, illiberal, and anti-religious ideology rooted in the Marxist tradition. While the core claims of this ideology have long menaced American culture, it is currently taking on a new and more dangerous shape. Cultivated in the classrooms of our universities, embraced by the elites of our institutions, enabled by the moral malaise of our therapeutic culture, and empowered by the technological ubiquity of surveillance capitalism, this ideology will harden—indeed has already begun to harden—into an entire cultural order. In this cultural order, best understood as “soft totalitarianism,” liberal ideals of individual freedom will give way to tribal collectivism, cultural memory will be replaced by utopian dogma, and civic dissent will be met with firm reprisal. Indeed, the evidence that this has already begun is everywhere around us, and of all citizens swept up into these waves of illiberalism, faithful Christians are among those most at risk. 

Thompson is also concerned:

I am, for instance, concerned about the illiberal ways in which cultural and political perspectives increasingly serve as justification for dehumanization and malice. I am concerned about our increasing default to exclusively identitarian accounts of ourselves and our neighbours, and the potent tribalism this nurtures. I am concerned about a preening civic moralism that feels more performative than principled, and for the plague of self-righteousness that blooms around it. I am concerned about the contradictions of a therapeutic culture that venerates self-expression even as it normalizes self-harm. I am concerned about the ways in which our extraordinary technologies invite exploitation and obstruct wisdom. I am concerned about economic and cultural actors whose power places them beyond the reach of any practicable form of accountability. I am concerned by the ubiquity with which each one of these tendencies manifests itself on both the cultural left and the cultural right and in so doing threatens the health, indeed the very possibility, of our common life.

So why does Thompson write that Dreher’s book is “egregious” and “dangerous”? The reason has to do with the way Dreher expresses his alarms:

While in the world of entertainment punditry such a transparently reductive manner of speaking about one’s cultural enemies may be indulged and even celebrated, in a work that claims the intellectual mantle of liberalism and the moral mantle of the Christian church, such an account is a disgrace. Why? Because in characterizing progressivism in this way, Dreher tacitly claims the powerful heritage of liberalism for himself and places his cultural enemies outside of it, all while either unaware of or indifferent to both the moral incoherence and social consequences of doing so.

Sweeping claims about good guys and bad guys may not be the first strike against a writer for anyone ministering in a communion that has some regard and attachment to Francis Schaeffer.

Observing the deficiency of Dreher’s (he is a journalist, after all) prose may also prompt a writer to think about lines like this:

Dreher’s gauzy invocation of liberalism is reflective not of the rigorous complexities of history but of the simplistic nostalgia of Cracker Barrel.

“Simplistic,” “nostalgia,” or “Cracker Barrel,” each on their own would have made the point. Throwing them all into the sentence is either redundant or piling on.

Machen Death Day (2021)

This unprecedented decline in literature and art is only one manifestation of a more far-reaching phenomenon; it is only one instance of that narrowing of the range of personality which has been going on in the modern world. The whole development of modern society has tended mightily toward the limitation of the realm of freedom for the individual man. The tendency is most clearly seen in socialism; a socialistic state would mean the reduction to a minimum of the sphere of individual choice. Labor and recreation, under a socialistic government, would both be prescribed, and individual liberty would be gone. But the same tendency exhibits itself today even in those communities where the name of socialism is most abhorred. When once the majority has determined that a certain regime is beneficial, that regime without further hesitation is forced ruthlessly upon the individual man. It never seems to occur to modern legislatures that although “welfare” is good, forced welfare may be bad. In other words, utilitarianism is being carried out to its logical conclusions; in the interests of physical well-being the great principles of liberty are being thrown ruthlessly to the winds.

… The truth is that the materialistic paternalism of the present day, if allowed to go on unchecked, will rapidly make of America one huge “Main Street,” where spiritual adventure will be discouraged and democracy will be regarded as consisting in the reduction of all mankind to the proportions of the narrowest and least gifted of the citizens. God grant that there may come a reaction, and that the great principles of Anglo-Saxon liberty may be rediscovered before it is too late! But whatever solution be found for the educational and social problems of our own country, a lamentable condition must be detected in the world at large. It cannot be denied that great men are few or non-existent, and that there has been a general contracting of the area of personal life. Material betterment has gone hand in hand with spiritual decline.

Such a condition of the world ought to cause the choice between modernism and traditionalism, liberalism and conservatism, to be approached without any of the prejudice which is too often displayed. In view of the lamentable defects of modern life, a type of religion certainly should not be commended simply because it is modern or condemned simply because it is old. On the contrary, the condition of mankind is such that one may well ask what it is that made the men of past generations so great and the men of the present generation so small. In the midst of all the material achievements of modern life, one may well ask the question whether in gaining the whole world we have not lost our own soul. Are we forever condemned to live the sordid life of utilitarianism? Or is there some lost secret which if rediscovered will restore to mankind something of the glories of the past? (Christianity and Liberalism)

Tag-Team Wrestling with Jonathan Edwards

Scott Clark has a fuller entry of reservations about Edwards than what follows, but his post seemed like a good reason to jump on the bandwagon (what is a bandwagon, anyway?). The paragraphs below are from a chapter, “Jonathan Edwards and the Origins of Experimental Calvinism, in collection of essays co-edited by Sean Michael Lucas, Stephen J. Nichols, and mmmeeeEEE:

In an introductory essay to the book, Reformed Theology in America, George M. Marsden provides what still is a remarkably useful map of the Reformed tradition in the United States. According to Marsden, who experienced first-hand the different constituencies of American Reformed life, there exist three distinct and yet overlapping ways of answering the question, “what does it mean to be Reformed?” In one group, which he identifies with the church of his upbringing, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the answer comes with careful attention to precise doctrinal formulation. Here only Christians who take subscription to the Reformed creeds are “fully within the pale.” For another group being Reformed means cultural transformation, a pose most noticeable to Marsden during his years in the Christian Reformed Church. According to this outlook, Reformed Christianity is characterized by a “world-and-life view” that applies Christian principles to all walks of life. The last answer to the question of what it means to be Reformed comes from those who regard themselves as both Reformed and evangelical, and for whom being Reformed is best embodied in such evangelical forms of piety as evangelistic fervor, “personal devotion, Methodist mores, and openness in expressing one’s evangelical commitment.” In sum, Marsden identifies three schools of Reformed thought and spirituality, namely, the doctrinalist, the culturalist and the pietist.

This map of twentieth-century North American Reformed life raises an interesting question regarding Jonathan Edwards: if he were alive today with which school would he identify? To give the question bite, let me raise the stakes by asking whether Edwards would be teaching at Westminster Seminary, Calvin Seminary, or Trinity Evangelical Divinity School? No fair avoiding an answer by responding that Edwards would not be teaching but instead would be the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Marsden provides a helpful preliminary answer by arguing that the Puritan tradition in which Edwards stood embodied all three schools since the Puritans highly esteemed theological rigor, established a culture modelled on Christian teaching, and were ever on guard for the dangers of head knowledge without heart religion.

As helpful as this partial answer may be, Edwards does not easily fit in any of the schools that Marsden identifies. For instance, it is not altogether clear that Edwards would pass a licensure or ordination exam in the OPC, nor is it certain that the Kuyperians in Annapolis, Toronto and Grand Rapids would make him a poster boy for their efforts to press the Lordship of Christ in the arenas of faith-based initiatives, labor unions and office furniture. The one school where Edwards fits best is that of Reformed pietism, though if Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is its best manifestation it is not certain that Edwards would be a natural fit with that school’s Scandanavian free church tradition, Doug Sweeney’s protests to the contrary. Perhaps the best way to characterize Edwards is as an experimental Calvinist, which would make his modern-day soul mates the folks who write for and edit the books and literature produced by the Banner of Truth Trust in Edinburgh. In fact, the one correction that Marsden’s otherwise helpful guide to the Reformed tradition could use is to suggest that the pietist school is best represented by the sorts of themes that the Banner folk have developed over the last forty years or so. They are earnestly Calvinistic in their soteriology and very friendly toward revivals as an ongoing means of saving souls and edifying the faithful. What could be a better way of describing Jonathan Edwards?

If the Banner of Truth Trust is the modern-day embodiment of Edward’s theology and piety, then a plausible argument may be that in the Northampton pastor’s ministry and writings we see the origins of the pietist school of Reformed Christianity. While this line of reasoning is not inherently startling — after all the Banner’s recently retired executive has written a glowing biography of Edwards — it does raise questions to which experimental Calvinists may need to give greater heed. For instance, if experimental Calvinism is a combination of the Reformed doctines of grace and pietistic forms of devotion, and if Edwards was one of the first exponents of this outlook, are there aspects of Edwards’ thought and ministry that raise doubts about such a mix of theology and piety? Here specifically the nature of conversion about which Edwards wrote so extensively in Religious Affections comes to mind. Did his laudable effort to detect signs of regeneration actually betray Reformed teaching on conversion and so compromise Calvinism’s doctrine of salvation? What follows is an exploration of Edwards’ teaching on conversion and its manifestation in holy affections in the context of historic Reformed teaching on regeneration and the Christian life. The point of this endeavor is not to detract from Edwards’ greatness but to generate a better understanding of Reformed teaching about conversion and how the great theologian and pastor of eighteenth-century Massachusetts may have unintentionally undermined the Calvinism that he intended to defend.

Follow the Parents

Sometimes I wonder if journalists who cover the virus actually believe the narrative that leads to panic (which means they are as gullible as the fear-driven Trump voters) or are cynically reporting in a way to generate clicks and listens. A few weeks ago, Scott Simon, the master of journalistic empathy, revealed that journalists may actually prefer strong parents to reporters who question authority.

NPR’s Scott Simon talks with Dr. Curtis Chan, Deputy Health Officer for San Mateo County, CA about the county’s decision NOT to issue a stay-at-home order, as neighboring counties have.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST: Nearly 3,000 Americans are dying each day now from COVID-19. Hospital beds are full. ICU units are overwhelmed. Mayors and governors are saying stay home. Five counties near San Francisco and the city of Berkeley are in shutdown, but not San Mateo County. We’re joined now by Dr. Curtis Chan, who is deputy health officer for San Mateo County. Dr. Chan, thanks so much for being with us.

CURTIS CHAN: Nice to be here.

SIMON: Why has San Mateo decided to do something different?

CHAN: San Mateo County is following the federal guidelines and state guidelines, including the ones that were just released explaining that we should be staying at home once ICU capacity is below 15%. And we intend to follow that. You know, we also looked at our data. And we said, who is not staying home? Who’s causing the most transmissions? And we wanted to have targeted interventions for those people who are not staying at home and those people who are causing transmissions.

SIMON: Well, what does the data show?

CHAN: As for the specific cases going up, what we’ve seen in the last four weeks, it’s primarily amongst young adults between 20 to 30 years old. And those were the rates of highest rise. And we’re already in the very restrictive purple tier in California. And we didn’t think that immediately having health officer orders was going to be the strategy that would change behaviors immediately.

SIMON: Well, why not? I mean, why not issue the order and use that as, if nothing else, dramatic emphasis to make your point?

CHAN: Yeah. I think it’s an approach of harm reduction and thinking about people’s mental state. We’ve seen from the CDC reports that young people are the ones who are experiencing a tremendous amount of anxiety and stress and depression. And many of them are accustomed to social gatherings. And they’ve been continuing to social gather despite our health officer orders previously.

SIMON: You know, you’re stating some very good scientific facts, but I still don’t understand what makes you then shy away from some kind of stay-at-home order. I mean, I say this as a father. Help me translate it. It strikes me that in some ways you’re saying, look; if you tell people you must stay at home, this young group, this young demographic we’re trying to reach will do just the opposite.

CHAN: Well, the first thing is that it’s not enforceable. If we could actually enforce this and it was statewide or across the region or the country, I would think it’s a great idea. But I think, you know, it’s going to be counterproductive because it’s going to drive behaviors underground. And we think that there would be resentment that they can’t socially gather, let’s say, outside. But we don’t have the enforcement to prevent people from gathering inside, and there could be, you know, 10 young people or eight young people. So we think it’s a tremendously good idea. And those are our public health recommendations. But we didn’t have that as a legal order that suggests that it’s going to be enforced by law enforcement officials.

The reporter’s tell: “you’re stating some very good scientific facts, but I still don’t understand what makes you then shy away from some kind of stay-at-home order. I mean, I say this as a father.”

The Public Health official’s honesty: “the first thing is that it’s not enforceable. If we could actually enforce this and it was statewide or across the region or the country, I would think it’s a great idea. But I think, you know, it’s going to be counterproductive because it’s going to drive behaviors underground.”

Imagine that. Balancing science, human nature, and possibility.

Can You Write This After 2019? (finale)

Another entry under the category of timelines, to go with part one and part two.

What did the black church need roughly fifteen years ago?

We are now living in a generation of African Americans who are significantly unchurched. For three centuries, the black church stood as the central institution of black life. Its relevance was unquestioned and its moral and spiritual capital unparalleled. Now, the church is largely viewed as irrelevant by vast numbers of mostly young African Americans, despite concerted efforts to make the church a multipurpose human service organization with housing, child care, after school, health care, economic development and other social service programs. It seems the more the church does the less relevant it becomes.

The reason for this state of affairs is that the unbelieving world tacitly understands that the primary reason for the church’s existence is not temporal. Though the world is wracked with pain and suffering, it intuitively grasps the fact that the answers it longs for are transcendent, not earthly. So, the more the church appeals to the world’s felt needs and physical deprivations, the more irrelevant it becomes to those who lack a true and saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. (Thabiti Anyabwile, The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity [2007] 244-45)

This Would be Transformationalist(izational)

Imagine if Christmas songs started this way in the eighteenth century:

Oh, the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we’ve no place to go
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Man it doesn’t show signs of stoppin’
And I brought me some corn for poppin’
The lights are turned way down low
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

When we finally kiss good-night
How I’ll hate going out in the storm
But if you really hold me tight
All the way home I’ll be warm

And the fire is slowly dying
And, my dear, we’re still good-bye-ing
But as long as you’d love me so
Let it snow, let it snow, and snow

When we finally kiss good-night
How I’ll hate going out in the storm
But if you’d really grab me tight
All the way home I’ll be warm

Oh the fire is slowly dying
And, my dear, we’re still goodbye-ing
But as long as you’d love me so
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Then, two hundred years later, most English-speakers were singing (or hearing in the convenience story, for example) this:

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

That would be something on the order of taking a song with reference only to the affects of a holiday and giving them serious Christian significance.

Why, though, does transformationalism so invariably go the other way? Leigh Schmidt had a theory. It was commerce and no one did it better than (sort of) New School Presbyterian, John Wanamaker, founder and owner of Philadelphia’s great department store, Wanamaker’s (now Macy’s):

The store’s holiday slogan in the 1950s was “Christmas Isn’t Christmas without a Day at Wanamaker’s,” and the slogan contained a grain of ethnographic description along with its advertising hype. A Catholic nun and schoolteacher, for example, wrote warmly to the store in 1950: “I made a special trip, as many of us do, just to ‘see Wanamaker’s.'” These excursions to behold the Grand Court each year at the holidays had become, she said, part of her “Christmas ritual.” (167)

Schmidt added:

For more than a century, the American marketplace has displayed a striking capacity for consecration at Christmas. Christian symbols have been repeatedly brought into the public square and made a matter of public recognition through commercial institutions. . . . At no other time in the year have the tensions over religious pluralism been more evident: Christmas has been set up as an all-embracing cultural celebration often with only passing sensitivity to those whom the holiday marginalizes. (169)

That was 1996.

How Roman Catholicism Works

Congregationalism and Presbyterianism have their issues, but at what point do you become Sideshow Bob, repeatedly stepping on the rakes, handles hitting you in the head, groaning in response, if you keep running the church this way?

Once the office of bishop was clearly established in the early Church as the unitary head of a diocese (a Roman administrative unit), that office was filled by someone chosen by local people and priests, then ratified by the neighboring bishops, as a sign of the unity of the Church. Even the unbaptized were eligible, as we know from the oft-told story of St. Ambrose, whom the clergy and people of Milan chose as their bishop while he was still a catechumen. The first bishop of the United States, John Carroll, was elected by the priests of Maryland and confirmed by the pope. Today, we are so used to the pope choosing our bishops for us that we think it was always that way. It wasn’t. In fact, the right of the pope to choose bishops was only settled with the 1917 Code of Canon Law, a papal document that clearly allocated that power to the holder of the papal office.

Arguably, there is some limited lay input in the selection of bishops. When a priest is being considered for appointment as bishop, the papal nuncio sends out what are called apostolic letters to a select group, which may include laypeople from the area, asking their opinion of the candidate based on some very specific questions. Since the papal nuncio does not actually know the laypeople of a diocese, he normally gets their names from the outgoing bishop, which means that the recipients of the letters are usually wealthy donors. Under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the areas of query in the apostolic letters were: Has the man ever said anything about birth control, abortion, married priests, female priests, the remarriage of divorced Catholics, same-sex marriage? These questions reveal the biases that gave us so many culture-warrior bishops under those popes. Since the election of Pope Francis, the questions focus more on pastoral concerns. But most of the letters still tend to go to influential (i.e. wealthy) people.

Apart from these letters, there is no other lay input into the choice of bishops. The system is still pretty much an old boys’ network. Each diocese in the United States is part of an ecclesiastical province—every diocese in Illinois, for example, is in the province of Chicago; every diocese in Pennsylvania is in the province of Philadelphia. At their annual provincial meetings, the bishops of each province can put the names of priests they favor on a list of potential candidates for bishop. This is called the provincial list, and every so often the bishops update it. When there is a need for a diocesan or auxiliary bishop in the province, the papal nuncio begins the hunt by looking at the candidates on the provincial list. Laypeople do not get to put names on the provincial lists. And the papal nuncio is not even bound by the provincial list: it is only a starting point in putting together his list of potential candidates. On his own initiative, the nuncio may add the names of priests from other provincial lists around the country, or names that aren’t on provincial lists, to create the list of candidates that he sends to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome.

The Congregation for Bishops, currently headed by Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada, has thirty or so members, including cardinals who work at the Vatican, plus cardinals and bishops from around the world. The congregation vets the nuncio’s list (called a terna because it has three names on it) and may add different names before sending it to the pope. An American bishop (usually a cardinal) who is a member of the Congregation for Bishops has inordinate influence on who becomes a bishop in the United States. McCarrick’s appointment required no consultation with the body of clergy of New York, and no consultation with the body of the laity, beyond those few apostolic letters.

After receiving the terna, the pope can accept it and select a name from it; he can reject it entirely and ask the congregation for a new terna, with names on it that he suggests; or he can ignore the terna completely and just choose his own man.

That’s the system. Here is how bad apples like McCarrick circulate:

His first appointment as bishop was as an auxiliary in his home archdiocese of New York in 1977, where he had been serving as secretary to Cardinal Terence Cooke since 1971. Cardinal Cooke, with the consent of the other bishops of the province of New York, had his secretary’s name placed on the provincial list. When the apostolic delegate, Archbishop Jean Jadot, went looking for names for a terna for auxiliary bishop of New York, there was McCarrick on the provincial list. The Vatican report says that between 1968, when McCarrick was first considered for auxiliary bishop, until 1977, when he was appointed, fifty-two apostolic letters were sent out, mostly to bishops and priests in the New York area, suggesting that very few apostolic letters were sent to laypeople. With his limited investigation complete, Jadot placed McCarrick’s name on the terna that he sent to Rome. The Congregation for Bishops did its vetting, the list went to Pope Paul VI (who probably had a conversation or two with Cardinal Cooke), and McCarrick was chosen. His appointment required no consultation with the body of clergy of New York, and no consultation with the body of the laity, beyond those few apostolic letters. It mostly required Cardinal Cooke’s patronage.