Constantine as Mr. Rogers

Remember when Presbyterians used to confess this about the civil magistrate?

The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God. (Confession of Faith 23.3)

Of course, imagining Donald Trump presiding over the General Assembly of the PCA might prompt chuckles (moderating debate with Roberts’ Rules, winding up the woke commissioners, Trump supporters’ embarrassment). But even giving “good” presidents this kind of power is precisely why American Presbyterians revised the Confession (at least one reason). The Congregationalist, Barack Obama moderating a General Assembly? The United Methodist, George W. Bush? The Roman Catholic, John F. Kennedy? I don’t think so!

But even in a secular United States, Americans have trouble abandoning the idea of a president’s moral authority. Even those who believe in total depravity struggle with expecting too much of POTUS. Here’s one fairly recent foray into the topic of presidents’ morality at National Public Radio. Surprise, it started with St. Abe:

While Americans often take the idea of the president as a moral leader for granted, Barbara Perry, a presidential historian in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, says she has traced this concept back to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in 1863.

The North and South were divided in the middle of the Civil War, and Lincoln sought to bring the country together by pointing to our common heritage, Perry says.

“He points to the fact that our common heritage is that our forefathers came upon this continent and created a new nation, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” Perry tells NPR’s Audie Cornish. “To me it is the ultimate presidential speech of unification, grief, calming — but also uplifting and inspirational.”

What exactly is moral about social unity, grief over soldiers’ deaths, calm reassurance, uplift, and inspiration? That’s a pretty low bar (not low enough for Trump).

“The president is not always successful in the persuasion, in terms of policy outcomes,” Perry says, “but if he can be successful in at least calming and soothing the nation and showing us a way forward — that someday perhaps we will reach the policy point, as we did with President Kennedy and the ’64 Civil Rights Act — he will have been successful.”

So what, ultimately, is the responsibility of a president in critical moments? Perry says the president primarily serves to comfort the American people in times of crisis. We look to the president as a father figure.

“The president is the very first symbol of American government that children comprehend,” she says. “The president, especially in the modern era, comes into our homes — first by radio, then television, now through all sorts of electronic gadgetry — and so we think of him as part of our life. And that’s why it’s so important for him to model the proper behavior for us.”

The only way this makes sense for Christians is to have two standards, one for Christians, another for citizens. The United States relies on conduct that is outwardly moral in some sense. But that is a far cry from the Confession:

Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others; yet because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith, nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word, nor to a right end, the glory of God; they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God. (Confession of Faith, 13.7)

A president’s moral authority, accordingly, should proceed from true faith, obedience to God’s word, and an aim to give God the glory.

And yet, we have many Americans who expect presidents to be moral at a time when Christians have been “engaged” in politics in a direct way for at least a generation. You might think that a Christian perspective would reduce expectations for a presidential morality. It is exactly the reverse. Many American who have made a living by flouting conventional standards (think Hollywood celebrities) now have no trouble echoing Jerry Falwell, Sr.

If only Mencken were alive to see this show.

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The Death of Evangelicalism

At the end of her longish piece on evangelicals and politics in Texas, Elizabeth Bruenig asks this:

Is there a way to reverse hostilities between the two cultures in a way that might provoke a truce? It is hard to see. Is it even possible to return to a style of evangelical politics that favored “family values” candidates and a Billy Graham-like engagement with the world, all with an eye toward revival and persuasion? It is hard to imagine.

Or was a truly evangelical politics — with an eye toward cultural transformation — less effective than the defensive evangelical politics of today, which seems focused on achieving protective accommodations against a broader, more liberal national culture? Was the former always destined to collapse into the latter? And will the evangelical politics of the post-Bush era continue to favor the rise of figures such as Trump, who are willing to dispense with any hint of personal Christian virtue while promising to pause the decline of evangelical fortunes — whatever it takes? And if hostilities can’t be reduced and a detente can’t be reached, are the evangelicals who foretell the apocalypse really wrong?

The either/or implied in these questions, a religion of transformation, one that would make America great because Christian, versus a religion at odds with the culture but looking for non-mainstream ways of preserving it (the Benedict option as it were), is what the leaders of Big Evangelicalism had not at all considered. The Tim Kellers, Russell Moores, and Al Mohlers of the world really did seem to think that Protestants could find some help or encouragement from cultural engagement with political leaders. They also seemed to think that the rest of the Protestant world was on board. They had no idea that some American Protestants saw engagement as fruitless, and possibly only beneficial for those who had access to the engaged.

The old evangelical “paradigm,” the one that began around 1950, is done. Stick a fork in it. What will emerge is not at all clear. But after Trump as POTUS, it is easier for many to see that the Reagans, Bushes, and Obamas of the political class were no more interested in the cultural engagers than the real-estate tycoon turned POTUS is. The Religious Right’s aims were so many fumes left over from mainline Protestantism’s cultural engagement. It is now time to think about Protestantism on the cultural margins.

To her credit, Bruenig understands that.

Still Confused about Christian Nationalism

The folks at The Witness used the anniversary of the 2017 Charlottesville protests to re-publish the Charlottesville Declaration, an appeal to American churches to repent of and oppose racism. Here is an excerpt:

Now is the time for the Church to again be the moral compass for this nation. Now is the time for a prophetic, Spirit-led remnant to bear credible “word and deed” witness to the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As in the generation that preceded us, we especially call upon those born-again disciples who still cherish the authority of Scripture and the enablement of the Spirit. We declare that old time religion is still good enough for us in this new era, religion that provides us a full-orbed Gospel of evangelism and activism. May we be salt and light witnesses against the kingdom of darkness, knowing that we war not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)).

To this end, we call upon white leaders and members of the Evangelical church to condemn in the strongest terms the white supremacist ideology that has long existed in the church and our society. Nothing less than a full-throated condemnation can lead to true reconciliation in the Lord’s body.

According to John Fea, Christian nationalism looks something like this:

The most extreme Christian nationalists create political platforms focused on restoring, renewing, and reclaiming America in such a way that privileges evangelical Christianity. Many of these extreme Christian nationalists may also be described as “dominionists” because they want to take “dominion” over government, culture, economic life, religion, the family, education, and the family. Christian nationalists of all varieties are marked by their unwillingness or failure to articulate a vision of American life defined by pluralism.

As a political movement, Christian nationalism is defined by a fear that America’s Christian identity is eroding, a belief that the pursuit of political power is the way to “win back” America, and a nostalgia for a Christian nation that probably never existed in the first place.

It looks like the Charlottesville Declaration insists that the United States conform to the gospel. Its drafters and signers also exhibit a fear that the nation’s Christian identity is, if not eroding, not sufficiently evident.

So why don’t those opposed to Christian nationalism also oppose The Witness’ Christian nationalism?

Imagine if this reporter read the Nashville Statement on gay marriage and wrote about a grassroots movement to preserve heteromarriage:

Article 1
WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.

WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.

Article 2
WE AFFIRM that God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.

WE DENY that any affections, desires, or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse before or outside marriage; nor do they justify any form of sexual immorality.

Article 3
WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.

WE DENY that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.

On it goes for eleven more points.

What is worth noticing is that the Nasvhille Statement is not nationalist. It begins by talking about the West, never mentions the United States, and comes in French, Dutch, Japanese, and German versions.

But it is the sort of statement that some who oppose Christian nationalism refused to sign (as did I). Some evangelicals say the statement is “theology for the age of Trump,” others say it’s a “disaster.” But these same critics can’t see any indication of Christian nationalism in a statement that expects the United States to conform to Christian norms on race. I don’t suppose it has anything to do with calculating evangelicalism in relation to Trump. If so, that’s also a Christian version of nationalism since it lets political necessity shape Christian witness.

The lesson seems to be:

It is wrong to say America is a Christian nation when the nation is not Christian.

It is right to say America should be a Christian nation when the nation is not Christian.

Pastor POTUS and Mass Shootings

Some bloggers claim to give you historical perspective, and others (like mmmmmmeeeeeEEEEE) simply cut and paste:

In the 19th century, presidents had little involvement in crisis response and disaster management, for both technological and constitutional reasons. Their influence was limited technologically because the country lacked the communications capabilities needed to notify the president in a timely manner when disaster struck hundreds of miles away. Even when the telegraph and later the telephone entered the equation, the nation still lacked the mass media needed to provide the American people with real-time awareness of far-flung events. Naturally, this affected the political call for presidents to involve themselves in local crises.

Then there were the constitutional reasons. In the 19th century, there was a bipartisan consensus that responding to domestic disasters was simply not a responsibility of the commander in chief. In the late 1800s, both Democrat Grover Cleveland and Republican Benjamin Harrison made clear that they did not see local disaster response as a federal responsibility. Cleveland vetoed funding appropriated by Congress to relieve drought-stricken Texas farmers in 1887 for this reason. And Harrison told the victims of the Johnstown flood in 1889 that responding to the disaster, which killed more than 2,000 people, was the governor’s responsibility.

That may be the federal government equivalent of the spirituality of the church: POTUS has limited means for specific ends.

But what about the twentieth-century presidency?

The Austin shooting would remain the deadliest in the nation’s history for 18 years. (In order to abide by a standard definition of “mass shooting,” the following addresses those events identified by the Los Angeles Times in a compilation of mass shootings in the U.S. since 1984.) In July 1984, during Ronald Reagan’s first term as president, a gunman killed 21 people at a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, California. Unlike Johnson, Reagan did not say anything publicly about the shooting. In fact, a search by the New York Times revealed that “[t]he Times did not report any comment from the administration of President Ronald Reagan. His public papers show no statements on the subject in the days following.” McDonald’s suspended its own commercials following the incident, and in this there appears to be some indication of Reagan’s approach to these kinds of matters. When the Tylenol poisonings took place in Chicago in 1982, Reagan had also stood back, letting Johnson & Johnson take the lead in the response. Reagan appears to have been of the view that local tragedies should be handled at the local level, deferring to private-sector entities, when appropriate, to handle problems.

Reagan also appears to have remained quiet after the other two mass shootings during his presidency, one in Oklahoma and one in California. The 1986 Edmond, Oklahoma, shooting appears to be the first one in which a disgruntled post-office employee was the killer, the start of an unfortunate trend of about half a dozen of these shootings that would inspire the phrase “going postal.” Similarly, Reagan’s successor and former vice president, George H. W. Bush, also generally avoided making statements about the four mass shootings during his administration. A January 1989 shooting at an elementary school in Stockton, California, which took place in the last days of Reagan’s tenure, did contribute to a decision early in the Bush administration to issue a ban on the importation of what the New York Times described as “semiautomatic assault rifles.”

Then Bill Clinton turned POTUS into the griever-in-chief:

On a clear spring day, two Colorado high-school students set out to methodically shoot classmates, murdering 13 and then killing themselves. This event was too big and too horrific for a radio address or a brief visit with some of the survivors in another city. Instead, Clinton went to Colorado the next month, just before the Columbine commencement. While there, he gave what appears to be the first major presidential address in reaction to a mass-shooting event. In front of 2,000 people, and joined by First Lady Hillary Clinton, the president told the moving story of a talented young African-American man from his hometown in Arkansas who had died too young. At the funeral, the young man’s father had said, “His mother and I do not understand this, but we believe in a God too kind ever to be cruel, too wise ever to do wrong, so we know we will come to understand it by and by.”

During the speech, Clinton made a number of noteworthy points. First, he recognized that these kinds of shootings were becoming a recurring phenomenon: “Your tragedy, though it is unique in its magnitude, is, as you know so well, not an isolated event.” He also noted that tragedy potentially brings opportunity, saying, “We know somehow that what happened to you has pierced the soul of America. And it gives you a chance to be heard in a way no one else can be heard.” At the same time, Clinton warned of the dangers of hatred: “These dark forces that take over people and make them murder are the extreme manifestation of fear and rage with which every human being has to do combat.” Finally, he expanded on his violence/values dichotomy, exhorting the crowd to “give us a culture of values instead of a culture of violence.” Clinton closed with the story of jailed South African dissident Nelson Mandela, who managed to overcome hatred and become the leader of his country.

All in all, it was a vintage Clinton performance — feeling the pain of the audience, highlighting the importance of values, and trying to bring the nation together in a shared enterprise.

What about Barack Obama and Donald Trump? So far, both have set records:

It is far too soon to know if the Trump administration will surpass the Obama administration’s tragic record of 24 mass shootings in two terms, but Trump’s presidency has already witnessed the worst mass shooting in American history. On October 1, 2017, a 64-year-old man — quite old compared to the profiles of other mass shooters — killed 58 people before killing himself at a country-music festival in Las Vegas.

For the record, the number of mass shootings under the previous presidents runs like this:

Johnson 1
Reagan 3
Bush (I) 4
Clinton 8
Bush (II) 8
Obama 24

That looks like a trend but seemingly 2017 changed everything.

Soldiers Who Die

This is a re-post from another website. Today seems as good a day as any to copy and paste.

________________

Alasdair MacIntyre complained about the modern nation-state almost 25 years ago in ways that foreshadowed some of today’s antagonism to nationalism. He wrote:

The modern nation-state, in whatever guise, is a dangerous and unmanageable institution, presenting itself on the one hand as a bureaucratic supplier of goods and services, which is always about to, but never actually does, give its clients value for money, and on the other as a repository of sacred values, which from time to time invites one to lay down one’s life on its behalf. As I have remarked elsewhere, it is like being asked to die for the telephone company. Alasdair MacIntyre, “A Partial Response to My Critics

Michael Brendan Dougherty doesn’t exactly address nationalism but instead responds to a New York Times video that makes loyalty to nation sound like a piece of human existence from a primitive time:

The video …constantly invokes borders, for a reason: To make nationality sound silly. It indeed would be dumb to base your identity “just based on borders,” but in fact the relationship is the other way around. The identity is based on a shared homeland, or territory, along with shared law. National loyalty makes possible the kind of self-sacrifice that is necessary for living in peace with strangers. And in fact, the notable thing about national loyalty isn’t the times when, aggravated, it motivates us in war. War was very common before modern nationalism. Much more notable is the everyday peace and neighborliness that national loyalty fosters between people who may not share a tribe or a religious creed. Without nationality, we may still be trying to settle the wars of religion. With it, we were able to contribute to common treasuries whereby we provide for one other regardless of our ethnic background and religion. The border is just what you draw around this home.

The Times chooses Rocky IV to belittle its subject as well. It is a silly movie, which deploys the idea of national conflict in a heavy-handed way. But its effect “on our brains” is not in itself insidious, but commonplace and even comforting. National legends and patriotic songs exist to bind our emotions and our imaginations, to our national homes and to the people that share them. Sometimes, yes, they inspire a hatred of those who might work to destroy them. The most obvious alternative to binding our emotions to our national homes isn’t some higher peace. It’s something baser, as we’ll see.

Dougherty is valuable for countering journalists and government officials who fail to recognize the ways in which nation-states have preserved order, stability, law, and prosperity more than they have also sent citizens to war for some time ignoble reasons.

But I still wonder about MacIntyre’s point. Is dying for nation (or country) truly noble? More personally, would I be willing to fight for the sake of the United States? I can conceive of dying to save my wife or being willing to die if someone demanded that I deny Christ. But the nation?

Two pieces of Americana give this question weight. One is the Stephen Spielberg movie, The Post, which isn’t great and elides many of the important questions it raises about journalism during a war and a newspaper’s conflicted interests to turn a profit, beat a competitor to the story, and report for the good of the nation (truth and social stability). But one scene was particularly poignant, the one where Katherine Graham, the paper’s owner, confronts Robert McNamara, one of the chief strategists for the Kennedy and Johnson administrations in conducting the war in Vietnam, to ask what he knew and when he knew it. Once the Pentagon Papers come out and the public knew that many in the Johnson administration never thought victory was possible, Graham wants to know how McNamara could avoid saying something when her son (who survived) went to fight in Vietnam. Simply as a friend of the family, McNamara could (and should?) have let his friend know that this war was flawed. But he did not. The question Graham thinks but never asks is “would you have let my son die for such a foolish war?”

Another war movie that avoids this point is The Fighting Sullivans, a 1944 film about the five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, who all died when a Japanese torpedo sank the ship on which they were serving in the Pacific during World War II. The movie turns the boys into heroes, examples of bravery, fine, upstanding citizens. The book about the movie, the family, and the town by Bruce Kuklick, The Fighting Sullivans, shows how Hollywood was guilty of hype, the Sullivan family was not as reputable as the movie portrayed them, and that the town of Waterloo was almost always ambivalent about turning the city into a monument to honor a family that was a challenge.

But Kuklick scores his biggest point when he writes in the conclusion:

10 percent of the film conveys the most important fact entailed by the call to duty in even a democratic nation in a good war. The five brothers surrendered their lives to the state. FULL STOP. For those who lose their children in war, no closure exists. FULL STOP. Such deaths defeat families. FULL STOP. It is hard to combine the sentimentality of 90 percent of the film with the shocking 10 percent. (172)

Which leaves us with MacIntyre’s question. The United States may not be great. It may only be pretty, pretty, pretty good. But even if it were great, is that good enough to sacrifice your life?

Can Your Two Kingdom Theology Do This?

Remember when anti-2kers put the “R” before 2k to assert that two-kingdom theology is radical? A recent Twitter thread keeps that complaint alive:

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The odd thing is the way critics will leap to connect dots between ideas and events (like the shooting in Poway that involved an OPC church member) and never read the sources closest to the congregation and its pastor. Here is a paragraph from the book on covenant theology that the pastor of that OPC congregation wrote:

The doctrine of the new covenant guards us against triumphalism. The new covenant shows us that the kingdom of God is no longer identified with any geopolitical nation on earth. This is particularly critical to grasp in American culture, where there is a tendency to confuse the kingdom of God with the United States. Americas, however, is not in covenant with God as a nation. It had no representative on Mount Sinai. The only nation in covenant with God is God’s new global nation, that is, his new covenant church. “But you are a chosen race,” says the apostle Peter, “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). In the new covenant, the church is no longer limited to the physical descendants of Abraham but is made up of all the nations of the earth, people of every race, color, and language. While the old covenant was an era of driving the nations out of God’s holy land, the new covenant is an era of believers living side by side with unbelievers in patience and love. Today is the day of salvation, not judgment. God’s judgment is delayed until his return. (148)

That is not radical. It is moderate in the sense that it compels Christians to recognize that they live this side of glory in societies with non-Christians. It also reduces expectations for the Christian or moral capacities of a nation and its government. It is precisely an understanding of covenant theology and the gospel that contra Jemar Tisby and Timothy Cho is fundamentally at odds with white nationalism. There is nothing nationalist about it.

But the critics who for years have wailed and nashed teeth over 2k’s capitulation to secular society and “neutral” government are precisely those who wanted a nation with a Christian identity. Even those people who protest the United States’ long history of racism, want the nation to become Christian in the way it oversees and regulates race relations. Believe it or not, that understanding of church and state does not make a lot of room for non-Christians.

But 2k is radical. I get it.

If You Think 2k is Dangerous, Imagine 1k

John Fea is upset with Jerry Falwell the younger for adopting a 2k position to defend his support for Donald Trump. Here is what Falwell said:

It’s such a distortion of the teachings of Jesus to say that what he taught us to do personally — to love our neighbors as ourselves, help the poor — can somehow be imputed on a nation. Jesus never told Caesar how to run Rome. He went out of his way to say that’s the earthly kingdom, I’m about the heavenly kingdom and I’m here to teach you how to treat others, how to help others, but when it comes to serving your country, you render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. It’s a distortion of the teaching of Christ to say Jesus taught love and forgiveness and therefore the United States as a nation should be loving and forgiving, and just hand over everything we have to every other part of the world. That’s not what Jesus taught. You almost have to believe that this is a theocracy to think that way, to think that public policy should be dictated by the teachings of Jesus.

I am not sure I trust Mr. Falwell to capture all the intricacies of 2k political theology, but his rendering here seems quite sensible. You can have a theocracy of the Old Testament or a theocracy of the Sermon on the Mount. Modern sentimentality inclines more people to favor implementing New Testament laws than Israel’s political and civil codes (ouch!). But either way, if you require the government and rulers to conform to the Bible, you are a theonomist. Mind you, conducting war’s in God’s name or abolishing the sale of alcohol are not items you want on your resume if you are a government-should-conform-to-Christianity advocate, which John Fea is every time he uses the Bible, not the Constitution, against Trump.

So why is Falwell’s view dangerous? Fea explains:

Luther’s Two Kingdom belief, as I understand it, is more nuanced and complex than what Falwell Jr. makes it out to be. (I am happy to be corrected here by Lutheran theologians). In fact, I don’t think Luther would have recognized Falwell Jr.’s political theology.

That really doesn’t explain why Falwell is dangerous.

Turn’s out, what’s dangerous is a 2k person who won’t condemn Trump and that’s why John looks for help from a Lutheran who explains that 2k allows you fret about presidents like Trump:

Lutherans must avoid the mistake of the Reformation leaders who failed to cry out against the sins of monarchs. We must exhort all “sword-bearers,” that is, all agents of the state and public servants, from schoolteachers to the president, to live up to the demands of their vocations. Our Lutheran forefathers failed in this task; all the more reason Lutherans today must not.

Conservatives who fear that President Trump may be more like the decadent Belshazzar, feasting while the kingdom falls, than like the liberating Cyrus must pray that Lutherans remember the Two Kingdoms Doctrine. How we discharge the duties of citizenship—whether by accepting the creeping authoritarianism of the last two decades, or by raising our voices on behalf of the laws and democratic norms of our country—is a question of moral conscience, suitable for confession, and demanding repentance if we err.

Even if Lutherans call down God’s wrath on Trump, though, it’s still a judgment call, a question of moral conscience. It does not permit the kind of condemnation that John cites approvingly from Ruth Graham:

At one point, reporter Joe Heim asked Falwell whether there is anything Trump could do that would endanger his support from Falwell and other evangelical leaders. He answered, simply, “No.” His explanation was a textbook piece of circular reasoning: Trump wants what’s best for the country, therefore anything he does is good for the country. There’s something almost sad about seeing this kind of idolatry articulated so clearly. In a kind of backhanded insult to his supporters, Trump himself once said that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” without losing his base. It’s rare to see a prominent supporter essentially admit that this was true.

A reporter for a secular magazine used the I-word? Idolatry? Why that’s a biblical idea, even in the Old Testament, the same portion of Scripture that calls for the execution idolaters.

Why John Fea doesn’t find the use of that word dangerous, I do not know (though again Trump explains a lot). Falwell’s point is that we should not expect the United States to conform to the rules for church members. Among the errors that churches try to avoid (I wish they did it more) are idolatry and blasphemy. But in the United States, thanks to political liberalism, errors like blasphemy and idolatry have rights, or people who worship false gods receive protection from the government to do so.

Once upon a time, Americans thought dangerous governments that required one form of worship and denied rights to people of other faiths. To see Falwell, son of a man who regularly blurred the kingdoms, recognize that the church has different norms from the state is not dangerous but a breakthrough.

Evangelicals Have Been At This Longer than Woke Millennials

Eric Weinstein, of Intellectual Dark Web fame (Bret’s brother), recently tweeted how novel the ideas and language of social justice warriors are:

But for evangelicals, “social concern” has been around for almost forty-five years:

The Lausanne Congress, sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, drew 2,700 peopple from around the globe — at the time the largest-ever gathering of evangelical Christian leaders.  The Assembled believers — ministers and lay people, racially diverse, the vast majority of them men — would be part of a singular moment in postwar evangelicalism.

Like all of the major presenters, [Rene] Padilla had pre-circulated a paper, a rather scholarly treatise on the centrality of repentance to Christian ethics. The audience was not surprise, then, to hear Padilla lecture his fellow participants at Lausanne on the sins of the evangelical church, and on its failure — their own failure  — to take seriously Jesus’s call to social action. What was remarkable was the controlled fury emanating from the stage. Padilla challenged the room to remember that Jesus had demanded that his followers confront the “darkness of the world”  But evangelicals, he pronounced, had focused so long on individual sin that they had forgotten that darkness included materialism, racism, class division, political abuses, and, quoting Reinhold Niebuhr, “collective egoism.” (Melani McAlister, The Kingdom of God Has No Borders, 85)

Of course, one way of looking at this is that evangelicals have been ever consistent in their call for social justice or social concern.

Another is that this is something that regularly repeats itself among Christians who want to immanentize the eschaton because they believe the gospel is not really relevant if it prepares someone for not the present but eternity.

And yet, if this social concern regularly repeats itself, from Walter Rauschenbusch to Rachel Held Evans, why has it accomplished so little (especially now that it has support from mainstream journalists, elite universities, and at least one of the major political parties — not to mention Silicon Valley)?

Jewish Americans and Thanksgiving

While some are wondering how to include native Americans in this day’s preparations and festivities, David Swartz reminded readers that Southerners were not so comfortable with a holiday rooted in New England’s heritage:

In his book The First Thanksgiving, he writes, “White southerners associated the holiday with New England, and that made it suspect in their eyes.” If he’s right, sectional rivalry explains why these old articles from Kentucky seem so strange and ahistorical, as if Thanksgiving comes out of nowhere. Southern narratives eliminated Pilgrims from the holiday’s history because they were from the North.

Indeed, northerners often encouraged the association of their region with antislavery. In the decades leading up to the Civil War, politicians endorsed the abolition of slavery in their Thanksgiving proclamations. Antislavery societies sometimes took up collections at Thanksgiving services. Abolitionists from New England connected the “Pilgrim Spirit” to John Brown’s raid in Virginia.

One frustrated writer in Richmond, Virginia, complained that “it is a common notion of New England, that it is the hub of the whole creation, the axis of the entire universe, and that when it thanks God that it is not as other men, everybody else is doing the same. . . . What a race these sycophants are!”

When I think of Americans who are ambivalent about Thanksgiving, my thoughts run to Jewish Americans. Barry Levenson captured the awkwardness in Avalon:

Then Christopher Guest ran into trouble with making a movie called “Home for Purim” that needed to be rebranded as “Home Thanksgiving.”  Why?  Because marketing a Jewish holiday movie is impossible:

Leave it Woody Allen to be the Jewish-American most comfortable with the Yankee holiday in “Hannah and Her Sisters”:

Forget football. See a Jewish-American movie about Thanksgiving.

Selective 2k

Readers may remember an exchange between John Fea and me about religion and politics from last summer. In the course of that exchange, Fea quoted favorably from President Obama’s welcome to Pope Francis:

You call on all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to put the “least of these” at the center of our concern. You remind us that in the eyes of God our measure as individuals, and as societies, is not determined by wealth or power or station or celebrity, but by how well we hew to Scripture’s call to lift up the poor and the marginalized, to stand up for justice and against inequality, and to ensure that every human being is able to live in dignity – because we are all made in the image of God.

You remind us that “the Lord’s most powerful message” is mercy. That means welcoming the stranger with empathy and a truly open heart – from the refugee who flees war torn lands, to the immigrant who leaves home in search of a better life. It means showing compassion and love for the marginalized and the outcast, those who have suffered, and those who seek redemption.

This is a blatant effort to use Christianity for political ends. Because Fea found it agreeable to his own understanding of government, he wrote that if such views made him a Christian nationalist, “then call me a Christian nationalist.”

But when Mike Horton wrote critically about the hobby horse of Fea, the so-called “court evangelicals,” Fea liked the kind of 2k that had originally led me to call him a Christian nationalist. According to Horton:

Liberal and conservative, Catholic and Protestant, have courted political power and happily allowed themselves to be used by it. This always happens when the church confuses the kingdom of Christ with the kingdoms of this present age. Jesus came not to jump-start the theocracy in Israel, much less to be the founding father of any other nation. Even during his ministry, two disciples—James and John—wanted to call down judgment on a village that rejected their message, but “Jesus turned to them and rebuked them” (Luke 9:54–55). He is not a mascot for a voting bloc but the savior of the world. He came to forgive sins and bring everlasting life, to die and rise again so that through faith in him we too can share in his new creation.

Sorry, but President Obama was confusing the kingdom of Christ with the United States when he welcomed the pope. John Fea apparently suffers from the same confusion when approving Obama and then approving Horton.

It’s hard keeping selectivity straight.