Don’t Take the Bait

Lots more hue and cry doom and gloom about President Obama’s “letter” (is that have the same authority as an apostolic exhortation?) that instructs all public schools to make bathroom provisions for transgender students. I’m not sure how the president has the stomach for this kind of helicopter presidency when he has time for stop-and-chats with Marc Maron and Marilyn Robinson. Is he really prepared to send federal troops into schools — a la University of Alabama under George Wallace — that don’t comply. If the IRS lets $20 billion get away every year in unclaimed, unpaid, or fake returns (I hear), what’s a bathroom or two to the cause of transgender rights? Heck, is President Obama going to write a letter that specifies the most environmentally friendly way for bathroom users to dry their hands (in the light of climate change; has transclimate as an identity dawned on anyone, a hot planet trapped inside a cold earth?).

But culture warrior Christians feel embattled and are itching for a chance to show the state is tyrannical, wicked, and liberal. Denny Burk’s blood is boiling anyway:

The Obama administration is announcing its intent to coerce through force of law every public school to accept this. He expects your local school to allow boys to use bathroom and shower facilities with girls and vice versa. So long as the child’s parents are willing to go along with their child’s new identity, the school has to let students into the bathroom and locker room of the opposite sex.

This directive is jaw-dropping. The Obama administration doesn’t care whether the local or state school system supports such a move. It doesn’t care whether parents want male students showering with the female students or vice versa. . . .

What is going on here? The answer is very simple. President Obama feels the wind at his back in advocating LGBT rights. Gay marriage is now the law of the land, and gay people are now serving openly in the military. Now President Obama is turning to the “T” in LGBT, and he’s making bathrooms and locker rooms the issue. As the Attorney General has made clear, those who refuse to go along will be treated like Jim Crow bigots.

This radical directive is a heavy-handed, unconstitutional overreach in order to force Americans to pretend that some boys are girls and some girls are boys. It is absurd and wrong. And I wonder if this may not be a bridge too far even for people who are otherwise liberal. Are fathers going to be okay with their daughters undressing in locker rooms where boys can see them? No matter how much one may support President Obama, what dad would go along with this?

Has Prof. Burk considered that a school principal could ignore this letter in much the same way that U.S. drivers ignore speed limits? And what if conservative pundits also decided to ignore the letter and not push the indignant button. After reading recently Andrew Hartman’s book on the culture wars, I tempted to think that conservatives overreacted to matters (like Serano’s Piss Christ) and by protesting gave such transgressive displays more weight than they would have had had no protesters shown up — like millions were going to see Serano’s exhibit without the politics of self-righteousness to motivate them.

If only Kim Davis would come back and lead the charge against bathroom reforms. That’ll work.

Now More than Ever We Need Women to Shoot!

So imagine the following scenario:

You are at a holiday office party. Conversations are flowing as swimmingly as the beverages. You notice out of the corner of your eye a person who seems to be bulkier than usual. You look over and see this person taking off a back pack and removing from it an automatic hand gun. He starts to shoot. Your wife, who is registered for “open carry,” prefers to keep her Sig Sauer P220 in her purse. She proceeds to remove her handgun and shoots the gunman just as he fires his first two rounds. Her shot does not kill but it does incapacitate the assailant. You call the police. The party breaks up but no one dies.

Consider the scenario that Harry Reeder proposes so oddly close chronologically to the shootings in Southern California:

It’s late at night. I hear the glass in the door downstairs breaking, the door opening and then footsteps. I turn to my wife and say “Honey, someone is breaking into our home downstairs and since I know you are willing, why don’t you go downstairs and see if you can overpower him? By the way if he maims you or kills you don’t worry! I have two daughters who are brave enough to follow you and risk their life to protect our home while I remain here safe.”

Reeder uses this case to argue against women in the military:

The unbelievable reality is that the men of this nation now allow politically correct elected officials in general and a President in particular (along with the elite self-appointed culture-shapers pontificating while shielded in the media and the academy) to institute policies which send our wives and daughters, not into the military to use their unique skills and abilities to enhance our armed forces, but into combat units to protect our Home(land) while they (and we) remain safely tucked away in our rooms. Forget for the moment the obvious arguments of how ignoring gender differences will inevitably force the adoption of inadequate training regimens, lowered physical and combat readiness standards, the redefining of combat protocols, inevitable sexual mayhem and a loss of combat unit efficiency which will cost lives (documented by a Marine Corp. study- more on this in Pt.2). Yes, I am aware of the claim that combat zones are now defined differently. But hand to hand combat, dragging a 200+ lb. comrade to safety, carrying 85 lb. support equipment, etc. has not and will not change.

But why couldn’t the first scenario work to argue for women in the military? If women may carry weapons for self-defense, how far removed is that from defending the homeland? And if women can defend themselves and their kin here in the United States, why not overseas (one reason is that we should not have so many troops overseas, but that’s a different question)?

But arguably the biggest question of all, why do you bring up biblical arguments against women serving in the military now when many Americans feel threatened by terrorists?

Timing is everything.

Telling Fibs about Saving Lives

The Lutheran Satire pastor, Hans Fiene, is the latest to defend David Daleiden’s deceit. Thankfully, he does not mention journalism. Unthankfully, he does mention fascist Germans:

The lie of the CMP is, therefore, the obliging lie — seeking to protect the lives of our littlest neighbors. It’s the same lie told by people who say to a frothing-at-the-mouth husband, “sorry, I haven’t seen her,” when his battered wife is safely asleep in their guest bedroom. It’s the same lie told by law enforcement officers who do undercover work to protect children at risk of sexual abuse or citizens at risk of gang-related violence. And if Tollefsen wants to compare the actions of the CMP with a figure from World War II, Truman and his decision to let thousands upon thousands of women and children die to end the war is far from an appropriate candidate. Rather, he’d find a much better fit in someone like Irena Sendler, the Polish nurse who deceived the German government by producing fake IDs for Jewish children in order to save them from the Holocaust.

Actually, not. PP officials were not asking Daleiden where the pregnant women were so they could abort and sell the parts. He was there not about the taking of life but the sale of abortions’ remains. If government agencies defund Planned Parenthood, the lives of unborn babies will still be taken by those providing abortions. Maybe PP’s rates will go up. Maybe they’ll take a hit in public relations. But abortion remains legal and these videos or the lies Daleiden told do nothing to change that.

So I’d like the analogies to be accurate. This is like Daleiden posing as a lampshade maker to meet with Nazi officials about the effects of those slaughtered in the concentration camps. His lies are all after the fact.

Meanwhile, Fiens identifies the basis for the resonance these videos have had:

We in the pro-life community don’t get many stirring victories. Granted, we see a reason to celebrate in the face of every woman who changes her mind and walks out of an abortion clinic with her child still safely in her womb. And we take comfort in the gradually declining abortion rate in America. But Roe v. Wade still stands, the most aggressively pro-abortion president in U.S. history still sleeps in the White House, and the Supreme Court still blocks implementation of state restrictions on abortions.

So when the Center for Medical Progress started releasing its string of undercover videos, most of the pro-life community felt a kind of joy we hadn’t felt in ages. Not joy over what Planned Parenthood was doing, of course, nor was it the kind of joy that wants to shout “busted!” in the face of the bamboozled enemy. Rather, the joy pro-lifers felt at the release of these videos came from the belief that maybe, just maybe, unveiling these particular horrors of the abortion industry would be enough to wake up previously indifferent Americans and start moving the wheels of justice for the unborn. Buried in the sewers of those nausea-inducing undercover videos, pro-lifers found a nugget of hope that lets us believe that a stirring victory for our cause is finally on the horizon.

That confirms my sense that these videos are pay back in the culture wars for same-sex marriage. I’m not saying such a desire for retribution is without basis (though I’m not sure it goes with turning the other cheek). But again, it would be helpful to be honest when defending dishonesty. (Is that a Christian haiku? Nah. Wrong w-w.)

Al Mohler To the Rescue

I have often thought of the PCA as Southern Baptists who sometimes baptize infants. The autonomy of PCA congregations, the convention-like atmosphere of the General Assembly, and the original southerness of the PCA are reasons for the comparison. To be fair, the OPC is likely the Presbyterian equivalent of Reformed Baptists. Our assemblies work twelve hours a day (minus meals and devotions), we take doctrine seriously, and we can be ornery about baptizing infants (just as Reformed Baptists can be tenacious about dedicating babies). The difference between the PCA and the OPC is like that between the superintendent of schools in a county outside Birmingham and a plumber who fixes toilets in the suburbs of Toledo.

If this comparison has any merit, then perhaps the most famous Calvinist in the SBC can work out what ails the PCA. Once again the theological doctors have taken out their thermometers and found the patient in need of some program either for six-pack abs or foods that counteract stress. The rest of the ecclesiastical world seems to receive these reports every five years or so. Word of encouragement to other denominations: if you’re not asking what’s broke, you’re probably okay in a church militant sense. What is curious about Bryan Chappell’s assessment and Rick Phillips’ reply is how much the culture matters to each side of the PCA.

For Chapell, the division between traditionalists and progressives breaks down precisely along culture-war lines. His desire to avoid the culture wars is precisely why the BBs confuse the PCA hipsters with 2k even though 2kers avoid the culture wars not to avoid embarrassment but for spirituality of the church reasons. Chapell writes:

The generation that is 50-plus years old was raised in a time of perceived Christian-majority culture; according to Francis Schaeffer it was the time of “Christian consensus.”

The priority of many evangelical Christians who matured in that cultural context was to mobilize this “silent majority” in order to control the religious and political processes of the nation to halt cultural erosion (e.g., Schaeffer’s “A Day of Sober Rejoicing” delivered at the General Assembly marking the RPCES’s “Joining and Receiving” with the PCA). These dynamics created a “Halt” mission for Christians of that generation. The goals: Halt abortion, pornography, drugs, promiscuity, tree huggers, socialism, liberalism, and illegal immigration.

By contrast, Christians in the generation that is 40-minus years old have never perceived themselves as a majority but always as a minority in a pluralistic culture. As a consequence, this generation’s calling is perceived not as gaining control, but as gaining credibility to deal with an already eroded culture.

The need to win a hearing for a credible faith has resulted in a “Help” mission for this generation’s church leaders. The goals: Help orphans (to counter abortion through adoption), AIDS sufferers (to win a Gospel hearing from gays and a gay-sympathetic culture), sex-trafficking victims, addicts (enslaved by chemical, gambling, gaming, body-image, or sexual brokenness), the environment (to teach the world that we are stewards of God’s creation), and poor and oppressed foreigners within our borders.

Perhaps nothing better illustrates these generational differences than the way many Christian leaders feel about major figures in prior conservative Christian movements. To mention Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Jim Dobson, James Kennedy, and Chuck Colson is to identify the heroes of the 50-plus generation. Church leaders of that generation are shocked to discover that younger leaders consider these figures exemplars of failure, representing attitudes and approaches that have led to the church’s cultural ineffectiveness.

Phillips responds:

“But we are being culturally isolated!” progressives respond! Our answer is that we are indeed, just as the Chinese Christians were culturally isolated under Maoism and as the early Christians were culturally isolated as they were marched into the Coliseum to be fed to the lions. Both of those groups ended up doing pretty well. Now, we do lament this isolation, mainly because we earnestly expect that we will soon be fed to the lions, so to speak, or at least excluded to cultural gulags. What we do not understand is why cultural persecution is a cause for cultural accommodation, as if Christ had anything to fear from Caesar or the cultural elites. The confessionalist concern is whether we will stand with our fellow courageous Christians who are being slaughtered around the world because they will not bend the knee to an imperious pagan culture and with the saints of the early church as they were urged by Christ in Revelation, or whether we will cringe before the powers of cultural elitism in the media, government, and entertainment structures. A statement like this may come across as religious arrogance, and for this we are sorry, but we simply want to join the ranks of those who conquered “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony,” not loving our lives even to death (Rev. 12:11). We want this not because we have embraced a traditionalist martyr complex but because we sincerely believe that this is the best way both to love God and to love the world.

This is not at all to say that Christian courage and reliance on divine grace are the exclusive province of the confessional wing of our church. We know that this valor is shared in all factions of the PCA. What we do not understand is how this leads to a strategy of cultural engagement in which the assumptions of a spiritually rebellious culture are embraced as an evangelistic starting point.

Parenthetically, let me pause to ask where these cultural attitudes put TKNY. If the culture is so broken (Chapell), and so hostile (Phillips), then why is it that the culture thinks so well of Redeemer Presbyterian Church? Or why has that NYC congregation to which professionals, artists, journalists, and movers and shakers in the culture — as we constantly hear — become the model for PCA church planting in North America? Would Tim Keller share either Chapell’s or Phillips’ assessment of “the culture”? Or should more pastors in the PCA join Bill Smith in the REC?

But this is where Al Mohler can help. Chapell is truly troubled by the pluralism that he sees in the United States:

Right now our eyes are not focused on pluralism as our greatest enemy. We are more focused on what others in our ranks are doing or not doing. Debates about charismatic gifts are unlikely to divide us. Discussions about the role of women will continue to marginalize us but probably will not break us. Dealing with changing sexual mores may drive our youth away but will probably not divide us. All these issues are secondary to the challenges of pluralism.

Does Chapell want to return to 14th-century Italy or 16th-century Massachusetts Bay colony? “Enemy” sounds hostile, war-like, more Benedict than Eusebius.

In effect, Phillips agrees that pluralism is a danger, whether it’s tolerating wrong views about race or sex:

Confessionalists note with concern the different strategies taken by progressives today regarding homosexuality versus our past strategy concerning sins like racism. One of the better moments in the PCA took place when our denomination boldly repudiated and rebuked racism, without seeking permission or giving apology, an action in which you and I were actively joined. On that occasion, no one complained that we were alienating the racists by speaking so forthrightly from Scripture. So why is that charge made when we seek to speak biblically regarding homosexuality and other sexual perversions? Is it because while racism is reviled by the culture, homosexuality is celebrated by the culture? Do we, then, only confront boldly those sins which the culture also hates, while accommodating those that it loves? Why would we do this? Where does this assumption come from that we must blur the Bible’s anathema of sexual perversion and concede ground as an initial stage in our witness to homosexuals?

But since Al Mohler is on THE council of the Gospel Coalition with Bryan Chapell and Tim Keller, an organization that Phillips supports, and since Al is also part of Together for the Gospel with Lig Duncan, one of Phillips’ associates among PCA conservatives, perhaps the difference between the two sides is not as great as each man thinks.

The parachurch, with help from Southern Baptists, will lead them.

Teach Us To Number Our Commandments

Cardinal Dolan thinks Roman Catholics and American culture need to recover biblical teaching on sex (finally a bishop other than the Roman one):

We rarely, if ever, speak about it. (Just ask Pope Francis! Did you see that, on his flight to Asia last week, a journalist asked him if he would condemn contraception. He replied, “Why are you always asking about that?”)

I’m not proud about the fact that we rarely speak about the sixth and ninth commandment. Why don’t we? One reason might be that, decades ago, we probably did speak way too much about it. A second might be that it’s so controversial. And a third is that we’re still so embarrassed by the sex abuse scandal that we’re gun-shy. . . .

one of our most pointed challenges, as a Church, and, for that matter, as a culture, is to regain the high ground on the nobility of God’s design, to present it credibly and fresh to ourselves, one another, and a society that has reduced sex to culture’s most popular contact sport.

Do the captains of Team Religion in America recognize that players on the team don’t even follow the same play book when it comes to counting the Decalogue?

And does the good Cardinal not see that by blurring church folks and Americans Team Religion has compromised the discipline of the Team’s players? Maybe if all churches worried more about their own members and less about the “other kind” of Americans, the results would lift the boats of the whole nation.

Postscript: meanwhile, Boniface detects in certain apologists — ahem, Mark Shea, who swims in the same hip Northwest culture that Jason and Christian (without the Callers) do — the difficulty the fellows with all the apostolic authority face even from some of their most enthusiastic supporters:

. . . this thread demonstrates some inherent problems in the neo-Cath position: To what degree will we see that alleged orthodoxy to the Church is really just a matter of supporting what is viewed as “current policy”? Is there not a problem with viewing a perennial discipline as merely “policy”? Is not the value of discipline and tradition severely downgraded. if so? And if these sorts of matters are simply the “current policy” that can change the way it changes with each American presidential administration, what tools does the Church really have to ensure discipline and continuity in the long run?

Ultimately, the neo-Cath strategy is to insist loudly that certain things can never be changed so long as the current Pontiff does not want to change them; then, when the “policy” changes with another pontiff, suggest just as loudly that such matters were never immune from change to begin with. I’m not suggesting the practical question of whether or not to admit persons with deep-seated homosexuality to the seminary is a doctrinal question or that infallibility is on the line here; I am suggesting that reasoning that the Church’s very old discipline on this matter (it goes back to Trent and before) can be seen as merely “current policy” is destructively reductionist.

In a Wilsonian Frame of Mind

That is Doug as opposed to Woodrow (to whom Mencken is giving it good and hard in my morning readings).

Our Pennsylvania correspondent sent me a piece that Doug Wilson posted about church officers who voted for President Obama:

Any evangelical leader — by which I mean someone like a minister or an elder — who voted for Obama the second time, is not qualified for the office he holds, and should resign that office. Unless and until he repents of how he is thinking about the challenges confronting our nation, he should not be entrusted with the care of souls. A shepherd who cannot identify wolves is not qualified to be a shepherd. . . .

Neither am I saying anything about the average parishioner. No doubt, he should be up to speed on biblical engagement with the issues of the day, and I would want to urge him to grow in his abilities to do so. But shepherds of God’s flock have a moral responsibility in this that is directly connected to their ability to discharge the responsibilities of their office. If a man is a pastor, and he voted for Obama in 2012, then his cultural astuteness is about as sharp as a bowling ball.

A generation later, it is easy for us to cluck our tongues at the German leaders who did not see what Hitler was doing, but it is very hard for us to see our complicity in things that are every bit as atrocious.

See, I did it. I mentioned Hitler, which is going to cause someone to appeal to Godwin’s Law. In Internet debate, according to the law, the first one to make the Nazi comparisons loses. This is apropos and funny in multiple situations. But if we live in a world in which genocide can and does occur — and we do — a supercilious appeal to Godwin when someone invokes the Holocaust when talking about Cambodia’s killing fields, or to the Rwandan slaughter, is to be too clever by half.

In Northern Ireland, that sort of assertion coming from the likes of Ian Paisley could reignite the troubles. Heck, I don’t think Doug could have gotten away with this during Woodrow’s administration. So perhaps a minister of the gospel should refrain from throwing verbal Molotov Cocktails?

But on the plus side, what a great country we live in even though Wilson is loathe to express proper gratitude. We may have Protestant ministers who are capable of Paisleyan fustigation, but Americans are loathe to shoot guns at each other for a group cause. As I write I can hear the snickers from Canada and Europe about Americans and their love and use of guns. But for a country that lacks Europe’s traditions of culture and settlement, this greatest nation on God’s green earth remains remarkably free from ethnic and religious civil war. (The real Civil War was different and may have spooked Americans from ever taking up arms against each other.)

In other words, Wilson can get away with this kind of verbal gun play because he enjoys a relatively peaceful and liberal society that gives everyone the chance to spout off (Wilson couldn’t get away with this in China or Turkey). In fact, he benefits from the full protection of the secular government that he so often denounces. Meanwhile, his denunciations are just so many words that government officials can ignore. The only things words like these break are not my Democratic neighbor’s bones but the endurance of Christians who might be better advised to live and act like they are in exile.

Who Made Doug Wilson Judge and General?

I suppose Doug Wilson thinks he won a battle since one of his posts about Duck Dynasty made it on the radar of Rush Limbaugh. The gist of it — as we’ve heard so many times from the BeeBee’s — is that if you’re not fighting the culture war the way Doug Wilson does, you’re gutless, have let your education run rough shod of your love of Jesus, and have taken vows to the church of respectability.

The need of the hour is Christian leadership that is willing to show some intelligent fight. As Chocolate Knox put it in a recent tweet, “Homo’s know what Christians believe there’s no secret, yet they get surprised every time they hear us say it. Time to lean in.”

Time to lean in. This is why I want to come back to the third point I made about this imbroglio yesterday. This whole thing makes me think it is some kind of reprise of the Chick Fil A uproar. Somebody strayed from the Appointed Way, the homolobby flexed in order to shut up a critic, middle America responded by buying so many metric tons of chicken sandwiches, and then sophisticated Christians sneered at this inadequate and “entirely predictable” and “red statey” response. . . .

So what do we need? We don’t need generals. We have that. We need generals who fight. We don’t need leadership councils. We have those. We need national leaders who fight. We don’t need pretty boy preachers. We have those. We need preachers who fight. We don’t need evangelical regiments of pajamaboys. We have that. We need fight, and we need to fight with everything we have — heart, strength, and brains. All in.

Show me your forearms. Unless there are scars all over them, then I honestly don’t want to hear your views of the inadequacy of these cultural clashes (Gal. 6:17). When the barbarians are throwing their scaling ladders against the city walls, if the only defenders at the top of those walls are Chick Fil A employees in paper hats and hot grease from the deep fryer, and rednecks with their beards and shotguns, and nobody at all there from Red Brick Memorial Reformed, Rev. Forsythe P. Snodgrass, D.Min, minister, then let us be frank. We shouldn’t blame the folks who are there.

This is, by the way, the same tactic used by the left. Unless you conceive of a woman’s freedom, or race relations, or global warming the way we do, you are a mysoginist, racist, and ignorant. Fundamentalism is the word often used to describe this kind of all-or-nothing w-w. But I think, having been reared by two of them, fundamentalists were smarter than this. At least my parents didn’t blog.

What Doug Wilson fails to see is that many other believers do fight but some of us don’t evaluate the enemies the way Wilson does. Some us actually contend with our own demons — we struggle against the flesh. Some of us also fight the principalities of this age by supporting the Christian ministry. Some of us also think that a cable television show and the star’s contract is going to amount to a hill of beans in six months, let alone two millennia.

So go ahead, Doug. Fight your battle. It’s a free country (irony noted). And I’m going to fight your inadequacy to discern the times and your capacity to distract your followers from the less obvious but more serious battles that confront the gospel. And please note. I am not fighting Phil Robertson. From some 700 miles away and not having cable television (boo hoo), I don’t know enough to evaluate Phil’s situation. (Not sure you do either.)

Postscript: Geography and denomination alert!

Wilson adds:

The contrast must not be between how unsophisticated Christians fight and how sophisticated Christians . . . what do they do? At most, they demur, with a throat-clearing caveat or two. Theologians and ecclesiastical eggheads can make merry over this kind of pop culture melee if they like. The material is there — “look at those rubes, standing against the principalities and powers with their duck calls, zz top beards, and chicken sammich haute cuisine, hold the mayo.”

But the lack of self-awareness in this criticism is staggering. These are shepherds who feed only themselves (Ezek. 34:2). When shepherds have neglected the flock for so long, and the wolves are ravaging them, and the sheep come up with some kind of strategy to defend themselves, and the shepherds sit up on the ridge, laughing at the tactical inadequacy of what the sheep are attempting, what shall we call that?

Is Doug Wilson, a CREC minister in Moscow, Idaho, feeding Phil Robertson, a professing Christian in Louisiana who attends White’s Ferry Church of Christ? Talk about self-aware.

Christendom without Christmas?

One of the remarks that Doug Wilson made in his lectures last weekend concerned a defense of Christmas trees in the local town square. The superiority of print to sound recordings is that you can find a statement much quicker with your eyes than your ears. So I was too lazy to go back and listen for the remark. But the interweb is a remarkable device and I found the following:

The Anti-Christian Liberties Union (ACLU) knows that getting Christmas trees off public property is well worth fighting for. This is why we as Christians have to learn that saying “merry Christmas” is an act of insurrection. How do we define our lives? More than this, how do we define our lives as a people? Far from retreating into a minimalist celebration, or no celebration at all, we as Christians must take far greater advantage of the opportunity we have in all of this. Now the Lord Jesus is on His throne. And His government will continue to increase. But He works through instruments, and one of His central instruments for establishing His kingdom on earth is the faith of His people. Why is it that Christians shopping at WalMart are being reminded over the loudspeakers that “He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found.” Why are they telling us this? It’s our religion. Why don’t we believe it? But if you believe it, then say merry Christmas to somebody.

But the stakes of Christmas are even higher:

To be fair, we ought not to be too hard on the secularists for their ongoing war against Christmas. Because Christmas started it.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there were no doubt people in the surrounding neighborhoods who drank too much, or who quarreled with their wives, or who sometimes shaved the edges of their business dealings. And Jesus came for that sort of thing, no doubt. His authority is exhaustive, and so no sin, however petty, is outside the reach of that cleansing authority. He came to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found. He doesn’t overlook the little things.

But He doesn’t miss the great things either. It is interesting to note where the initial conflict was. Jesus had Herod’s attention right away. The first clash was a political one, right out in the public square. The very first battle was what sort of display was going to be allowed on the county courthouse steps. And that issue was important enough, crucial enough, that Herod was willing to shed blood over it.

So when Doug Wilson comes into his Christendom with Peter Leithart as his Constantine and James Jordan as Leithart’s Eusebius, will they make room for Reformed Protestants who don’t celebrate Christmas or don’t buy Christmas trees? (But we surely do take the holidays granted by civil and private authorities, thank you, very much.) I mean, judging by the behavior of Old School Presbyterians and secular libertarians, one might think they are on the same side of the culture wars — opposed to public religiosity. Of course, Old Schoolers object to the kind of religion that passes for public consumption, and secularists object to the kind of public that includes religion (whether orthodox or adapted). But can Wilson see the difference between those objections? More important, can he admit that his mere Christendom will be as difficult for orthodox Protestants as it will be for Jews, secularists, and Roman Catholics?

Clash of Orthodoxies

The recent wailing and gnashing of teeth over the Boy Scouts’ interest in changing its policies about excluding homosexuals reminded me that long before social conservatives considered turning on the Boy Scouts for tolerating gays, confessional Protestants were giving the troops a thumbs down for very different reasons. They had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with the civil religion the Scouts wove through their materials and self-identity.

Case in point, the OPC in the 1950s appointed a committee to study whether its congregations might well sponsor Scout’s troops. What these confessional Presbyterians discovered was that the Boy Scouts’ understanding of God was a good bit off from the historic Christian view:

Scouting 1). Holds to a belief in a God. 2). Describes this God as the ruling and leading power in the universe, and the giver of favors and blessings. 3). Maintains that boys must learn to recognize this God, to admit their obligations to him, and to acknowledge gratefully his favors and blessings, if they are to grow into the best of citizens. 4). Requires all Scouts to promise on their honor to do their duty to this God, and feels that in so doing it does no violence to anyone’s religious convictions. 5). Desires to remain strictly non-sectarian in its attitude toward the religious training of the boys. 6). Requires mutual respect of religious convictions among the boys in carrying on Scouting activities. 7). Requires sponsor organizations to attend to the religious life of the boys. 8). Forbids sponsor organizations to force their religious practices on any boy contrary to his faith, because of his membership in a Unit.

Scouting evidently is anxious to insist upon religious training for the boys without telling the boys what religious training they should have. In attempting to do this, it runs into difficulties. To justify religious training it has to speak of a God. But to avoid offence to any religious group it tries to describe God in terms that all will approve. Then it proceeds to require general submission to this God. Since the aim of the movement is to develop the best kind of citizens, it really erects this policy as the ideal for the model citizen.

It might be too much to say that Scouting IS a religion. But it is clear that Scouting HAS a religion. And at the heart of that religion is the acceptance of a God supposedly recognized by Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, and accepted by them all. If this conclusion be correct, then it must be said that Scouting teaches a religion that is distinctly unbiblical and unchristian. A God acceptable to Catholics, Protestants, and Jews does not exist. Those who do not honor the Son do not honor the Father. And the Jews do not honor the Son. (John 5:23, I John 2:23, Luke 10: 16). In requiring the boys to promise to do their duty to a God understood to be acceptable to adherents of these three faiths, the Scout movement seems clearly to require submission to a God that does not exist. This is to teach a form of idolatry.

What the OPC’s report indicates is that social conservatives have a very different understanding from confessional Protestants about when the Scouts went (or may go) wrong. For the former, the issue is mainly about sex, which is not an insignificant consideration but hardly the first sign that the Scouts may not be on the side of the God of the Bible. Confessional Protestants, less hung up over sex (maybe), actually take God-language seriously and inspect an organizations claim’s on behalf of religion. For them, faith is even more important than sex.

In which case, contrary to James Davison Hunter’s argument about the Culture Wars, the “orthodox” party in the United States is actually divided. It is not the case that conservative Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Jews represent an orthodox counterpart to the liberal party in the culture wars. In point of fact, the believers for whom religion matters most, the truly orthodox, take issue with the sham orthodoxy that informs questions about marriage, homosexuality, and the family. Again, sex and families are important. But they are part of the common culture, not matters of religious orthodoxy.

To fail to see this difference is to have confused the politics of the civil kingdom with the politics of the eternal one. Put differently, civil religion is a poor imitation of ecclesiastical religion.

Speaking of Missions

It looks like the United States is (as it always has been) a mission field. In the December issue of First Things, R. R. Reno comments on what he calls the “new secular moral majority.”

In a 1957 government survey, only 3 percent of respondents checked the “none” box. Now they’re a fifth of all Americans. From one in thirty-three to one in five, and the number is likely to grow. . . . And it’s making a difference in culture and politics. The unchurched exhibit a remarkably united front when it comes to controversial moral issues.

But Reno wonders if the rise of “nones” represents something new:

Even in the 1950s (and, for that matter, in the 1900s), a fairly substantial number of Americans were either believers or unchurched. True, the sensibilities of a mostly Protestant Christianity shaped them, and for the most part they thought of themselves as Methodists or Baptists or Presbyterians or just “Christians,” but they were functionally secular in many ways.

For Reno this means that churched in America are “battle-tested.” We’ve been here before and perhaps the secularists will not really “inherit the earth.”

But I wonder what it says about the churches and their members that they may be willing to live with a stand-off between the churched and “nones,” with the latter having a slight upper hand because they reproduce and even like children. During this whole period, from the 1880s to the present, Protestants (and post-Vatican II Roman Catholics) have tried to win the culture through politics rather than evangelism and discipleship. Discipleship seems especially pertinent for keeping people who once thought themselves churched within the church. From the Social Gospel, through the Cold War, to the Religious Right, politics was supposed to save the nation. Not.

Could it be that religiously-inspired politics have actually done more to hurt the name of Christ and to push Americans away from churches than the offense of the cross itself? And what would happen if instead of spending so much time on political activism and the culture wars, Christians in the United States actually tried to explain to their neighbors the enormity of sin (Christians’ included), the hope of forgiveness in Christ, and the importance of word and sacraments for finding ongoing comfort amid human suffering and weakness? It might not mean a decrease in the number of “nones” since the wind blows where it will. But it sure seems like a better strategy than invoking biblical norms for people who don’t believe the Bible.