The State of the Nation

Another round of travel allowed for more sustained sampling of the news and those matters that afflict our great pretty good land. A few random thoughts:

Forgiveness
Can Bill Cosby ever receive the forgiveness that Dylann Roof has found (at least from the AME church members in Charleston — the government of the United States is a whole lot more demanding)? And why is Cosby’s sexual dalliance and proclivity so despicable when the nation is celebrating a kind of sex that the same nation used to regard as deviant? At least if you want an illustration of God’s righteous standard, just look at the way the United States condemns/ed Bill Cosby and Joe Paterno.

Transcendent
Rachel Dolezal proves that transracial is illegitimate but Caitlyn Jenner proves that transgender is fine. But what about transnational? What if I am a Irish person trapped in an American body? Can I change my nationality? If I can’t, then don’t we have another barrier to be toppled? Or is it that the nation-state is almighty while race and gender are ephemeral?

The Nation’s Greatest Threats
I used to think that a hate crime raised the stakes of criminal activity, though I would have assumed that killing another person was hateful. After all, our Lord said that if you hate another man, you are guilty of murder. But after coverage of the the shootings in Chattanooga, I learned that terrorism is even worse than a hate crime. But the reports were not clear on the order of threats and the Department of Homeland Security has yet to rank them. Here’s an initial stab:
1. Terrorism
2. Islamism
3. The Confederate Flag
4. Hate Crimes

Blame the Victim
I’m with President Obama in trying to overturn many of the pernicious penalties associated with the War on Drugs (see, it wasn’t on the list of the nation’s greatest threats). Pardoning those sent to prison on old drug laws makes sense. But if these convicts are victims of bad legislation, is Greece also a victim of overly strict banking rules? Yet, I heard some commentators explain that Greece is truly responsible for their actions and needs to face the consequences of a bad economy and poor government. So if you can say that about a nation, why not about persons? Or might Greece plead insanity? But that didn’t work for James Holmes, who was found guilty for twelve counts of murder during his shooting spree in a Colorado movie theater.

I can only conclude that Americans are conflicted about blaming people for crimes or misdeeds, except when it comes to Bill Cosby and Joe Paterno.

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Unencumbered by W-w

Noah Millman is not merely on one roll, he’s on four. See below.

But his writing on contemporary events leads me again to ponder whether Christians are limited (dumber?) when it comes to non-spiritual subjects precisely because Scripture and church dogma establish limits that block creative and critical thought. (The 2k solution, by the way, is to say that Christians have great liberty where the Bible is silent.) I know Millman is a Jewish-American, but I suspect he is not bound the way Reformed Protestants are by divine revelation and faith-community officers.

And it is the sense of needing to run every piece of analysis or op-ed (“take every thought captive”) through the prism of w-w that winds up limiting the ability of Christians to interact thoughtfully in the wider world. If we/they simply looked at matters as regular human beings or as Americans or as bankers, would we be able to see the world the way Millman does? (My answer is, I hope so.)

But to their credit, Christians are attached to the Bible and to church teaching in ways that show great love for the truths of special revelation. That is something that is likely in short supply among those who only use their smarts to assess the world. T

So here is a quick summary of Millman’s recent w-w-free insights. On Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si:

To my reading, the encyclical starts with a fairy tale. Once upon a time, human beings lived in relative harmony with the environment, because we understood our place within creation. But with the advent of modernity, we have lost sight of that place, both in terms of our proper humility and in terms of our proper responsibility for good stewardship. And the devastating consequences for humanity and the non-human world are all around us. Modernity cannot really be repaired from within; it must be re-founded on a proper moral basis, such that the fruits of the earth are properly shared and exploitation of both the human and non-human world is no longer the basis of our world economy.

I call this a fairy tale because there’s no evidence offered that the pre-modern history is at all true. That is to say, there’s no evidence that medieval Europeans, or the cultures of Africa or the Americas before the arrival of Europeans, avoided exploiting their environment to the best of their ability. And this is to say nothing of the cultures of Asia, from China to India to the Fertile Crescent, which were much more systematic and effective at maximizing their exploitation of the local environment, and which consequently lived closer to the Malthusian edge.

Would that Roman Catholics were not so prone to root, root, root for the home team or for Protestants (like all about meEEEE) to be so suspicious.

On the Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage:

My (partial) defense of Kennedy’s opinion begins with the following thought experiment. Imagine that Loving had been decided the opposite way, upholding miscegenation statutes, and that, in response, an amendment to the Constitution had been passed with the following wording:

The family being the fundamental basis of society, the right to matrimony shall not be infringed.

The passage of this amendment would surely have overturned miscegenation statutes nationally – as it would have been intended to do. It would also have made it clear that prisoners, the mentally handicapped, the carriers of genetic diseases – that none of these can be denied access to matrimony. How, though, would it be applied today in the context of same-sex marriage? How should it be applied?

The answer hinges on the question of what marriage is. At the time of the passage of the amendment, it’s true, only a few would have argued that it encompassed same-sex unions. But in 2015 a great many people thought it did, and many states had come to express that view in their laws (whether prompted by the state-level judiciary or not). Once such a view is current, it becomes necessary for the Court to decide whether or not it is correct – because it is necessary to determine whether the definition of marriage restricting it to unions between men and women is, in fact, an infringement on a fundamental right. This is particularly the case when states have undertaken explicitly to define marriage as exclusively a male-female bond, and not merely done so implicitly.

That’s basically the situation the Court found itself in if it took the Loving precedent seriously. Loving clearly established the right to marry as fundamental, pre-political, and central to the Declaration of Independence’s concept of the “pursuit of happiness.” Note that there is nothing traditional about this idea. Traditionally, marriage was a matter better arranged by your parents than by you, and love was something you hoped would grow within and sustain happiness in marriage as opposed to marriage’s origin. Traditionally and cross-culturally, regulation or prohibition of exogamy has been more the rule than the exception. Loving certainly didn’t invent the idea of the love match, but it did raise it to the level of Constitutional principle.

Millman recognizes that it was the U.S. Supreme Court, not the General Assembly of the OPC, that decided this case, and that certain judicial precedents were in place. In other words, he didn’t have to worry about the Bible or about the Book of Church Order in trying to make sense of the Court’s logic. Can Christians do that? Should they?

On the Greek referendum and debt crisis:

The metropole (Brussels/Berlin) demands terms for renegotiation of Greece’s debt that leave Greece politically and economically utterly subservient to said metropole. The Greeks demand more favorable terms that allow their economy to grow again and have some measure of independence.

The Greeks have suffered far more from austerity than the American colonists did under British taxation. And the British metropole had at least as much reason to accuse us of ingratitude: its taxes were imposed to pay for a war waged on the colonists’ behalf, and the British were rather as disinclined as the German bankers are to have the relationship with the crown treated by the colonists as a blank check.

And, as with the American colonies, the remedy is either independence or genuine representation at the metropole. Either the EU needs to remedy its democratic deficit, creating political organs as powerful and responsive to the people as the ECB is to the imperatives of finance, or it needs to shrink from an empire to a club of like-minded states with already synchronized economies.

Of course, most evangelical and Reformed Protestants don’t care Eastern Orthodox Greece (talk about the limiting effects of w-w), but Millman reminds Americans (and perhaps the Scots) about the value of independence. Was it merely coincidence that the Greeks voted no only a day after the Fourth of July? I don’t think so!

Finally, Millman raises more good questions about the so-called Benedict Option:

Dreher’s surprise, honestly, feels to me just an index of alienation. Same-sex marriage is accepted as normal by a substantial majority of Americans now. How could it possibly be outrageous to learn that a sitting Supreme Court Justice is comfortable performing same-sex weddings in a jurisdiction where such weddings are legal? Wouldn’t it be more surprising if none of the sitting Justices held the same opinion as 60% of Americans?

But that’s not really the point I want to make. Dreher’s instinct, clearly, was that Ginsburg’s action was “outrageous.” That is to say: it provoked him to outrage. Now, I have to seriously ask this: is this feeling, of outrage, likely to be salved, or exacerbated by the pursuit of the Benedict Option?

The culture is going to go on, after all, doing whatever it does, and people all over the country will continue to produce Dreherbait, some of it far more obviously outrageous than Ruth Bader Ginsburg performing a legal wedding ceremony. (The article on quasi-Saudi-sounding practices of Manhattan’s upper financial echelons is a good recent example – and whadaya know, it turns out pricey Manhattan divorce lawyers say they’ve never heard of such a thing as a “wife bonus.”) But isn’t the collection of such stories, well, isn’t it kind of obsessing over precisely the parts of our culture that the whole point of the Benedict Option is to turn away from, in favor of a focus on one’s own community, and its spiritual development?

So I have to ask: is one of the strictures of the Benedict Option going to be to stop pursuing outrage porn? And if it isn’t – why isn’t it?

“Outrage porn.” Brilliant.

Make me smart like this guy.

To Forgive or Not?

Forgiveness is much on my mind today after another day of cross-country travel and listening to NPR’s coverage of the Greek financial crisis. Who could forgive the Greek bank’s debt? Could someone in the international financial sector step up to forgive Greece the way that the families of Dylann Roof’s victims did? Would that kind of granting forgiveness stand up to the scrutiny that the AME church members has?

Someone else who needs forgiveness is Tullian Tchvidjian. I am glad to see that so far the bloggers in Reformed circles have decided to refrain from commenting on his recent admission of marital infidelity. It was an easy target — to see the man whom critics accused of promoting cheap grace and disregarding the law disregard the law. So far, only David Robertson, who must not have had any opinion about Greece, has weighed in:

I had had an interesting exchange with Tullian and his ‘Liberate’ ministry last year. Without really being aware of who he was, I had written a review of his book, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World. It wasn’t entirely uncritical. Little did I know what it was like to step into the murky world of the American mega-church pastor. The congratulations from those who seemed to want to hang Tullian out to dry were matched only by the cries of those who saw me as some kind of right-wing legalist who had no idea of grace. To be fair, there were many who did not fit into either category but who were glad to get an outsider’s perspective. Sadly, the popularity of that article only served to indicate the truth of the truism that the best way to draw a crowd is to start a fight.

So you might expect a degree of schadenfreude from me. In that case you will be disappointed. I feel gutted and saddened at the whole situation. My critique of the book is not proved true by Tullian’s fall, any more than it would have been proven false by his continued ministry. Surely sorrow, discouragement and prayer can be the only appropriate responses for the Tchividjian family?

To his credit, Robbo refuses to score points except to take on the megachurch (which really should score points against the Wilt Chamberlain of Presbyterian megachurches — Redeemer TKNY):

The trouble with the corporate model of church is that it leaves the CEOs (otherwise known as ‘senior pastors’) as a combination of business manager, advertising guru and celebrity personality. And that is a very lonely and isolating position. Maybe a return to a more biblical pattern of church, with elders and preachers as ‘under shepherds’ and answerable to the wider church, rather than the stakeholders (shareholders?) of the local corporate church entity, might provide a better context for accountable ministry.

And why doesn’t that apply to TKNY?

But back to Tullian. What if someone like me decided publicly to forgive Tullian? Would that make sense? Mark Jones makes me think it might:

We are all aware, I trust, that all sins are committed against God. Therefore, no one can forgive sins in the way that God can. He has a peculiar authority that we do not have. All sins, whether mediately or immediately, are committed against God. Sometimes the neighbour is the medium, but the sin is still against God. Why is this important? Because if we forgive our neighbour, this does not relate to the guilt of his sin, but rather to the harm that has been done to us.

So when the family members of the killed “forgave” Dylan Roof, we are not forced to have to look at their forgiveness and then argue that they have no right to do so because there is no repentance from Mr. Roof. Rather, we are to understand their offering of forgiveness based on the harm that has been done to them because of the loss they have experienced.

In effect, they are not telling Mr. Roof that he is now justified before God. They are saying, you have harmed us and hurt us; and we forgive you for this harm.

Tullian has harmed the name of Christ and was a minister in a sister denomination. For that reason, I can conclude that he harmed fellow officers in NAPARC denominations. And by Jones’ logic, I can forgive Tullian.

So we have three cases of forgiveness: financial, legal, and ecclesiastical. Which ones are legitimate? Which ones deserve scrutiny?