When Journalists (or op-ed writers) Get Biblical

Speaking of credentials for ministry, I am not sure it’s a positive development when any Tom, Maleek, or Kasheena can give speeches or write columns with the idea that they know what the Bible teaches. Bonnie Kristian (seriously) decided to challenge Mike Pompeo for a speech in which he referred to Iran’s hostility to Israel as a carry over from the way Persians regarded the Israelites in the book of Esther. In this contest, Kristian has some expertise on foreign policy and has written a book on “flexible” Christianity with a foreword by Gregory Boyd and endorsed by Jonathan Merritt (excuse the genetic fallacy). Meanwhile, Pompeo is a member of an Evangelical Presbyterian Church. He also operates under the hardship of being a member of the Trump administration.

Here is the point of contention: Pompeo doesn’t understand Esther.

The linchpin of Pompeo’s CUFI treatment of Iran was the scriptural book of Esther, which in his telling is evidence that Iran has for centuries been a hotbed of anti-Semitism. “That same twisted, intolerant doctrine that fuels persecution inside Iran has also led the ayatollah and his cronies to cry out, quote, ‘death to Israel’ for four decades now,” Pompeo said. “This is similar to a cry that came out of Iran — then called Persia — many, many years ago. The Book of Esther teaches us about this.”

No, it doesn’t. As Duke Divinity professor Lauren Winner has explained, Esther is rich in themes worth exploring: “There are a lot of lessons about how power works in this story,” challenging us to examine “our own displays of power in our own smaller empires, even if the empire is no bigger than … than our own heart.” And “Esther is also a story about exile,” Winner adds, “about being an exiled Jew, an exiled person of faith, and what it means to live in a place that is foreign, to live in a place where you are foreign, where you and your kinsman are aliens. Esther is a book about how to live with your community in a place that is indifferent to you or hostile to you.”

Kristian goes on to state that Esther is also a story about courage and she supplies a link to a piece by Rachel Held Evans.

Bottom line: Pompeo’s use of Esther is “inexcusably misleading.”

The editors at The Week actually know enough about the Bible to conclude that Kristian is on firm ground? Kristian herself appeals to a Duke Divinity School professor, with a terminal degree in religious history but who is also an Episcopal priest, and a parachurch blogger to be able to say with such certainty that Pompeo is wrong? Couldn’t a better point have been that the Secretary of State should simply use assessments of the middle East from the contemporary world rather than trotting out a part of Scripture that is likely to provoke Christians, Jews, and Muslims?

But if Kristian is going to enter the fray of the authoritative interpretation of Esther, at least let Christopher Guest have a stab:

Advertisements

If You Worry about Pompeo, Why Not Pope Francis?

The Guardian has a story that should trouble 2kers. It’s about the influence of evangelicals, holding office, mind you, and responsible for foreign policy in the Middle East:

In his speech at the American University in Cairo, Pompeo said that in his state department office: “I keep a Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and his word, and the truth.”

The secretary of state’s primary message in Cairo was that the US was ready once more to embrace conservative Middle Eastern regimes, no matter how repressive, if they made common cause against Iran.

His second message was religious. In his visit to Egypt, he came across as much as a preacher as a diplomat. He talked about “America’s innate goodness” and marveled at a newly built cathedral as “a stunning testament to the Lord’s hand”.

The desire to erase Barack Obama’s legacy, Donald Trump’s instinctive embrace of autocrats, and the private interests of the Trump Organisation have all been analysed as driving forces behind the administration’s foreign policy.

The gravitational pull of white evangelicals has been less visible. But it could have far-reaching policy consequences. Vice President Mike Pence and Pompeo both cite evangelical theology as a powerful motivating force.

Just as he did in Cairo, Pompeo called on the congregation of a Kansan megachurch three years ago to join a fight of good against evil.

“We will continue to fight these battles,” the then congressman said at the Summit church in Wichita. “It is a never-ending struggle … until the rapture. Be part of it. Be in the fight.”

This is not good on two counts. First, it mixes the church and the state. Second, it uses bad theology for one of the mix’s ingredients. Good for Julian Borger to catch this.

But what about when the Vatican does the same thing (but without the Word of God)?

Though the week between Christmas and New Year’s is traditionally a fairly slow period on the Vatican beat, this is the Pope Francis era, when tradition and a Euro will buy you a cup of cappuccino in a Roman café.

Thus it’s entirely fitting that arguably one of the Vatican’s most important diplomatic encounters of 2018 came the day after Christmas, when Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State, met Iraqi President Barham Salih in Baghdad.

During the meeting, Salih extended an invitation to Pope Francis to visit the Iraqi city of Ur, the Biblical city of Abraham, for an interreligious summit. It’s a trip that St. John Paul II desperately wanted to make in 2000, during a jubilee year pilgrimage to sites associated with salvation history, but the security situation at the time made such a trip impossible.

There was no immediate word from the Vatican whether Francis intends to accept the invitation, although there has been some media buzz about an outing coming as early as February. Doing so would be entirely consistent with his penchant for visiting both the peripheries of the world and also conflict zones.

Parolin was accompanied in the Dec. 26 meeting by the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, the largest of the Eastern churches in communion with Rome in the country, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako. That was an important signal, in part underlining that the Vatican isn’t interested in pursuing a parallel diplomatic track with Baghdad that doesn’t prioritize the concerns of the local church.

(That’s a real concern, given the fact that critics insist the Vatican has done precisely the opposite in some other parts of the world, including China and Russia.)

According to a statement afterwards from the Iraqi president’s office, Salih and Parolin discussed the importance of different religions working together to combat extremist ideology “that does not reflect the beliefs and values of our divine messages and social norms.”

The statement also said the two leaders discussed the situation facing Christians in Iraq, talking “a great deal” about how to maintain their presence in the country and to assist in rebuilding their homes, businesses and places of worship in the wake of devastation caused by ISIS and other extremist Islamic forces.

Is it because the Vatican has been engaged in foreign policy for a millennium, compared to evangelicals who have only been at it maybe 30 years tops, that allows reporters to take Bishops’ influence on temporal rulers for granted?

Or are evangelicals scarier because with the executive branch of the U.S. federal government they have more power than the pope?

If so, that’s true audacity.