Thinking is a Many Splendored Thing

There is thinking like a historian:

we need to understand the past in all its fullness in order to make sense of the complexity of the human experience. I am largely talking here about the classroom, where I teach American history as if all voices matter. Please don’t get me wrong. Yes, Black lives matter. I am disgusted when I hear the political Right screaming “all lives matter” as a way of avoiding tough conversations on racial injustice, systemic racism, and the experience of African Americans. Responding to the phrase “black lives matter” with the phrase “all lives matter” represents a failure to address the pain and suffering of Black men and women in this particular moment. …

But when I teach history, especially when I do broad sweeps in a survey class, I am charged with telling the story of the United States. In this sense, my students must be exposed to all American lives. They must encounter these lives in their context, and in all their complexity, even if it makes them (and I am talking about white students and students of color here) uncomfortable. We can’t erase the past. We must confront it.

Only once students “understand their subjects thoroughly and empathically, there is a place for moral critique.” Thinking historically is understanding someone else, maybe even being ready to forgive, or withhold judgment.

This could be the gospel compared to the law of thinking like a Christian. When you do that you pretty much go into righteous indignation (as in “they will know we are Christians by what we condemn”):

It does seem that one can be morally correct about a particular social cause, and still respond to such a matter in a manner defined by “pure and unmitigated hate.” I struggle with this on a daily basis as I write about Donald Trump. I have had to do a lot of confessing of sins in the last four years and have tried to distinguish between a legitimate, Christian-based, critique of Trump and his court evangelicals and the kind of angry rhetoric that is not good for my spiritual life or the spiritual lives of others. I have found that prayer–for Donald Trump and his administration, for the evangelical church, and for the best way to strike an appropriate prophetic voice– is often an antidote to this kind of anger. But I’m not always good at it.

Neither of these ways of think is political (Bill McClay on vandalism):

the most disturbing aspect of this episode, which perhaps indicates how deep our societal rot goes, has less to do with the rioters than with those in positions of authority. Rioters and miscreants we will always have, but that is why we have authorities. Ours, however, seem to have utterly abdicated. In city after city, mayors and governors decline to act against vandals, the police stand down, and the devil is allowed to take the hindmost. Corporations fall over themselves to advertise their virtuousness, and give what looks very much like protection money to organizations whose goals are openly subversive of the fundamental American political and social order.

Almost thirty years of integrating faith and learning and Christians still struggle with thought.

Should Muslims Try to Legislate Their Morality?

For most residents of the United States, the idea of Sharia law establishing the standards for civil law at the state or federal level (even before 9-11) is unthinkable. But lots of Protestants and Roman Catholics in the U.S. hardly blush when someone puts the question the way the Allies recently did — Should Christians Try to Legislate Their Morality?

On the ordinary playing field of fairness and equality before the law, the notion that Muslims and Jews and Roman Catholics should not try to legislate their morality but evangelicals may is nonsensical. The only way the premise behind the Allies’ question makes sense is if you think either that only the true religion may be legislated (say hello to 1650 Europe and goodbye to 1776 Philadelphia), or that the United States belong to the people who first settled it (say hello to Peter Marshall and David Barton and goodbye to David Hackett Fischer).

To say that Christians should not try to legislate their morality (if the followers of other religions may not) is not to affirm that civil society without religion as the social glue will be easy. Current debates about marriage are indicative of the problems that the American founding set into motion. But neither was life in Christendom easy for Muslims, Jews, and Protestants. So Americans tried to separate religious considerations as much as possible from civil society in establishing a constitutional republic. That led to secular society, a novos ordo seclorum (new order for the ages). Does such a society imply disrespect for God? Perhaps. But its explicit aim was not to deny God’s dominion but to make room for people from diverse faiths (or no faith) to try to live together (and please remember that even the Puritans did not welcome Baptists or Presbyterians). Legislating one religious group’s morality upsets the original agreement. Why Christians still don’t see this hurts my head the way drinking a curry squishee too fast does.

To be fair, I did not watch the Allies’ video. I’m a text guy when it comes to blogging. But if the discussion did highlight “the question of final authority” or as the post puts it: “As Christians, how do we help people find an authority outside of themselves?”, then I’m not sure the Allies are doing justice to the diversity of the American people (or to the United States’ law for that matter). We the people are sovereign through our representatives. This constitutional republic was established as a rebuttal to “final authorities” who dominated people and abused power. I understand that finding an authority outside ourselves is a proper basis for a w-w, a good philosophical way to refute secularism, and a habitual response of Roman Catholics and neo-Calvinists to the French Revolution. But the way I read the United States, we were not a philosophical republic but a polity that adapts pragmatically for the sake of protecting the security, peace, and legal standing of all its citizens (no matter what their faith). As for those citizen’s morality, they needed to conform to the laws that their representatives enacted, and those legislators represented people of diverse faiths.

In which case, we have moral problems in the United States and advocates of Christian morality (from the Baylys to the Allies) are not helping.

Postscript: I understand that Apu is likely not a Muslim.

Who's Radical Now?

The Brothers Bayly are persistent in besmirching two-kingdom theology and its proponents but their latest swipe is rich indeed. They have reprinted a mysterious piece (impossible to find anywhere else on the Net) about the enormities of the Obama administration. Nathan Ed Schumacher is the author and Tim Bayly’s foreword runs ever charitably as follows:

This piece . . . demonstrates that the silence of Emergent and R2K men in the face of the wickedness and oppression in our public square is of the same fabric. Fear of man is a principle that knows no boundaries.

I keep wondering why fear of God pertaining to the ninth commandment, you know one of those laws that the Baylys would seem to want to prevail in the public square, does not inform the way these fellows write about Christians — not to mention officers — in the church. But I digress.

Schumacher, it seems, had a conversation with a graduate of a seminary on the West Coast – hmmm – about the woes of the nation and why more ministers were not speaking publicly about such matters. Schumacher contended with the seminary graduate that the difficulties facing the United States were not simply political but moral in nature. But the seminarian responded that the church should only speak to spiritual matters. Schumacher responded:

Here we have a spirituality radically disconnected from morality – an ethereal religion not connected to historic Christianity and its application of ethics to the real world. What kind of “spirituality” or theology is this that can disregard morals, ethics, and God’s Law and even silently abide open murder?

So what is Schumacher talking about when it comes to immorality in the United States? It turns out that morality is closely tied to politics.

We live in an astonishing time in America where the President is making open war domestically on the Constitution, and openly making unlawful wars internationally – such wars outlawed by the Constitution and long vested by the Rule of Law as war crimes and open murder – and formally recognized as such by the Nuremberg trials. When a President publicly usurps the Constitution, making an open show of violating its limits on exercising power, whether it be by his making illegal war, giving secret orders, punishing American soldiers for exposing truth, building secret prisons, operating torture chambers, running kidnapping operations (rendition), publicly asserting his right to kill American citizens with no trial or process, openly publicly stealing money via “bailouts”, taxing in violation of the Constitution, openly violating the Bill of Rights, creating illegal Federal agencies and programs, etc., ad nausem, then what does that mean according to the Principles of Law? It means, without question, that he has invoked the Law of Belligerents against the American people by acting as a belligerent upon the American people themselves, because publicly assaulting their Constitution is, in fact, an assault upon them. In other words, the President is openly making war upon the American people by these belligerent actions – actions which are open, public, and undeniable. If you don’t understand this, you are not paying attention. Our Constitution formally defines this as treason.

Schumacher’s solution is for the church to call a synod:

It is long past time for church Officers to convene formal and official church councils and synods all across this land to address the open lawlessness and public sin and crimes of what passes for “our government”- and to address the way forward. Nevertheless, it is probable that they can be expected to refuse to do this – and likely that they will always have a long list of lofty “spiritual reasons” as to why they cannot accept responsibility. But if church Officers, who are the official voices of moral authority, refuse to do this then there is a deafening silence and they cannot expect to be found faithful – and the rest of us will suffer the continuing consequences of their dereliction of duty – praying that God will raise up some “Thomas Beckets” who are jealous for the church, the Law of God, and who will have the courage to say “No” to our present political “king”.

In the comments on this post, the Baylys add a curious wrinkle to the clear overreach (clear according to what follows below). When one commentator brought up the example of the apostle Paul who did not seem to be overly upset by the rule or policies of Caligula, Tim and David ever lovingly responded:

. . . we don’t need to see it happening constantly with the Apostle Paul or John the Baptist or Jesus or Augustine or Calvin or Edwards or Machen in order to know that the R2K men are wrong when they oppose the church and her officers standing against theft, oppression, rampant gross immorality, the repudiation of the rule of law, and the massive bloodshed of the slaughter of hundreds of millions of wee ones.

When you find yourself arguing that John the Baptist is no model for pastors today, you should wonder whether, just maybe, your cowardice has gotten the best of your faith.

Two aspects of this response are striking. The first is the Bayly habit of hitting below the belt – that is, questioning masculinity rather than formulating an argument. The second is that the Bible really does not need to be our guide because the existing evils are so enormous. Paul, Jesus, and the rest of the apostles may not have led protests against their societies, but their silence is only an opening for the Baylys’ shouting. Never mind that a cardinal conviction of Reformed Protestantism is that officers in the church, whether individually or collectively, need a biblical warrant for using their authority.

I do wonder why the Baylys do not recognize how partisanly political their moral hectoring looks. It is not as if Obama is the first president to abuse the powers of the Constitution or propose questionable economic policies. Can the Baylys or Schumacher remember the former president’s apparent disregard for the Constitution in the Gulf War, the Medicare bailout, or the Patriot Act? Do they not know that Christians on the Left opposed Bush in terms remarkably similar to the way they castigate Obama, thus making party affiliation more than biblical interpretation the basis for moral posturing?

I also wonder if the Baylys have ever heard of the United States Civil War and the debates that Old School Presbyterians had over support for the federal government. The 1860s was a time of grave national crisis also driven by a hotly disputed moral issue and the Old School General Assembly of 1861 decided to address the matter through the clumsy Spring Resolution. Here we have a church doing exactly that for which Schumacher calls and the Baylys approve — an Assembly addressing a moral and political question. And yet, Charles Hodge, a man who voted for Lincoln, believed secession was treasonous, and that treason was immoral, opposed the church taking a stand on matters that literally broke the United States apart. Hodge wrote:

. . . a man who acts on the theory of secession, may be justly liable to the penalty of the civil law; he may be morally guilty in the sight of God; but he has committed no offense on which the church can take cognizance. We therefore are not inconsistent in asserting, 1. That secession is a ruinous political heresy. 2. That those who act on that doctrine, and throw off allegiance to the Constitution and the Union, are guilty of a great crime; and, 3. That nevertheless they are not amenable in this matter to the church. The question whether they are morally guilty, depends on the question whether their theory of the constitution is right. If they are right, they are heroes; if they are wrong, they are wicked rebels. But whether that theory is right or wrong it is not the province of the church to decide.

The reason why the church cannot decide such political and constitutional matters, even when morality is involved, is that the Bible does not address these topics. Hodge explained:

The church can only exercise her power in enforcing the word of God, in approving what it commands, and condemning what it forbids. A man, in the exercise of his liberty as to things indifferent, may be justly amenable to the laws of the land; and he may incur great guilt in the sight of God, but he cannot be brought under the censure of the church.

What the Baylys (as well as most critics of the spirituality of the church) miss is the distinction between morality and authority. The Baylys go knock-kneed whenever a 2k person suggests that a moral truth should not necessarily be advocated by the church. The Bayly logic seems to be that if it is right, then all authority must be used to execute the right. But biblical teaching would also prompt questions about who has authority to enforce the good. Just because I believe drivers who pass me on the right are wrong does not mean that I have power to pull those drivers over and lock them up in our basement. The Baylys desire to marshal the church’s power behind their interpretation of the Constitution (and their assessment of the culture wars) comes dangerously close to ecclesiastical vigilantism: the church can and should do whatever is right and not bother with the technicalities such as the confession of faith or Book of Church Order. Ironically, then, in the Baylys’ twisted logic, the very constitution of the church becomes expendable in the defense of the United States Constitution.

A related point that the Baylys miss is how radical their views are compared to the supposed radicality of 2k. Charles Hodge was by no means the most vociferous proponent of the spirituality of the church. But he could see the folly of positions like the Baylys on good 2k grounds. Hodge was not a radical and neither are 2k proponents. In contrast, the Baylys’ disregard for the constitution of their church and the teachings of their confession of faith several steps down the road to anarchy.

And they call 2kers antinomian? Call again.

Rhetorically Different, Functionally Similar

After yet another round of snark-prone discussion of 2k at Green Baggins (I don’t think we’ll reach the record of 800-plus comments that we did in the fall of 2008), I have come to understand better the attacks upon 2k.

By holding to the position that the Bible speaks to all of life, folks like Dr. Kloosterman and the Baylys believe they have a platform by which to upbraid President Obama for his various failings to enforce biblical morality. It is also a firm foundation upon which to insist upon public morality without having to countenance relativism.

When 2k proponents then say this is an improper use of Scripture or a legal conundrum for Americans bound by a Constitution that avoids religious tests, anti-2kers respond with the charge of antinomianism and unbelief. For without the Bible in hand, Christians have no basis upon which to tell President Obama or the rest of U.S. citizens, with love of course, what to do.

No, no, no 2kers reply. We can tell President Obama what to do by appealing to the light of nature and to the laws of the republic. The Bible doesn’t have to speak to all of life for us to speak to all of life because God gave all of life and created life has an inherent order.

But because anti-2kers don’t really believe in the light of nature’s reliability, they are left with the Bible as the only source of ethics or law.

Another difference between the two sides is the use to which each side puts Calvin and the magisterial Reformation. For anti-2kers, the arrangements between church and state from 1522 to 1776 are just fine (even though the state basically ruined the Reformed churches from 1600 on), and 2kers betray the Reformed tradition for criticizing those same ecclesiastical establishments.

Not so fine, however, is the older legal provisions for blasphemy and idolatry and witchcraft. When pressed to defend the practice of executing heretics or blasphemers, anti-2kers try to change the subject and say that 2k is the issue on trial, not the anti-2k position. But so far, no 2k critic has actually defended the execution of Servetus or Massachusetts laws calling for the execution of adulterers. Not even Doug Wilson can seem to stomach the execution of heretics.

One last important difference is that anti-2kers are censorious about their differences with 2kers – calling 2k outside the Reformed tradition and worse. Meanwhile, like Captain Renault in Casablanca, they are shocked, just shocked, to find that Roman Catholics and Mormons are practicing idolatry freely in the greatest nation on God’s green earth.

Who Said Moral Relativism Is Increasing?

EaglesSports talk radio is not the best entertainment but it sure beats Glen, Rush, and Sean beating up the Obama administration. Listeners in Philadelphia have listened to forty-eight hours of casuistry while Eagles’ fans process the reality of Michael Vick being added to the roster. After serving two years in federal prison for molesting and killing dogs in dog-fight related activities, Vick has been cleared by the NFL to play and the Eagles swooped him up. For a sampling of the moral outrage, check this out.

Now if only we could convince football fans that an unborn child is higher on the chain of being than a pit bull.