Not Exceptional, But Not Abysmal

David French thinks American conservatives have a race problem (but, of course, he is not one of those conservatives):

In powerful right-wing populist circles—talk radio, Fox prime time, etc.—the absolute last thing you can argue is that right-wing populism has a race problem. The last thing you can say is that the big white populist tent includes too many racists, and is cozy with too many racists. No sir. The last thing you can say is that some of the anti-immigrant rhetoric is motivated by racial animus against Latino immigrants. Nope. Can’t say that. Then you’re being politically correct. You’re giving in to the left.

Is it a problem for the populist right that an immense right-wing platform like Breitbart engaged in race-baiting with a “black crime” tag and its flattering coverage of the alt-right? Is it a problem that the head of Breitbart, Steve Bannon, told a reporter that he wanted to make the site the “platform” for the alt-right? Is it a problem that Tucker Carlson declares the threat of white supremacy a “hoax,” accuses immigrants of littering too much based on his fishing trips to the Potomac, and invites an actual alt-right congressional candidate on his show to discuss a moratorium on immigration? This candidate is a man who declared that white Americans were “being replaced by third world peasants who share neither their ethnicity nor their culture.”

I understand the word ethnocentrism doesn’t carry the force of the epithet racism, but why is opposition to Mexican-American immigrants racist? Doesn’t that cheapen the racial divide between descendants of African slaves and European-Americans? But I digress.

Imagine what French would write about politics in Northern Ireland where a candidate refused to condemn a terrorist act:

Sinn Fein’s North Belfast General Election candidate John Finucane has refused to condemn the IRA’s attempted assassination of DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds.

In December 1996, an RUC officer was injured when IRA gunmen opened fire on police officers guarding Mr Dodds when he was visiting his seriously ill son at the Royal Children’s Hospital in west Belfast.

Gunmen fired four shots at officers in a hospital corridor as children were being treated close by. One bullet struck an officer in the foot, while another hit an empty incubator in the intensive care unit.

Incumbent North Belfast candidate Nigel Dodds is running against John Finucane for the Westminster seat, in what is expected to be one of the closest contests of election.

Speaking to the New Statesman, Mr Finucane, whose father Pat was murdered by the UDA in 1989, was asked if he would condemn 1996 IRA attack.

He said: “I have an issue with selective condemnation. I think it cheapens our past. I think it is a barrier to reconciliation… I know that the pain of the Troubles visited everybody, regardless of where they came from. I want that to be dealt with.”

That is a serious problem if representatives of established parties cannot condemn non-state acts of violence against members of the opposing political party. It might be like a former POTUS praising a paramilitary leader the way Teddy Roosevelt spoke favorably of John Brown in his famous speech, The New Nationalism:

Now, with this second period of our history the name of John Brown will forever be associated; and Kansas was the theatre upon which the first act of the second of our great national life dramas was played. It was the result of the struggle in Kansas which determined that our country should be in deed as well as in name devoted to both union and freedom; that the great experiment of democratic government on a national scale should succeed and not fail.

The United States is not as close to that kind of violence as Northern Ireland is. Sure, we are only four decades from the last of the Weather Underground’s violence against police and twenty-five years from Timothy McVeigh’s bomb. Some even think violence be in the United States’ future.

But we have not had political parties that were arms of terrorist organizations. Shouldn’t David French know the difference between being in denial about violence and opposition to immigration?

Aren’t We Glad to Have Subdued the South So the U.S. Can Avoid This?

Crawford Gribben, who does a pretty good impersonation of a political commentator even though he knows far more about Puritanism than most Protestant academics, explains the dilemmas that union — both British and European — pose to European English speakers:

So, while no one knows what will happen next, here is one possible scenario. The High Court decision will be upheld, and Parliament will have the final say on Brexit. But this reversion to representative democracy will make no real difference to the process: Labour MPs, recognizing that seven in ten of their constituencies voted in support of the government’s action, will be unable to mount any effective resistance. The British government will then invoke Article 50 and begin the process of exiting the European Union before the Scottish government can table a second independence referendum or make sufficient advances in negotiations with EU member states and institutions to have them recognize its legal capacity to “inherit” UK membership. Against the wishes of its devolved government, Scotland is pulled out of the European Union along with the rest of the UK. Its independence referendum comes as too little, too late. . . .

The federal solution could prove successful. Towards the end of her second government, and with a constitutional dexterity that has not been characteristic of many 20th-century Westminster governments, Theresa May could propose a federal relationship between England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, facilitate the return of the Scots, who would retain a nominal independence, and cement a special relationship with the Republic. With the Irish and Scottish land borders becoming effectively meaningless, there could re-emerge a polity that embraces the geography of the old United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland without its problematic centralization. Or, in a more likely scenario, economic realities will prevail. English elections continue to signal a rightward drift, and the economy continues its gradual improvement. Welsh voters don’t like it, but combine their sentimental nationalism with a hard-headed recognition of the uncertain prospects of small nations in a sometimes unfriendly European Union, and prefer the devil they know. The pragmatism is familiar: After all, the Brexit results in both countries cut across party political lines. In Northern Ireland, an ambiguous settlement continues to link the province to England and Wales for as long as Stormont politicians can turn crises into dividends, even as north-south economic and cultural connections make the border increasingly irrelevant.

If only the United States were so constitutionally dexterous. But thanks to two world wars fighting on the United Kingdom’s side (not to mention a certain imbroglio with a Republican as commander-in chief), Americans remain stuck perpetually seeking a more perfect union.

Debtors to Ireland

It was a soft landing mainly coming back from Dublin over the weekend. Encountering a Buffalo Wild Wings store — how could you possibly call that a restaurant — was certainly a reminder of how bizarre American culture must look even to other Westerners. Comparing a BWW to O’Neill’s pub in Dublin may not be fair. But I am not sure why one room needs what seemed like 67 television screens. Back in Dublin, not even all the screens were on even if a soccer match was available. And some patrons came to the pub to talk about the choral concert they had heard at the University, others were playing a friendly game of cards, and young men predictably were picking up girls (while also unexpectedly explaining Ireland’s strict divorce laws). Having the Fighting Irish on against U.S.C. did not make up for the difference.

The Mrs. and I spent the night in Illinois (having flown to and from O’Hare) and so worshiped yesterday at an area Orthodox Presbyterian congregation before driving back to Hillsdale. We were greeted by the invocation of a minister whose roots, according to accent, were in Scotland. I know that Ireland and Scotland represent distinct forms of resisting England, with Northern Ireland throwing an odd wrench into such patterns of resistance. But the Scottish accent was a pleasant echo of our previous Sunday’s worship in Belfast among the Evangelical Presbyterians. Helping the transition was singing the eighth-century Irish hymn, “Be Thou My Vision.” Since only two days before we had seen a round tower at Glendalough, the site of remains from a seventh-century monastery founded by St. Kevin, the line, “Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight; Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower,” took on added significance.

One of the arresting aspects of Orthodox Presbyterian life is that we are ethnically a denomination of mongrels. Of course, the dominant ethnicity in the OPC is the one that comes to most immigrants after they have lived in the U.S. for generations. At the same time, since hyphenated Americans like John Murray and Cornelius Van Til were so crucial to the first thirty years of the OPC’s history, the denomination has always made room for European expressions of Reformed Protestantism in ways unusual among other American Presbyterian communions. This was particularly true of the OPC congregation where we worshiped yesterday. In addition to having a minister of recent Scottish origin, the session was composed of men all with Dutch names. Rare would be the mingling of Scottish or Scotch-Irish and Dutch Reformed constituencies in Ireland and Scotland. In the United States, it is at least possible if not common. Not to be missed is what the tensions among the various Reformed groups look like in North America. My sense is that the Dutch compete for dominance in ways unimaginable to the Scots and Ulster Presbyterians. Is that a function of ethnicity? Or is it the result of an intellectual tick in Kuyperianism compared to a tiredness among proponents of covenanting or the establishment principle?

The presence of pastors in American Presbyterian circles from Scotland and Northern Ireland does raise an important question about the United States’ relative hegemony in world affairs, not just politically but also ecclesiastically. Because this nation is one of the most powerful and wealthiest in the world, its congregations, even in sideline denominations like the OPC, can afford to pay pastors more than congregations can in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Carl Trueman sometime ago discussed the significance of a British invasion among Reformed and Presbyterian churches in the U.S. What I worry about is the brain drain from other parts of the world. Of course, American communions should not refuse to call men from other nations — that would be remarkably provincial and prevent Christians in the United States from benefiting from insights from other groups of believers. At the same time, American openness to internationals can be naive to the toll that the transfer of gifted pastors from other nations has on the exporting churches. Americans may benefit from gifted Brits, but what benefit to the British churches receive from losing their leading pastors?

For that reason, I propose that every time a congregation in the United States calls a pastor from another country, that congregation (and possibly presbytery or classis) also send back some form of subsidy to the communion that lost its minister to the United States. Monetary assistance would be one form that this subsidy could take. If denominations in the United States were willing to assist foreign denominations financially, perhaps some gifted ministers would remain in their native lands. But U.S. Reformed and Presbyterians might also consider sending to other Reformed communions (and picking up the tab) young ministers who for a short tenure of two or three years would help to plant other congregations or assist busy ministers in established works.

These are a couple of thoughts off the top of a jet-lagged head that may need more clarity. Whatever these ideas’ merits, Christians in the United States should consider the balance of trade within international Calvinism as much as they worry about their nation’s trade deficit.

First Turkey, Now Ireland — Sheesh!

The better half and I are in the middle of a week-long trip to Ireland that now has me working away as part of a visiting-faculty assignment at Trinity College in Dublin. We began the week in Northern Ireland with new and old friends. The new ones are officers and members of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (no relations to the communion of the same name in the U.S.) who were eminently kind and hospitable hosts during a day of interactions, both formal and informal. On Monday night I had the privilege of speaking at a rally to honor the 85th anniversary of the EPC. My topic was “Principle Presbyterianism Today.”

One of the curious features of Presbyterianism in Northern Ireland is that the conservatives (the Evangelical Presbyterians) who have the most affinities with Orthodox Presbyterians also seem to be a bit despondent about their prospects. The EPC began in 1927 during a theological controversy which saw the Presbyterian Church of Ireland fail to discipline a professor at the church’s theological college for teaching views that were clearly outside the Confession of Faith and heterodox more generally. The EPC has always struggled as a small denomination. But now that the Presbyterian Church of Ireland has become increasingly evangelical itself (though it still ordains women — which would make the PCI more like the U.S. Evangelical Presbyterian Church), the Irish EPC lacks the rationale and clarity of vision that once animated the church. If your target no longer exists, you may appear to be shooting blanks.

Although the EPC is small — it has about 400 members with another 350 regular attenders — its size is proportionally much larger than the OPC. If Northern Ireland has approximately 1.6 million people, compared to a U.S. population of close to 300 million, the EPC within a U.S. numerical setting would account proportionately for almost 225,000 people (if my math is correct). That means that the EPC is almost seven times as large proportionately as the OPC which has a membership of roughly 30,000. Since Americans are never at a wont for overestimating their influence, the smallness of the OPC has not left the denomination with a sense of insignificance. Mark Noll’s image of the Pea Beneath the Mattress has generally typified the mindset of Orthodox Presbyterians. I hope the Evangelical Presbyterians of Ireland can find a similar diminutive vigor.

One other set of reflections worth making for now is the lack of a Dutch Reformed influence on Scotland and Ireland. On Monday morning I had a “lovely” time describing Calvinism in the United States to a small (how could it be large) group of EPC ministers and elders. I went through the classic threefold division of Reformed Protestants in North America — the doctrinalists (Machenites), culturalists (Kuyperians), and experimental Calvinists (Whitefieldians and Edwardsians). My EPC interlocutors were quick to point out that the Kuyperian tradition of transformationalism has never been a presence in Irish Presbyterianism.

Of course, that does not mean that the Scots and Irish don’t have other resources for trying to do what Kuyper did. Thomas Chalmers and the Free Church of Scotland have maintained a notion of the establishment principle that affirms in a different way what Kuyper tried to express when he spoke about every square inch. And not to be missed are the incredibly complicated relations in Northern Ireland between religion and politics, hence the sheesh in the title of this post. I had thought after visiting Turkey that the notion of a secular Muslim state was sufficiently complex to merit further consideration. But to read as I am this week about the various Presbyterian versions of church-state relations, not to mention the endlessly fascinating and troubling history of Protestant-Roman Catholic relations in Northern Ireland since the initial push for Home Rule, makes my head explode (in a good way, of course).

What is interesting to observe at this point, though, is that for all of their claims about the Lordship of Christ, whether over the church or over the state, the Scots and their Irish Presbyterian cousins have never seemed to put much stock in epistemological self-consciousness. Why do you need philosophy and the arts when law and authority are hard enough to conjure?

Hug Me, I'm Protestant

A word to the wise Old Lifer who may be out celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Don’t! It’s an Irish festivity for a Roman Catholic Saint. You’re Protestant. Just stick to Sundays, Mother’s and Father’s Days, and July 4th.

But if you do go out to make up for the Roman Catholics who gave up whiskey for Lent, keep in mind that Bushmill’s is the Protestant Irish whiskey, produced as it is in Northern Ireland, which may be the oldest active distillery in the world.

Jameson, by contrast, is the Roman Catholic whiskey, made in County Cork.

A recent piece in the Washington Post made the arresting point that the religious identities of Irish whiskey is nonsense:

There is a dicey — and misguided — aspect of Irish whiskey loyalty that splits along partisan lines. I’ve known a lot of older Irish Americans who will drink only Jameson because it is considered the “Catholic” whiskey, as opposed to Bushmills, which is perceived as the “Protestant” whiskey. During grad school in Boston, I drank once or twice in a hard-core Irish pub where you might come to physical harm if you ordered a Bushmills. (That bar also passed around a hat once a night, and you were strongly “encouraged” to donate to “the cause”).

This idea of Catholic vs. Protestant whiskey is bunk. For one thing, from 1972 to 2005, coinciding with some the worst of The Troubles, both distilleries were owned by the same company, Irish Distillers, before Bushmills was sold to Diageo. Jameson is now owned by Pernod Ricard, a French conglomerate. Also, John Jameson was a Scotsman, and therefore in all likelihood a Protestant.

Still, the perception persists. As we were tasting, one of my friends, Kevin Meeker, who owns an Irish pub in Philadelphia called the Plough and the Stars, gave a thumbs up to Bushmills Black Bush blended whiskey. He texted his Irish managing partner, Patrick Nester, at the bar and asked whether they sold a lot of Bushmills. Nester’s reply: “Not much because u idiots think it’s a Protestant whiskey.” Perhaps it’s best, as usual, to avoid discussing religion and politics while drinking.

Maybe the confessional difference between Irish whiskies no longer holds. But in the age of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, maintaining the legitimate antagonisms between Rome and its Christian protestors is imperative. For Old Lifers it’s a treat if you can do so with spirits.

Be careful out there.