Sense and More Sense

This may explain the appeal of the English, especially when they can see through the bombast of American exceptionalism under the cover of religious zeal:

Much as we all admire the United States and have great affection for many of its citizens, I rather feel your post of July 4th. showed up one of the less attractive traits of Americans which is to assume that what happens in the USA has universal significance for the rest of mankind. You’re not of course alone in this on Ref21 (yes, I’m looking at you, Leon Brown!) but some of us become a touch peeved if you seem to be implying that the outcome of that little contretemps that thankfully subsided in 1783 is somehow to be celebrated by all Presbyterians. (I should point out (if I don’t, they surely will!!) that this also rather excludes Reformed Baptists such as our brother Jeremy Walker, but as he is too busy celebrating the release of the Logos 5 Puritan Felt Hat Platinum Edition, he has little time left to celebrate anything else).

For example, when you say the Declaration of Independence ‘declares the sovereignty of God’ do you mean that Thomas Jefferson and others thought the term ‘Creator’ referred to the God of the Bible? If the main intent was to declare the sovereignty of God, would you not actually just refer to Him as ‘God’? And if this is a clever terminological compromise to accommodate Jefferson, Paine etc. doesn’t that somewhat limit the concept of the sovereignty of God? Meanwhile, poor old George III was part of a coronation ceremony that talked of God explicitly, and culminated in the anointing of the sovereign. This ceremony was used again for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. It is said that her anointing by the Archbishop of Canterbury (not very Presbyterian, I grant you, but they still have the 39 Articles!) in Westminster was the most important aspect to her of the whole ceremony, and it could be argued is a symbol that much better demonstrates the sovereignty of God over the civil power than changing God’s name to ‘Creator’ in a document. I need hardly point out that God’s people in the Old Testament also considered it a sufficient assertion of God’s Sovereignty over the monarch.

When you say the declaration and the constitution were drawn up by covenant representatives, I don’t doubt you. However, when you go on to argue that the US system of government is therefore like the Presbyterian form of government I can only agree with you up to a point. You see, in one there is a King of whom the covenant representatives are representatives of, whom He appoints, albeit they are drawn from His people. In the other, there is no King, or perhaps a different King, the People from whom not only are the covenant representatives drawn but whom they also supposed to serve. Noticing the difference, I leave it to others to ponder the potential dangers such an imbalance might lead to but, if you live in the US, I suggest a good place to start might be today’s newspaper.

And while we’re on the subject of covenant representatives (and, for that matter, balance), ‘the need for strong local and state governments, along with strong families and churches, to protect the people for the tyranny of the national executive.’, is all well and good and most necessary. However, as Carl Truman has repeatedly pointed out, the issue of the day is not the ability to restrain the executive but the Supreme Court, which for Christians or anyone else, given the weaknesses of the US Constitution, will prove to be very hard to do.

Finally, speaking as one who counts himself spiritually and temperamentally in the line of the English Puritans, I would not be so quick to glory in Presbyterian rebellion. Just on a point of accuracy, it was Charles I who ‘launched’ the Civil War by raising his standard at Nottingham, not the Puritans in Parliament. (I know, I know they cut of his head in the end, but none of them really wanted to!). But it could be said that both the Covenanters and the Rebels of 1775 (as well as those involved in more recent troubles in Ulster) were far too quick to arms and far too slow to lay them down. This trait, and there is some link to the forms of Christian religion dominant in those countries, was seen again in the US 70 years or so later, still the only country to fight a murderous and divisive Civil War over the issue of the abolition of slavery. So when someone on July 4th. accuses the English of having ‘a particular allergy to a thoroughgoing Reformed Church’ (Sorry to bring up Liam’s post, but the injustice of it still rankles even after 12 months.) the ‘particular allergy’ we actually have is to a heap of corpses, and the bitterness and sectarianism that endures as a result.

In all fairness, the mention of U.S. newspapers’ contents was a cheap shot since the English dailies don’t exactly reveal a well ordered society in the U.K. while they do reveal a number of ladies showing their naughty bits. Still, the call to humility away for chauvinism is well taken (especially when it remains humble).

The Queen's Speech

I have long thought that the monarchy in Europe is largely ornamental. And given the press’ coverage of the papacy, I also wondered if Pope Francis has more authority than, say, Queen Elizabeth. But yesterday, the Queen of England spoke to Parliament and outlined the policies that “her” government was going to pursue in the upcoming months.

The speech to parliament put the economic recovery at its centre, opening with a pledge to continue bringing down the deficit and cutting taxes “to increase people’s financial security”.

With the threat that the Bank of England will increase the base rate before the General Election, there is also a pledge to keep mortgage and interest rates low and to continue to promote the Help to Buy scheme.

David Cameron had suggested he could amend the scheme after Bank of England Governor Mark Carney warned in an interview with Sky News that rising house prices were the biggest threat to economic recovery in the UK.

In an attempt to tackle the housing shortage, the Government announced plans to give developers powers to push through applications without council approval and allowing the Government to sell off unused land for development.

A new garden city will also be built in the Thames estuary at Ebbsfleet in Kent to tackle the housing shortage.

The Prime Minister and his Deputy Nick Clegg claimed the measures laid out in the Queen’s Speech were “unashamedly pro-work, pro-business and pro-aspiration”.

Just 11 new bills were introduced by the Queen at the State Opening of Parliament, which will bolster Labour’s claims the coalition is now a “zombie government” which has run out of steam. Last year there were 19 new bills.

Mr Cameron hit back at claims there was “not enough” in the speech. He told the House of Commons: “We’re creating new laws on producing shale gas… new laws to help build high speed rail… new laws to reform planning to build more homes… we’re outlawing modern slavery; confiscating assets from criminals; protecting people who volunteer; cutting red tape and curbing the abuse of zero-hour contracts.

“This is a packed programme of a busy and radical government.”

I am not sure about the propriety of describing a monarchical government as radical since the republics of the U.S. and France were supposed to be the ones that broke with Europe’s conservative order. But given the way that life goes on in the UK under a monarch and the way that the U.S. republic has evolved into an empire, I wonder if republicanism is all it’s sometimes cracked up to be. Maybe an independent Scotland will show the way.

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.

Protestants and Assimilation, Republican Style

One more thought about republican forms of government and what they require of believers who would be citizens. Analogies between twentieth-century France and the nineteenth-century United States suggest that Americans demanded conformity from “outsiders” in ways comparable to the French more recently. The great complaint about Roman Catholic Irish and German immigrants was that their submissiveness to the papacy (as if), a foreign prince, would make them unworthy and unreliable republican citizens. The United States made similar demands on Mormons who had their own civil authority in the office of the apostle, who at least in the days of Brigham Young was also the governor of the Utah territory. For Utah to gain admission as a state, Mormons needed to abandon polygamy. Republicanism makes its demands.

Conversely, have Protestants had little trouble acquiescing to the republic’s norms? One thinks of the Huguenots, for instance, who assimilated pretty much wherever they went without the slightest whiff of the dissent that characterized their days of resistance in the Old World.

And then one thinks about the tradition of covenanting in Scotland and Ireland, a variety of Reformed Protestantism that earned the reputation for submitting to no one except king Jesus. A. T. Q. Stewart observed in 1977 that the Presbyterian “is happiest when he is being a radical.” He went on:

The austere doctrines of Calvinism, the simplicity of his worship, the democratic government of his Church, the memory of the martyred Covenanters, and the Scottish unwillingness to yield or to dissemble — all these incline him to that difficult and cantankerous disposition which is character of a certain kind of political radicalism.

Of course, the United States did not demand Covenanters to conform to republican norms to be assimilated. Instead, the Covenanters until around 1980 self-selected and opted out of the republic’s political life — no voting, no vows, no running for office, and no service in the military, a form of Reformed Protestant Anabaptism.

But with the exception of the ideals of sixteenth-century Scotland, Protestants came to terms fairly easily with republican government. The reason stems largely from their not having a state or monarch who was their ruler and the chief executive of their faith.

The lesson: most Reformed Protestants are 2K and they don’t even know it.

Christians Assimilated (but compromised?)

A terrific book review, now a little long in the tooth, of two books on Europe and its immigrant populations is worth pondering for a variety of reasons but it got me thinking specifically about the assimilation of Christians in a secular republic like the United States. Here is a striking passage:

PEOPLE WHO ASK whether better government policies could have made Muslim immigration to Europe less of a debacle tend to look at Britain and France as two ends of a spectrum of approaches. Britain has let immigrants go their own way. It has been multiculturalist, laissez-faire, tolerant of partial allegiances and unintegrated identities. If you are a Sikh policeman, you can wear your turban on duty. In immigration as in other matters, the United Kingdom is unusually disorderly and willing to run the risk that “parallel societies” will form; but it does offer immigrants more self-respect and freedom of religion. France, by contrast, favors the assimilatory pressures of the melting pot. It wants immigrants to embrace a single model of republican citizenship. France’s model may sound condescending and hypocritical, but at its best it can convince a newcomer that the country’s thousand-year-old history belongs to him as much as anyone. It is a fool’s errand to call either the French or the British approach “better.” Each is built out of thousand-year-old habits of political culture. But immigration experts tend to laud whichever of the two has led to riots less recently.

What was I thinking:

1) it is hard to assimilate people of diverse cultural backgrounds and religious heritages into a peaceful, moderately ordered, and free society. Americans often bemoan the size of the government, the disregard for morality, or the inconsistency of cultural expectations (myself included). But keeping very different groups relatively calm and peaceful is no mean feat (especially if you believe what Reformed Protestants do about human nature).

2) Where does the U.S. fall in this model? In some ways it looks more like its cultural grandparent, Britain. But we also have conformist expectations that resemble the French (which likely owes to our adopting a republican form of government under the influence of Enlightenment political thought).

3) If Christians who complain about the decadence of the U.S. only kvetch and do not riot, is their desire to follow God weaker than Muslims?

4) If Christians want non-Christians to fit in with American norms that stem from Christian convictions, are they doing the same thing as the French even though for religious as opposed to enlightened reasons?

The Case for Republican Ecclesiology

My friend Stephen Klugewicz has a post on the virtues of republicanism and the dangers of strong executives that has me wondering about what the laws of nature teach about the polity of the church. He writes:

The figure of Brutus—the assassin of the tyrant— cast a long shadow over American history. “Brutus” became the pseudonym of one of the most famous Antifederalist authors (probably Robert Yates of New York), who wrote essays in opposition to the proposed Constitution of 1787, which he believed dangerously consolidated power in the central government. In setting up their own republic, the American Founders looked to the Roman Republic as a model for what they should be and to the Roman Empire embodied by Caesar as a portent of what they feared the republic could become. Americans feared that liberty was fragile and that the republic could be undone by the ambition of one man.

The Framers of the American Constitution were indeed wary of the rise of a Caesar —after all, King George III was in their minds—and designed the presidency with great care in an effort to prevent any abuse of executive power. Under the Articles of Confederation, there had been no executive, no judicial branch. The government consisted of a unicameral legislature, which lacked, among other powers, the authority to tax either the people directly or the states. All that the Congress could do was request money from the states. It was the perceived weakness of this government that sparked the call for the Philadelphia convention of 1787.

Ironically, the title of the post is “The American Republic and the Long Shadow of Rome.” This is ironic because when Americans of the founding generation thought of Rome they did not merely think of Cato or Caesar or Brutus. They also thought about Boniface VIII or Clement VII. And when they thought of the Roman pontiffs, the sacred kind, they were not thinking of republicanism. For what the papacy represented to most Americans — all the way down to Vatican II — was not republicanism but monarchicalism of the most absolute kind, as in God’s vicegerent on earth (who delegates the civil sword to the magistrate).

The irony grows when you consider the reasons Klugewicz offers for fearing a strong executive in the form of one man:

In setting up their own republic, the American Founders looked to the Roman Republic as a model for what they should be and to the Roman Empire embodied by Caesar as a portent of what they feared the republic could become. Americans feared that liberty was fragile and that the republic could be undone by the ambition of one man.

(He also mentions that republican virtues included frugality, honesty, and humility. “To indulge in luxury and ‘baubles’ was seen to be effeminate, the opposite of being republican. Patriot leader Samuel Adams, the archetypal ‘old republican’ who made it a point to dress simply, pined for the creation of a “Christian Sparta” on the American continent.”)

The American founders were suspicious of Roman Catholicism in part for precisely the reasons that informed republicanism, namely, the danger of too much power in one officer’s hands.

In the ecclesiastical realm, objections to monarchical structures generated conciliarist efforts to reign in papal supremacy, reforms that the Protestant Reformers would later invoke. The logic seemed to be the same in both cases — beware the centralization of power in one executive. Lord Acton gave this outlook a slogan when he, a Roman Catholic in England, said in response to the claims of papal infallibility, “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Of course, the Roman Catholic answer to ecclesiastical republicanism, I suppose, is that the charism of the papacy makes all the difference. Absolute power in the hands of one man is conceivably benign when bestowed and preserved by the third person of the Trinity.

Even so, Roman Catholic teaching of late (at least) suggests that the doctrine of charmism can be reconciled with ecclesiastical republicanism. For instance, the Callers observe that when bishops speak as a whole they have the charism of are infallibility. Another points out that the charism of infallibility extends to the entire people of God. “The Charism of infallibility belongs not uniquely to the Bishop of Rome, but to the Church. This includes the Pope, the Bishops, and the faithful.”

If the charism is not reserved to the pope but extends throughout the church, then a republican ecclesiology, one that places checks and balances on the executive branch, would seem to be possible even for the Roman Catholic Church. Without it, the divergence between celebrating the infallible papacy and decrying the imperial presidency hearkens back to the dissonance that Roman Catholics in the U.S. once experienced when the papacy was not enthusiastic about republican governments.

When the PCUSA Was Almost the USA Church

James Hutson in Church and State in America tells this story:

In 1798 John Adams experienced how inflammatory the exercise of a familiar religious act by a national official could be in a country that had been taught to cultivate and cherish republican jealousy. On March 23 of that year, when the nation was in the midst of a “quasi-war” with France, Adams proclaimed a national day of fasting and humiliation, a practice that American magistrates had followed since the earliest days of the seventeenth century. It so happened that the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church was meeting in Philadelphia when Adams issues his proclamation. Though not a Presbyterian, Adams was branded one by his political opponents and was accused of scheming to rivet a Presbyterian establishment on the nation, the evidence being his fast day proclamation. “A general suspicion prevailed,” he wrote, “that the Presbyterian Church was ambitious and aimed at an establishment as a national church. I was represented as a Presbyterian and at the head of this political and ecclesiastical project.” The result of his fast day proclamation, Adams claimed, was his defeat in the presidential election of 1800.

Hutson gives evidence why Americans should never have suspected that Presbyterians would be the national church. The reason is that their theology was entirely incompatible with one of the major reasons the founders gave for religion being important to a free society. According to Rev. Samuel West, of Massachusetts:

perhaps no one if of greater importance to promote the peace and safety of the community than the doctrine of a future state of reward and punishment; for we shall find that persons are often restrained from gross immoralities by the fear of future miseries, when civil penalties prove insufficient for that purpose. A doctrine of such amazing importance to promote the civil good of society ought to be very strongly impress’d upon the minds of men in order to render it beneficial to society. (111)

Since Presbyterians and Lutherans who trusted Christ no longer feared future punishments, they were immune to such incentives to civic virtue. In fact, Calvinism’s may have been a threat to civil society as republicans conceived it.