Transformationalism and Foreign Policy

Why does the language of cultural engagement for Christians come from the terms used to describe U.S. relations with other nations? Notice what Damon Linker writes about President Trump’s “engagement” with North Korea:

Peace is nearly always better than war. Talking is nearly always better than silence. Engagement is nearly always better than enforced isolation. We don’t know quite what might come from Trump’s strange, seemingly arbitrary affection for Kim Jong Un. But the early signs, especially concerning relations between the North and South, are encouraging. Might the conflict be brought to an official end? Could the two countries establish something approaching normal diplomatic relations? Might American troops, or at least the lion’s share of them, be able to return home after nearly seven decades? Every one of those possible consequences of our negotiations with the North would be an improvement over the longstanding status quo.

This may explain why two-kingdoms comes across odd. If the choice is between engagement and isolation — “forced isolation” even — then of course, choose engagement.

But why would language from the world of politics determine how Christians think about “culture” (scare quotes for an awfully squishy word)? “Be not conformed to this world” sounds awfully restrictive. “Set your mind on things above” sounds a tad otherworldly. “Do not love the world or the things in the world” sounds way too fundamentalist. “As sojourners and exiles… abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” sounds ascetic.

But what? Relevance is working so well?

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Kingdom Sloppy: Southern Baptists and Immigration Policy

‘Tis the season of thinking about the relations between evangelicalism and political conservatism thanks to the release of From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin. With such heightened sensitivity come examples that show fuzziness on the differences between the kingdoms of redemption and providence.

I begin with the reaction of Jerry Salyer to the recent Southern Baptist Resolution, “On Immigration and the Gospel,” a statement that in itself is a grab bag of truths that do not cohere either theologically or politically. Salyer writes:

One defender of the new SBC policy is Southern Baptist Seminary theologian Russell Moore, who declares in “Immigration and the Gospel” that “[t]he Christian response to the immigrant communities in this country cannot be ‘You kids get off my lawn’ in Spanish.” Up until now I have had nothing but respect for Moore – anyone who appreciates Berry and Genovese can’t be all bad – which is precisely why his trite and thoughtless remarks pain me so. Does he really mean that no Christian can offer an argument against mass-immigration better than that of Mr. Wilson from Dennis the Menace? Can one really dismiss so quickly classicist Thomas Fleming, or philosopher Roger Scruton? What about journalists like Tom Piatak, Patrick Buchanan, and Peter Hitchens?

Whether one ultimately agrees with the positions taken by immigration restrictionists is beside the point. The point is that the Southern Baptist leadership hide from their flock the fact that such positions even exist. Should we be concerned about, say, the socioeconomic consequences of a vastly expanded labor pool? Soaring crime rates? What about the implications of perpetual war with the Muslim world even as mosques simultaneously sprout all across the Midwest? How seriously should we take those activists who celebrate the Reconquista of “Aztlan”?

In other words, opposition to open borders may not simply be an expression of nativist prejudice. It may actually stem from plausible political considerations, such as these that Salyer quotes from James Kalb who recognizes that the motivations for unrestricted immigration may stem less from what is true or good or noble and more from economic and political interests:

Ruling elites . . . are concerned with the power and efficiency of governing institutions, the status and security of those who run them, and maintenance of the liberal principles that support and justify their rule. It is in their interest to expand the human resources available to them, even at the expense of those who are already citizens, and to weaken the mutual ties that make it possible for the people to resist rational management and to act somewhat independently.

The practical result of such influences has been the suppression of immigration as an issue in the interest of an emerging borderless world order. Restrictionist arguments are scantily presented in the mainstream media, and concern with cultural coherence, national identity, or even the well-being of one’s country’s workers is routinely denigrated as ignorant and racist nativism.

Whether you agree with Kalb’s skeptical analysis, it is a reminder that beyond the calls for making the gospel relevant or pursuing social justice are political considerations that religious idealism ignores. In which case, the book of redemption (which is silent on immigration policy) tells the book of nature (which has much to say) to “shut up.”