Christendom or America

Mark Noll made me aware of Hugh McLeod’s definition of Christendom:

a society where there are close ties between leaders of the church and secular elites

the laws purport to be based on Christian principles

apart from some clearly defined outsider communities, everyone is assumed to be a Christian

Christianity provides a common language, shared alike by the devout and the religiously lukewarm

A 2ker has to wonder where any reader of the New Testament supposes this is the blueprint for society. The Roman Empire was pagan. The apostles knew that and sought to make the gospel known to those whom God foreknew as his people. They also expected seemingly a quick return by their ascended Lord.

If you want that kind of society from the pages of Scripture, you go to the Old Testament. Say hello to theonomy. But Christ and the apostles failed to measure up to Christendom on all these grounds:

They had bad relations with pagan elites. That’s why they were executed — hello.

They had no instruction about laws being based on the gospel (or even “Christian principles”).

Shouldn’t have to be said, but they did not — get this — assume everyone was a Christian. Nero? Hello.

They had a firm sense of the antithesis. The difference between believers and the world pervades the New Testament.

One could reasonably conclude that Christendom is not Christian.

That makes secular America Christian. Christians have bad relations with secular elites. 2kers at least don’t expect laws to be based on Christian principles (whatever that is). No Christian (not sure about some progressive Roman Catholics) assumes every American is Christian (mainline Protestants are equally progressive but they draw the Christian line to keep Trump voters out of the kingdom). And most serious Christians in the United States go through life recognizing a gap between Christian and American cultural norms — shops are open on Sunday.

In other words, 2kers live more in line with the teaching and experience of Christ and the apostles. Christendom-inspired critics of 2k use as their norm Christian developments after Constantine, not those after Christ. Indeed, the novos ordo seclorum of 1789 was a return to the kind of society Christ and the apostles lived and breathed in. They did not know Constantinianism or Christendom which America rejected.

That also means critics of 2k are anti-American. For shame!!!

But there’s hope for Christendom. Even as Norway secularizes it still has a national church:

On Jan. 1, the Scandinavian country cut some ties with its Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Norway, rewording the national constitution to change the denomination from “the state’s public religion” to “Norway’s national church.”

The change means the nation of just over 5 million people – about 82 percent of them Evangelical-Lutherans – will still fund the church but will no longer appoint its clergy, who will still be considered civil servants. . . .

Secularism has been on the rise in Western Europe since the 1960s, with church attendance declining and strict laws on public displays of religion in nations such as France. But the past decade has seen the rise of anti-secular groups and politicians in England, Germany and France.

Meanwhile, some Norwegians feel the divorce is not sharp enough. Kristin Mile, the secretary-general of the Norwegian Humanist Association, told The Local No, an English-language Norwegian news site, that the change only muddies the relationship between church and state.

“As long as the constitution says that the Church of Norway is Norway’s national church, and that it should be supported by the state, we still have a state church,” she said.

Is that what piners for Christendom want?

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On 2K, Lutheran 2K, Anabaptists, Theonomy, and Germany

Proto-Protestant supplies perspective.

First, Anabaptists are out:

Westminster West’s Two Kingdom theology breaks at points with the Lutheran variety and is certainly somewhat hostile to Theonomy and yet its retention of Kuyperian Dominionism places it much closer to the Lutheran and Theonomist understandings of the Kingdom than it does to the Anabaptist. Westminster’s version of Two Kingdoms is still very much pro-culture formation and while not Transformationalist in a de jure sense, from the standpoint of ‘radical’ Two Kingdom theology it represents a de facto rejection of Two Kingdoms.

The Anabaptist position if we are to accept that unfortunate label would identify both the Lutheran and Westminster West (or Escondido) positions as being One Kingdom with different nuances and not genuine expressions of Biblical Two Kingdom theology. From my standpoint it’s just a diluted (and thus somewhat improved) One Kingdom or Sacralist understanding of the Kingdom.

Second, Lutherans are as 1k as Kuyperians and theonomists:

Cooper is to be commended in some aspects of his presentation and argument. He does a great job demonstrating the actual Sacralist (One Kingdom) nature of Lutheran so-called Two Kingdom theology, a point I’ve been trying to make for many years. He intimately weds it to the Magisterial Reformation. His proper explanation of Lutheran Two Kingdom theology demonstrates that the charges made by Theonomists regarding its equivalence with the Anabaptist version are completely false.

For example whenever the Theonomists wish to attack what they call Radical Two Kingdom theology they will pin the indifference and acquiescence of the German population in the 1930s on their embrace of Lutheran Two Kingdom theology. Two Kingdom theology led to separatism (it is argued) and passivity. And thus the German Church and people let the Nazis come to power.

And then when Westminster Two Kingdom advocates point to Lutheranism as an example of a Two Kingdom Reformation heritage, and that their view is not guilty of novelty, the Theonomists will suddenly argue that Lutheran Two Kingdoms is more akin to their own Sacralist and Established Church position. They will then argue the Escondido variety is actually a version of Radical Two Kingdom theology.

In other words, the fundamental difference between magisterial and Anabaptist Protestants is that the former do not reject the state or the sword as legitimate spheres for Christians. (Not to mention that magisterial Protestants don’t question Christendom until 1789.)

Third, theonomists lie:

As usual the Theonomists have little interest in the truth of the matter and wish instead to destroy their intra-denominational opponents. Their historical theology is politicised and that’s something that always needs to be recognised when dealing with the Christian Right.

The politicisation of theology can be frustrating but Cooper makes it exceedingly clear. The Lutheran view has a very positive attitude to the state and in reality its model can be described as One Kingdom in two spheres… very much like the Kuyperian model embraced by Westminster West.

Finally, what went wrong in Germany (it wasn’t 2k):

This further demonstrates a point I have often made that it was the Sacral Theology of German Lutheranism that taught moral complacency, compliance and social conformity. They lost their sense of antithesis and equated German Kultur with Christianity. Hitler’s nationalism and anti-communism were sentiments they readily identified with. The German Church didn’t embrace Nazism due to passivity. Rather they (speaking in general terms) actively embraced it, viewing nationalism and political anti-communism (not to mention anti-Semitism) as expressions of piety and Christian culture.

True advocates of Two Kingdom theology are governed by antithesis and would never be taken in by or support such agendas. This is not to blame or slander Lutherans for what happened under the Third Reich but it helps to understand why an ostensibly ‘Christian’ nation would embrace a figure like Hitler and the agenda of his regime.

Roman Catholic 2k

David Schindler and Peter Leithart would likely disapprove:

If a Catholic makes a speech or writes an article attacking the principles and the methods of say, the Lutherans, that act would not necessarily stir up religious strife dangerous to the public peace. But if a Catholic seeks to penalize a Lutheran because of his Lutheranism through political or legal discriminations; still more, if he seeks the support of others in an organized manner to accomplish those ends, then he is attacking religious liberty in the social, or political sphere, which is the common meeting place of all Americans as citizens. . . .

I know that the dictionary definitions of bigotry are to the general effect that it is “an obstinate and intolerant attachment to a cause or creed.” But unless obstinate and intolerant attachment to a cause or creed becomes active opposition to some other cause or creed it is non-existent so far as the general peace of society is concerned. I may be obstinate and intolerant in my private and personal attachment to the Catholic Church (of which I am a member), yet if I invariably treat with my agnostic, and Protestant, and Jewish, and atheist neighbors, in all that concerns our common relations in society — in business, politic, and all cooperative matters — without reference or relation to their beliefs or behavior in religious matters, while I may be potentially a bigot, certainly I do not, so to speak, commit bigotry. If all of us so behave, there can be no bigotry in action. But notoriously, all of us do not so behave, although such behavior is the practical ideal of the nation of the United States of America. (Michael Williams, The Shadow of the Pope, 1932)

So when Roman Catholics or Neo-Calvinists call for “all of me” comprehensive Christianity, do they destroy any possibility of a common realm shared by all sorts of believers and non-believers? And do these “all of me” Christians believe that if I am getting along with people who do have the same “all” in “all of their identity” I am guilty of bad faith?

How Others Hear Us

So if Christians, Roman Catholic and Protestant, want a Christian society or commonwealth or polity, what does that mean for non-Christians? That seems to me the question that most critics of 2k fail to answer. It is also a question to which 2k supplies an answer that 2k critics reject.

But consider this contribution to the Commentary magazine forum of the First Things symposium on “The End of Democracy”:

Years ago (how many, I do not remember) I was on a panel with the late Russell Kirk, the doyen of the paleoconservatives, and sitting behind him when, at the podium, he outlined his plan for a Christian commonwealth. Rather rudely, I must admit, I interrupted him by asking, in a voice audible throughout the room, “What are you going to do with us Jews?” The question obviously took him aback, first because he knew I was not Jewish, but most of all, I suspect, because it had never occurred to him to ask it, or to have to answer it. After a short pause, he mumbled something to the effect that, of course, he did not mean to exclude Jews or anyone else.

Having raised the question, I felt obliged to point out that the Constitution provides a better answer: by separating church and state, I said, the Founders intended to provide (in the words of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer) a haven “for all sorts and conditions of men,” and the foundation of this haven—safe for the Jews and safe for the rest of us—was not Christianity, and certainly not the church of that prayerbook, but liberty of conscience, a liberal principle whose provenance was John Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration.

Sure, a secular society has limitations. But so do Christian societies.

So why can’t we all get along and be thankful for the United States of America?

#NeverNebuchadnezzar

Have those who oppose Trump ever considered Jeremiah’s instructions to the people of God, namely, to submit to the rule of a pagan king?

“‘“But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the LORD, until I have consumed it by his hand. So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your fortune-tellers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon.’ For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I will drive you out, and you will perish. But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, to work it and dwell there, declares the LORD.”’” (Jeremiah 27:8-11 ESV)

Wouldn’t that sort of Word of God prompt you to consider revising this?

Note that I didn’t say that Trump definitely is an existential threat. I don’t know that; nobody does. Hitler only rose to power because enough people believed that he wasn’t such a threat. There is no way of predicting in advance just how bad a President Trump would be. But if you’re an evangelical leader, this sets up a version of Pascal’s wager for you. If Trump turns out to be embarrassing but not all that bad, then your pride will suffer a bit, and you’ll have to say you were wrong to support Hillary. You’ll try to be wiser in the next election.

But if Trump turns out to be the “extinction-level event” that Sullivan predicts, and you fail to do everything in your power to stop him, then you will join a long line of evangelical leaders who have been on the wrong side of history – and judged harshly for it – at critical moments ranging from slavery to Jim Crow to abortion (in the early days of that debate). Your witness for Christ – our witness – will be diluted because we didn’t do everything we could to prevent this catastrophe. And there won’t be a next election to get it right.

Isn’t it possible that a politician could be God’s judgment on a nation’s churches (not that any of us has that kind of word from God)? And isn’t it possible that God’s plans go on even when his people and prophets go into exile as part of divine judgment?

That’s not a reason to support Trump the way Jeremiah endorsed Nebuchadnezzar. But it is a reason to be cautious as a minister of God’s word when talking about magistrates.

Another Solution to Celebrity Pastors — Modesty

I’m betting (if I were a gambling man) that celebrity pastors are a bigger problem for God’s people than transgender bathrooms. At least, Denny Burk Jared Wilson concedes that famous ministers are a problem, though he writes at the website that would not have a following if not for — wait for it — celebrity pastors. Here’s how celebrity happens:

. . . we participate in the highest elevation of a pastor’s platform as we can manage and then load him up with all the expectation we can muster. The result, naturally, is that he is top-heavy and prone to toppling.

BurkWilson adds that “pastoral smallness and obscurity” have their own problems, but “the most prominent dangerous temptations in pastoral bigness are these idolatries — worship of the celebrity pastor by his fans and himself.”

The possible fix for the celebrity pastor include:

1. Transition your “video venue” satellite campuses to church plants or at the very least install live preaching.

2. No more book deals for gifted preachers who are not gifted writers.

3. Discerning the credibility of our experts.

4. Actual parity among elders.

What about recognizing that celebrity pastor is an oxymoron?

1. Celebrity pastors are not really celebrities. Bruce Springsteen and Scarlett Johansson are celebrities. D. A. Carson and John Piper are not. And if Protestants long for pastors with celebrity appeal, they may show a greater degree of worldliness than they should. What it says about an organization — Gospel Coalition — that thrives on celebrity is something that the celebrity pastors and professors may want to consider the next time their schedules permit them to meet.

2. Pastors are not celebrities. First, they are undershepherds. They serve their lord and master, and are mere stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1) — sort of like butlers. Unlike celebrities who avoid rubbing shoulders with the people and who hire servants to do work beneath them, pastors need to live and move and have their livelihood among smelly sheep (at least they’re not goats).

Second, real pastors serve a local congregation. That means real pastors have much more the fame footprint of a local television news show anchor than they do a Hollywood, NBA, or network star. Who outside eastern Michigan knows the NBC anchor for the 5:00 news show? I don’t. In other words, the genuine audience for a pastor is the local congregation, the one who called him. Fame outside the congregation is an indication that something is wrong.

What if the pastor writes books? Depends on whether the books are good, pretty good, or great. Great books won’t be so until they stand the test of time. Will Tim Keller’s books still be in print in fifty years? That’s one test of greatness. Simply having someone with fame write a book is no indication of merit. The bookshelves are full of promotional materials designed to feed off and enhance celebrity.

3. Celebrities can’t pastor. This may go without saying since celebrity is something that increases fame but decreases access. A pastor has to be available to his people almost 24/7. But imagine a celebrity pastor like Tim Keller paying a family visit. If he does, great. Chances are, with celebrity come handlers, schedules, and limitations to access. A celebrity is remote, a pastor is accessible.

What about recognizing that celebrity is unbecoming sanctification (where are the obedience boys now that we need them?)?

This is where the New Calvinists may want to take a little instruction from the original Calvinist (and notice the connections between 2k and piety that is modest in its affects and aspirations). Here is John Calvin’s commentary on the sons of Zebedee’s exchange with Christ about greatness (celebrity?) in the savior’s kingdom:

Their ignorance was worthy of blame on two accounts; first, because their ambition led them to desire more than was proper; and, secondly, because, instead of the heavenly kingdom of Christ, they had formed the idea of a phantom in the air. As to the first of those reasons, whoever is not satisfied with the free adoption of God, and desires to raise himself, such a person wanders beyond his limits, and, by unseasonably pressing himself forward beyond what was proper for him to do, is ungrateful to God. Now to estimate the spiritual kingdom of Christ according to the feeling of our flesh is highly perverse. And, indeed, the greater the delight which the mind of man takes in idle speculations, the more carefully ought we to guard against them; as we see that the books of the sophists are stuffed with useless notions of this sort.

Can you drink the cup which I shall drink? To correct their ambition, and to withdraw them from this wicked desire, he holds out to them the cross, and all the annoyances which the children of God must endure. As if he had said, “Does your present warfare allow you so much leisure, that you are now making arrangements for a triumphal procession?” For if they had been earnestly employed in the duties of their calling, they would never have given way to this wicked imagination. In these words, therefore, those who are desirous to obtain the prize before the proper time are enjoined by Christ to employ themselves in attending to the duties of piety. And certainly this is an excellent bridle for restraining ambition; for, so long as we are pilgrims in this world, our condition is such as ought to banish vain luxuries. We are surrounded by a thousand dangers. Sometimes the enemy assails us by ambush, and that in a variety of ways; and sometimes he attacks us by open violence. Is he not worse than stupid who, amidst so many deaths, entertains himself at his ease by drawing pictures of a triumph?

Our Lord enjoins his followers, indeed, to feel assured of victory, and to sing a triumphal song in the midst of death; for otherwise they would not have courage to fight valiantly. But it is one thing to advance manfully to the battle, in reliance on the reward which God has promised to them, and to labor with their whole might for this object; and it is another thing to forget the contest, to turn aside from the enemy, to lose sight of dangers, and to rush forward to triumph, for which they ought to wait till the proper time.

The advance of the kingdom of grace does not come from great awakenings or grand gestures or bestsellers or big conferences. It comes through Gideon’s small band, an obscure Palestinian kingdom, a suffering savior, and apostles who died as martyrs. It is time more than ever for New Calvinists to get over George Whitefield.

Two Cities or One?

Michael Sean Winters thinks Bishop Robert McElroy’s article on the religious duties of voters has merits, but I wonder after reading this paragraph:

Most important, a spiritual political conversion requires the orientation of soul that flows from the principle of solidarity that St. John Paul II powerfully outlined as a fundamental element of Catholic social teaching. This orientation reminds us that in society we must always understand ourselves to be bound together in God’s grace and committed, in the words of “On Social Concerns,” “to the good of one’s neighbor, with the readiness, in the Gospel sense, to lose oneself for the sake of the other rather than exploiting him.”

The implications of such a spiritual stance for discipleship in voting are clearly reflected in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church: “The principle of solidarity requires that men and women of our day cultivate a greater awareness that they are debtors of the society of which they have become a part.”

I get having a sense of belonging to the rest of the people in the society of which I am a member. I don’t get what grace has to do with this.

Is it really true that Christians understand themselves to be bound together with non-Christians in God’s grace? Or if we apply the antithesis that Augustine affirmed in his formulation of 2 cities, then are we only bound together in society with other Christians? That was the construction that led European Christians to wonder about where Jews and Muslims fit in Christendom, and John Calvin to wonder about where Michel Servetus fit in Geneva.

So once again, perhaps the Bishop needs to make clear the difference between the two kingdoms, one that affirms a spiritual antithesis and a social commonness. Blurring the two will get us to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

It's Not A Reason to Re-Think Islam but to Wonder about Graham

John Schmalzbauer has an intriguing point about the kerfuffle at Wheaton over Christians and Muslims worshiping the same God. Previous administrators (before Phil Ryken) had signed a statement affirming solidarity between Christians and Muslims:

In November 2007 Wheaton’s president, provost, and chaplain signed a major statement on Christian-Muslim understanding that appeared in The New York Times. Calling for peace between the two religions, the document affirmed “our common love for God and for one another.” The 300 signatories included megachurch Pastor Rick Warren, Fuller Seminary President Richard Mouw, and the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. In January 2008, the statement drew strong rebukes from Minnesota Pastor John Piper and Southern Baptist educator Albert Mohler. Though Wheaton’s leaders later retracted their signatures, they continued to embrace the goal of peacemaking.

Schmalzbauer also adds details to Dr. Larcyia Hawkins’ decision to wear a hijab during Advent. A visit to a local Islamic center greased the skids:

On December 10 a group of faculty visited the Islamic Center of Wheaton. As they noted in a handwritten card: “We were inspired by another to also bring these flowers as a sign of our love and friendship. Our Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus show us that everyone is a brother and sister created in the image of God. We are glad you are part of the community.” That evening Larycia Hawkins announced her decision to wear a hijab on Facebook.

But rather than using this precedent to advise Dr. Hawkins to follow suit and retract her statement, Schmalzbauer hopes that Wheaton will follow one of its most famous alumni and board members, Billy Graham, who wrote:

He’s calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in heaven.

As has been the case with many who side with Hawkins, Schmalzbauer thinks that theological rejections of Islam as false or of Muslims as non-Christian (well, duh) are akin to nativism and anti-Semitism:

Reverberating through history, these questions are at the heart of a recent dustup at my alma mater, Wheaton College. Swirling around the school’s relationship with American Muslims, they summon the ghosts of evangelicalism’s past, including some of my own. Known as the Harvard of the evangelicals, Wheaton College has often struggled with the problem of who is in and who is out. From the pugnaciousness of the World Christian Fundamentals Association (the source of Wheaton’s 1926 statement of faith) to the irenic spirit of Billy Graham (an anthropology major from the class of 1943), the college has shaped the boundaries of modern evangelicalism. Far from static, these lines have shifted over the course of the past century. So has the relationship between evangelicalism and other religious traditions. Once plagued by nativism and anti-Semitism (still a problem in some quarters), evangelicals have reached out to Catholics and Jews. Now some are befriending their Muslim neighbors, leading others to reassert the boundary between Christianity and Islam.

With a name like Schmalzbauer and with a chair in Protestant studies, you might think author had come across two-kingdom theology somewhere along the line. If he had, Schmalzbauer should know that keeping Muslims (or Jews or Roman Catholics) from membership in a Protestant congregation is not the same thing as restricting their movements either as immigrants or citizens. Which is more important is another matter. But without 2k, as we so often see, Christians both on the left and the right tend to collapse theology and political theory such that Christianity becomes a function of how you conceive of the United States.

Hawkins and Schmalzbauer are right to empathize with Muslims legally in the United States and to stand against expressions of Islamophobia. John Fea thinks it’s the best piece yet written about Wheaton, Hawkins, and Islam. I wonder: why do you need to be a Christian to stand up for the civil rights of Muslims? More pointedly, what happens if a devout Muslim thinks your solidarity is condescending (think men saying women are just as good as men)?

Postscript: it looks like not even the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association would endorse Schmalzbauer’s quotation from Billy Graham. Even before Charlie Hebdo, southern California, and Jerry Falwell, Jr., BGEA tapped Al Mohler to respond to Dr. Hawkins:

Does God care what we call Him? Do Muslims and Christians worship the same god? These are questions many Christians are asking these days, and for good reason.

For some time now, feminist theologians and a host of others have suggested that Christians should adopt new names for God. One denomination went so far as to affirm names like “Giver, Gift and Giving” in place of the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” to be used in worship. Feminist theologians have demanded that masculine pronouns and names for God be replaced with female or gender-neutral terms. But to change the name of God is to redefine the God we reference. Changing the name of God is no small matter.

As a matter of fact, God takes His name very seriously, and the Ten Commandments include the command that we must not take the name of the Lord in vain. We are to use the names God has given for Himself, and we are to recognize that God takes His name seriously because He desires to be rightly known by His human creatures. We cannot truly know Him if we do not even know His name.

Moses understood this. When he encountered the call of God that came from the burning bush, Moses asked God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13). God answered Moses, “I Am who I Am” (Exodus 3:14). God told Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Exodus 3:15).

As these verses make clear, we are not to tamper with God’s name. We are to use the names whereby God has named Himself, and we are to recognize that any confusion about the name of God will lead to confusion about the nature of God, if not to idolatry.

Christians must keep this central principle from the Bible constantly in mind as we consider some of the most urgent questions we face in the world today. We must certainly have this principle in mind when we think about Islam.

Several years ago, a bishop in the Netherlands attracted controversy when he argued that Christians should call God “Allah” in order to lower theological tensions. He also argued that calling God “Allah” would be commonplace in Christian churches within a century and that this would lead to a synthesis of Islam and Christianity.

More recently, an Islamic court in Malaysia ruled that only Muslims can use the name “Allah” in print publications. “The usage of the word will cause confusion in the community,” the chief judge ruled. Oddly enough, Christians may well agree with this Islamic judge. To call God “Allah” is to invite confusion.

In the Bible, God reveals Himself to us in many names. These names are His personal property. We did not invent these names for God. To the contrary, God revealed these names as His own.

We have no right to modify or to revise these names—much less to reject them. Jesus Christ made this abundantly clear. In the simplest way imaginable, Jesus teaches us to know God as Father, and to use this name in prayer. The Lord’s Prayer begins with the words, “Our Father, who is in heaven.” By the grace that God has shown us in Christ, we can truly know Him as Father.

This is America, not The United States of Monotheists

I am still trying to wrap my mind around the Christians who are rallying to Dr. Larcyia Hawkins from Wheaton College for her decision to wear a hijab during Advent to show solidarity with Muslims. During Advent? Whatever happened to the integrity of the church calendar!!!! What about the feelings of high church Anglicans? We’re not even supposed to sing Christmas carols before Christmas day, but an Islamic head covering in anticipation of celebrating Christ’s birth? Someone’s feelings are always going to be hurt.

The trouble I’m having is that such shows of solidarity with Muslims come most recently after the shootings in southern California, the shootings in Paris last month, and the Charlie Hebdo killings of over a year ago. And then there is ISIS and ISIL — hello. Are all Muslims guilty of all these circumstances? Of course, not. But why do some evangelicals have such trouble understanding why Americans (not to mention Frenchmen and women) are a tad worried about Islamism and don’t know for the life of them exactly how to tell the difference between a Muslim and an Islamist (especially when some of the Muslims most likely to turn radical are the least observant)? Why also is it so easy for evangelicals to know that Jerry Falwell, Jr. is unworthy of solidarity if he recommends carrying guns when some Muslims actually do carry guns and use them?

The best I can do is come up with two American traits. The first is the American habit of identifying with the underdog. We like to root for the team with a remote chance of winning (except for Roman Catholic converts). Muslims are a small percentage of the American population. That makes them an underdog (though resorting to acts of terrorism does not).

The second trait is tolerance. All Americans, both on the left and right, affirm freedom of religion and speech in some fashion. We have a Bill of Rights and everyone loves liberty. Christians don’t celebrate freedom for gay rights activists and gay rights activists don’t go out of their way to protect the freedoms of cake decorators. Consistency is not the point. America should not exhibit bigotry. We should welcome anyone and not profile on the basis of race, religion, economic status, or place. Profiling on the basis of political party (Hilary identifies Republicans as her enemy) is fine. But no one teaching at an institution of higher learning wants to be confused with Donald Trump.

Still, Dr. Hawkins’ decision about how to observe Advent and the Christian support for her seems to go beyond these basic American ideals. It suggests an identification with the exotic, opposition to bigotry, and displaying one’s own progressive credentials. After all, it’s the Fox News watchers who are worried about Islam. It’s Jerry Falwell, Jr., a fundamentalist, who is seeming guilty of Islamophobia. So the logic seems to go — I’ll run the other way to show that I am not like them. Why showing solidarity with Christians who are afraid of political Islam doesn’t also display love and empathy is not at all obvious.

For Pete Enns, it’s a classic case of inerrancy vs. xenophia:

People are watching, and they haven’t read Wheaton’s statement of faith or the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

They’re just interested in seeing how Christians respond to a global crisis right here at home.

They want to see whether the rumors are true and their suspicions accurate, that Christians are as bigoted and xenophobic as they accuse others of being.

They want to see whether our actions are different from those of any other ideology.

As if not identifying with killers in southern California is bigoted.

Miroslav Volf tries for an analogy between Islam and Judaism, as if to suggest Christians should grant the same breadth to Muslims that they do to Jews:

Why is the Christian response to Muslim denial of the Trinity and the incarnation not the same as the response to similar Jewish denial? Why are many Christians today unable to say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God but understand God in partly different ways?

Well, some Christians don’t think Jewish people and Christians are people of the same faith; they’ve read Paul (for starters).

John Fea, who quotes Volf, wonders if Hawkins is simply trying to say something generic by resorting to theology:

I think Hawkins is trying to say that we all belong to the same family–the human family. And there are times, even in the life of an exclusively Christian college, when those human connections should be acknowledged. And they should be acknowledged, and even celebrated, for Christian reasons–namely the Imago Dei. So I am not sure that someone saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God is a statement that is necessarily out of bounds at a Christian college, but it must be carefully nuanced and explained.

Fea is on to something, more below, but should theology really function like this precisely when doctrine has historically divided people(even Christians)?

But here’s the thing. While many Christians are trying to distance themselves from xenophobia and bigotry, are they really prepared for the illiberality of Islam? After all, it’s not as if Islam is on the side of liberty, democracy, equal rights, and progress — all the things that those identifying with Muslims would likely affirm in the most whiggish of terms.

Consider, for instance, the current political footprint of Islam in nations where its followers have power. Again, I am not trying to engage in outrage porn. But consider the people who monitor liberal causes and then see if the Christians identifying with Islam are ready for everything involved with that identification.

For example, have these folks considered the significance of wearing a head scarf in Iran?

Women’s rights are severely restricted in Iran, to the point where women are even forbidden from watching men’s sports in stadiums. That ban includes Iran’s national obsession – volleyball.

Human Rights Watch is launching a new campaign, #Watch4Women, to support Iranian women fighting this ugly discrimination. What we’re asking is simple: that the International Volleyball Federation, known as the FIVB, uphold its own rules and agree not to allow Iran to host future tournaments – unless it allows Iranian women to attend. . . .

You see this played out across women’s lives. Women in Iran are forced to wear the hijab, the headscarf worn by some Muslim women, in public. This even applies to young schoolgirls, who are required to wear the head covering to attend elementary school.

Moreover, married women can’t even leave the country without their husband’s permission. In fact, in September the captain of Iran’s female football (soccer) team, Niloufar Ardalan, couldn’t play in an international tournament in Malaysia because her husband forbade her from traveling.

Iran does allow women to play sports, like football and volleyball. But none of these women are allowed to do something as simple as watch men play volleyball, even if their brothers, sons, or husbands are playing. In fact, Ghoncheh Ghavami, 25, a dual Iranian-British national, was arrested when she tried to attend a volleyball game in Tehran. Police are often posted around stadiums, in part to keep women out.

Or what about what’s going on in Saudi Arabia under the rule of an Islamic monarchy?

At last, Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights record is getting media scrutiny, thanks in part to news that Saudi authorities plan to lash 74-year-old Karl Andree, a British cancer survivor, 350 times for possessing homemade alcohol. Flogging in the kingdom entails a series of strikes with a wooden cane, with blows distributed across the back and legs, normally not breaking the skin but leaving bruises.

This ruling comes after a year of bizarre and cruel punishments meted out by the Saudi judiciary, including the public flogging of liberal blogger Raif Badawi in January and a death sentence for Ali al-Nimr, a Saudi man accused of protest-related activities allegedly committed before he was 18 years old.

Or does identifying with Islam include the anti-blasphemy laws in Islamic Pakistan?

Earlier today, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of the death penalty conviction of Aasia Bibi, the first woman in Pakistan’s history to be sentenced to death for blasphemy.

Bibi fell afoul of the law in June 2009 following an altercation with fellow farm workers who refused to drink water she had touched, contending it was “unclean” because she was Christian. On November 8, 2009, the Sheikhupura District Court convicted her under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, and ruled that there were “no mitigating circumstances.” In January 2010, a security officer assassinated the governor of Punjab province, Salmaan Taseer, for visiting Bibi in prison and denouncing her conviction.

Do evangelical academics really want to show solidarity with Muslims now? Some journalists even question whether the progressive New York Times should sponsor tours to Iran because of the authoritarian character of the nation’s Islamic government. Do folks like Hawkins, Enns and Wolf read the news? Showing solidarity with Islam now seems as confused as identifying Woodrow Wilson as the most profoundly Christian statesman of the twentieth century at precisely the same time that people at Wilson’s university don’t share that opinion.

Once again, as is so often the case when Christians opine about matters of common interest, the real problem is a confusion of categories. So two-kingdoms theology again to the rescue. What’s wrong with showing solidarity with Muslims a little more narrowly than John Fea proposed? Why can’t we identify with Muslims living in the United States as Americans (or people who want to be citizens)? As such, Christians and Muslims would be people who support freedom of religion, speech, association, as well as laws against murder. The way to do this might be to wear the hijab or (for men) shemagh on Presidents’ Day, July Fourth, the three weeks of March Madness. What does Advent have to do with it? And such an identification allows us to affirm something that we really do have in common — the greatest nation on God’s green earth as opposed to the places of worship that actually keep Muslims and Christians separate.

But if you think that Christian identity goes all the way down, if you fear the dualism of the sacred and secular, if you want religion in the public square, if you think faith must inform your judgments even as you carry out duties as a citizen, then you will have to resort to something like theology to identify with Muslims.

This is all the more reason why recognizing the difference between the secular and sacred realms frees Christians to be Christians rather than having to smuggle it in to do something it was never designed to do — turn Islam into Christianity.

Putting a Point on Christian America

Would the United States possibly consider a bill comparable to the Jewish State proposal of Israel, which includes the following language:

The state of Israel is a Jewish and a democratic state. These two values are intertwined, and one does not outweigh the other. We promise equal rights for everyone, regardless of religion, race or sex. At the same time, Israel is the nation-state of the Jews only. This combination between the the rights of the nation and the rights of the individual, serves as the central thread in all of Israel’s founding documents.

Try that for a Christian America:

The state of the United States is a Christian and a democratic state. These two values are intertwined, and one does not outweigh the other. We promise equal rights for everyone, regardless of religion, race or sex. At the same time, the United States is the nation-state of Christians only. This combination between the the rights of the nation and the rights of the individual, serves as the central thread in all of the United States’ founding documents.

Would this kind of legislation make unsexy Americans happy?

Noah Millman, a Jewish-American of some variety, is not happy with Israel’s proposed legislation because it provides legal justification for a status quo that discriminates against Arabs:

It means that Arab citizens can be discriminated against in housing, including state-supported efforts to move Jewish citizens into Arab-dominated regions coupled with local discrimination to keep Arab citizens out of Jewish areas. That they can be discriminated against in education – most Arab citizens are educated in a separate school system from Jewish Israelis (actually, there are three official “streams” in Israeli education, secular state schools, Jewish religious state schools, and Arab schools, plus a large set of ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious schools that are outside state control but receive state support, plus a small smattering of independent schools, but now I’ve probably given too much information). And so forth. . . .

This, in my view, is the most tangible practical significance of the Jewish State bill: that it would provide a legal justification for upholding the legitimacy of the discriminatory aspects of the status quo when faced with legal challenge.

The point of bringing this up is not the situation in Israel (where a modified bill is pending). It is instead to wonder how far Christian advocates of a Christian America are willing to go in their national self-understanding. Should non-Christians face discrimination in housing and education? Or if America is about freedom of religion as so much of the contemporary opposition to gay marriage has it, how is it possible to insist on a Christian America?