The Theology of Brexit

Massimo Faggioli reminds that Vatican II and the European Union are part of the same cultural moment:

The simultaneity of the Dublin conference and Brexit made me think about the tight relationship between development of Catholic theology (especially ecclesiology) in the 20th century and the development of Catholicism from multinational to truly internationalist/globalist. Catholic support for the European project after World War II (from Pius XII to the most important politicians of the Christian-Democratic parties governing Europe after 1945) was part of the transition from the nationalist, romantic roots of the theological ressourcement between the mid-19th century and the 1920s and ’30s. At Vatican II, Catholic theology internationalized what had been born as expressions of national movements during the previous century (adoption of the vernacular; the new role of national bishops’ conferences; anti- Curia sentiment; anti-capitalist, anti-democratic, and anti-liberal Catholic social movements, etc.). The internationalist quality of Pacem in terris and Gaudium et spes was a turning point in doctrine concerning the state and government in Catholic theology, and also a response to the most powerful internationalism of the second half of the century, Communism. At Vatican II, Catholicism became an advocate of globalization, which John XXIII had called in the opening speech of the council in 1962 “a new order of human relations.”

The ties between Vatican II and the EU are even closer in the minds of traditionalist Roman Catholics:

Brexit can be seen as a subset of the debate on Vatican II and the post-Vatican II period, at least among Catholics. It’s no secret that Catholics and the Catholic bishops of Britain were deeply divided over Brexit, and that for many conservative Catholics in Britain opposition to the EU and to Vatican II has similar roots. Traditionalist Catholics who today reject “the new order”—in terms of economic and social exclusion, as well as of the dominance of what Francis in Laudato si’ called “the technocratic paradigm”—tend to put Vatican II and the EU together in one category of internationalization and globalization; they choose a traditional, pre-global church and a nation-state (even though this fallback on the nation-state is for them theologically not unproblematic) as opposed to the larger framework of a globalized ecclesial context and a European political union. It is an opposition to a much more complex world, politically and theologically, and to the modern, globalized attitudes toward vulnerable life, marriage, family, subsidiarity, immigration, war, and peace. It is an opposition that puts back into question the Catholic perception of political power, and in particular the church’s perception of the sovereignty of the nation-state and of international/supranational institutions.

Meanwhile, Damon Linker notices aspects of Angela Merkel’s responsibility for the circumstances that led to Brexit that could also be applied to Pope Francis, perhaps the post-Vatican II pope that most embodies Vatican II:

Angela Merkel is the real catalyst behind the outcome of the UK referendum. Not only did the German chancellor insist on admitting well over a million refugees and migrants from the Greater Middle East into the heart of Europe. Supporters of the policy have also made it clear on numerous occasions that they consider racism and xenophobia to be the only possible grounds for opposing her stand.

From the standpoint of progressivism, this makes perfect sense. An open-door policy toward refugees and migrants fleeing unrest in the Levant and North Africa is obviously the only morally acceptable option. It shouldn’t matter whether those immigrants are Muslims, or if they’re Syrians or Libyans, skilled or unskilled, poor or middle class, literate or illiterate, eager to assimilate or convinced of the need to resist it, looking for freedom and pluralism or hoping to build an enclave of Sharia law within the West. And there’s certainly no reason to suspect that any of them might turn toward terrorism, now or a generation from now. They’re just placeless people — human beings in need of aid, comfort, and charity. That’s all that should matter.

Except that many millions of citizens in EU member countries don’t see it this way. It does matter to them, just as it also matters to them whether Turkey is eventually invited to join the union, and they don’t appreciate having their concerns about the ethnic, religious, linguistic, and economic character of their political communities dismissed as moral pathologies.

Nor do they care to have their religious institutions circumscribed by remote bishops and cardinals. Pre- or post-Vatican II, subsidiarity matters.

Thanks for Nothing, Confederates

If you guys had merely held a referendum on secession instead of shooting guns, we might find Christian support for a U Sexit strategy comparable to British believers’ support for Brexit (via Chris Gerhz):

Practising Christians are the most likely among faith communities in England to support the Eurosceptic ‘Brexit’ position.

Muslims, meanwile, are the most Europhile of all the religious groups, a new survey has found.

The findings came in the new Populus Hope Not Hate survey which throws light for the first time on what different religious groups feel about the EU referendum in June.

“All the questions suggest that professing Christians are currently more likely than average to take up Eurosceptic positions, with Muslims the most Europhile,” reports religious researcher Clive Field.

Terry Teachout explains why U Sexit may be necessary (thanks to Rod):

In a totally polarized political environment, persuasion is no longer possible: we believe what we believe, and nothing matters but class and power. We are well on the way to becoming a land of jerking knees.

Never before have I felt so strongly that Americans are talking past instead of to one another. It is, I fear, our future and our fate—which is why I have come to believe that I will live to see Red and Blue America negotiate a “soft disunion.” No, there won’t be a second civil war. I can’t imagine the citizens of Blue America waging a shooting war over much of anything, least of all continued union with people whom they disdain. (Red America is a different story.) But the gap that separates the two Americas has grown so deep and wide that I find it increasingly difficult to imagine their caring to function as a single nation for very much longer. If I’m right, then I expect that they will ultimately find a more or less polite way to stop doing so.

Isn’t polarization what happens when we place personal over national identity? But just try issuing yourself a passport that will get you past customs. Not even calling the church an embassy will work:

Leeman descends from global height in his Preface to mountain-top height in his Introduction. And here, one gets a sense of his concerns. “A fundamental assumption of…many democratic Westerners, is that local churches are one more voluntary organization.” (21) In contrast, claims Leeman, “The church is a kind of embassy, only it represents a kingdom of even greater political consequence to the nations and their governors. And this embassy represents a kingdom not from across geographic space but from across eschatological time.” (22)

Isn’t that treasonous?

How Scotland May Feel the South's Pain (or not)

Turns out that getting out of a united and centralized nation may have been easier if you fought your way out (or, count the ways I was wrong):

The SNP has no idea what it is doing, or the risks it is running. Worse, nor does it seem to care.

During a debate in the referendum campaign last fall, then-SNP leader Alex Salmond was asked simply what currency an independent Scotland would have. That would be no problem, he said. We would carry on using the pound, together with the rest of the United Kingdom, and we would share control of a central bank. Absolutely not, said his unionist opponent. Every British political party has made it starkly clear that they would never accept such an outcome. By the way, that was last year, when the rest of Britain was feeling much less aggrieved than it is now by the SNP’s general demagoguery and hate campaigns.

So, given that the shared pound is not a starter, asked his critics, what was Salmond’s Plan B? Repeated questioning failed to shift Salmond at this point, demonstrating to all but his most unyielding supporters that there was no Plan B, and that the SNP had never even thought through the currency issue. That might have been the single moment at which the referendum campaign was lost. Salmond resigned as SNP leader after that debacle, but he has been very visible in recent days, repeating the familiar claims and boasts.

Fortunately, Scotland never had to confront the consequences of this insanity, but let us assume that, after the recent elections, they do become independent. What about the currency?

In the referendum debates, Salmond’s next option was a threat, something at which the SNP is expert. If the United Kingdom refused to share the pound, he said, then the new Scotland would refuse to pay its share of the national debt. The problem there is that an independent Scotland would begin its career as a nation in default, unable to raise credit even for its existing commitments, never mind covering the expense of the ever-expanding welfare state promised by Salmond’s party. The likely consequence would be social collapse and mass unemployment. Presumably English and European aid would prevent actual food riots.

Meanwhile, the moderator of the Free Church of Scotland still wants to turn the world upside down:

The Marxist historian, Christopher Hill, wrote a magnificent book about the 17th Century English Civil War, which he entitled The World Turned Upside Down. In it he examined the radical ideas of the English revolutionaries. Those who are familiar with the King James English version of the Bible will know that he lifted the phrase from Acts 17:6. I liked the idea so much that when I first became a theological student and had to travel the country preaching, one of the verses I often preached on was that one. And then I discovered the more modern NIV translation “These men who have caused trouble all over the world, have now come here”. Did I want to be known as a troublemaker? Do we? It seems to me that in modern Scotland those of us who want to hold to the biblical position are in danger of being regarded as, if not enemies of the State, at least troublesome undesirables from a past era. Is it not the default position of much of modern European Christianity, that though we talk about being radical, we prefer comfortable conservatism, the kind that never changes anything?

Except, that is, in the presence of royalty (or its aura):

then came the evening ‘Lord High Commissioners’ reception at Holyrood Palace. From the beginning it was just such a different world. The palace itself is beautiful, the ceremonies quaint and the people ‘different class’….mostly aristocracy and high clergy. There was so much that fascinated and amused me. Walking into one room and seeing the portrait of Charles the First (perhaps I shouldn’t have commented ‘off with his head!”); thinking that black tie meant a black tie – not realising that it meant black dickie bow, tails and more formal dress….so there was I standing in my brown suit (and black funeral tie) whilst the other ‘high heid un’ clerlgy were in dog collars, purple robes and the various regalia. Still at least it made people ask ‘what do you do?”.

Sitting at the massive table in the dining room – with 80 others – was also an experience. The Lady beside me asked ‘what do you think of gay marriage’ as her opening gambit. Then I spoke to the Lady on my right – who was a judge and indeed had judged the FCC v’s Free Church case. She was absolutely wonderful. She is an intelligent, thoughtful and open minded atheist/agnostic. She is my new ‘bestie’! Suffice it to say I had the most stimulating two hour conversation (Annabel was sitting further down the table) on the law, the bible and the gospel. I feel that I now have a calling to ministry amongst the aristocracy!

Although I am a bit of a pleb. I was horrified when we were asked to raise a glass to the Queen, as I had already drunk my wine. And I was even more horrified to discover that my part of the beautiful white linen cloth was the only one stained by gravy. I wasn’t the only pleb there though! Annabel was talking to a woman who said that she helped with the Queens flowers. To which Annabel replied ‘Are you a florist?”! Not sure that Lady X was all that enamoured.

Postscript: if you want to know the biggest difference between Old and New World Presbyterianism, it is this. In Ireland and Scotland moderators of assemblies still report to and hob nob with the monarchy and its minions. In the United States (can’t speak for Canada), you are lucky if the White House chief of staff knows the URL for your communion.

The Costs and Benefits of Union

The No’s have it 55% to 45% and the United Kingdom remains intact for now. That rush you hear is the collective sigh of relief from Northern Ireland.

David Robertson proved prophetic but he also comes from one of the few places that voted Yes. It raises the question of whether Pastor Robertson persuaded lots of Dundee’s residents to vote Yes or whether he was a Free Church version of a deeper Dundee sentiment. W-wers will always tell us that religion trumps region. I think only our hairdressers know for sure.

And David from Scotland, this one by the name of Murray who teaches in the Dutch New Jerusalem, predicted the outcome but worried about the health of the churches in his native land:

I keep coming back to the spiritual implications and asking, “What would be best for the Kingdom of God?”

I agree with the Christians who argue that the evidence from the devolved Scottish parliament since its inception in 1999 is that Scottish politicians have tried to outdo and outpace their London counterparts in stripping Scotland of its Christian heritage and replacing it with a rabidly secular agenda. Yes, I’m ashamed to say, Scotland has led the way in the UK in legislating for gay rights, gay adoption, gay marriage, etc. Having said that, London has only been a step or two behind. So, whether Scotland stays in the union or votes for independence, I don’t see either arrangement making that much difference to Christians or the Church of Christ.

Presbyterians in North American can say that the United Kingdom has been good by a variety of measures for Presbyterian churches over here. Without a United Kingdom, the Scots would not have been part of the British empire which in turn extended both Presbyterianism and Anglicanism around the world. True, North America had a Reformed church — the Dutch one — before the English achieved hegemony on the Eastern Seaboard. But could the Dutch have withstood the French (whom the British defeated in the 1763 after dispatching the Dutch nine decades earlier)? The Dutch could not withstand Napoleon. The effect of the French Revolution on a Francophone North America is anyone’s guess. But even if it wasn’t as bad for the Reformed churches in Geneva or Amsterdam as some have argued, it wasn’t entirely positive. In contrast, the British dominance of North America gave Scottish and Irish Presbyterians a foothold which after American independence became a significant presence in U.S. and Canadian religious life. On this side of the United Kingdom, we can say it was a positive development in several respects.

One thought that occurred to me last night while listening to an NPR show about the vote was the shared cultural memory that the Scots and English have thanks to two world wars. One of the most moving parts of visiting Scotland last summer was to see the lists of Scottish soldiers who died in the wars. They seemed to be everywhere — in the old buildings at the University of Edinburgh, at St. Giles’ Cathedral, and at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Would independence have required wiping out that memory of collective effort? The question is all the more poignant when you consider that independence from a United Kingdom allowed Ireland to remain neutral in World War II. That position did not prevent Irish from the Republic from serving in the war — as many as 100,000 fought with the British (over 3,500 died). But figuring out how to remember their deaths becomes a whole lot more complicated when the point of your republic is autonomy from London.

I wonder how much the memory of Scottish casualties in the United Kingdom’s wars made Yes impossible.

Show Me the Currency!

Why the Scots should listen to economists more than pastors when it comes to temporal affairs:

One of the strongest practical arguments against Scottish independence, made by Paul Krugman this weekend, is that an independent Scotland would actually wind up with less control over its economy than it does now – because it would have no more say in British monetary policy, but, so long as it kept the pound, would be as affected by that policy as it is now. And the “yes” advocates have been very clear that they intend to keep the pound.

I think he’s right. I’ve argued for some time that if anyone is interested in saving “Europe,” then “Europe” needs some kind of fiscal union – not by any means a powerful centralized state like France, but some kind of confederal or federal arrangement, with limited but real powers and direct accountability to voters. If Europe’s states don’t want to cede national sovereignty in that way, then they really do need to rethink the whole currency union thing – or just settle in to a quasi-colonial relationship with Germany and be done with it.

But if all of the foregoing is true, then why would Scotland seek an independent government but remain tied to a foreign currency? Why would “ditch Westminster, keep the pound” be a reassuring platform, rather than an ominous one?

The answer doesn’t just relate to what constitutes an optimal currency area or how integrated Scotland is with England, economically. It relates to transition costs. And it relates to what degree of confidence Scotland’s electorate has in their own, new political culture. Keeping the pound, at least initially, is much cheaper than ditching it. And the prospect of ditching it in the future would mean higher borrowing costs today. Why, after all, would you want to ditch a solid, respectable currency unless you planned to devalue? And if you wanted to tie the hands of a new government that might otherwise open the spigot a bit too wide, what better way than to force them to borrow in a foreign currency?

Precious few seceding states in recent years have adopted a truly independent monetary policy. Many have ditched their own newly-minted currencies entirely. Slovakia adopted the Euro before the Czech Republic has. Montenegro and Kosovo adopted it unilaterally. The Baltic states have rushed to adopt it as swiftly as possible. Croatia is hammering at the door to get in, notwithstanding all the nastiness of the past five years. Countries also continue to adopt the dollar as either their official currency (e.g. Ecuador, El Salvador) or as legal tender alongside a pegged local currency.

Indeed, not that many years ago, the question was whether Britain would ultimately join the Euro, not whether the Euro would ultimately collapse. If it had, then what I am calling one of the strongest practical arguments against Scottish independence would be entirely nugatory. If the UK had adopted the Euro, then leaving the UK would have exactly zero implications for Scotland’s control over its monetary policy. Even as, on one level, monetary union has made deeper European political integration more necessary, it has also made political separatism, from Catalonia to Flanders to Lombardy, vastly more plausible. But these ever-smaller political entities will perforce have even less control over the forces that largely determine their destiny than they once did as part of a national community with direct accountability to voters.

But such a calculation winds up making Scotland just as money-grubbing as London, no?

I Had No Idea that Edinburgh Was the Colorado Springs of the UK

David Robertson continues to argue for Scottish independence. What is curious about his reasoning is how little he relies in the Bible or theology. He might have appealed to the Tower of Babel, for instance. But he doesn’t:

1) Britain is past its sell by date – The United Kingdom was formed on the basis of the Empire, Protestantism and capitalism. Capitalism has triumphed but the other two reasons have gone. I am particularly concerned that the Christian foundation of Britain has been removed and we will not long have the fruits once the roots have gone.

2) We should govern ourselves – There is a basic principle of self-determination. Scotland should be governed from Scotland.

3) Scotland is a wealthy nation –A great deal of the argument is about oil but there are many other factors involved as well. Scotland is a small country with just over 5 million people. We have substantial resources in agriculture, industry, education, whisky, fishing, renewable energy, commerce and the arts. We are an inventive and creative people.

4) Social, economic and political justice – I believe that in a smaller nation with a strong democratic tradition, and less dependence on the City of London and Big Business, there is a greater prospect of a more just and equal society.

5) The Church will have more influence in an independent Scotland –Isn’t the Scottish parliament an institution that wants to distance itself from Scotland’s Christian past? It’s a moot point whether the UK or Scotland is going downhill quicker, but the fact is that they both are. Indeed they have descended at such a speed that I think we have to say that Christendom has gone. I am very concerned at some of the statements and actions coming from the Scottish Parliament in general and Alex Salmond in particular. But then I am equally concerned at what comes out of Westminster and David Cameron. Besides which voting for independence is not voting for a particular political party or leader.

I believe it will be easier for the Church and Christians to have a say in a society which is not centred on the worship of Mammon (the City of London), and which is a lot smaller. I certainly feel far more connected to Holyrood than Westminster. An independent Scotland will mean a new beginning. And the Church should be in there from the beginning seeking to be salt and light.

I detect a bit of resentment directed at London, but I didn’t necessarily see a lot of Christian presence in Edinburgh (though I did see a lot of souvenir shops and pubs which was a lot like any other city in the West). In another post Robertson again expresses distrust of London:

I still believe that we could have a more socially just system if we were independent of London control, and it doesn’t really bother me too much if we use the pound, the euro or the new Scottish groat! I will be glad to be rid of Trident, the dependency culture and being involved in ill thought out and meaningless wars.

At the same time, Robertson takes the temperature of his feet (which seem to be increasingly cool):

What kind of Scotland will an independent Scotland be? What will be its foundation? Will it be a series of populist measures, based upon an untried, fanciful secular humanist system that totally ignores Scotland’s Christian foundation? Or will you forget all the gesture politics, meaningless language and instead give us some social justice, education, health care, housing, etc? Are you seeking to remove Christianity from the public square? Can you tell me how you hope to have the fruits of Christianity without the roots?

Over 50 per cent of people in Scotland profess to be Christian. So why do you appear to be keen to throw out our Scottish Christian heritage? I will probably still vote for independence because I am not sure that ‘Christian Britain’ exists any more. But many others who share my faith in Jesus will be very reluctant to cast away what remains of Christian Britain to enter the surreal world of secular Scotland. Can you reassure us that there is a place for Christianity (other than in the museum) in the new Scotland? I look forward to hearing your answer.

Fifty percent? Heck, America has upwards of 75 percent of its people professing to be Christian and I doubt pastor Robertson would look at the U.S. as a model for Christian society. That’s not an argument for or against Scottish independence. It does raise questions about the way Christians analyze and discuss temporal matters.

Whose Calvinism, Which Presbyterianism

I continue to be fascinated by the idea of Scottish independence. In Prospect Magazine this morning I read this account of Scottish Calvinism in David Marquand’s case for a federalist solution to the United Kingdom’s discomfort:

. . . the Scottish government is — implicitly at least — social-democratic. It seeks independence to protect Scottish social democracy against the market fundamentalism of the London government, both within the UK and in its dealings with the EU. The roots of Scottish social democracy go deep. The political cultures of all the non-English nations of Great Britain are very different from their English counterparts. As a civil servant in the Welsh education department put it in my hearing not long ago, the overarching theme of UK governance can be summed up as “choice, competition, customer.” The Welsh equivalent is: “voice, cooperation, citizen.” . . . But ever since Mrs Thatcher crossed the threshold of No 10 all UK governments, irrespective of party, have been in thrall to the imperatives of what Philip Bobbitt, the legal historian and philosopher, has called the “market state.” These imperatives have not only violated the underlying assumptions of Scotland’s political culture; they have also trampled on the religious traditions with which that culture is intertwined. Scotland’s religious traditions are Roman Catholic and Calvinist. Both reject the Hayekian market individualism of Thatcher and the watered down version of it that prevailed under Blair and Brow. Two particularly egregious Thatcherisms stank in Scottish nostrils: her dictum that no one would remember the Good Samaritan if he hadn’t had the money to give effect to his good intentions; and her notorious “sermon on the mound,” in which she insisted that since Christ chose to lay down his life, freedom of choice was the essence of Christianity.

I have no quarrel with Scottish social democrats, nor with the parish ideals that inspired the Free Church of Scotland in the days of Thomas Chalmers. Let Scottish Presbyterians be Scottish Presbyterians. But why Calvinism is responsible for this social outlook when we on the other side of the Atlantic regularly hear about Calvinism’s market friendly and individualistic ways, I don’t understand. Could it be that Calvinism is just as plastic as evangelicalism? The seer sees what she wants to see.

Love of Country

I was glad to see Matt Holst challenge modestly Rick Phillips’ patriotic post about the need for Christians to love the United States. One of the best ways to register a 2k perspective is to ask whether Christianity has a special relationship with any particular nation, or whether Christians themselves have an obligation, no matter their citizenship, to the United States. Christians in the U.S. would not like instructions to love Mexico on the fifth day of May and would likely snicker at similar exhortations about a duty to love Canada on July 1. Why American Protestants don’t recognize the problem that Christian patriotism poses for Christians who are not citizens but reside LEGALLY in the U.S. is a riddle I am still trying to solve. But Charles Hodge’s argument in the context of the Civil War that the church supporting the Federal Government was akin to singing the Star Spangled Banner at the observance of the Lord’s Supper captures the 2k dynamic nicely. So does a Dutchman asking why a congregation has a U.S. flag at the front of its church.

Holst’s objection started with an acknowledgment that he is a “furr-ner,” an outsider:

It is always an interesting time of year for a foreigner to be in America. Every Fourth of July, I jest with our church members that the Sunday morning sermon closest to the Fourth will be on Romans 13 – submission to the civil magistrate. People laugh…usually. The obvious historical reasons aside, it is even more interesting for someone from Britain to be in the States on this date because Britain is a peculiarly unpatriotic place – nothing like America in that sense. I don’t recall ever seeing Union flags displayed on people’s houses, except in peculiar circumstances such as a royal birth or sporting achievement. The view of the armed forces in the UK has been nothing like that in America; it is much more low-key and much less admired, to be quite honest. To be clear, I am not saying that such is a good thing.

Moreover, Britain is itself a nation divided into four countries and four separate identities. When asked where I am from, my answer is Wales, not the UK. Speaking to most people over here, I inevitably have to explain where Wales is located. As an aside, I was once talking to a seminary student, who commented “You’re not from around here are you?”. I replied “No I’m from Wales”. To which he replied, in all seriousness, “Ah, a good Scotsman!” The conversation ended pretty quickly after that. My point is that the UK has multiple identities, with very few Welshmen being willing to accept the moniker “Scottish” and absolutely no Welshman willing to accept the label “English”. In spite of a rich and varied history, and maybe because of it, the UK does not have the same level or expressions of patriotism regularly evidenced on this side of the Atlantic.

In other words, Christianity transcends nations and so calling for Christian love of country only begins to make sense if you create space between country and faith, with patriotism being one form of affection, membership in the church another.

But Holst bring up some other matters that deserve comment, especially his contrast between the UK and the U.S. In fact, he touches on a subject that I am not sure Brits necessarily understand any better than Yanks, that is, the nature of British identity. Sports journalists needed to wrestle with this recently when Andrew Murray won at Wimbledon. Is Murray a Scot? A Brit? An Englishman? Some conjectured that whenever Murray lost he was a Scot, but when he won he was English. Indeed, among the three kingdoms that comprise the “United” Kingdom, national identity is anything but fixed, at least as J.C.D. Clark explains:

‘British” as a term in general usage has therefore had at least two senses. One was a spontaneous or encouraged Unionist identity allegedly felt equally by Scots, Irish, Welsh and English. This may indeed have been problematic. But another usage was more prevalent: as employed by the four groups, usually when abroad, ‘British’ was an official, political euphemism for one’s sectional identity, whether English, Welsh, Irish, or Scots: it was to a considerable degree synonymous with, and not a substitute for, sectional national identities. If so, it matters less that ‘British’ in the sense of the whig defenders of 1707 had shallow foundations: ‘Britishness’ in its prevalent sense rested in large part on the ancient and massive foundations of Englishness, and the equally ancient if differently formulated identities of England’s neighbours.

. . . . Britain was not invented; it developed. It was not devised by a small number of cultural entrepreneurs, acting like advertising executives to package and market a new product; it grew, the often unintended result of actions by men and women in many walks of life, often, too the result of conflicts and cross-purposes.

But contrary to Holst (and I am not criticizing as much as I am working out some of my own fascination with religious affiliations and national identities), a sense of Britishness did emerge, according to Clark, very much with the aid of Protestantism:

The ancient identity of the Ecclesia Anglicana meant that the Reformation did not at once create a unitary national identity. As a religious message of universal validity, Protestantism initially implied a reaction against the national subdivision of the universal church; only subsequently were some sections of ‘Protestantism’ identified with national churches and so with national identities. One strand of the Reformation stressed a pan-European solidarity between believers in the Reformed traditions, a shared sense of a supra-national destiny. Since the English had ‘a long-standing reputation for xenophobia’ even by 1500, it did not help that Protestant theology was originally associated with German reformers; not until the reign of Mary I (I553-8) were reformers ‘given the opportunity to sail for the first time under Protestant colours.’ Anti-popery, too, could be an international phenomenon, and not until Elizabeth’s reign did an assumption become prevalent that England had a special, or even the leading, role in that drama.125 The church in England only adopted the label ‘Protestant’ for itself in the first decade of the seventeenth century, and then in order to distinguish itself from both Rome and Geneva: Anglican Protestantism did not become pan-European. In Scotland and Northern Ireland the Reformation went much further: confessional differences have been basic to the emerging ‘three kingdoms’ explanation of the dynamics of state formation in the British Isles,” and when Wales acquired a distinct confessional identity from Protestant Dissent in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, that principality took its place as a fourth component in the model.

So it is not the case that Americans are the exceptions who link their faith to their patriotism. They learned it from the Brits, or English, or Scots, or Welsh, or Irish. For a popular rendition of English conflation of faith and patriotism, see the third season of Downton Abbey where Lord Grantham cannot tolerate the idea that his granddaughter, who is the child of an Irish Roman Catholic — chauffeur no less, will be baptized a Roman Catholic. The English national identity was very much bound up with the Protestantism of the Church of England.

But if that little hiccup of British civil religion is so obvious to American viewers of Downton Abbey, why aren’t similar conflations of faith and nationalism obvious to Christians in the U.S.? One reason may be the very notion of love of country. Holst makes the useful point that such love is not commanded in Scripture:

. . . when I read that a Christian is to love his country, I’m left a little bit confused. What exactly am I to love? Presidents? Congressmen? Hills, valleys streams, lakes (I have no difficulty loving them)? The people? The armed forces? Government? I wonder if Rick’s advice, which I regularly find beneficial and prudent, has, on this matter, slipped into an amorphous Americanity – a more subtle form of “God and Country” which is so prevalent in certain areas of the church. Such is the kind of Christianity which has the American flag on one side of the pulpit and the Christian flag (wherever that came from?) on the other. America, like every other Western nation has had a remarkable yet chequered history – morally, economically and militarily. What are we to love, and what kind of love are we to show?

Holst may be confused because most modern citizens of nation-states are confused. A colleague tells me that the proper way to love the United States is to think of it as a people and a place. Loving the American people can be a challenge since it would mean having to love Alex Rodgriguez along with Phil Hendrie. But loving a place may be easier if we took a greater delight in the locales where we live. Certainly, though, if we identify the United States with its government (and a chief part of that government’s expenditure — the military and all those damned wars), we will have a different kind of love than the older variety of love of country.

I myself do not think it is wrong to love country as long as it is a love qualified by higher and holier affections (no, not those kind). I love my wife, for instance. The Bible tells me I have to. But I also love our surviving cat. The Bible doesn’t tell me to do that. Nor does it prohibit such love, which is one of those key points bound up with Christian liberty and two-kingdom theology. We are free to love a country (I think) and we are free not to love a country. We are not free to identify a country with the kingdom of Christ.

The Queen's Speech

During the events surrounding the United States’ bicentennial, Queen Elizabeth took participated in a ceremony held in my beloved Philadelphia, the nation’s first capital. The Queen presented a Bicentennial Bell to the United States, with the help of strong assistants (likely overpaid and under worked members of one of the city’s unions). Her remarks were remarkable for their graciousness and wisdom, especially considering that soldiers and citizens on both sides of the revolutionary war died. The text of the speech (below) is also preserved at the wall of the bell tower in Old City Philadelphia, at the southeast corner of 3rd and Chestnut Streets. It is not a bad way to reflect on the significance of July 4th.

Remarks Of Queen Elizabeth II At The Presentation Of The Bicentennial Bell, July 6, 1976

I speak to you as the direct descendant of King George III. He was the last Crowned Sovereign to rule in this country, and it is therefore with a particular personal interest that I view those events which took place 200 years ago.

It seems to me that Independence Day, the Fourth of July, should be celebrated as much in Britain as in America. Not in rejoicing at the separation of the American Colonies from the British Crown but in sincere gratitude to the Founding Fathers of this great Republic for having taught Britain a very valuable lesson.

We lost the American colonies because we lacked that statesmanship “to know the right time, and the manner of yielding, what is impossible to keep.”

But the lesson was learned. In the next century and a half we kept more closely to the principles of Magna Carta which have been the common heritage of both our countries.

We learned to respect the right of others to govern themselves in their own ways. This was the outcome of experience learned the hard way in 1776. Without that great act in the cause of liberty performed in Independence Hall two hundred years ago, we could never have transformed an Empire into a Commonwealth!

Ultimately peace brought a renewal of friendship which has continued and grown over the years and has played a vital part in world affairs. Together we have fought in two world wars in the defence of our common heritage of freedom. Together we have striven to keep the peace so dearly won. Together, as friends and allies, we can face the uncertainties of the future, and this is something for which we in Britain can also celebrate the Fourth of July.

This morning I saw the famous Liberty Bell. It came here over 200 years ago when Philadelphia, after London, was the largest English speaking city in the world. It was cast to commemorate the Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges, but is better known for its association with the Declaration of Independence.

Today, to mark the 200th anniversary of that declaration, it gives me the greatest pleasure, on behalf of the British people, to present a new bell to the people of the United States of America. It comes from the same foundry as the Liberty Bell, but written on the side of the Bicentennial Bell are the words “Let Freedom Ring”.

It is a message in which both our people can join and which I hope will be heard around the world for centuries to come.