Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Defending Christendom

Posted: December 8, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Christ & Culture, Church History, History, Politics
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There’s a lot in Peter Leithart’s interview with Jason Hood at the Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology’s website, so I won’t try to summarize it all.  Leithart is, as he says, “an advocate of Christendom” who believes that Christians are to tell rulers that they must “kiss the Son” (Psalm 2) and obey the risen Lord of the universe, Jesus Christ.

Here are a couple of excerpts, but I’d really suggest that you take 15 minutes or so to read the whole thing if this topic interests you:

Political theology is not some specialized branch of theology, but a dimension of all theology.  Politics is not simply about passing this legislation or electing that candidate.  Politics addresses questions about the distribution of power, and more broadly questions about the shape and future of a group.  Theology cannot help but address those questions, and do it all the time.  The Bible certainly deals with political questions like this.

So, even when I am not doing political theology, I am doing political theology.  Let me given a couple of examples of what I mean.  Ecclesiology has been a major focus of my work, and, as I see it, that bumps directly up against political questions.  The intimate connection between ecclesiology and politics has been obscured in modernity because the church has been marginalized and has allowed itself to be transformed into a sociologically invisible and politically innocuous religious group.  Scripture, by contrast, treats the church as a political entity in itself, each individual congregation as an outpost of the heavenly empire of a heavenly Emperor.   That means that the church and its claims about Jesus, sin, and salvation are political claims, necessarily.

Secondly,

7.  Some political theologians note that Daniel simultaneously models service, critique, and a message of divine judgment.  Are all three of these to be implemented by believers?  Are they postures we should always exhibit, or are they more appropriate at some times than others?

PL:  I do think that the mix of these three postures varies depending on the political circumstances, and depending on the person involved.   And Scripture indicates that men and women can work faithfully even under the worst of rulers – think of Obadiah during the days of Ahab.  In thinking through this, my thoughts again gravitate to ecclesiological issues.  Daniel was able to serve, but also maintain a critical distance, because he was a member of another community, of Israel.  It seems that Christians today have difficulty maintaining that complex stance, or doing that complicated dance, because we don’t have an alternative home.  When Christians enter political life deeply conscious of the fact that they are members of the church, Christians first and foremost, that gives them a place to stand when they critique and when they serve.

I noticed significant overlap between the eccelesiology of Leithart and that of James Davison Hunter in To Change the World.  Both long for a church that is a true alternate community and that forms its members so that they can engage with society in a way that pleases God.  A big difference, of course, is Leithart’s postmillenial confidence that the kingdom will triumph in history, while Hunter has more of a two kingdoms view.

To see a bit of where Leithart is coming from eschatologically, check out his sketch of “the long view.”  The consideration of just war and total war that he discusses can be found here.

Hat tip: Justin Taylor

George W. Bush’s Legacy on World Aids Day 2010

Posted: December 2, 2010 by Rick Hogaboam in Politics
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Yesterday, Dec. 1, was World Aids Day. I don’t have all the links here, but I came across some articles that from surprising sources that lauded President Bush for his commitment on the AIDS issue, even suggesting that his legacy is linked with the his efforts on the issue more so than Iraq. Jeffrey Shapiro has a piece where he cites more comprehensively the various news outlet’s response to Bush on World AIDS day (link).

Here’s part of the article:

According to Frist, Bush’s PEPFAR initiative may have saved as many as 10 million lives.

When I saw President Bush speak at the Miami Book Fair last month about his new memoir, “Decision Points,” he told a small audience that his reasons for PEPFAR were two-fold. The first reason was to enhance the national security of the United States because, according to the president, when America helps other countries it creates allies instead of enemies. 

The second reason was, “to alleviate human suffering and show compassion because it was the right thing to do.”

That’s because the underlying criteria for many of Mr. Bush’s presidential decisions was making the world a better place, not just for Americans, but for the entire human race.

In fact, before he left the White House, President Bush renewed PEPFAR in July 2008 — which tripled the original act’s funds to $48 billion and even expanded the legislation’s aim to combating malaria as well. 

As a result of Bush’s mission to prevent AIDS in Africa, the U.S. was able to expand its overall human rights role there, condemning the killings in Darfur as “genocide,” and proactively discouraging regional conflicts in other African countries.

Here’s a link to an article with some post-election analysis concerning the Evangelical turnout (link). The article states (emphasis mine):

 According to a post-election survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies for the Faith and Freedom Coalition, the largest single constituency in the electorate in the 2010 midterm elections was self-identified evangelicals, who comprised 29% of the vote. This turnout represented a 5 percent increase in evangelical turnout over 2006 and was the largest ever recorded in a midterm election. Evangelicals were joined by frequently church-attending Roman Catholic voters, who constituted 12 percent of the vote. “People of faith turned out in the highest numbers in a midterm election we have ever seen, and they made an invaluable contribution to the historic results,” said Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. “This survey, along with numerous exit polls, makes it clear that those who ignore or disregard social conservative voters and their issues do so at their own peril.”

There is obviously no coincidence that the Evangelical electorate was motivated these midterms. It seems that there is an obvious link between a motivated Evangelical electorate and GOP success. This is the first time I have heard Ralph Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition, say anything the media considered relevant. Quoting him again:

“This survey, along with numerous exit polls, makes it clear that those who ignore or disregard social conservative voters and their issues do so at their own peril.”

I appreciate Reed’s concern for social conservatism, but I think he is overreaching a bit when the exit polling showed that the top motivating factors were not necessarily social policy as much as unhappiness with the economy and an overall disappointment with Washington. The truth is that some socially conservative initiatives like Prop. 48 in Colorado to define personhood at the moment of conception went down in flames 70%-30% (link). I am encouraged that the Pot initiative went down in CA, which reminds us that even CA has rejected gay marriage and legalized pot, even though they reelected Boxer and voted Brown in as Gov. The fact is that elections are complex and the electorate often surprises us.

Christians voted in large measure because we are a nation that houses many Christians. When Christians are unmotivated, their voting turnout is mediocre and Liberals start to think we are a Middle-Left country. Liberals are guilty of overreading elections and proceed hard left, like in 2006 and 2008. When Christians are motivated and vote, we are reminded that we are a Middle-Right country, like 2000, 2004, and now in 2010. It’s true that a 30% voting block will hold a lot of sway over elections that are determined by 5 points or less. President Obama knew this and worked hard for the Evangelical vote in 2008. He was realistic and knew that if he could just flip even 5% of the Evangelical vote, it could lead to victories in some battleground states.

Stay tuned for 2012!!!

Lee Smith challenges the theory of “linkage,” which states that the key to resolving conflict in the Middle East is resolving the Palestinian-Israeli peace process (I’ve posted on this issue once before).  I’ve noted Smith’s ideas about the Middle East a couple other times on this blog.  He usually tries to challenge the dominant paradigm by which we look at the Middle East.  He believes that the biggest factor in the conflicts is not the Arab-Israeli issue but rather competition between different tribes and countries in the Arab world, what he calls an “Arab civil war.”  In addition, he believes that Middle Eastern states are generally weak and fight each other through terrorist groups rather than conventional war.

Smith believes that linkage theory has taken on a life of its own:

As the origins of any myth fade into the past, the myth, paradoxically, becomes more and more powerful, sometimes even taking on the appearance of truth. Two generations removed from the American policymakers who turned linkage to the advantage of U.S. regional interests, a dangerous stage begins in the history of a myth invented by one Arab tribe to gain the support of the British in their battle with another Arab tribe and that Washington turned around to make itself the power center of the Middle East….

Indeed, the American position in the Middle East is founded on the idea that Arab regimes are incapable of defending themselves against anyone. Washington made sure these regimes can’t defeat Israel; the United States protected the Saudis from the Soviets and then from Saddam, when the American presence in the desert made the Saudis vulnerable to their own domestic opposition in the form of Osama Bin Laden. What the Saudis want now is to be protected against the Islamic Republic of Iran, but they can’t say that publicly any more than they can explain that the myth of linkage was always more about intra-Arab politics than it was about the fate of the Palestinians.Nor apparently can the Americans admit that linkage was just a strategic instrument that leveraged the Arab narrative to the advantage of the United States. The further U.S. policymaking gets from the origins of the myth, the more magical and enticing it has become. The myth of linkage has grown to such legendary proportions at this point that it is the extent of the current White House’s Middle East policy. We have no other strategy to stop the Iranian nuclear program but linkage. Movement on the peace process, the Obama Administration believes, will get the Arab regimes to help us with Iran. The problem is that the Arabs will not help us with Iran. They want us to deal with Iran ourselves, but if we keep forcing the issue of linkage they have no choice but to go along with the ruse that everything is linked to the Arab-Israeli crisis. After all, it’s their narrative, and they can’t disown it now. (more…)

Jeff Martin’s analysis of modern conservatism that I referred to in my last post reminded me of an interview that I listened to while washing the dishes recently (dishwashing is my new time to listen to podcasts).  Marvin Olasky of World Magazine interviewed one of the founders of the neoconservative movement, Norman Podhoretz (article with link to audio here).

Podhoretz said that if he were choosing the name of the movement that he helped to begin, it would have been “neonationalism” rather than neoconservatism “because it was really based on this profound commitment to a new idea about America and about the American role in the world, especially in its conflict with Soviet totalitarianism.”

The neoconservative vision of an aggressive American foreign policy promoting the spread of American ideals certainly fits with Jeff Martin’s description of America as the “universal nation,” which has become so important in the GOP’s foreign policy (it’s been there for a longer time in liberal foreign policy, going back at least to Woodrow Wilson).  Podhoretz’s statement also lends credence to paleoconservative arguments that neoconservatism really isn’t conservative.

Did anticommunism fundamentally alter American conservatism?

Posted: October 5, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Politics

On Google Reader, Joel shared a post from the What’s Wrong with the World blog.  The author, Jeff Martin, considers a critique of William F. Buckley’s conservatism from the left and goes on to consider what American conservatism is conserving.  He believes that anti-communism tended to morph conservatism into an ideology competing with other ideologies, rather than a Burkean conservatism that seeks to conserve the full-orbed heritage of the past.  The post is long but worth reading.  Here is the conclusion:

Finally – conservatism, of the actually-existing American variety. Human errors are not unmediated issues from the nature of the species, but products of a wealth of contingencies, which make possible the errors of any epoch. Here, we must observe a sequence of beginnings. Conservatism, prior to the national traumas of the Great Depression, and the momentous years of the New Deal, when the power of business was supplanted, to some degree, by the power of the political, was – excerpting repulsive apologies for Social Darwinism and plutocrats, such as those of William Sumner – an elite, literary phenomenon, primarily articulated in opposition to the emerging mass culture. Strands of conservatism also deplored the centralizing tendencies of industrialism, and argued for the preservation of agrarian, human-scale societies. The New Deal, however, catalyzed a political revolution of sorts, and not just in Washington, but among rightists, who feared that transition from “the business of America being business” to the centrality of the political, and who likened that transition to unpleasant and sanguinary ideologies. That catalyst was insufficient, though, to establish a movement, at least not a movement capable of attaining and holding power, employing it to reshape the politico-economic order. And it is with this that, following the Second World War, and the emergence of the Soviet threat, we pick up the story of modern conservatism, to which Buckley was so integral. That conservatism fused the traditionalist strand hostile to mass culture, the strand skeptical of, or hostile towards the post-New Deal order, and anticommunism; operationally, the unifying passion was anticommunism, but much of the funding came from the second faction. This very fusion – fusionism? – led to an ideologization of conservatism, and a reshaping of the American ideology; the long, twilight struggle against communism saw conservatism slowly slouching into ideological modes of thought and definition, and witnessed the American order itself assuming some of the vices, of reductionism, dogmatism, and regimentation, of the Soviet system. Capitalism became an ideology, and more absurdly, an ideology supposed to be conservative, whereas capitalism is merely a different form, a more bearable form – of the Revolution. And then, communism imploded, from its own internal contradictions, its inherent impossibility, external pressures, and, I should say, because of the sanctity and courage of a Polish Pope; and with this implosion, the unifying passion of conservatism vanished. Conservatives, more so now than at any time in the past, cannot define what it is that they propose to conserve; what, that is to say, makes them conservative. As of this writing, what defines them is the fact of opposition.

What is American conservatism? Conservatives are still wrangling over that very question, engaging their political adversaries without a clear answer, and coasting on the legacy of their past, ever drifting.

The link in that paragraph is also a good read, arguing that conservatism’s opposition to communism and leftist anti-American critiques defined conservatism as the defender of corporate capitalism as the definition of economic freedom and American policies that set up the United States as the model for the world:

We might flesh out the argument by indicting the pointlessness of the old fusionism, which essentially invoked traditionalism in order to justify the corporate, managerial capitalism which has been its inveterate foe; but the character of contemporary conservatism will have to stand as the first count of the indictment. That conservatism has celebrated uncritically and reflexively the American economic system, and has regarded democratic capitalism as a universal template, souring on the administration which sought to export it by force of arms largely on account of its domestic bungling. And it has demonized critics as anti-American and unpatriotic, because they have had the temerity to view America as an historic, bounded nation – a nation we love not because she is the universal nation, but because she is ours.

A week and a half ago, Mark Dever preached from Mark 12:13-17 in a sermon titled “Jesus Paid Taxes.” I listened to the sermon this morning as I walked the streets of Nampa on the way to the Flying M Coffee Garage. I suggest you listen to the audio from here:

Jesus Paid Taxes

There were several points made that I really appreciated, especially in light of the vocation series I’ve been working through. We are called, as Christians, to be good citizens, working for the good of the state we live in, in obedience to the government, and in ultimate obedience to God. The only time we should not obey the civil government is when they ask us to do something that contravenes God’s commands to us. Rebellion for personal betterment or personal protection from loss is not approved of on self-motivating grounds. Part of our witness is submitting to the law of the land. I feel like I’m giving away too much. Go and listen to the sermon (68 minutes total) and then come back.

After that, how does the following quote relate to your own life? What are ways that you can apply this in your own context?

“Give that coin back to Caesar, but give your life to God.”