If you are interested in the life of the church, the moral life, and theological scholarship in service of both, consider participating in the international online Webinar Ecclesia and Ethics, May 18 and 25. Go to ecclesiaethics.com. You can also see online interviews with some of the speakers, including yours truly and Tom Wright.
Archive for the ‘Church’ Category
Announcing an international Ecclesia (Church) and Ethics Conference/Webinar with NT Wright, Stanley Hauerwas, Shane Claiborne, yours truly, and others: May 18 and 25. Get more info now!
This unique conference costs only $10 in the form of a donation to a charity!
Ecclesia and Ethics: An Eco-friendly and Economically-feasible Online Biblical Studies and Theology Conference is an academic and ecclesial conference taking place on Saturday May 18th and Saturday May 25th 2013 in real-time via the high-tech Webinar site http://www.gotomeeting.com. No software will need to be purchased by presenters or attendees, and Webinar access is provided entirely for free due to a generous Capod Innovation Grant through the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Participants and attendees will be able to sign on, present, and listen to or watch presentations from anywhere in the world with reliable internet and a computer. Registration for the conference consists of a $10/£7 (minimum) donation to one of our Recommended Charities. We invite participants to give according to their means above the $10/£7 to one or more of our charities if they feel led and are able.
Main papers will be presented by our Main Speakers: N.T. Wright, Michael Gorman, Dennis Hollinger, Shane Claiborne, Stanley Hauerwas, Brian Rosner, Mariam Kamell, and Nijay Gupta. Additionally, we will have five Multiple Paper sessions throughout the conference, via five Virtual Rooms which will feature papers from a total of 20-25 selected papers. Interested parties are invited to submit an abstract to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration from January 2013-March 2013.
All conference presenters (both Main Paper and Multiple Paper session presenters) will be allotted a 40 minute time slot with an additional 10 minutes designated for Q+A (50 minutes total). All presentations will be recorded as videos and available for viewing by registered conference attendees with a provided password through T&T Clark’s website. T&T Clark will also be publishing selected proceedings from the conference as a book.
Here is part of the handout for my forum presentation at church Sunday. It will be preceded by an excerpt from the second-century letter to Diognetus and followed by Miroslav Volf’s values for voters.
Some Reflections on Christians and Politics
1. Christians are first of all citizens of God’s kingdom, subjects of the Lord Jesus. Our first and ultimate loyalty is to that kingdom and to its politics and fellow-citizens. All other loyalties, allegiances, politics, political affiliations, etc. are subordinate and secondary to our citizenship in God’s kingdom. See Matt 6:33; Phil 3:20.
2. Before we start thinking about politics as state-crafting, we should think of politics as the public expression of our participation in the kingdom of God. Therefore, before we choose or construct a politics within a given country, we are given a politics—the politics (public life) of Jesus.
3. No human kingdom (i.e., state: republic, democracy, monarchy, socialist state, etc.) is or ever will be the kingdom of God.
4. The kingdom of God and the kingdom of humans will normally be in conflict.
5. As Christians we should therefore think of ourselves as people of another culture living in a host culture as a contrast-society and therefore, in a real sense, as exiles or resident aliens. See 1 Peter 1:1; 2:11.
6. Our primary political activity is to be the church: to worship God truly and to live out the demands of the kingdom of God and the lordship of Jesus.
7. Our political activity in the host culture/country/city should be an expression of our most basic Christian commitments such as (1) love of God, neighbor, and enemy; (2) prophetic concern for justice and shalom; (3) the call to be peacemakers. The basic purpose is to seek the common good, the welfare of the city, not to gain control or power. See Jer 29:7.
8. Religion and politics often use each other for what each perceives as gain, usually meaning either protection or power. Jesus said, it shall not be so among you! See Mark 10:43-45.
9. The bottom line in domestic and especially international politics is often self-interest. For many reasons, Christians must look beyond national self-interest.
10. Christians need to be especially wary about the use of God-talk by states and politicians, always asking, “What do they mean when they say ‘God’?” Which god do they mean? Most political God-talk, even in countries with some form of Christian heritage or presence, is not Christian faith but civil religion (nationalism in religious garb).
11. There is a variety of legitimately Christian ways to understand Christian political involvement in general and in particulars. This diversity ranges from being very active to withdrawing from some or even all aspects.
12. Christians should probably be suspicious of politics and politicians in general, because there is so much seeking, use, and abuse of power, so much lying, and so much death associated with politics.
Some Particulars in our Context
1. The United States is not a Christian country. It was founded by Deists on deist and Enlightenment principles. It is now a secular state with a religiously pluralist populace.
2. The United States is not God’s chosen people, the light of the world, the city on a hill, or the world’s last hope.
3. The dominant religion in the U.S. may well be “Americanism.” See Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics and Peter Leithart, Between Babel and Beast: America and Empire in Biblical Perspective.
4. Christians need to recognize the inherent realities and dangers of the country/culture in which we are located: the world’s lone “superpower” (empire?) with military bases in scores of countries; rampant consumerism; the deification of freedom and choice; and a sense of being specially blessed by God/god because of this military and economic might and this freedom.
5. Christians cannot escape being influenced by their host country/culture. But for Christians, some American values are not only wrong, they are idolatrous. Therefore the values we bring to politics and voting need to be examined and re-examined again and again.
For further reading: Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation. Michael Budde, The Borders of Baptism: Identities, Allegiances, and the Church. Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals. David Gushee, Christians and Politics Beyond the Culture Wars. Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon, Resident Aliens. Ted Lewis, ed. Electing Not to Vote. Ron Sider, Just Politics. Jim Wallis, God’s Politics. J. Philipp Wogaman, Christians and Politics. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus.
This piece from last August by my friend Stanley Hauerwas of Duke, about to retire from there and also the outgoing president of the Society of Christian Ethics, is worth pondering. A few excerpts:
America is the first great experiment in Protestant social formation. Protestantism in Europe always assumed and depended on the cultural habits that had been created by Catholic Christianity. America is the first place Protestantism did not have to define itself over against a previous Catholic culture. So America is the exemplification of constructive Protestant social thought.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer thus got it right when he characterized American Protestantism as “Protestantism without Reformation.”
That is why it has been possible for Americans to synthesize three seemingly antithetical traditions: evangelical Protestantism, republican political ideology and commonsense moral reasoning. For Americans, faith in God is indistinguishable from loyalty to their country.
American Protestants do not have to believe in God because they believe in belief. That is why we have never been able to produce an interesting atheist in America. The god most Americans say they believe in is just not interesting enough to deny. Thus the only kind of atheism that counts in America is to call into question the proposition that everyone has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Consequently, America did not need to have an established church because it was assumed that the church was virtually established by the everyday habits of public life.
Protestantism came to America to make America Protestant. It was assumed that was to be done through faith in the reasonableness of the common man and the establishment of a democratic republic. But in the process the church in America became American – or, as [historian Mark] Noll puts it, “because the churches had done so much to make America, they could not escape living with what they had made.”
As a result Americans continue to maintain a stubborn belief in a god, but the god they believe in turns out to be the American god. To know or worship that god does not require that a church exist because that god is known through the providential establishment of a free people.
America is the great experiment in Protestant social thought, but the society Protestants created now threatens to make Protestantism unintelligible to itself. Put as directly as I can, I believe we may be living at a time when we are watching Protestantism, at least the kind of Protestantism we have in America, come to an end. It is dying of its own success.
It is impossible to avoid the fact that American Christianity is far less than it should have been just to the extent that the church has failed to make clear that America’s god is not the God that Christians worship.
We are now facing the end of Protestantism. America’s god is dying. Hopefully, that will leave the church in America in a position where it has nothing to lose. And when you have nothing to lose, all you have left is the truth.
So I am hopeful that God may yet make the church faithful – even in America.
On this third day of Christmas and third month of “occupy,” for some strange reason I have been trying to think about why the occupy movement evoked in me both empathy and discomfort with the organizers. Among several reasons, one that has lingered beneath the surface, unarticulated, has just been articulated for me on FB by Lee Wyatt. Here it is:
Until the church in North America stands in the world community, acknowledging it lives among the 1% of the world, and honestly answers as to whether it has lived in the simplicity, and with the hospitality and generosity of Jesus Christ toward the 99% of the rest of the world, and acts in accord with the answer given, all our other disputes over doctrinal and ethical matters are secondary. To think or act otherwise is to engage in perverse mystification of reality and constitutes a failure to “occupy” the “new creation” that is our reality since the resurrection of Jesus.
One of my heroes as a young Christian has passed away: Senator Mark Hatfield (August 7). Wes Granberg-Michaelson has a fine obituary in the current Christian Century. Thanks to David Jacobson for pointing this out, and for indicating the following important paragraph from the article:
Yet Hatfield was wary of attempts to use religion to give a patina of righteousness to political power. Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1973, with President Nixon on one side and Billy Graham on the other, he said, “If we as leaders appeal to the god of civil religion, our faith is in a small and exclusive deity, a loyal spiritual Adviser to power and prestige, a Defender of only the American nation, the object of a folk religion devoid of moral content.” Speaking against the backdrop of Vietnam, Hatfield said that “we must turn in repentance from the sin that scarred our national soul.” Few of his speeches received such widespread attention as this one did. His prophetic words touched many people—and solidified his position on President Nixon’s “enemies list.”
I have been out of touch for quite some time now, largely due to all the commitments associated with the beginning of the academic year. I may have to rename this blog “Civil Religion Alert,” however, since that seems to be my “shtick” these days.
Now that 9/11/11 is behind us, much could be said about what transpired. Our church service was unfortunately consumed with 9/11, some parts good, some bad, some ugly–the last of these being a call to worship that included a psalm text about shattering our enemies. (Ouch.) Fortunately, in the providence of God, the lectionary readings for the day made it virtually impossible not to say something Christian and uncivil (i.e., not civil-religion-ish), so the sermon was (largely) part of the good.
Another antidote to civil religion has appeared in the form of a new book by William T. Cavanaugh at DePaul University, author of the important book Torture and Eucharist. The new book is called Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church (Eerdmans, 2011).
Indebted to Hauerwas but carving his own way, the Catholic Cavanaugh has written an excellent well-written and well-argued series of essays critical of American civil religion and its liturgies, and constructively presenting an alternative theology of liturgy and ecclesiology.
It is a book that I will be recommending to many folks, including those in my current class on the book of Revelation. (I interpret Revelation as a manifesto against civil religion, ancient and contemporary, in my book Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness, from Cascade, 2011).
On a church sign in rural Delaware (seen returning from a day at the beach):
Jesus is the only way to salvation.
Thank you, troops.
Thank God (literally) for the new little (in size, not impact) book by Allan Bevere, a Methodist pastor with a Ph.D. in NT from Durham (England), called The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World.
It’s published by a small press but will, I hope, get some significant attention in the church. Here’s the text of my endorsement for the book:
Allan Bevere has written a timely, eye-opening, and thought-provoking book for Christians, whether they consider themselves conservative or progressive. He calls on us to forsake the seductive, insidious error of Christendom and civil religion in order to follow Jesus and bear witness to the reign of God. May this book contribute to the renewal of the church for the sake of the world and the glory of God.