My commentary from last week (“Christianity and the History of Freedom”) elicited a thoughtful response from a blogger named Jonathan Rowe, who subsequently invited me to join his blog, American Creation. Rowe and his colleagues debate the concept of a “Christian America,” especially focusing on the question of religion and the Founding. If you’re interested in the issues raised by my commentary and by Acton’s film, The Birth of Freedom, you might enjoy American Creation. My first post is a direct rejoinder to Jonathan’s comments.
In his new commentary, Anthony Bradley tells us that there is a “serious disconnect” in the hip hop community that allows rappers to evoke the name of God in thanks while producing music that celebrates evil. Could there be a connection to the declining rate of church attendance in the black community and a shift toward a more “deistic” understanding of Christianity?
Based on a new study released by Radio One and Yankelovich, a Chapel Hill-based research firm Dr. Bradley elaborates:
The new study, the most comprehensive in decades including blacks ranging in age from 13-74, reveals that while 83 percent of blacks call themselves Christians, only 41 percent attend church at least once a week. Even worse, among black men, 47 percent say they are not as religious as their parents (36 percent of black women confess the same).
This disconnect in the hip hop community has resulted in many people claiming to follow God while at the same time promoting evil with their behavior and lyrics. Anthony Bradley takes a deeper look into this startling issue.
In the other new commentary, Kevin Schmiesing looks at the role of faith in history’s long march toward a free society. “The rise of Christianity did not smother the flame of liberty burning brightly in Greece and Rome only to be rekindled as medieval superstition gave way to the benevolent reason of Voltaire, Hume, and Kant,” he writes. “Instead, Christianity took the embers of freedom, flickering dimly in an ancient world characterized by the domination of the weak by the strong, and—slowly and haltingly—fanned it into a blaze that emancipated humanity from its bonds, internal and external.”
Dr. Schmiesing writes about the history of the church as well as its impact today:
In our own day, we find the Church again serving in this capacity. It is the foremost voice defending those whose rights are threatened by neglect or direct attack: religious minorities, vulnerable women and children trapped in slavery, the infirm and the unborn. In education, health care, and family life, religious individuals and organizations resist the tyranny of state aggrandizement.
During this time when liberty is celebrated, Kevin Schmiesing helps to expand our understanding of Christianity’s role in the history of freedom.
Earlier this month “Red Letter Christian” Tony Campolo wrote a blog post for Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics blog that criticized the American government for not properly taking into account the effect its foreign policy has on fulfilling the Great Commission.
Here’s a bit concerning the Iraq war:
It doesn’t take much for Red Letter Christians to recognize that the hostilities between Muslims and Christians have increased greatly as of late because of certain geopolitical events—particularly as we consider what has been happening in the Holy Land and the consequences of a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
One of the things Campolo is right about is the victimization of Christians at the hands of militant Muslims in Iraq. He writes,
For the first time in a thousand years, churches in Baghdad are being burned down. The Coptic bishop of Iraq was kidnapped and later found dead. Christians, facing persecution, have fled Iraq by the tens of thousands, so that a Christian community that once numbered more than 1.3 million is now down to 600,000.
The problem is that Campolo is acting as if the proximate cause of Muslim violence against Iraqi Christians is anger at American occupation. As Tooley notes, in the Iraq conflict as in so many other genuine Muslim-Christian conflicts around the world, Campolo fails to see the belligerent militancy of Muslim extremism. Campolo, among others, “can never admit that radical Islam itself is innately violent and spiteful, and would remain so, even if the United States were to curl up and die a quiet death.”
A much more plausible explanation for the suffering of the Iraqi church is that the protections of minority groups, including Sunnis and Christians, that were in place under Saddam Hussein disappeared during and after the invasion, and have not yet been adequately reinstated. As Robin Harris writes, “With other (still smaller) religious minorities, such as Yazidis and Mandaeans, Iraq’s Christians are suffering sustained persecution. While constituting less than 4 percent of the population of Iraq, Christians constitute 40 percent of the refugees leaving the country. Most of these have found refuge in Syria and Jordan, where they are living in utterly degrading conditions.”
The plight of Iraqi Christians in post-invasion Iraq is an important reminder that all government actions, whether domestic or international, have unintended consequences. Again, Robin Harris:
Unfortunately, until now there has been a conspiracy of near-silence. Some in the U.S. administration have been unwilling to have public attention drawn to the problem, for fear it would undermine support for the surge strategy. Other countries — with the notable exception of Germany — do not wish to do so either, for fear that they will be expected to take in more refugees. (Britain has a particularly shameful record in this respect). Meanwhile, diplomatic circles have a politically correct repugnance against any initiative directed towards helping a particular religious group — especially, of course, a Christian one. At an international level, only the pope has called for urgent action to avert the tragedy.
The best thing the U.S. government can do for Christians in Iraq is not to beat a hasty retreat and withdraw, as so many “Red Letter Christians” desire, but rather to acknowledge the unintended consequences of its foreign policy, including the increased persecution of Iraqi Christians. This also means taking responsibility for those unintended consequences. As so many have observed regarding the invasion of Iraq, once you decide to invade a sovereign nation, you take on all kinds of responsibilities for what happens afterwards. This applies in no small measure to the suffering of minority groups, including especially the Christian church in Iraq.
In the April 24 edition of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi focuses on the origins and lessons of the global financial crisis. In a previous article, Gotti Tedeschi argued that the downturn is an opportunity for Italy to reform its economy and cut down on unnecessary public spending.
He now examines what the crisis means for the state of international finance and draws some unusual but noteworthy conclusions. In his view, the principal answer for improving global financial architecture cannot be provided by more government regulation.
Instead, Gotti Tedeschi interprets the crisis as a wake-up call to return to “other rules – older rules which restore the priorities of the banking profession.” These rules of sound economics have been partly eroded by an excessive lowering of interest rates by central banks, inducing other actors to take excessive risks in their financial operations.
The over-stimulation of markets led bankers and business leaders to abandon the path of solid long-term growth in favor of short-term gain: “Too often managers with a poor sense of responsibility have created the illusion of realizing miraculous growth and profitability.” They abandoned the search for “concrete results and above all, long-term sustainability.” His advice is to return “to what is real, responsible and durable.”
He suggests that what is needed is a spiritual refreshment to deepen the understanding of how a successful bank or business is run. This would enable people to resist temporary financial fashions and evaluate real risks and possible gains adequately.
Gotti Tedeschi is in a good position to combine the practical insights of the world of banking with a profound theoretical grasp of business ethics. While he is one of the most well-known bankers in Italy, he has also found the time to write books about the relationship between Christian values and economics.
His advice deserves to be taken seriously. As politicians around the world propose a whole range of new regulation in response to the credit crunch, it must not be forgotten that public authorities provided the markets with cheap money and excessive stimuli. The result was a widely distorted perception of risk and profitability. It would be unfortunate if a period of over-stimulation was followed by a period of over-regulation.
The relationship of the Christian church and the broader culture has been a perennial question whose genesis antedates the life of the early Church.
In his Apology, the church father Tertullian defended Christians as citizens of the Roman empire in the truest and best sense. If all the Christians of the empire were to leave, he wrote, “you would be horror-struck at the solitude in which you would find yourselves, at such an all-prevailing silence, and that stupor as of a dead world. You would have to seek subjects to govern. You would have more enemies than citizens remaining. For now it is the immense number of Christians which makes your enemies so few,—almost all the inhabitants of your various cities being followers of Christ.”
In the post-industrial Information age, Christians remain at the forefront of social and cultural formation. In the context of the developments at the dawn of the third millennium, the engagement of church and culture has taken on a new form, focused most especially on new forms of technology and communication. The internet in particular, and related “new” media, have raised important issues for the ways in which Christians communicate with each other and with non-Christians.
The basic question has been raised in different ways arising from various concerns. The 2008 Evangelical Outpost/Wheatstone Symposium puts the question thusly: “If the medium affects the message, how will the Christian message be affected by the new media?” (more…)
From a CT interview in 1995 by Michael Cromartie:
Certain things which the market authorizes simply in terms of law are unchristian and ought not to be done. The big issue today has to do with the fidelity of marriages. The tendency now to leave your wife because you have an infatuation with a younger woman of tenderer flesh is an enormous temptation. It’s carnal, and it’s also easy to justify with all the solipsistic reasoning that we hear today. That is about the gravest offense that a human being can commit, to throw away a wife.
From this it doesn’t follow that the state should make the law tougher, but rather that the culture needs to be reformed. Modifying the law is only one way, and often not the best, to do that: “…unless we create a virtuous society, it’s not a society that’s going to endure. So the right things should be encouraged and the wrong things discouraged. Today, roughly speaking, there is zero taboo against fornication.”
The whole thing is worth reading, as they say (HT).
Following up on our discussion of the Pew survey on the American religious landscape, I have a few thoughts as to what plagues American Protestantism, particularly of the evangelical variety, and it has to do precisely with the “catholicity” of Protestantism.
To the extent that people are leaving Protestantism, or are searching for another denomination within the broadly Protestant camp, I think there are at least two connected precipitating causes. (A caveat: there are many, many individual and anecdotal exceptions to the generalizations I will make below, and I think they serve to highlight rather than to undermine this basic picture.)
The first is the lack of historical connection to tradition (with a lower case “t”) among American Protestants. Whether by intention or ignorance, the relation of Protestantism to the broader church’s history is sorely under-recognized.
Part of this phenomena is the anti-creedalism, anti-confessionalism of many evangelicals, such that when something like the Apostle’s Creed is even part of a worship service, the church is confessed to be not one, holy, “catholic,” and apostolic but rather “Christian” (or at best “catholic” with a footnote).
Part of it is simple intellectual laziness (i.e. not having the methodological and academic rigor to take up questions of the origins of the Protestant Reformation in its context). The claims of the reformers to represent the authentic “catholic” Christianity of the church’s tradition, focused especially on their grounding in the patristics, must be dealt with responsibly, even if in the final judgment some find these claims to be untenable. More often than not, the claims to the catholicity of the Reformation are ignored rather than engaged.
The second cause is a lack of connection with worldwide Christianity. The “catholicity” of the Church has not only to do with our connection to the past tradition, but also to contemporary believers who live all over the world. If the Pew survey is bad news for American Christianity (and evangelical Protestantism in particular), then the good news is that the church is not limited to North America and that Christianity is growing both by number and by vigor in the global south and east.
Part of the emergent impulse is I think an inchoate and instinctual response to these realities. Wouldn’t it be tragically ironic if at the height of American evangelicalism’s political influence its spiritual core was failing? We need to be concerned about “whitewashed tomb” syndrome, so focused on the external influence of the church on culture, politics, and society that we abandon the church’s primary spiritual calling.
In addition to an increased historical awareness of the roots of the Reformation, one fruitful avenue to explore in making these connections is in the pursuit of a theology of obedience, suffering, persecution, and martyrdom, a theology more along the lines of Tertullian, Kierkegaard, and Bonhoeffer than of the political and cultural Christendom that has so recently dominated the church in Western civilization.
A sampling of some books worthy of consideration that are indirect popular responses to these problems I identify:
- Charles Colson and Harold Fickett, The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters
- Dennis Ockholm, Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants
- Craigh Hovey, To Share in the Body: A Theology of Martyrdom for Today’s Church
- Barry Harvey, Can These Bones Live? A Catholic Baptist Engagement with Ecclesiology, Hermeneutics, and Social Theory
- Mark A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom, Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism
The head of the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, made international headlines earlier this month when he suggested that the adoption of some aspects of Islamic sharia law into British law was “unavoidable” and discussed the compatibility of sharia law with the established legal system.
Williams’ long speech discusses the pros and cons of ‘plural jurisprudence.’ He does not ignore the repressive aspects of Islamic law, but his main concern seems to be to avoid offending or alienating Muslims in British society.
It is no secret that the Archbishop’s own church is in decline while the number of Muslims in the UK and the rest of Europe is growing rapidly. A church leader should seek to strengthen his own flock as well as remind us of the principles that have created the foundations for a free society.
Williams is seemingly unaware of the consequences that such a lack of moral leadership may have. Many Europeans feel legitimately threatened by Islamic terrorism and fundamentalist intolerance, but they have no well-formed intellectual or spiritual defense. The danger is that the abandoned will be tempted to lend an ear to demagogues (not for the first time in European history) and thereby set off a spiral of still more intolerance and violence.
AGAIN Magazine has published my “Conflicted Hearts: Orthodox Christians and Social Justice in an Age of Globalization.” The magazine is produced by Conciliar Press Ministries, Inc., a department of the self-ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church of North America.
Just as there is no real understanding of many bioethical issues without a general grasp of underlying medical technology, there is no real understanding of “social justice” without an understanding of basic economic principles. These principles explain how Orthodox Christians work, earn, invest, and give to philanthropic causes in a market-oriented economy. Economic questions are at the root of many of the problems that on their face seem to be more about something else—poverty, immigration, the environment, technology, politics, humanitarian assistance. In the environmental area, for example, the current debate on global warming is just as much focused on how to finance the means of slowing the rising temperatures of the earth as it is on root causes. And the question always is: Who will pay?
What, exactly, is social justice? It is an ambiguous concept, loaded with ideological freight. No politically correct person would dare oppose it. To be against “social justice” would be tantamount to opposing “fairness.” Today, the term is most often employed by liberal-progressive activists and a “social justice movement” that advances an economic agenda which includes such causes as a “living wage,” universal health care and expanded welfare benefits, increased labor union powers, forgiveness of national debts in the developing world, and vastly increased transfers of foreign aid from rich countries to the poor. Because religious conservatives tend toward support for free market economic systems, they have largely shunned the “social justice” agenda and its government-based solutions.
Read the entire article here.
Knowing the Gardener was a look at the "big picture" distinguishing God’s intent for Christian creation care from the rest of environmentalism.
But I must tell you friends, there’s a huge pitfall out there to avoid. It’s a pit God’s been tirelessly digging me out of for some time now. Paul points to it in Romans 8:
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit… [Rom 8:1, KJV]
Salvation through Christ awakens us to a whole new perspective on creation care. But if we’re going to do anything fruitful for the planet in this new life our doing must be in the Spirit, not after our flesh.
But let me back up a bit… (click more to read on) (more…)