Posts tagged with: ideology

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Former governor, pastor, and presidential candidate (and current radio host) Mike Huckabee has been a primary driving force in turning today, August 1, into an ad hoc appreciation day for the fast food company Chick-fil-A.

Huckabee’s activism in support of the “Eat Mor Chikin” establishments was occasioned by criticism leveled against the company’s support for traditional “family values,” including promotion of traditional marriage. Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy said, “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.” That, apparently, was enough to galvanize many opponents of “the biblical definition of the family unit” and the rights of a company to be supportive of such. These opponents include, notably, a Chicago alderman and the mayor of Boston.

In addition to Huckabee’s response, others have argued that there should not be a religious, or even political, test of sorts for determining our partners in free exchange. Jonathan Merritt, a Southern Baptist pastor and author, wrote a piece for The Atlantic, “In Defense of Eating a Chick-fil-A,” in which he writes, “in a society that desperately needs healthy public dialogue, we must resist creating a culture where consumers sort through all their purchases (fast food and otherwise) for an underlying politics not even expressed in the nature of the product itself.” Likewise Branson Parler, a professor at Kuyper College here in Grand Rapids, contends that “Christians need to disconnect the cultural goods and services provided by numerous institutions (including Chick-fil-A) from the gods of politicization and partisanship.”

Earlier this week the Christian Post published an article with some statements from me about evangelical (and more broadly Christian) debates about the federal budget proposals. In the piece, “Evangelical Christians Agree, Disagree on Budget Priorities,” I said that

The Church, the Christian faith, is not to identify with a single political order, or structure, party or platform. It does show something of the dynamism and vitality of the Christian faith that, in the midst of what the world thinks are the most important things, like politics, in the midst of disagreements about those things, Christians come together and worship every Sunday and say the same Lord’s prayer and in many cases cite the same creed, engage in the same sacramental practices, and so on.

This conviction is one of the things that animated my thinking when I wrote Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness.

One of the driving figures in the case made in that book is Paul Ramsey, who wrote that “the specific solution of urgent problems is the work of political prudence and worldly wisdom. In this there is room for legitimate disagreement among Christians and among other people as well in the public domain—which disagreement ought to be welcomed and not led one way toward specific conclusions.”

I was reminded of this perspective again when listening to the interview Gabe Lyons did with Chuck Colson back in 2007. At one point in the interview, Gabe asks Chuck about younger evangelicals’ disenchantment with the politicization of evangelical Christianity. One of the things Chuck says is,

I do a very unscientific poll myself whenever I talk to young people and I know exactly the kind of answers you’re getting. They’re turned off by what they regard as right wing politics. Which is unfortunate. I wrote a book about this called “Kingdoms and Conflicts,” recently re-released and updated by Zondervan as “God and Government.” It says Christians shouldn’t be [in the hip pocket] of any political party. It’s a mistake when we are looked upon as marrying an ideology.

On the danger of ideology, he continues: “The greatest enemy of the gospel is ideology. Ideology is a manmade formulation about [how] world [ought to] work. We don’t believe in that. We believe in the revelation of truth in Scripture.”

In returning to my comment cited above, I think we can see corporate worship as a kind of litmus test for what does and does not inspire us, ideologically, confessionally, and otherwise. Perhaps there are churches or parishes or even denominations and ecumenical bodies that we deem unfaithful, or at least distasteful, for the way they have integrated a social or political ideology into the corporate life of the church. But even so:

Would you be comfortable worshiping next to someone at church on Sunday morning whose political convictions are diametrically opposed to yours? If so, why? And if not, why not?

Last night a band of hearty travelers braved the first snow of the season here in Grand Rapids (and the attendant slick and dangerous roads) to hear Dr. John H. Armstrong speak at the November/December Acton on Tap, “Ecumenism and the Threat of Ideology.” Dr. Armstrong is founder of ACT 3 and adjunct professor of evangelism at Wheaton College.

Armstrong spent some time discussing the thesis of his book, Your Church is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church. A recurring theme was the phrase coined by Timothy George, “ecumenism in the trenches,” which is sometimes how we describe what we do here at Acton. The basic point of Armstrong’s book is that Christians must be able to come together to work in concrete ways in order to be an effective and faithful witness to Jesus Christ in the culture and the world.

As Peter writes, we are to “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12 NIV). Undoubtedly this call to live “good lives” means showing love to other people, “especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10 NIV).

Armstrong also discussed the threat that ideology poses to unity in Christ. He defines ideology as “visionary theorizing, or to a systematic body of concepts, especially regarding human culture or life. I have in mind not only a body of systematic concepts but particularly the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program of some type.” This understanding of ideology coheres perfectly with the critique of liberationist ideology in the ecumenical movement in my book, Ecumenical Babel.

The night concluded with a salient quote from Russell Kirk about the dangers of ideology. Kirk writes,

We live in an era when the passions of ideology and the passions of religion become joined in certain zealots. Thus we hear intemperate talk, in many communions and denominations, of Christian revolution. Most of the men and women who use such language undoubtedly mean a bloodless, if abrupt, transformation of social institutions. Yet some of them nowadays, as in past times, would not scruple at a fair amount of bloodletting in their sacred cause. Whether bloodless or bloody, an upheaval justified by the immanentizing of Christian symbols of salvation defies the Beatitudes and devours its children. Soon the Christian ideologues (an insane conjunction) find themselves saddled and ridden by some “great bad man,” a Cromwell at best.

As Armstrong notes, Kirk’s comment about Cromwell displays his ardent Catholicism, but it also stands as a prophetic warning about the dangers of ideology and utopian thinking.

Later on in his essay, “Promises and Perils of Christian Politics,” published in the 1980s, Kirk points explicitly to the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches for places (among many others) where this “insane conjunction” is displayed.

Dr. Armstrong blogs here and you can follow him on Twitter here.

For those PowerBlog readers in the Chicago area, I’ll be in town next Tuesday for a luncheon where I’ll be discussing the topic, “How Ideology Destroys Biblical Ecumenism.”

The event is sponsored by the Chicago-based ministry ACT 3 and will be held at St. Paul United Church of Christ, 118 S. First Street, Bloomingdale, IL. The event will begin at 11:45am (Tuesday, November 9) and you can register for the luncheon at the ACT 3 website.

The point of departure for my talk will be my new book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness, and those who are able to attend the luncheon will receive a complimentary copy.

Robert Joustra, a researcher at the Canadian think tank Cardus, says this about the book and the contemporary ecumenical debate about globalization:

Ballor is spot-on when worrying that narrowly framing the debate this way can obscure the fact that globalization is about a great deal more than economics or politics. Isn’t it ironic that the ecclesial conversation is essentially a thinly-baptized version of exactly the same disagreements in the secular world, but with less technical capacity and more theological abstraction? This is Ballor’s most important point.

My friend John Armstrong, who runs ACT 3 and is organizing the luncheon, recommends Ecumenical Babel as “a truly readable and wonderful book. All who love Christian unity centered in the witness of the church and the gospel of Christ will benefit from this fine new book.”

Estelle Snyder makes an excellent case that Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Jesse Helms had similar humble backgrounds and beliefs that helped form a deep bond between the two men, despite being separated by language, culture, geography, and an Iron Curtain.

In a paper published by the North Carolina History Project titled “Champions of Freedom: Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Jesse Helms,” Snyder argues that their relationship was an important one in terms of confronting the evils of Communism with a more aggressive posture, aimed at expanding human freedom.

Some may forget that at the time the two figures met in the United States in 1975, the United States government was moving even further towards easing relations with the Soviet Union and advocating long term coexistence and mutual understanding. Some conservative leaders, most notably Ronald Reagan and Jesse Helms, decided to aggressively attack that policy. Solzhenitsyn was instrumental in reinforcing and helping Helms and other conservative leaders argue that the United States was not properly confronting the Communist advance. Snyder notes:

Senator Helms was moved by Solzhenitsyn’s boldness in exposing the brutal truth about Communism that Helms had suspected and warned against for decades. It did not surprise him at all to learn that the Soviet government was intent on discrediting both Solzhenitsyn’s work and his personal integrity. He recognized the courage that Solzhenitsyn had shown in first daring to tell his story and then to risk re-imprisonment or worse by first making the decision to publish and now to speak out publically calling for his country to put aside their repression of personal freedom.

Senator Helms wrote Solzhenitsyn to express his admiration and appreciation for the author’s commitment to the pursuit of liberty in spite of the personal cost to himself and his family. Soon the two men had established a friendship through their regular correspondence that was fueled by their mutual commitment to the principle that every human being should be free from the control of tyrants.

Helms also invited Solzhenitsyn to the United States where the two first met in Helms’s Washington home. Despite the different worship styles of the Russion Orthodox and Southern Baptist traditions, Snyder points out in her paper their faith was an invaluable bond between the two. Soon after the meeting, Helms delivered a speech in which he said, “The news accounts have failed, I fear, to emphasize the real source of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s courage and strength, which is his faith in God.”

Snyder’s paper is a treasure trove of information on the relationship between Helms and Solzhenitsyn and their battle with Communism. It also chronicles the infamous stand off between Helms and fellow conservatives against President Gerald Ford after he snubbed Solzhenitsyn, by refusing to meet with him. The administration was afraid of angering the Soviets and did not want to threaten diplomatic agreements.

Solzhenitsyn and Helms’s confrontation with Communism was primarily a spiritual one that exposed the evils of a system that tried to erase man’s relationship with his Creator and limit his potential. Helms also said of Solzhenitsyn: “His testimony, I would reiterate, is that no man is inadequate if he has true faith in God.”

We have published a lot of work and analysis on Solzhenitsyn at Acton. This is something we are proud of and will continue. For the latest, check out the interview in Religion & Liberty with Solzhenitsyn scholar and editor Edward J. Ericson. I published a review of Righteous Warrior, a recent Helms biography. The review was also republished by the Jesse Helms Center in Wingate, North Carolina.

On his blog Koinonia, Rev. Gregory Jensen thoughtfully reviews a 2008 lecture given at Acton University by Kishore Jayabalan. (One of the neat things about downloading AU lectures is that you can then listen to them just about anywhere, including the car.) Rev. Jensen, who also blogs and writes for Acton, notes how Jayabalan’s talk contrasts “the sectarian approach with a catholic one.”

Another long drive last week gave me a chance to listen to an excellent lecture on the tradition of Catholic social encyclicals. The lecturer, Kishore Jayabalan (director of the Acton Institute’s Rome office) made a distinction between a Catholic and a sectarian approach to the surrounding culture.

While it is important for us as Christian to distinguish truth from error, Jayabalan argues that a sectarian approach limits itself to what is wrong with others. Whether from the right or the left, sectarianism is an ideology masquerading as Christian theology. Again this is not to say that Christians ought should refrain from pointing out where we disagree with the culture–we should but a purely negative approach is not only insufficient it contradicts the very tradition that we would defend. Let me explain.

Life as a disciple of Christ necessarily places us in a tension with not only the fallen world, but also with ourselves. As the late Fr Alexander Schmemmann never tired of repeating, it is this fallen world that God loves and for which His Son suffered and died on the Cross. And it is this fallen world that rises with Christ and will at the end of time not be obliterated but transfigured into the New Heaven and the New Earth.

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful” (Rev 21:1-5)

To be sure, Jesus condemns “the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars” to “the lake which burns with fire and brimstone” and so to “the second death” (v.8 j) but this does not undo the eschatological fulfillment of creation that is described at length in subsequent verses (vv. 9-27; 22:1-5). Indeed it is those who, because of their works (see, Rev 22:12) are unwilling to say Maranatha! “Come Lord Jesus!” and so will not “take the water of life freely” that are condemned (see, Rev 22:17). To borrow from one of the more obscure writers of the early Church the sixth century Latin father, Apringius of Beja, “The Holy Spirit and the Church call all to come to salvation” (Tractate on the Apocalypse, 22:17 quoted on ACCS, NT vol XII: Revelation, p. 406).

The pastoral–and spiritual–failure of sectarianism is that, unlike Christ, it fails to balance “harsh sayings…with the easy and appealing words so that watchfulness is encouraged” (Venerable Bede, Commentary on the Apocalypse, 21.8 quoted on ACCS, NT vol XII: Revelation, p. 361). Underneath this, indeed underneath all my willingness to judge, to condemn, to withhold forgiveness, is a watchfulness that is not encouraging but suspicious and distrustful. If in the immediate this is directed toward my neighbor it ultimately finds its roots in my own lack of faith in God and trust in the providential working of His grace in your life and mine.

We can, as Jayabalan did, contrast the sectarian approach with a catholic one. While sectarianism often takes a negative tone, what is central is not negativity as such. The sectarian Christian seeks to limit God’s grace to an elite group. That this elite group is eventually a group of one person–the sectarian himself–is ignored or overlooked.

A catholic approach, on the other hand, does not simply criticize what is wrong, it affirms what is good, and true, and just, and beautiful. If sectarianism seeks to tear down, a catholic approach seeks to build up. Sectarianism seeks an ever narrow “purity,” the catholic an ever more expansive wholeness. Again, this doesn’t mean that a catholic approach refrains from pointing out error, but it does so in a way that is both charitable and fearless.

For the sectarian mind, life presents no real dilemmas–only an unending series of enemies, of dragons who can never, quite, be slain. Put another way, sectarianism is a mode of despair.

Read Fr. Gregory’s entire post, “Sectarian or Catholic? Thoughts From Another Long Drive” on his blog, Koinonia.

Daniel Mahoney, professor of political science at Assumption College and lecturer at this year’s Acton University, (find his lectures here) wrote an excellent review in City Journalof Thomas Sowell’s new book, Intellectuals and Society. Sowell argues against the hyper-rationalist tradition of modern intellectuals whose theories tend to be divorced from reality and hostile to tradition and what Michael Polanyi called “tacit knowledge” of everyday people. As Mahoney notes, this has been a recurring theme of Sowell’s work throughout the years beginning with his fine book A Conflict of Visions. Mahoney writes:

Sowell, it’s true, denies being an intellectual, and we must take him at his word. He renews the critique of “literary politics” first limned by Edmund Burke in Reflections on the Revolution in France and Alexis de Tocqueville in The Old Regime and the Revolution. Burke and Tocqueville both observed a new intellectual type: thinkers inebriated by revolution and the dream of a radically new social order, and dismissive of the inherited wisdom of the past. Burke and Tocqueville didn’t hesitate to denounce injustice when they saw it, whether British oppression of Indians and the Irish or chattel slavery in America. But their critiques drew on the best traditions of Western civilization. They avoided the “rationalist” illusion that the world could be created anew. In this spirit, Sowell refuses to judge ideas by their supposed good intentions, but rather by their effects on human beings.

Read the entire review here.