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Should the church be involved in politics? Well, what is meant by politics?

7 Nov

From Greg Forster:

Growing numbers of Americans want pastors to talk about politics. A generation ago, we learned the hard way that when churches take sides in partisan and ideological disputes, the result is disaster. But there is a legitimate reason public demand for political theology is rising, and there are ways to meet that need without having pastors endorse candidates.

The Pew Foundation reports that the number of Americans who want pastors to talk about politics has risen to 49%, rising six points in the last four years. A full 32% want pastors to endorse specific candidates. It’s not clear how many of them are aware that churches are (rightly) forbidden to do this as long as they are tax-exempt entities.

There are a lot of reasons for churches to be wary of getting involved in elections and public policy. It discredits the gospel; 6003555815_f4a2434100_zwhen the stewards of the gospel message advocate political programs, people naturally get the idea that the gospel message is a political program. Pastors often compromise moral standards in order to forge alliances with the least-imperfect of the very imperfect candidates available. And it prevents the church from being the “church universal,” the place where everyone meets on equal terms.

Moreover, politics is simply not an area of giftedness for religious leaders. Unscruplous politicians are very skillful at manipulating well-meaning pastors. That seems to be their area of giftedness.

We saw all these lessons in the debacle of the Religious Right movement. However, that was not just a one-time event. Throughout the last century, American churches became the dupes of cynical politicians time and again. Richard Nixon was caught on the Watergate tapes discussing how to manipulate evangelicals, saying things like “you have to give the nuts 20% of what they want.” Billy Graham, who had done a great deal for Nixon, wept when he heard those tapes.

Does that mean churches should steer clear of anything political? Actually, it depends on what you mean by “political.”

The hunger for churches to speak into politics is perennial for a good reason. Every area of life needs a moral purpose and clear ethical boundaries, and no area of life needs it more desperately than this one. Where no one is casting a profound vision for the transcendent meaning and purpose of an activity, that activity quickly descends into shallow narcissism and brutal exploitation. And because politics involves the use of coercive power, it descends into brutality more quickly than most activities.

For the last century, we’ve been caught in a vicious circle. Churches keep getting drawn into politics because people are desperate for a moral vision that can humanize politics and point it toward its proper end: justice. Then, churches take sides in elections and ideological disputes, resulting in disaster. So churches withdraw from politics, and the cycle begins anew.

I think we might break out of this cycle if we rethink what we mean by “politics.” This word comes from the Greek polis, which simply means “city” – that is, the civil community. The deepest level of politics concerns the way the public business of the civil community is structured. As the editors of the journal First Thingsonce put it, politics in the profoundest sense is “free persons deliberating the question, How ought we to order our life together?”

The “politics” that really count in America is not who wins the election. It’s whether we will remain a nation dedicated to what have been our central political commitments: religious freedom, constitutional democracy, the rule of law, recognition of the household as the central social building block, equal dignity for women, an entrepreneurial economy based on opportunity and hard work, and a special concern to extend opportunity to the poor and the marginalized. Are these commitments just? Do we even remember what they mean? Those are the real political questions of our day.

If you think these commitments are just platitudes – so obviously right that they can be taken for granted and don’t need strong champions to speak out for them – you aren’t paying attention. I don’t think we need pastors to pick candidates or debate the tax rate. I do think we need pastors to remind us that the purpose of politics is justice, and to remind us of what justice requires.

This is exactly what the pastor is supposed to be doing anyway: helping people interpret the meaning of their lives and understand what God requires of them in all areas of life. Human beings are political creatures, and a gospel that has nothing to say about politics (in the sense of the polis) is a gospel that doesn’t renew the whole human person for Christ. If pastors learned to preach about public justice effectively, there would be more public justice – and, therefore, less demand for pastors to pick candidates.

TPC_GregForster_bioGreg Forster  has participated in previous Public Squares on capitalism and religious trends.

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/missionwork/2014/11/politics-in-the-pulpit-yes-and-no/#ixzz3IOZXDEjv

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/missionwork/2014/11/politics-in-the-pulpit-yes-and-no/#ixzz3IOZICijc

Is feminism partly responsible for catcalling? That is, what are the costs if feminism wins out over chivalry?

30 Oct

From Sabrina Schaeffer (excerpt):

If You Want Sameness, Don’t Expect Chivalry

Well, our brave new world of gender equality—in which we scoff at gender differences and men and women are encouraged to act the same—often proves harmful to women and girls. While the modern feminist movement won women tremendous freedoms educationally, professionally, personally, and sexually, it often leaves women feeling anything but empowered.

The reality is these freedoms have too often come at the expense of all values and traditions. We’ve in effect thrown the helpful social mores out with the old-fashioned bathwater. But it’s the modern feminist movement, which ushered away any hint of traditional chivalry and gendered expectations, that’s in part to blame. Certainly few want to return to an age when gender roles were excessively rigid, but feminists have gone to extremes and encouraged a culture that undermines healthy gender relationships. Men who hold doors are now viewed as part of the patriarchal society. And girls are expected to just “be one of the guys.”

But gender roles helped men and women and in times past allowed the sexes to better navigate the sometimes-rough waters of romance, courtship, marriage, and sex. Feminists view the chivalry and social mores of previous generations as anachronistic. But the reality is these traditional customs of giving up a seat for a woman on a train, or accompanying a woman in public, weren’t all rooted in sexism. They were social structures to help make men more respectful of women and to curb this kind of inappropriate behavior.

It might not have been perfect, but it had a purpose. Today’s dismissal of gender differences instead creates confusion, disappointment, and often more opportunity for harassment.

The conversation about street harassment has revealed once again that feminism has come with a cost, and women are usually the ones who bear the real price. Society has never been perfect, and I’m not advocating for a return to a time when women’s choices were more limited, but in years past men and women both had a better framework to determine what was acceptable behavior and what was not.

Certainly a woman should never be made to feel uncomfortable while just walking to work or picking something up at the store. We all want to encourage a healthier and safer society for both men and women. But instead of focusing on the faux sexism lurking on every street corner, we’d be better to consider the limitations of modern feminism and ask ourselves how we can better navigate this new world of gender relations.

Sabrina L. Schaeffer is the executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum.  Full article here

Personal Freedom and Sphere Sovereignty; responding to the “choice-enhancement state”

28 Oct

From Dr. David Koyzis:

More than half a century ago, Roman Catholic philosopher Yves René Simon observed that authority has come to have a bad reputation in the modern world. Our western societies value personal freedom so highly that any intervention by an authority outside our own wills is deemed an imposition at best and outright oppression at worst. The French Revolution of 1789, perhaps more than any other event in recent history, has implanted in western consciousness the myth of the heroic popular revolt against oppressive authority. So thoroughly did the Revolution succeed in this that the default position for many of us today is to be suspicious of authority’s claims from the outset, whatever their content.

The cultural shifts of the 1960s further exacerbated this prejudice against authority when the larger liberal tradition took the form of what I have elsewhere called the “choice-enhancement state.” By the turn of the last century, the state had expanded to check the private economic power of trusts and monopolies and to preserve market competition. By the 1930s, the state had expanded further to secure equality of opportunity for everyone, which necessitated the development of the welfare state. During the 1960s, however, professed progressives concluded that the principal threat to individual freedom was not the state, big business, or economic privation, but traditional customs and social mores that claimed authority over people’s lives and actions. Only if we can manage to liberate individuals from the authority of the past, they reasoned, will they truly be free. This movement from authority to autonomy called for a new ethic based on John Stuart Mill’s harm principle: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

The problem was, and is, that there has never been a society for which this harm principle forms the primary, much less the sole, basis of freedom. In a mature differentiated society, there is a multiplicity of non-state communities, each of which has its own identity and its own standards for membership. These standards are intrinsically related to the mission and task of the communities and necessarily impose constraints on those subject to them. But because the homogenizing worldview of liberal individualism exalts individual autonomy over all standards outside the will, adherents regard with suspicion all communities based on non-individualist assumptions, especially those such as marriage, family, and even the gathered church which are not obviously reducible to private contract.

All of these factors together have tended to reinforce the notion that authority and freedom are at least in tension with each other, if not altogether opposed. If freedom expands, then we assume that authority must proportionately diminish. If we seek to advance freedom, we must concomitantly try to decrease the role of authority.

But what if it turns out that personal freedom, far from being opposed to authority, is simply another manifestation of authority? If this is true, and I believe it is, we must change the way we view our society. When a child is small, she is directly subject to her parents’ authority in the minutest areas of life. They keep a close eye on her, feed her, clothe her, house her, and generally take care of her. But as she grows to maturity, her parents increasingly pull back, allowing her to take on more and more responsibility for the direction of her own life. And that is as it should be. As Simon observes, parental authority properly aims at its own disappearance. Yet as parental authority continually recedes, the adolescent, who is now free to set her own life goals, is simply assuming more authority for the direction of her life.

More than a century ago, Dutch statesman Abraham Kuyper coined the term “sphere sovereignty” to account for the diverse forms of community found in the mature society. Families, business enterprises, states, labor unions, and schools each have their own proper sphere of authority, as ordained by God. But so does the individual as individual. The freedom that individuals legitimately claim for themselves is another manifestation of authority which other authorities are bound to respect. Although it may seem counterintuitive in our post-1789 world, I strongly believe that respect for the human person and his status as image of God is dependent on a general respect for authority in all of its pluriform manifestations.

David Koyzis teaches politics at Redeemer University College in Canada and is the author of We Answer to Another: Authority, Office, and the Image of God. This post is cross-listed at Capital Commentary.

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What’s a conservative to do in a post-Christian culture?

22 Oct

From Dr. Samuel Gregg:

At the risk of oversimplification, in one corner are those perhaps best described as “MacIntyrians,” after the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre and his seminal book After Virtue (1981). They suggest that modern liberalism’s advance in the academy and the wider culture (especially the media) is now so pronounced that it’s rendering any alternative shaping of the public square extremely difficult. Some even hold that aspects of the American experiment, by which they appear to mean a type of Lockean materialism, were bound to eventually marginalize alternative arguments.

In the other camp are those who might be called “Murrayites.” Named after the Jesuit philosopher John Courtney Murray and his equally important text We Hold These Truths (1960), this group readily acknowledges that American intellectual and popular culture is in very bad shape. They aren’t, however, convinced that the American experiment is either down-and-out or irredeemably flawed. Instead, they maintain that much of the American Founding continues to provide a sound general context for religious conservatives to make and advance their political, social, economic, and national security positions.

The significance of this discussion, however, goes far beyond the world of Catholic conservatives. Its wider importance—not just for Catholics but also other conservative-minded Christians, Jews, and those of a secular bent—is this big question: will natural law and appeals to right reason remain a salient element in American conservative public argument?

Read the rest

Media consumption and political polarization

21 Oct

From a recent Pew Survey:

When it comes to getting news about politics and government, liberals and conservatives inhabit different worlds. There is little overlap in the news sources they turn to and trust. And whether discussing politics online or with friends, they are more likely than others to interact with like-minded individuals, according to a new Pew Research Center study.

Striking Differences Between Liberals and Conservatives, But They Also Share Common GroundMain Source of Government and Political News

Ideological Placement of Each Source’s Audience

Consistent Liberals More Likely to Drop a Friend Because of Politics

Where conservatism should go from here according to Dreher and Scruton

20 Oct

From the Imaginative Conservative:

From a fascinating interview with Roger Scruton in Prospect:

Related to this is the emphasis you place on what you call the “first-person plural,” a phrase that occurs several times in the book.

Yes. Ultimately, political order does not generate itself. For that reason, social contract theories are suspended in mid-air, so to speak. All political order presupposes a pre-political order, a sense that people belong together. And then, of course, they might seek a contract that embodies their togetherness. But the togetherness has to be there.

With Oakeshott’s remarks about conservatism as a “disposition” in mind, I was very struck by something you say about the tone of voice in which this book is written. You say: “The case for conservatism does not have to be presented in elegiac accents.” What do you mean by that?

So much of modern political conservatism—and you see this in America, which has a quite articulate conservative movement compared with us—is phrased in elegiac terms. [It’s about] what we’ve lost—we’ve lost the traditional working-class family, the black family or whatever it might be. Now, all that is perfectly reasonable. But the most important question is what have we got, rather than what we’ve lost, and how do we keep it?

That’s well said. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I think Scruton’s insights here point the way forward for religious conservatives in this rapidly changing social order. We must give up on the hope of restoring the past in this culture. It’s not that some aspects of the past shouldn’t be reclaimed, but rather that doing so, at least at a society-wide level, is not feasible at this point in time. The more we act as if it were so, the greater our losses will be once we definitively lose an unwinnable battle. This “take back America” stuff is self-deluding nostalgia, and the more conservatives believe it, the worse off they will be.

There are times when you have to fade into the forest and retrench. I’ve called this call for retrenchment the Benedict Option, because it strikes me as the most sensible strategy by which religious conservatives can engage the world as it is now and is to come. The Benedictines were ordinarily not completely cloistered; they engaged with the people in the areas where their monasteries were. But they established walls and habits that set them apart from the secular world, and gave them the means to preserve their identity over generations. This is what I’m talking about: how to preserve the core of our identity in a post-Christian culture?

I don’t think anybody has the answer yet, and it may be that the answer will only emerge after we try a number of different things and see what stands the test of time. The thing is, we have to try. A Protestant friend wrote me yesterday about struggles within his church community, and how he’s run into a buzzsaw of opposition in trying to bring real content to the Sunday school curriculum. He reports that the adults think everything is going to be okay for the younger generation if they just keep doing what they’ve been doing and hope for the best. Meanwhile, he says, they are just processing kids who emerge fluent in moralistic therapeutic deism, but theologically and culturally ignorant of Christianity.

Absent an adult conversion, these kids aren’t likely to make it as Christians in the world as it is and the world as it shall be in the next few years and decades. It grieves my friend, but he says it has been a real lesson for him in the power of fear of change within a community. This, I told him, is the kind of conservatism that kills. To paraphrase Burke, a church community without the means of change is one without the means of its own preservation. The art of it is figuring out what needs to change in our way of living and doing for the sake of preserving our core values.

So, to pivot towards the future, let me put the Scruton question to the conservatives in the room: What have we got, and how do we keep it?

I’ll take a non-comprehensive stab at answering this from a religiously conservative point of view.

What we’ve got is enough people with a cultural memory, and cultural awareness, of what we have lost, and a desire to both reclaim it from the past and pass it on to our future, to make a community. For some it will be actual local communities; for others, it will be virtual communities. I suspect for all of us it will be a combination of both. We have to preserve those communities and the virtues they embody. We’ve got to build institutions dedicated to this end — which, for religious believers, has to mean dedicated to the service of God within our particular tradition, not dedicated to the service of the tradition itself, if you appreciate the distinctions. Schools, churches, institutions of civil society — all kinds of institutions that incarnate our values and pass them on in a living way: this is what we’ve got to have if we are going to keep what we’ve got.

We live in a time of cultural revolution, in which everything that is solid, from a Christian point of view, melts into air. If we want to hold on to what we’ve got in terms of our faith and our values, we’ve got to make our beliefs concrete in new ways, ways designed and built to endure the radicalism of the situation we’re now in.

We’ve got a First Amendment, the penumbra of which grants us lots of latitude for running our own religious lives as we see fit. The ground of liberty in this way is going to be shrinking, that’s clear, in the coming laïcité. But we still have a lot more freedom than do religious folks in other countries, and that’s worth preserving. I am a conservative, not a libertarian, but we live in a fundamentally libertarian social order. It might make sense, then, to vote for principled libertarians over conventional conservatives, if the principled libertarians truly respect the liberty of unpopular religious minorities to live within their sphere and flourish. I believe that over the course of my children’s lifetime, defending the First Amendment is going to become the most important cause for religious conservatives, because on it everything else for us will depend.

These are my two ideas this morning. I welcome yours. As I said, my conservatism is primarily religious and social, not economic, so my answers reflect that.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Republished with gracious permission of The American Conservative.

Christianity is a natural prop for liberal democracy, Chinese communists are continuing to learn

8 Oct

As history shows (Western Civilization; South Korea, predominantly Christians nations in Africa and South America; America itself) and as research empirical research has shown, the internal logic of Christianity tends towards liberal democracy, even a constitutional republic.  China is finding this out these days (excerpt)…

The involvement of Protestants and Catholics in Hong Kong’s protest movement is an added concern for Beijing, which on the mainland has put in place an elaborate bureaucracy of agencies and state-approved religious bodies to monitor and control religious groups.

Hong Kong churches have long tried to spread Christianity in China. Protestant pastors based in Hong Kong have helped propagate the evangelical brands of Christianity that have alarmed the Chinese leadership in Beijing with their fast growth.

A religious group gathered in Hong Kong’s Admiralty area, a focal point of the pro-democracy protests, on Wednesday. Paul Beckett/The Wall Street Journal

About 480,000 Protestants and 363,000 Catholics live in Hong Kong, a city of about 7.2 million, according to government figures from 2013. Buddhists and Taoists make up the vast majority of the city, the government says. Many Hong Kongers have been educated through large networks of Catholic and Protestant schools.

That includes some protest leaders. Joshua Wong, the 17-year-old who is a public face of the rallies, was educated at one of the top Protestant-backed private schools in the city. Now in college, Wong was a 15-year-old student at United Christian College (Kowloon East) in 2012, when he led a movement called Scholarism that defeated the Hong Kong government’s plan to introduce patriotic education classes in schools.

Occupy Central leader Chu Yiu-ming is a Baptist minister, while founder Benny Tai is also a Christian. On Thursday, Mr. Tai declined to discuss his faith in detail, but he did call himself a “part time theologian” and said he could “write a thesis” on the topic of Christianity and the protests. “My faith is in the streets,” Mr. Tai added.

Wendy Lo, 21, was born in China’s Guangdong province but grew up in Hong Kong and became Christian after attending an Evangelical secondary school. The University of Hong Kong linguistics major says her bible study group this past weekend discussed how to interpret a biblical story in light of the protest movement. The chapter they read was about Queen Esther daring to approach the king without his permission.

“The story made me think about speaking up for myself,” said Ms. Lo. “If Hong Kong residents don’t speak up for ourselves, who will?”

Full Article

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