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Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Category: Politics (page 1 of 2)

The Chinese Dragon and the Cross

For a number of years the Chinese government has been increasing its persecution of Christians by tightening enforcement of building regulations, requiring the removal of crosses, the use of political imagery, and pursuing the arrest and detention of Christian leaders from the underground house church movement.

Not all of this oppression is unique to Christianity. Readers may remember the suppression of the Falun Gong movement, for example. In China, as elsewhere, Communism is no friend to religious belief and practice.

But I do think the antagonism between Christianity and Communism is particular and intrinsic to the foundational assumptions of both as ideologies. China has vacillated between limited toleration, hoping to capitalize on the social benefits that may come with Christian belief among the citizenry, and persecution when Christianity seemed to be getting too strong.

These issues have recently been brought to the forefront of my mind by the protests in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is one area of China, because of the one nation two systems approach, that has maintained more freedom of religion. Additionally, the Hong Kong legal system has been strongly shaped by the Common Law tradition, which has been heavily influenced by Christian presuppositions (though, of course it is in the nature of the Common Law to be influenced by the presuppositions of those who adhere to it).

All of this being said, there is a specific danger as President Xi of China consolidates power and sets himself up more firmly as a modern day totalitarian leader. That danger is that religions, including Christianity, will find themselves co-opted into the service of Chinese nationalism.

Precisely because this situation is not new or unique, Christians need to be watchful and pray for our brothers and sisters in China. We need to pray for their clarity and their discernment, as well as their fortitude and courage. The tweet below demonstrates one example of the problematic nature of this sort of coopting:

Folks might rightly point out that you could see similar things at American Megachurches on Memorial Day. But while theologically that too is a marker of something disturbing, it is not a coercive or commanded obedience and nationalism. Even more concerning are efforts by the Chinese government post Tiananmen to influence the media of the Chinese diaspora, as well as their faiths, so as to be more amenable to the plans of the Chinese government.

So, if all of this is the case (and I hasten to add I am no expert, simply thinking about the issues as I understand and have read about them), then what is the hope in terms of Christian witness in China? To answer this question, I think about the words of the late Lamin Sanneh, a scholar of world Christian mission, who wrote of Christianity in China, that:

“Mao might be far from Christendom, but not far enough to avoid rousing the Christian ghost from the mountain recluses and political backwaters to which rhetoric banished it. The political mission of China seemed too evocative of the Christian mission it combated for it to succeed without the Christian alibi. And that alibi came to haunt the gatekeepers of the revolution”

Lamin Sanneh, Disciples of All Nations, 269

The Twilight of the Greatest Generation & the loss of Memory

As we grow further removed in history from World War II and D Day, especially as that generation dies and fewer people have even heard first-hand accounts from family members and others they know, people will need more reminders of the significance. The map below is one reminder. 50% of deaths from allied civilians. A trial everywhere, but in some cases completely staggering–a 25% death toll in Belarus for example.

And while a lot of folks may not realize it, for the reasons given above–the postwar pursuit of economic integration, free trade, and the emergence of the European Union (with the UK as an important ballast to prevent domination by Germany or France)–were integral to the peace that emerged and the fact that there hasn’t been another conflagration in Europe.

Cordell Hull

Tennessean Cordell Hull (there’s a building named after him on the square in Gallatin, and he was a graduate of the Normal School at Bowling Green KY, which I’m guessing was a predecessor to Western Kentucky University) was a major architect of this and champion of the insight that economic integration fosters peace. Not without flaws–he opposed admitting Jewish refugees fleeing from the Nazis and thus did not rise above the lesser instincts of his day on that front–he nonetheless advocated for a perspective on international trade and peace that has proven insightful, durable, and mostly accurate.

The breakdown of the postwar consensus, the likely departure of the UK from the EU, and greater moves toward nationalism and economic protectionism, especially when the advocates display very little awareness of the broader implications of those changes, when the broader implications–political and social–of the postwar policies were arguably the major point, with base level economics being secondary. This latter issue was also in play with the short-sighted rejection of the Trans-pacific Partnership trade agreement by both candidate Hillary Clinton and now-President Trump. Trump’s issues with China can be read in part as a result of the fact that the multilateral economic agreement meant to bind Pacific rim powers more closely to the United States and hem in Chinese influence, was rejected in favor of his arrogant attempts at bilateral agreements.

Hull was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945 for his instrumental work in founding the United Nations. Funny that the apocalyptic preachers of my youth who so often used the UN as a Boogieman, never mentioned that a Southerner–a Tennessean!–was integral to its founding. If they had, regional loyalties are such that it might have limited the effectiveness of their message.

As one essay about Hull and his work prior to WWII put it, “Mark Twain said, ‘you can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.’ Secretary Hull and the commercial policy planners foresaw an integrated world economy where peace would be built on trade liberalization. But most Americans could not yet picture that world” (Available here–requires registration). Now, the problem seems to be we’ve seen only that world for long enough, that we’ve forgotten how bleak the alternative of nationalistic factionalism is.

The other wall…

I’m seeing a lot about the case of Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, the case about to go before the SCOTUS. The background of the case regards grants given to non-profit tax-exempt schools to improve the safety of their playgrounds. Trinity Lutheran School applied and, I read, their application ranked 5 out of the thirty-something received, with 14 grants available. They were rejected because Missouri, like 38 other states, has a Blaine amendment in its constitution that forbids the direct funding of religious institutions. These amendments are a relic of an attempt to add such an amendment to the US constitution. Part (though not all) of the motivation for these amendments was anti-Catholic and anti-Immigrant sentiment at a time when public schools across the country were basically Protestant parochial schools and often centers of “Americanization.”

The case is interesting for a number of reasons, and touches on several issues I’ve been reflecting on for some time.

First the main issues that people are writing about:

  • Can a state constitution go beyond the United States Constitution in restricting something, in this case, can a state constitution more narrowly define what constitutes establishment. I don’t know if it will have direct bearing on the case, but this reminds me that the Tennessee constitution had a provision that forbade clergy from holding elected office, which was found unconstitutional in 1978 (the last state to have one).
  • Related to the first, is it religious discrimination or does it burden free exercise to exclude some tax-exempt/non-profit organizations from such grants because of their religious identity.

I think these questions are worth asking. The list of Amicus Curiae over at the SCOTUS blog  is very interesting. Most of the briefs seem to have been filed in favor of Trinity Lutheran, but it is interesting that some of the religious ones where not. Reading the briefs on both sides is informative.

I’ve always had some ambivalent feelings about religious organizations taking tax money. I was nervous about President George W. Bush’s office of Faith Based Initiatives because of the reality that accepting money always gives a person or organization a real or percieved degree of control. As one of my friends used to put it “you take the man’s money, you play by the man’s rules.” I’ve heard enough about the mixed bag having a church on the national register of historic places, for example, to say nothing of more contentious issues.

Which brings me to the underlying issue that I think is at play in our society: the proper role of Churches and other non-profits. Whenever issues like this come up on line (another hot button is the clergy housing allowance exclusion) there are always people who ask why churches shouldn’t be treated like businesses. The short answer is that churches are not businesses. Most churches are small. They were granted tax-exempt status not because they were religious, but for the same reason other non-profits were: they are intermediate institutions in society that are cooperative in nature and that, ostensibly at least, work for the common good. Because of this, our society determined that it would be wrong to burden voluntary associations made up of tax payers, whose missions and goals benefit society, with another layer of taxation.

The long and short of it is that, as a Christian, I would almost rather churches paid taxes, to rid ourselves of as much of any sense of beholden-ness to the state as we can. On the other hand, as a citizen, I actually do think these intermediate/mediating institutions are extremely important, especially in a society which is polarizing along too many lines to count (geography, generationally, racially, and certain economically).

 

If you love me

A while ago, I heard a powerful lecture on the Prophet Jeremiah by Professor Ellen Davis. In it, she said something that is also found in her book Biblical Prophecy: Perspective for Christian Theology, Discipleship, and Ministry. She writes: “The prophet speaks for God in language that is literally visceral: ‘My guts, my guts; I writhe!’ (Jer. 4:19); ‘My guts yearn for [Ephraim/Israel]” (31:20). Although the visceral character of Jeremiah’s words is (regrettably) obscured by most translations, this feature of his poetry is an important indicator of his distinctive place within the prophetic canon. For Jeremiah is a witness to horror who never looks away, and thus he may teach us something of what it is to speak and act on God’s behalf in the most grievous situations” (Davis, 144).

These words, particularly the portion in bold, rushed back to mind yesterday when I saw the photograph that has caused so much controversy, of the Syrian refugees who drowned while attempting to cross from Turkey to Greece and enter Europe. The picture that is ingrained in my mind, along with images of my little boys, is the picture of three year old Alan Kurdi who drowned with his older brother and mother, and washed up on the beach, leaving his grieving father with no desire to go on to Europe, but to instead return home, alone.

People have argued that these photos should not have been published. In certain respects, in magazines that are known for making their way without ethics, and only for financial gain, I can see why this would be controversial. But taken on its own merits, publication of these photos only brings home the reality of what is facing so many people fleeing from violence, war, and instability in their home countries. Politicians and analysts are right to say that the only long term solution is to encourage stability and peace in the homelands from which these folks are fleeing. But that is just that–a long term solution. In the mean time, we can’t look away from the tragedy of little Alan’s death, nor from the broader tragedy of which it is a particular example. Something must be done now to aid and welcome those who flee in fear of their lives. And so, the following poem came to me, and I thought I’d share it with you.

If you love me
do not look away
use your gifted eyes
to welcome the world
through tears
In beauty. In pain.

If you love me
do not hide your face
from need. from pain.
from me.
use your face to know
and be known

If you love me
do not close your lips
but use your mouth and
loose your tongue
to encourage
to shape love loudly

If you love me
do not remain with folded hands
but apply your hands to work
that heals
that lifts
the one who has fallen,
Pull the listing boat ashore

If you love me
do not walk away
but plant your feet and
stand
against injustice
and walk
to where you’re needed

If you love me
you will meet me
when you do these things
and loving your neighbor
you love me

Do not look away
If you love me

-JBH, 2015

Learn more from Episcopal Migration Ministries & Jesuit Refugee Service

Episcopal Migration Ministries also conducted a webinar on the Syrian refugee crisis 8 months ago:

Chechen President: “Look for the roots of evil in America” » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

I post all this with the caveat that so many things are still up in the air regarding the bombing in Boston.

First Things’ First Thoughts blog posted the following statement from Chechnya’s President Ramzan Kadyrov. Just an FYI, Chechnya is a semi-autonomous Republic within the Russian Federation. That means Kadyrov is sort of like a somewhat more powerful state Governor.

Tragic events have happened in Boston. As a result of the terrorist attack people have been killed. We have previously expressed our condolences to those living in the city and the people of America. Today, as reported by mass media, during an attempted arrest a certain Tsarnaev was killed. It would have been logical if he had been detained and an investigation carried out, and all the circumstances and the degree of his guilt figured out. Apparently, special services at any cost were needed to calm society. Any attempt to make the connection between Chechnya and the Tsarnaevs, if they are guilty, are in vain. They grew up in the U.S., their attitudes and beliefs were formed there. It is necessary to seek the roots of evil in America. The whole world must fight terrorism. This we know better than anyone else. We wish recovery to all the victims and share the Americans’ feelings of sorrow.

People are already bashing Kadyrov for this, but aside from the bluntness, he speaks truthfully. Lessons from our previous experience with terrorism, including 9/11, demonstrate that it is more likely for folks who grow up in the west to become radicalized or to self-radicalize (as Bernard Lewis pointed out, it is important that none of the ethnic Turks who took part in the September 11th plot were raised in Turkey, but instead, were raised and educated in Germany). Certainly this is often, though not universally, done with reference to a tangible connection to what they perceive as an oppressed minority elsewhere.

It’s not always the case that folks who do things like this have stumbled their way into it without a foreign prophet, but it is so often enough that looking close to home makes sense.

Additionally, folks taking offense should take the time to consider the history of Chechnya, and the way its people have suffered because of terrorism, the radicalization of some of their own population, as well as an influx of foreign fighters in the past during their hot conflicts with Russia. It’s understandable they do not want the American media creating a one for one “Chechen = Terrorist” association in the minds of viewers.

Kadyrov is a strong man, and is in power, as I understand it, mostly because he does two things well: listen to Vladimir Putin and keep the lid on terrorism in Chechnya. We shouldn’t get too worked up about his words, even if we find it offensive, because it likely has much more to do with local political realities than ours.

At the same time, the advice to look for the roots of evil close to home is always relevant.

 

via Chechen President: “Look for the roots of evil in America” » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

Retired general cautions against overuse of hated drones | Reuters

I first read about this first on the National Review site. Unsurprisingly, McChrystal, who was a darling of the Right after criticizing Obama (an act that led to his retirement), his criticism of something that many on the Right support completely–drones–is discounted by commenters.

“What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world,” he said in an interview. “The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes … is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one.”

McChrystal said the use of drones exacerbates a “perception of American arrogance that says, ‘Well we can fly where we want, we can shoot where we want, because we can.'”

via Retired general cautions against overuse of hated drones | Reuters.

The Blindness of Tax Purists » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

Rusty Reno nails it:

Daniel Henninger has gone down the rabbit hole. In his column for the Wall Street Journal he inveighs against the countless ways in which the tax code is manipulated by legislators to reward this or that constituency—or donors and lobbyists, as the case may be. The whole mess has been reaffirmed in the bill that was just passed to avert going over the fiscal cliff.

All to the good. Where he goes wrong is lumping this insider game with various efforts to use the tax code to encourage socially productive behavior. He writes: “The bill has $335 billion for the child tax credit, the sort of expenditure some conservatives like. But then no complaining about the rest of it.” He goes on, “You can’t pick and choose which tax heist to join. You’re in for all of them. In time everyone’s a tax gangster.”

Only a very ideological person can fail to distinguish between a tax code designed to subsidize the extraordinary costs of being a parent—the single most important act of citizenship anyone can perform—and one that subsidizes the production of ethanol. Unfortunately, many so-called conservatives think the way he does. For them, having a child is a “lifestyle choice” among many. Why should government be in the “social engineering” business of encouraging people to have children?

Purity, yes, but at the price of anything resembling political responsibility.

via The Blindness of Tax Purists » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

The Sun Sets on American Empire | The American Conservative

If the American Century is at an end and the contributors are performing a postmortem, what do they identify as the patient’s cause of death? One answer is that American economic and political strength have been abused and run down through mismanagement. As Emily Rosenberg discusses in her chapter on consumerism, America’s culture of mass consumption cultivated habits that have sapped American wealth and power through the accumulation of enormous private and public debt, while the spread of the consumerist ethos around the world has further eroded America’s earlier economic advantages.

American economic and political strength are also victims of the American Century’s own successes. As Jeffry Frieden explains in his chapter on globalization, the success of the United States in leading the rebuilding of the global economy in the wake of World War II produced a competitive economic order that has hastened the end of American preeminence. Viewed this way, the American Century ended because it is no longer needed. Likewise, Akira Iriye argues that the world has become so integrated economically and culturally that the global order that is replacing the U.S.-led one will not be dominated by any one nation.

Proponents of continued U.S. hegemony sometimes attempt to scare Americans with visions of a world led by Russia or China, but what comes after the American Century will be nothing like that. According to Iriye, “it will not be a Chinese century or an Indian century or a Brazilian century. It will be a long transnational century.” This is a useful reminder that it is extremely unusual for any one nation to be hegemon over the globe, and it is not something that will be quickly or easily repeated.

via The Sun Sets on American Empire | The American Conservative.

How Does a Traditionalist Vote? | The American Conservative

The election is over, and as a traditionalist conservative, I had a heck of a time figuring out how to protest vote this time. Not that it mattered much in the end given the deep red complexion of Tennessee or the fact that GOP reaped the effects of failing to advance immigration reform under Bush, as well as the disdain the rhetoric of some in the party caused among those who prefer their politics without the reminder of the Know-nothings. This article lays out the issues pretty well.

I’ve said on Facebook that I’m tempted to cut out the middleman this November and write in a vote for Goldman Sachs. But if you’re a traditionalist conservative and you want to accept one of the offerings officially on your ballot, which do you choose?

For partisans, this is a no-brainer. For conservatives in the vein of, say, Russell Kirk, it’s anything but. Faced with the non-choice between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Thomas Dewey in 1944, Kirk said no to empire and voted for Norman Thomas, the Socialist Party candidate. There was no Fox News to tell him a conservative couldn’t do that.

For all that Kirk didn’t like libertarians — “chirping sectaries,” he called them — if he were in search of a peace candidate today he might well consider the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson. Or, closer to Norman Thomas, the Green Party’s Jill Stein.

via How Does a Traditionalist Vote? | The American Conservative.

*The same author wrote a good piece on “High Church Conservatism” a few years ago.

Obligatory Election Post

I originally posted this in 2008 and indicated that it was more fitting for the 2000 election.  It may be applicable again come Tuesday:

While it was certainly much more applicable in 2000, I always like to share this selection from my fellow Ashevillan Thomas Wolfe‘s O Lost (the original, longer version of Look Homeward Angel) during election season:

“Oliver Gant had cast his first vote in Baltimore.  It was for Ulysses Grant.  Now he rode southward under the threatening mutter of a new civil war.  Two men named Hayes and Tilden had contested the Presidency with a spirited exchange of vitriol.  Mr. Tilden had been given the most votes, but Mr. Hayes had been given the Presidency.  And the rabble whose large intelligence had ordained this miracle now stood shirtily around with opened mouths, or went bawling through the streets by torch light in pursuit of the lucid simplicities of democratic government.” (O Lost, p27 )

O Lost: A Story of the Buried Life – Google Book Search.

O Lost

Look Homward Angel

 

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