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Monday, June 25, 2012

The Patristics and Hirsch

Depending on volume, I will try to share responses I receive and respond to them as appropriate. This one from Garet Robinson, a
Minister to Young Adults in a Baptists congregation, was nice to receive completely out of the blue this morning. I have never met Garet but in correspondence back to him I asked for and received permission to share his thoughts at the blog. He raises an area of concern that I mention in the essay but is worthy of a complete article, namely Hirsch’s view of patristic literature and scholarship as it pertains to the apostolic office. As I say in the essay, he usually skips over the patristic period and makes it seem as if the end of his vision of the apostolic person came as a result of Constantine and the "Christendom Church model" he believes was ushered in. However, it would not be fair to say that he always skips over the patristic literature and I mention an instant in the book that is quite striking where he acknowledges quite clearly that in the teaching of individuals as early as Igniatius of Antioch and Clement of Rome the end of the apostolic office was being propogated. His response, as detailed in my essay, is to accuse them of missing what he is convinced was the clear teaching of the apostles as summarized in Ephesians 4. So as early as Antioch and Clement he does acknowledge the official office of apostle was being spoken against. I will address this more in some later blogs. Here is the complete letter.

Dear Mr. Metzger, 

I wanted to write to commend you on your excellent review of Hirsch’s text in the most recent Books and Culture issue. 

Though I haven’t yet read Hirsch’s text you reviewed, his previous text On the Verge was troubling to me. I am curious if there was any trace of contemplation that the early church clearly ended the apostolic office by the end the first century? Has Hirsch dabbled at all in patristic literature? Much of my primary research has been specifically in this period and there seems to be a clear indication (which is noted in scholarship) that the official office of apostle ended, and was specifically done so by the early church, at the end of the first century. Sullivan in From Apostles to Bishops makes clear how this happened.

Anyways, a truly engaging article and you’ve done well to challenge Hirsch’s assumptions. I hope it gets a wide read. Have a wonderful day.

Grace and peace to you,
Garet Robinson

Books & Culture essay up—some background on it

I am so honored that to see that my essay for Books & Culture (B&C) is now up at their website for anyone, subscriber or not, to read. Though I was published in B & C years ago on a totally different subject (Vietnam), as well as having done a short piece for their online blog, this is certainly the most substantial work I have done for them and the lengthiest writing I have done personally since my master’s theses. Writing the essay got me going full depth on the question of apostolic ministry and I am using the research I did on the paper for a book with Cascade that I hope to see published in 2013.

The book that occasions the essay is Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim's The Permanent Revolution. Although the essay takes a decidedly dim view of the argument for current day apostles, I had originally thought this would be a much more positive piece because I knew that Alan Hirsch had nothing to do with C. Peter Wagner’s so-called New Apostolic Reformation and had a good reputation among people who I respect, including the folks at Wheaton College who are working with Alan on a masters in missional movements. I thought, in other words, that I would find a stronger, subtler argument than what I ended up finding, which is not to say the book is not worth reading and is not filled with insights on the sociology of church leadership and the call of the church to be in mission for Christ. But what became clear very quickly in the book was that Alan and Tim were going to present an argument far more controversial than I was expecting. Here they are already on page 5 under the heading Almost a Silver Bullet:

In presenting Ephesians 4:1-16, we are tempted to say that it is one of those rare things—a silver bullet: a simple, guaranteed solution for a difficult problem. Of course we do not believe that, but over time we have come to think that it is almost a silver bullet. We believe that a full appreciation and application of Ephesians 4 typology will unleash enormous energies that will awaken now-dormant potentials in the church that Jesus built.

As far as we can discern, every observable, highly transformative apostolic movement that achieved exponential missional impact has operated with some expression of fivefold ministry. We are absolutely convinced of this: it is clear in the explicit teachings of Scripture, evidenced in mission’s history and in contemporary apostolic movements in the global church and confirmed by the best thinking in the social sciences.

The quality of extreme urgency and sweeping certainty in this quote runs throughout the book and will be the subject of an additional post by me later, but for now I want to focus on the final sentence where they put forward their four evidences: “We are absolutely convinced of this: it is clear in the explicit teachings of Scripture, evidenced in mission’s history and in contemporary apostolic movements in the global church and confirmed by the best thinking in the social sciences.” Given the limits of space my review focused on the first three aspects of their argument—the scriptural, the historical and the contemporary. What makes the five-fold so urgent for Christians to adopt--according to Hirsch and Catchim necessary for Christians to adopt in order to be faithful to Jesus--is that it is supposedly unique among sociological formulas due to its rooting in Scripture, history and contemporary Christian witness. It would be fascinating, but would likely take up at least as much space as my review, to weigh Hirsch’s and Catchim’s sociological argument: Is the best of social sciences clearly in favor of a five-fold model versus the range of other models available for Christian ministry? That would be a great article to consider, but in my judgment I saw it as more important, and certainly plenty to manage, to focus the essay on the scriptural, historical and contemporary claims, especially since the authors said they were “absolutely convinced” that those pointed to the necessity of a five-fold ecclesiology and since scripture in particular holds greater authority for evangelicals than compatibility with sociology.

I am anxious to receive feedback on the essay.  A number of scholars have already sent me notes of gratitude which I hope to share at a later time. If you have comments on the article, pleases make them at the Books & Culture website or here. For now, thanks for reading and if you don’t yet subscribe to Books & Culture, now is the time!!

God is good. Peace.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

David French and the Christian Partisan

David French recently wrote a refreshingly candid piece explaining his journey to being an unapologetic Christian culture warrior. It is a thoughtful first person narrative and together with a recent set of reflections by his fellow Patheos blogger, Timothy Dalrymple, is representative of the kind of discourse left-leaning Christians like myself need to consider and engage with. French’s argument in his “Open Letter to Young, ‘Post-Partisan’ Evangelicals” is not addressed to me—I am neither young, easily defined as Evangelical (although I consider myself evangelical) or post-partisan in the sense French seems to have in mind--but I am actively engaged in the debates French writes about and I am a more than casual participant in the cultural moment that French unfortunately insists on viewing as a culture war. In this work I have the occasion to read French and other self-described Christian conservatives and I think I could perhaps offer him a richer explanation, based on a different example of French’s own work, for why many young evangelicals, and many other folk of different ages and beliefs, are tempted to describe themselves as post-partisan.

When I am tempted to use the term post-partisan, and often when I encounter people using the term, it is in reference to a frustration with a style of partisan argument that so completely distorts its opposition’s views and so cartoonishly portrays the moral and political choices people must make that I want to wad up the paper or punch the computer screen. The frustration turns to spiritual sadness when these types of partisan arguments are made by people of Christian faith who are therefore bearing witness to a watching world. Partisans of both the left and the right are capable of these distortions, as my open letter to Jim Wallis demonstrates. It is at moments like that when I am tempted to throw up my hands, yield the debate to the warriors and attempt to fashion myself a neutral, “Jesus only” observer and commenter. French is correct that such a stance is not wise or even really possible, but he is sadly the source of such frustration in ways that I hope he will consider and rethink. Allow me to explain.

In a June 13 column for Lifenews French unwittingly displays precisely the kind of Christian partisanship that leads people to wonder if the culture warrior mentality is  beneficial to the Church’s witness to the public truth of the gospel. In his article “Why do ‘Social Justice’ Christians Ignore Pro-Life Issues?” French engages in three culture warrior practices that give partisanship a bad name:

Culture Warrior Practice #1: Fail to engage real people and their real arguments and instead rely on your own worst-case descriptions to describe the entirety of the perspective you want to defeat. Here is the clearest example of this in French’s article:

Again and again I see young social justice-focused evangelicals abandoning any effective voice for the unborn for the sake of an ephemeral, culturally-fashionable concept that as a practical matter means little more than advocating a utopian ideal through a grab-bag of banal, functionally socialist policies. Moreover, the embrace of social justice often drives them functionally into the arms of a political party and political movements that are dedicated to protecting and even subsidizing the “right” to kill children on a vast, industrial scale.

If he sees examples of this way of thinking among young evangelicals “again and again” then it should have been easy to link to even one example of these views.

Culture Warrior Practice #2: Present current debates in a way that is beneficial to “your side” but distorted to such a degree as to raise questions about your commitment to truthful discourse. As even casual observers know, the issue of the environment is one that drives many Christians, particularly young evangelicals, away from conservative political values. It makes sense, then, that French would address the issue. But look at how he does it:

Let’s take the environment. Social justice Christians just adore the environment. (Don’t we all?) They want us to be good stewards of creation (who can disagree with that?) and as a result decry dependence on fossil fuels and tend to embrace the full agenda of the environmentalist Left — carbon taxes, cap and trade, emissions caps, etc. etc. etc… in exchange for adopting fashionable leftist policies that at worst actually harm the people they’re trying to help and at best represent debatably-effective solutions to complex and intractable problems, the social justice Christian Left has thrown under the bus the most vulnerable citizens of this (or any) culture — unborn children.

What is interesting about this is that the leading evangelical environmental group espousing the kinds of policies French finds wanting—the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN)—consistently uses pro-life arguments to buttress their policy descriptions. Far from “throwing under the bus” unborn children (what a terrible image to place on another’s perspective), the EEN has made a point of marshalling its energies around environmental issues that damage the unborn. This is not a convenient fact for French, but it is a major one and it has been the subject of intense debate within the evangelical community (Christianity Today even devoted a special feature to the EEN’s actions so it is not an obscure debate). Perhaps French is completely unaware of this debate, but I find that hard to believe. It seems more likely that instead of addressing the pro-life merits of the EEN and their explicit claim to being completely pro-life, he has chosen to distort evangelical environmentalists as those who silence the pro-life cause. This fits neatly with his vision of himself as a culture warrior for the unborn, but at the cost of any recognition of the complex context of the debate between leading evangelical environmentalists and the broader pro-life community

Culture Warrior Practice #3: Finish your article by reducing your opponents to a label they reject and then claim to have discerned the true intentions and motivations of anyone who fits your simplistic description. Here is French’s concluding paragraph:

So, please, let’s drop the false moral pretense of “social justice.” You’re not fooling anyone. You’re a leftist seeking leftist solutions to known cultural problems, and in so doing you’ve elected to side with those who seek the legal right to intentionally kill children. Oh, you may claim to be pro life even as you work diligently to maintain and increase the power of those individuals and institutions that advance and protect our abortion regime, but you’ve made your choice in the real world.

That probably speaks for itself, but I would be remiss if I did not point out that the greatest voice for the unborn in French’s and my generation, John Paul II of blessed memory, regularly and consistently gave voice to the specific policy prescriptions on the environment and the war in Iraq that French equates with the social justice/leftist position. Did John Paul, of all people, really “maintain and increase the power of those individuals and institutions that advance and protect our abortion regime”? Is it any wonder that young evangelicals wonder about the merits of Christian partisanship when they see it practiced in a way that reduces moral and spiritual giants like John Paul II to the moral equivalent of abortion apologists?

What Civility Demands of Eric Metaxas

Among Eric Metaxas’ many virtues is his professed commitment to Christian civility. As Richard Mouw has argued for years, such civility, rightly understood, does not preclude serious and sustained disagreement or passionate and heartfelt denunciation, but it does demand thoughtful and considerate explanation. Metaxas’ public stand on the HHS Mandate is that it is comparable to unnamed laws passed in the early stages of Hitler’s rise to power, that it is putting the United States on a similar course to the horrors of Nazi Germany and that it is therefore incumbent upon Christians in America to view the struggle against the HHS Mandate as Bonhoeffer viewed the struggle against Nazism at its earliest stages. This way of thinking has not only influenced Metaxas’ very robust media efforts to challenge the Mandate, but it also shaped the discourse of his fellow Breakpoint colleague’s Charles Colson and Timothy George. They wrote a memorable article for Christianity Today at the early stages of this controversy comparing the duty of Christians in America to the duty of Christians in Germany, even going so far as to title their column for Christianity Today on the issue in identical language to that of the famous Nazi resister Martin Niemoller.

It seems to me that if citizens are going to accuse their duly elected leaders of complicity in horrors comparable to those that launched the Nazi regime then civility would demand that they explain their charges with the care and scholarship that they warrant. Certainly this was Bonhoeffer’s method of operation. He put teeth to his charges against the Nazi regime and did not rely on hyperbole and media sloganeering alone in his resistance to their laws. I have sought such rigor from Metaxas in vein. Unless I am missing something, there is nowhere on the internet or in regular print an explanation of how the HHS Mandate is comparable to any early laws of the Nazi regime, how it will lead to a regime similar to that of Nazi Germany and how it will cause reaction to Catholics similar to the tragedy of the Shoah for Europe’s Jews.

The struggle against the HHS Mandate has reached a new stage with the launch of the Catholic Bishops' Fortnight for Freedom and the prospect of massive civil disobedience in conjunction with it. Metaxas has made clear his intention to join in this campaign with his extensive level of media contacts, going so far as to say Christians should leave no rhetorical "bullet" in the holster. One can hope that in the course of his work he will find time to devote to either explaining substantively his serious charges against the Obama Administration or retract his more extreme statements.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Obama is also not a Mexican Dictator

Eric Metaxas is not alone on the Right in his invocation of extreme historical metaphors to define President Obama's actions on religious freedom. Commonweal has an excellent pair of articles on the manner in which the ideological manipulation of history is also present in the commentary around the new film For Greater Glory. This film, based roughly on the Mexican conflicts of the 1920s, is being read by many as a parable for our times and the devilish designs of President Obama. This is an interpretation explicitly embraced by one of the film's actors who has said "I don't see any difference between Henry VIII" and Obama, not to mention Obama and the Mexican dictator portrayed in the film.   Here is some of Julia Young's fine response to such nonsense:

The “Calles laws,” as they were known, were so comprehensively oppressive that they would be completely unthinkable in contemporary America. They denied legal personality to the church, outlawed monastic and religious orders, secularized all religious education, and forbade the clergy from voting or making political statements in public. Priests and nuns were prohibited from wearing religious garb outside of churches and convents, and public worship was outlawed...When it comes to history, context is everything. The United States today is nothing like Mexico of the late 1920s. Our legal framework and political system are completely different. To equate Obama with a 1920s Mexican dictator, or to draw comparisons between the contraception mandate and anti-clerical regime of Calles, is ignorant at best, and demagogic at worst.

The Metaxas Mantra (UPDATE)

Some of my Catholic readers may not be familiar with Eric Metaxas, and some others who are may not know just how committed Metaxas is to defining the HHS Mandate as a  monstrous attack on religious freedoms. Since I only have referenced a tweet he made last weekend I may have left the impression that I am overdoing his stance. Make no mistake--for Metaxas this is a singularly awful moment in American religious history and one on par with the beginnings of the Nazi Regime in Germany. He has shared these opinions widely and regularly, including the appearance on MSNBC pictured on this page. He is an activist with an unusually wide reach and his historiography is therefore of real significance to the ongoing debate, and we owe it to the quality of that debate to challenge Metaxas on statements like this given at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, DC: “This [the HHS Mandate debate] is so oddly similar to where Bonhoeffer found himself” in the early stages of Nazi Germany. “If we don’t fight now, if we don’t really use our bullets now, we will have no fight five years from now…it’s the millimeter that is that line which we cross. I’m sorry to say that I see these parallels, I really wish I didn’t…We are getting a second chance…so we don’t make the same mistakes and go down the same road.”

This is the kind of urgency that Metaxas brings to this issue and it is the kind of historical framework he places it in. That framework justifies, as he puts it, "using our bullets now"--meaning engage in arguments with a tenacity and an aggressiveness and a sense of full campaign mode that skips over historical questions like these:

1) Which Nazi laws in particular do you compare the HHS Mandate to?
2) How were the Nazis redefining the definition of religious organizations as the HHS Mandate does and which I and others disagree with? If the issue is one of religious freedom, as you regularly insist it is, then which religious freedom were the Nazis infringing on and how does that compare to the HHS Mandate?
3) When a person invokes Bonhoffer as a parallel it is bringing with it the fact that he ended up being killed in a concentration camp during the Holocaust that killed millions of Jews and millions of other people. Explain a scenario in which the HHS Mandate, in a time frame similar to the rise of Nazi Germany and the unleashing of the Holocaust, brings about a comparable historical event?
4) The HHS Mandate fails to expand religious freedom exemption beyond houses of worship and other narrowly defined religious organizations. At other times in American history the government has gone way beyond this type of restriction and actively repressed religious expression, most notably with the Slave Codes of the 1830s. How exactly is the HHS Mandate a more singular threat to religious liberty than those laws? Is there really even a comparison.

Eric Metaxas puts himself forward as an authority on religious freedom and religious history. He is regularly making statements putting the HHS Mandate on par with early Nazi German actions and worse than any other American historical example of restrictions on religious liberty. Why aren't more people calling him on this? At the very least, doesn't he owe the Obama Administration more of an explanation as to why he thinks what it is doing is like Nazi Germany and worse than the Slave Codes active persecution of African American Churches? Is this the kind of rhetoric we can expect more of as the Fortnight For Freedom takes shape?

{This post was updated to include the MSNBC video}

More on Metaxas/Cardinal Dolan and the African American Church

My earlier post on what I see as the serious historical amnesia present in the comments of many conservative evangelicals and Catholics with regard to the HHS Mandate has received some very helpful comments in private correspondence and on my facebook feed. I want to engage one particularly substantive response from a friend:

“I think you rightly point out that there have been laws restricting religious liberty in the African American church experience and thus to argue that such restrictions today are unique is to ignore that history. I agree. If one takes that same concern and applies it to the entirety of the African American experience one learns that the restrictions on the church were not really about religion but about race. Thus it makes me nervous to apply the argument as you have since it defines these issues as religious ones rather than racial ones. It is true that the racial issues in this case ended up restricting religion, but it may overplay the religious perspective. And since I think that religious issues are also being overplayed in the HHS discussion it ties back to that for me.”

I agree with the basic point and I don’t think it contradicts my post but rather fills it in with helpful context. I agree that the reason for the Slave Codes after Nat Turner’s rebellion was primarily fear of further rebellion that would upend the social order deeply rooted in racism. To what extent that fear was rooted in religious based discourse is debatable, and to what extent the religious arguments of Nat Turner and others were primary factors in rebellion is also debatable. My point was not to settle those important historical debates, but rather to make what I think is an unquestionable point-- in order to affect the policy goal of safeguarding the existing social order numerous states instituted laws that trampled all over any kind of conception of the First Amendment’s religious freedom protections. I am not saying they necessarily trampled on those rights for religious reasons, and I am certainly not saying it was only the religious rights of African Americans that were being denied them, but the many states did trample on those religious rights. And the extent to which they trampled on the religious rights of African American individuals and institutions was far more severe and extensive than what the HSS Mandate does. In terms of the Mandate itself, and the reasons for the narrow exemption, it might well be true that the intent of Obama Administration is not specifically to restrict religion but rather to fulfill a different policy goal—namely, free contraception for all. Nonetheless, in order to achieve that goal they are, I believe, violating the constitution’s protection of religious freedom. On that I agree with Dolan, Metaxas and others. Where we part company is in what I see as a disturbing ideological manipulation of history to pursue their “campaign” for religious freedom. Proclaiming themselves as unique victims in the history of religious freedom in America may be a good way to inflame their core constituencies, but it comes at a real price of intellectual integrity and respect for the deeper narratives of American history.

If Obama Said It....

There is something wrong with American foreign policy and the domestic opinion that shapes it when the “Israeli vice prime minister, career military man Shaul Mofaz” can be more bold in his prescription for peace in the Middle East than the United States President. Imagine the reaction from the Christian Zionists and their “yes men” in Congress if Obama were the subject of this report, not Mofaz.

What keeps him awake at night is Israel’s drawn-out conflict with the Palestinians and the prospect that it could cause the demise of the Jewish state if Arabs eventually outnumber Jews in Israel. “Time is not in favor of the state of Israel…The generation of the leaders today should decide. This year, next year — we have to decide.”…He said he will pitch…a peace plan that he unveiled in 2009 and that is his alone — not one endorsed by the Netanyahu-led government. It envisions an interim Palestinian state with temporary borders on 60 percent of the West Bank and continued negotiations. It would end with Israel keeping the main Jewish settlement blocks, the evacuation of almost 100,000 Israeli settlers outside those and land swaps giving Palestinians 100 percent of the territory they demand…he also echoes several former security officials who have deemed the push by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak for military action as reckless or, in the words of one, “messianic.”
Mofaz has been quoted as calling the idea of an Israeli attack on Iran “disastrous.”…As turmoil and uncertainty pulsate through the Middle East, Israel’s strategy has been to hunker down and wait. Mofaz, however, said he believes “tectonic change” in the region is the precise reason to make peace with the Palestinians.
“If we are able to achieve these two issues,” Mofaz said, referring to a temporary deal on borders and security, “I am certain that the relationship with the Palestinians and with other Arab states, including the Arab League, will be changed. The atmosphere will be changed.”

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Frederick Douglass to Cardinal Dolan and Eric Metaxas


TO: Cardinal Dolan and Eric Metaxas

FROM: Frederick Douglass

SUBJECT: Religious Freedom in America

Gentlemen, it has come to my attention that in these United States of America something of a controversy has arisen around the First Amendment freedom of religion clause. I have heard your cries of injustice I must say that I agree with your concerns with regard to the HHS Mandate. It does seem that the current law would restrict religious freedom by narrowing the definition of religious organizations in an overly narrow way. However, I must say that I find your protestations about this injustice extraordinarily out or proportion to the history of religious freedom in this country. I saw on this newfangled thing called “twitter” that on June 16 Mr. Metaxas said he believes this mandate is an “unprecedented abridgment of religious freedom itself"and I know that Cardinal Dolan and many of his fellow Bishops have likewise portrayed this Mandate and its narrow definition of religious organizations in a similarly apocalyptic manner. It does make me wonder about the state of education in America and whether my grave fears about the loss of memory concerning African Americans in this land have come true. So allow me for just a moment to remind you of the state of religious freedom in this land back in my times on this earth.

You would do well to recall that the HHS Mandate you so rightly denounce has already made specific provisions for houses of worship and other specifically religious institutions to gain exemption. In fact, it would seem that your main gripe is that this exemption is too narrow. If that is your main concern, then how in God’s good Name can you compare this situation with the gravity of the situation that African American Churches faced in your land? Surely you know that we were not even given the control over our own churches and allowed to choose for ourselves our own religious traditions? Surely you are aware of a wave of legislation that followed Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion? Here is how one of your current day scholars describes what my people faced in terms of restrictions on relgious freedom. Do you really think that what the HHS Mandate proposes is worse than this?

So, instead of abolishing slavery, Virginia decided to revise and severely strengthen its already existing slave codes so that the potential for another slave uprising would be almost impossible. Virginia’s new codes made patrols and militia stronger, eliminated slave schools, slave religious meetings, and slave preachers.8
The idea of abolition did not appeal to the other southern states, so they, like Virginia, passed new restrictive slave laws and codes in hopes of preventing another slave rebellion. States like Georgia and South Carolina heavily relied on slavery for their economic success and thus it was a crucial element to their well being, they could not just get rid of it…Southerners attempted to keep blacks enslaved and suppressed by making their already existing slave codes much harsher and by enacting new laws.10
After Turner’s rebellion, the actions and movements of slaves were severely monitored…Religious meetings or gatherings of slaves were also closely monitored. All blacks were forbidden to preach or hold religious meetings. In fact, in Georgia, a law was passed that forbade blacks to congregate and preach. The Act of December 23, 1833, Sec. 5, 1833 Ga. Laws 226, stated that “no person of color, whether free or slave, shall be allowed to preach to, exhort or join in any religious exercise, with any persons of color, either free or slave.” And if a slave or a free black was found preaching, he or she was “sentenced to be whipped and imprisoned at the discretion of the court: provided, such imprisonment shall not exceed six months, and no whipping shall exceed thirty-nine lashes.”12 If a black person wanted to attend a religious meeting, he or she could only do so at night with his or her master. They could also only receive religious instruction from their master as well.

“At the time of the old Prophet Nat, the colored folks was afraid to pray loud, for the whites threatened to punish ‘em dreadfully if the least noise was heard...if they heard any of the colored folks praying or singing a hymn, they would fall upon ‘em and abuse ‘em and sometimes kill ‘em. The brightest and best was killed in Nat’s time”.–Lydia Maria Child, a slave during Nat Turner’s rebellion.13

Laws such as this were enforced because whites feared that if blacks were given an opportunity to congregate and preach together, as they had with Nat Turner, then another insurrection could possibly occur. Many southern whites believed that the black preachers were filling the minds of slaves with notions of freedom and equality. They believed that the black preachers were teaching slaves that blacks should have just as much rights as whites and that “the black man was as good as the white man...and that all men were born free and equal.” The preachers were also accused of preaching that “white people had rebelled against England to gain their freedom and so had the blacks a right to do so”. The black preachers were also accused of circulating abolitionists pamphlets, some of which had been written by the great abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison. A portion of the black population was able to read these pamphlets because they had been taught how to read by their masters and because they had attended school. Thus, several states, including Virginia, North Carolina, and Alabama, passed laws that forbade slaves and free blacks form learning how to read and write.14

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sister Carol Speaks to Winters

Michael Sean Winters and Sister Carol Keehan have done more than anyone else I know to advance a constructive discussion of the issues surrounding the standoff between the Obama Administration and the Catholic community over the HHS Mandate in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It is therefore fitting that Sister Carol spoke with Michael yesterday upon news that the Catholic Health Association (CHA) that Sister Carol leads had come out with a fresh proposal for reframing the HHS Mandate in ways that address what many people, Catholic or not, view as a dangerous redefinition of religious institutions imbedded in the original HHS directive. It is my hope that the Obama Administration will listen with complete attention to what is being proposed and who is proposing it. Sister Carol is the key voice of people like me who support the broad goals of the ACA but who can not and will not accept the Mandate's wording. She has been consistent in those views for months and the statement that CHA released yesterday is Obama's clear path forward to satisfying the legitimate grievances of some of his most loyal supporters. Michael's complete report on his interview with Sister Carol is here, but I thought this was a key part of his post:

Here is a decisive moment, especially for those of us who have been largely supportive of the Obama administration, and especially of the ACA. A few weeks ago, when several Catholic organizations filed suit against the HHS mandate, some denounced the suits and questioned the motives of Fr. John Jenkins and Cardinal Donald Wuerl and others. Now, the question must be posed to them: Do you really, really think that Sr. Carol’s conclusion that the accommodations are unworkable can be dismissed or ignored?
Professor Stephen Schneck, of Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholics Studies, quickly answered that question in the negative and sided with CHA. “Morally, the distance that the accommodations offered to conscience concerns for religious institutions such as hospitals, charities, and universities was theoretically sufficient,” Schneck wrote in a statement. “I supported the accommodations initially for that reason. However, in recent weeks it's become clear that the practical difficulties of maintaining that distance were far too onerous for the accommodations to work.”
Like Keehan, Schneck reaffirmed his support for the ACA. “I remain completely supportive of the intentions of the Affordable Care Act. But all religious institutions--including religious hospitals, charities, and universities--should be allowed complete exemption from its contraception mandate. Several workable fixes to this policy problem have been suggested by many who are friendly to the Affordable Care Act. I encourage the administration to consider them.” It is noteworthy as well that the USCCB, which opposed the passage of the ACA has never once called for its repeal but instead has advocated that any objectionable parts, like the HHS mandate, be fixed.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Bishop Lori and the Coming “Fortnight Follies”

Michael Sean Winters is right to detect in my post yesterday a level of frustration with Bishop Lori and President Garvey that reaches beyond the specifics of their handling of Bishop Bruskewitz’s impertinent “question.” While Michael is right to point out that there is a certain protocol to the USCCB gatherings, I want to make clear that my concern is with the broader context of the bishops’ ongoing campaign for religious freedom more generally and its upcoming “Fortnight of Freedom” specifically.

I was upset by the ignorance and incompetence displayed in Lori and Garvey’s feeble-minded response to Bishop Bruskewitz because it is part of a pattern of high profile steps indicative of some sort of combination of public relations incompetence, shallow ignorance and latent bigotry that lead me to conclude that the Fortnight of Freedom will be similarly marred by those qualities unless the bishops and the lay leaders who have their ear come to their senses. Examples of this pattern are numerous. Consider the Catholic Governor Sam Brownback, one of the leading politicians in the conservative Evangelical/Catholic alliance, signing into law just weeks ago so-called “anti-Shariah” legislation with nary a peep of resistance from the Diocese of Kansas or key leaders of the USCCB. This came on the heels of the Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit appearing at a religious freedom rally where he shared the microphone with the President of the Thomas More Law Center, an organization known for its reckless attacks on the religious liberty of Muslims. This disregard for the religious freedom of Muslims is sadly consistent with the Bishops’ own failure to even mention the numerous threats to Muslim’s religious liberty in their major “Statement on Religious Liberty”. Lest anyone believe that these judgments are the result of my own progressive bias, know that even a cursory look at the recent actions of the conservative Becket Fund to distance themselves from anti-Muslim laws and bigotry reveals that my outrage is rooted in a very basic understanding of “religious freedom for all” that the bishops claim to represent. Lori and Garvey’s stated ignorance of the gutter level charge of Muslim “exemption” from the Affordable Care Act is therefore to me not primarily a result of protocols surrounding USCCB gatherings but of a consistent display of genuine ignorance of and disregard for the very real threats to religious liberty facing Muslims.

Unfortunately the bishops’ failure to consistently apply their concern for religious freedom to Muslims is not the only major weakness that Lori and Garvey’s actions confirm. By showing such notable absence of even the most basic public relations savvy they follow in a long line of gaffes related to questions of religious freedom. Cardinal Dolan’s choice to compare the passage of a gay marriage bill by the state of New York to North Korea comes to mind, as does Cardinal George’s unfortunate comparison of gay pride marchers in Chicago to the KKK. The instinct to compare their perceived opponents to fascists was also on display when the Bishop of Peoria, Illinois said Obama’s HHS Mandate put him on a “similar path” to that taken by Bismarck, Clemenceau, Hitler and Stalin. In these and other cases the bishops have shown themselves to be, as Saturday Night Live used to say, “not yet ready for prime time players” when it comes to the task of communicating their commitment to religious freedom in civil, competent ways.

I take no delight in pointing these errors out. I have ignored them for weeks now in the hope that the bishops would use this Atlanta gathering as a time to reign in their rhetoric, put forward their competence and put these past incidents in the past--maybe even just let the excellent lawyers bringing suit agains the HHS Mandate do their work. I was perhaps na├»ve to expect a clear display of perspective and poise by the leaders of the upcoming Fortnight of Freedom. Instead, I saw, in addition to the Bruskewitz incident, Garvey and Lori holding up the example of Thomas More with such simplicity and naivete that Cardinal George took it upon himself, immediately after Bishop Bruskewitz’s question, to engage in a sort of mini-history lesson for Garvey and Lori on the basic fact that THOMAS MORE BEHEADED COUNTLESS PEOPLE FOR THEIR RELIGIOUS VIEWS. The sense that Lori and Garvey are leading “the gang that can’t shoot straight” was not relieved in the session that followed a recess. The very first speaker, the excellent Bishop Pates, noted that there was significant comment and some media questions during the break about Bishop Burkewitz’s question and that it had been decided that he should immediately make a statement to the gathering. The core of Pates’ comments was this: “Our very capable staff here at the Conference very quickly researched the question that Bishop Bruskewitz raised with regard to the Muslims and they asked me to say that they are not exempt.” While I commend Bishop Pates for his intervention, I can’t help but note how easy it was for the “capable staff” to ascertain the truth of the matter. If a few minutes over lunch break were enough time to answer Bruskewitz’s query with competence, what does it say for the general competence of Lori and Garvey that they could not come up with the answer in real time?

I should mention that I worked in the 1990s for a religious publisher, InterVarsity Press, in a public relations capacity and I have been an avid follower of religious and general media for decades. Since moving to Washington DC in October of 2010 I have been particularly active in writing about the intersection of religious leaders and public policy in the media spotlight. I have paid specific attention to the relationship between the Bishops and the leadership of the Obama administration, especially the leadership of the Health and Human Services (HHS). As I have said in the past, part of my interest in this relationship is personal—my wife is one of the thousands of employees of HHS and we are raising our children in the Catholic faith. I also am one of the vanishing breed of pro-life Democrats who watched in horror in 2010 as the hierarchy of the USCCB aided and abetted the demonization of “Obamacare” and helped provide the rhetorical firepower for a campaign by pro-life groups to rid the House of Representatives of pro-life Democrats who voted for the Affordable Care Act. The viciousness of this campaign—from the attack on Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to speak, to the takedown of Congressman Stupak for carving out wording on abortion that allowed him to vote for the ACA—was to me stunning and a direct reflection on the leadership of the USCCB in the age of Obama. Despite these reservations about and disagreements with the USCCB, I was very vocal at this blog and elsewhere in supporting the bishops in their initial resistance to the HHS Mandate. Like many other politically progressive Catholics, I could see in the Mandate an Executive Branch overreach with profound constitutional repercussions and potentially devastating effects on religion in public life generally, and Catholic involvement specifically.

I continue to believe, even after the Obama administration’s accommodations, that lawsuits such as those filed by Notre Dame in opposition to the Mandate are appropriate and warrantedBut I am done pretending that the leadership of this campaign for religious freedom knows what they are doing, understands the issues at sufficient depth, and is capable of communicating the breadth and depth of Catholic social teaching in a way that will advance the overall common good during the upcoming Fortnight of Freedom. What I expect to see is more folly and I will be pleased if I am proven wrong. Bishop Pates and the countless other outstanding bishops deserve better than the spectacle that is likely to play out in the coming weeks. The Catholic Church is filled with outstanding voices for religious liberty and it is telling that many of them are publicly distancing themselves from the USCCB’s efforts. This is a long-winded response to Michael Sean Winters’ post, but I felt like he and you the reader deserved a richer explanation for the tone and content of yesterday’s post. Thanks for sticking with it to the end!! Peace. God is good!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Where I Will be September 14

One of the real blessings of writing over the last couple years has been the wonderful connections I have been able to make with people from around the world. One of those people is the author and activist Aaron Taylor. I have enjoyed my correspondence with him around issues related to Islam, Pentecostalism and war/peace--in other words, light topics!! He has been a source of encouragement and wisdom. I am excited about the group Evangelicals for Peace that he is helping to get started and I can't wait for their conference September 14 here in Washington DC. I can't wait to network with the other individuals and institutions that will be taking part in the event and I hope to meet some of you there as well! Here is how the website for the event explains it:

Georgetown University, Washington D.C.
September 14, 2012
8:00am - 5:00pm

Are you concerned about war and terrorism? Troubled by increasing violence in our streets and among the nations? Burdened that those who say they follow the Prince of Peace have not been an effective force for peace?

We think it’s time to change this!

Come hear what these speakers have to say:

Geoff Tunnicliff, CEO of the World Evangelical Alliance, representing 600 million evangelicals
Dr. David Gushee, Professor of Ethics at Mercer University and co-author of Kingdom Ethics
Jim Wallis, CEO of Sojourners and author of numerous books, including God’s Politics
Douglas Johnston, President of International Center for Religion and Diplomacy
Lisa Sharon Harper, director of Mobilizing at Sojourners and co-author of Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics
David Beasley, former Republican Governor of South Carolina & National Prayer Breakfast activist
Dr. Glen Stassen, Professor of Ethics at Fuller Seminary and editor of Just Peacemaking
Dr. Chris Seiple, President of the Institute for Global Engagement
Dr. Martin Accad, Professor of Islamics at Fuller Seminary

Join us for this momentous event jointly sponsored by Peace Catalyst International, the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, Sojourners, Evangelicals for Social Action, and the World Evangelical Alliance.

Our goals?

To birth and build a network of evangelical scholars and activists committed to the pursuit of a biblical, comprehensive, and proactive peace

To reduce violence, work toward human flourishing, and prevent war

To mobilize and educate a new generation of evangelicals committed to the pursuit of peace

To convene a gathering of non-profit and pastoral leaders who are actively working for peace with justice throughout the world

To give a special focus on peace as it relates to U.S. Foreign Policy

Catholic Bishops and Muslim Liberty

I recently wrote an article for Commonweal about the Bishops’ statement on religious freedom and its failure to address the important issue of so-called anti-Shariah legislation. At the conclusion of the article I expressed hope that the bishops would address this glaring oversight and show themselves to be the true champions of religious freedom of all Americans that they claim in their statement. If they were going to show increased awareness of and sensitivity for the religious rights of Muslims the General Assembly of the USCCB, now taking place in Atlanta, would have been an ideal time for it. Occurring just days before the start of the much publicized “Fortnight for Freedom”, this Assembly represents the ideal public forum for the bishops to get their message out and demonstrate the compassion and competency we have reason to expect from them at this critical moment. Instead, what we have already seen is further evidence of the ignorance and bigotry which I warned about in my article. 

As Michael Sean Winters has pointed out, in yesterday’s afternoon session Bishop Lori, the leader of the Bishops Committee on Religious Freedom, and John Garvey, President of Catholic University of America and a leading lay spokesman for the Fortnight of Freedom, addressed the bishops on the topic of the HHS Mandate. At the conclusion of their address they took questions. The first question was from Bishop Bruskewitz of the Lincoln, Nebraska Diocese. His question and Bishop Lori and President Garvey’s response come at the 1:31 mark of this video, but I have transcribed them below:

Bishop Bruskewitz:
I haven’t had a chance to read the Obamacare Protection Act, but somebody told me that there is a total exemption from Muslims in the back of that Act that all Muslims are exempt because insurance for Muslims is a type of gambling which is contrary to the Koran and therefore Muslims are not obliged in anyway to observe the insurance mandate which derives from the act. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but I just want to know if any of you know anything about it.

Bishop Lori:
Bishop, you must have got a lot further in that act than I did (laughter). I don’t really know.

John Garvey, President, Catholic University of America
I wish I could say more. We should ask the lawyers. I used to be a lawyer, but I just act it now. (laughter)

Let's be perfectly clear—there is absolutely no substance to the question Bruskewitz asked about some sort of conspiracy to let Muslims off the hook from the Affordable Care Act. It is, frankly, the kind of urban myth legend that one sees trumpeted at the most ignorant of websites and it has been thoroughly debunked at numerous fact checking sites for over two years. That we have a Catholic bishop giving voice to these kinds of questions is sad enough, but perhaps to be expected coming from someone as notorious as Bishop Bruskewitz. What we should not expect, and what we should in fact be concerned about, is the ignorance of Lori and Garvey. Here are the two men at the forefront of the bishops’ efforts to convey competence and compassion to the Catholic community and the broader public. They regularly trumpet the notion that the bishops’ efforts are for the common good of all Americans. And yet in the face of a question advancing the supposition that an entire religious group is receiving the exemptions the Catholic community is supposedly being denied, they have nothing more to say than “we don’t know”? This is beyond absurd, it is scandalous. Bishop Lori--you really don't know if the document you have spent the better part of the last 18 months criticizing does or does not allow for an entire religious group to exempt itself from its reach? Then why should we trust your judgments about the President's actions on religious freedom? Why should we trust your stated commitment to represent religious freedom for all, when you are ignorant of even the most basic facts related to a major religious group and its standing before the very law that you have made your reputation upon criticizing? 

We have a right to expect better, or we have a duty to question the real agenda of the bishops. If the best the bishops have to offer is creepy, conspiratorial questions that reflect the very worst of anti-Muslim conspiracy thinking, and/or vacuous responses like Lori and Garvey's, then we are either faced with incompetence or subtle acceptance of bigotry. Either choice is sad. As Winters puts it: "Perhaps at today's session, Bishop Bruskewitz can ask the bishop of Honolulu if he has really seen Obama's birth certificate."

[Further thoughts on these issues at this new post]

Friday, June 1, 2012

Krauthammer’s Stinging Rebuke of Our “Drone Warrior President”

One of the treats of living in the DC area is home delivery of the Washington Post. Today’s edition is particularly strong, carrying with it strong news stories and valuable opinion pieces. There is a great report on the courageous Chen Guancheng, the blind Chinese legal activist now in the United States, and his appearance Thursday before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City. The Style section has an extraordinary piece on the death of a Pentecostal snake-handler written who by a photojournalist who was actually with the Pastor Randy “Mack” Wolford when he was bit and then died. The photo of Wolford’s mother stroking her son’s foot as he lies dying is powerful. I was also moved by the columnist Michael Gerson’s column on empathy. Gerson tells the moving story of Vice President Biden’s recent speech to families of dead military members in which Biden recounted his own struggles with suicidal thoughts in the wake of deaths in his own family.

But for me the very best column was by a man who I often disagree with, the neoconservative wordsmith Charles Krauthammer. Krauthammer’s hawkish stance on foreign policy is light years removed from mine, but on this we both agree: President Obama’s drone policy, as detailed in a chilling New York Times article recently, is a remarkable testament to political hypocrisy and doublespeak. Here is how Krauthammer puts it:

So the peacemaker, Nobel laureate, nuclear disarmer, apologizer to the world for America having lost its moral way when it harshly interrogated the very people Obama now kills, has become — just in time for the 2012 campaign — Zeus the Avenger, smiting by lightning strike.
A rather strange ethics. You go around the world preening about how America has turned a new moral page by electing a president profoundly offended by George W. Bush’s belligerence and prisoner maltreatment, and now you’re ostentatiously telling the world that you personally play judge, jury and executioner to unseen combatants of your choosing and whatever innocents happen to be in their company.
Of course, Obama’s hypocrisy is made possible in part by the hypocrisy of the liberal media establishment’s relative silence in the face of Obama’s drone policy, a point brought home in the Post the day before by Marc Thiessen in an article appropriately titled “The Obama-Bush Doctrine”:
Take this week’s New York Times report on Obama’s drone war. Imagine the outcry that would have erupted on the left if the Times had reported that during his time in office, Bush was personally selecting “every new name on an expanding ‘kill list’” of terrorists to be vaporized? Imagine if the Times had described White House officials boasting about how Bush “approves lethal action without handwringing,” or how Bush had told aides that the decision to kill an American citizen with a drone was an “easy one”? Imagine if the Times had revealed that Karl Rove, “the president’s closest political adviser, began showing up at the ‘Terror Tuesday’ meetings” each week in the Situation Room where decisions were made as to who would live or die?

Thankfully, there have been consistent voices on these issues, Andrew Bacevich in particular. He has been unrelenting in his criticism of Obama’s foreign policy as he was of George W. Bush. If you are looking for an alternative to the media “coverage” of American foreign policy, I suggest Bacevich’s work and the insights of others like him at TomDispatch.com