Donald Trump Pig Blood

Pig Blood and Glowing Sand

According to recent polls, more than a third of self-identified white evangelical voters currently support a presidential candidate, Donald Trump, who touts a false story about an American general executing Muslim terrorists with bullets dipped in pig blood as inspirational for the future of American foreign policy (and who endorses the killing of non-combatants in the fight against ISIS). Another one in five white evangelical voters currently support Ted Cruz, who has suggested carpet bombing Syria, saying, “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.”

These kinds of numbers suggest that American evangelicalism has a serious discipleship problem when it comes to the ethics of war and peace, and the name of that problem is not pacifism. Were the songs, video games, and radio talk shows that prompt popular sentiment more tragic in the classical sense, it might have been possible to imagine that the problem is the persistence of a pagan warrior honor ethos untempered by acquaintance with the long centuries of just war discourse since Augustine. Instead, I believe that many evangelicals have succumbed to a politics of the gut that has little to do with serious moral formation of any kind.

The political sentiments reported in polls like these suggest a dismal but unsurprising possibility: that very few American evangelical churches offer their members the opportunity of a discipleship that gives attention to the history of Christians over the past two millennia struggling to follow Jesus in their times and places. Dismal because such a discipleship—alongside sacramentally-centered worship and Jesus-centered public proclamation of the good news of the reign of God—is what constitutes the life of a church. Unsurprising because shallow and misguided discipleship is a persistent reality in the life of churches recorded already in the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul and his fellow epistolators.

This possibility does not call for pride (in the superiority of my own political judgment), scorn (towards morally misguided evangelical voters), disgust (at the pandering polemics perpetrated by Messrs. Trump and Cruz), or despair (at the dismal state of discipleship in so many Christian congregations). Instead, it calls for repentance (of my own arrogance), compassion (towards the many people bereft of congregations with a long memory of Christian discipleship), intercession (for the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of all of America’s present and aspiring political officeholders), and catechetical resolve (to contribute to discipleship in those congregations where I am able to make a difference).

At depth the problem is not the politics of evangelicals or the nominalism of many self-identified Christians or the secularization of America in our times. The problem is the perennial distraction of Christian churches from the core practices that make them churches, or perhaps more accurately, the distortion of these practices by personal, communal sins and cultural pressures. As someone intimately familiar with the tremendous power of such sins and pressures, I also know what a grace it is to be exposed to the work of God in the celebration of baptism and the eucharist, in public prayers and worship songs, in preaching and communal Bible study, and in the dear and demanding friendship of fellow followers of Jesus.

For example, last November I joined in the worship of an Anglican church in Canada on Remembrance Sunday. As has been their practice for long decades, a reserve infantry regiment joined the congregation on that day. In the sermon the priest recognized that many of the soldiers did not share the church’s faith in Christ (so, on this occasion, one of the soldiers wore a Sikh turban as the Canadian military allows), but nonetheless explored the meaning of a specifically Christian understanding of just war doctrine in relation to Jesus’ eschatological proclamation in Mark 13, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things are bound to happen; but the end is still to come.”

That Sunday has come to mind time and again in the months since. Some aspects of the worship service made me uncomfortable, including the regiment marching up the nave and the presentation of the regimental colors during the service. Other parts of the service moved me deeply, including the prayers of remembrance for soldiers who had in recent years lost their lives in the exercise of their duties.

I’ve frequently wondered since about the formative effect on the lives of members of that congregation, over years, of such Remembrance Sunday services. The shaping of their beliefs, desires, imaginations in this juxtaposition of regiment and church in prayer before God, between the baptismal font and the eucharistic table, in the hearing of the biblical Scriptures and in their exposition. I know that my moral formation depends on being regularly confronted thus with the juxtaposition of the world as it is with the world to come, in common worship before the face of God, and in commemoration of millennia of Christian public discipleship. Lest my own civic impulses be reduced to an itch for pig-blooded bullets and glowing sand.

Gideon Strauss is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Public Justice and Associate Professor in Worldview Studies at the Institute for Christian Studies.

Photo Credit: Donald Trump campaigning in Reno, Nevada on January 10, 2016. By Darron Birgenheier via Flickr.

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  • Mike News

    So let me get this straight. A Presidential candidate makes one hyperbolic comment, and he should immediately lose the support of any God fearing Christian. Is that your argument?

    I would caution you to beware of making comments that begin with words similar to these: “No Christian could possibly support a candidate who…”

    You do not know why people support one candidate over another. You’re looking exclusively at one factor. People are looking at all the factors when they decide who to support. Just because someone votes for a candidate doesn’t mean they endorse everything they’ve ever said or done. To assume that it does mean that is to unjustly judge your fellow Christians.

    Also, it would be profoundly naive to think that just because a candidate says the “right” things that therefore they will do the “right” things in office. The converse is therefore also true. One or even several rhetorical flourishes do not necessarily definitively indicate what kind of President a man might be.

    No doubt there is a vapidity to modern American Evangelicalism. No doubt there is a crisis of deep rational thought. But how people vote in elections is the wrong place to look for evidence of it.

    I think it’s naive to hope for a true, thoughtful believer to ever occupy the Oval Office. I am very skeptical that one ever has. At the very least, in order to win an election, one must be a skillful and practiced self promoter, and that’s simply incompatible with Christian humility and modesty. I suspect one also requires an immense amount of Machiavellian ambition as well.

    We do not look in hope to the man in the Oval Office, but to the man who has ascended into the eschaton and prepares a place for us. He is our true king who alone is capable of bringing justice and honoring God. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

    • Ken Abbott

      I can think of at least two “true, thoughtful” Christian believers who held the office of president of the United States: John Quincy Adams and Calvin Coolidge. And I have recently read statements that strongly suggest that FDR held a sincere orthodox faith, whatever else one might think of manifestations of humility and modesty in his life (not to mention that whole adultery problem).

      • Mike News

        Hi Ken,

        Maybe Adams and Coolidge were thoughtful Christians. I remain extremely skeptical and unconvinced. You have offered only your opinion without any reason for said opinion. However, for their sake, I truly hope you’re right. Nonetheless, those men were President a very long time ago. Do you truly believe that being President in this day and age is compatible with Christian virtue?

        • Ken Abbott

          This is not a suitable venue for sustained, detailed discussion or explanation; the best I can do here is point you toward good standard biographies of these men.

          Politics in general–at least above the local level–is a difficult field for Christians committed to biblical principles. But I do not believe the civil magistracy is automatically closed to believers so long as one does not measure success by earthly standards and is able, by the grace of God, to hold onto one’s integrity.

          • There is a wonderful and large literature of Christian political reflection that would support the argument that being President of a constitutional democracy can be a true calling for a follower of Jesus. But to answer the question well one would have to be willing to invest seriously in the study and reflection and practices that make up political discipleship. An investment I recommend strongly!

  • Dear “Mike News,” Mr. Trump has not really limited himself to a single hyperbolic statement, has he?

    My argument is that one of the criteria Christians who are citizens of the USA should use in evaluating candidates for the office that includes being commander-in-chief is their commitment to just war doctrine. But that many Christians are unable to do so because their churches have never discipled them on questions of war and piece. I don’t believe that this constitutes an unjust judgment of Christians.

    I profoundly agree with you that our truest hope is in Christ, who in good time will make the reign of God obvious so that all things will be renewed. But this does not absolve citizens in a democracy from the moral responsibility of exercising wise political judgment.

    Choosing whom to support in an American presidential election is difficult, but difficulty does not warrant despair or cynicism. At a minimum it should be a caution when presidential candidates openly espouse an approach to war that would intentionally require of American soldiers that they commit war crimes.

    • Mike News

      Dear Mr. Strauss,

      Of course Trump has made many hyperbolic comments. However, you only cited the one. I was addressing the argument you made, not the argument I imagined you could have made.

      In this age of click-bait, I’d caution you against judging someone by their hyperbolic speech during a campaign. We don’t have any idea what kind of President ANY of the candidates will be. There’s ALWAYS a big disconnect between the campaign promises and the reality. In the case of Trump, he’s obviously saying outrageous things to get headlines and free publicity. Whether he will ask anyone to “commit war crimes” cannot possibly be predicted from his campaign speeches.

      You say that your “argument is that one of the criteria Christians who are citizens of the USA should use in evaluating candidates for the office that includes being commander-in-chief is their commitment to just war doctrine.”

      I would respectfully disagree. You did not say that it was one of the criteria Christians should think is important. You very strongly implied that it was the ONLY criteria anyone should think is important, and that those who fail to recognize it as such MUST be in churches that have failed to teach them properly.

      Maybe some Christians don’t think Trump’s or Cruz’s foreign policy is as important as their domestic policy. Who are we to impose our view of that on a fellow believer? Are they sinning if they think one is more important than the other?

      I mean, consider our current President, Obama. I cannot fathom how a Christian could support him. Almost everything he says and does is contrary to common sense, not to mention the Bible. But who am I to impose my opinion on someone else? Someone else might see it differently.

      I mean, I might say that no Christian should EVER vote for anyone for public office who is pro-abortion. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable position for me to take. But can a Christian vote for a pro-abortion candidate?

      Perhaps they can. Perhaps they can weigh the various issues and decide that a particular candidate’s stance on other issues are more important, especially since the only ones who can overturn Roe vs. Wade sit on the Supreme Court. Maybe this issue then just isn’t at the top of their priorities.

      I can argue that it should be, but where in the Bible does it say that it should be? This is a matter of wisdom, not law.

      And by the way, whether or not Trump and Cruz are espousing what would be considered war crimes is a debatable matter of opinion. Thoughtful Christians can disagree.

      Bottom line, your argument goes too far and claims too much.

      • Mr. News, I strongly agree with you that citizens (including Christians) can legitimately disagree about political matters, including for whom to vote. I appreciated, for example, two recent thought experiments by Rod Dreher exploring why social conservatives would vote for or against Mr. Trump:

        http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/a-social-conservative-case-for-trump/

        http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/a-social-conservative-case-against-trump/

        I agree with you that we are talking about questions of wisdom. Politics is always a matter of prudent evaluation of practical matters in terms of principles. No-one can ever get exactly what they want politically without a great deal of struggle and negotiating and compromise. The great virtue of a democracy is that citizens have a genuine opportunity to participate in this process. Which is why public argument over the merits of politicians, policies, and parties is so valuable. So, thank you for this respectful disagreement. “Thoughtful Christians can disagree,” as you write.

        But “whether or not what Trump and Cruz are espousing would be considered war crimes is a debatable matter of opinion”? Not really. Here is something my Providence colleague Keith Pavlischek (himself a Marine) wrote:

        “The Christian just war tradition (in this case jus in bello), the Laws of War (or International Humanitarian Law as it is called nowadays) and American military Rules of Engagement (ROE) all prohibit the direct and intentional targeting of noncombatants … . Attacking noncombatants is unjust, immoral, and a clear violation of the laws of war to directly and intentionally attack a terrorist’s child or any other member of his family. Even apart from whether or not such a tactic will be successful in a military campaign against ISIS (which is unlikely since these tactics almost always generate sympathy to the weaker party of an asymmetric conflict), it is simply unlawful and immoral for a combatant to deliberately target noncombatants as a means to get to a legitimate target (e.g, an ISIS ‘combatant’).”

        For more, see: https://providencemag.com/2015/12/the-donald-trumps-morality/

        • Mike News

          Well, I guess I’d say several things in response.

          1. I reject the notion that targeting civilians is always immoral and unjust. It certainly is a reasonable general moral principle, but is it really impossible to conceive of a situation in which it might become necessary, even if regrettable? I mean, murder is bad. Killing people is bad. It’s not as if killing in war is a morally GOOD thing. It’s done because it’s necessary. What about collateral damage? If we take the deaths of civilians as absolutely and completely unacceptable without any further nuance, we’ll never accept even the RISK of collateral damage. And then you end up being unable to fight at all. Collateral damage happens, no matter how careful you are. That means dropping bombs is morally evil, even in a just war. Granted, you’re not deliberately targeting civilians, but you’re targeting bad guys, knowing for sure that civilians are going to be killed. The difference is negligible in my opinion. Furthermore, I think the case of Japan in WW2 is worth mentioning. While the US was firebombing Japanese cities into oblivion, it took not one but TWO nuclear bombs to finally get them to surrender. Perhaps you might not think that is just or defensible, but I disagree. I agree that it’s regrettable, but it’s not like we dropped two atom bombs in response to Pearl Harbor the next day. It was only after a very long fight that cost many people their lives. In the end, the deliberate targeting of civilians may have ended up being lesser evil, when compared to continuing to try to compel Japan to surrender.

          Generally speaking, moral absolutes are simply a bad idea. The world is not black and white like that.

          2. People like Trump precisely because he is able to take on the media. Everyone thinks it’s about anti-establishment. That’s the media’s interpretation. People like Trump because they think the media has, for far too long, suppressed conservative Christian thought. They have shoved the liberal/gay/Muslim agenda down our throats for far too long, and people feel completely powerless to stop it. They are literally afraid to speak their mind anymore for fear of losing their jobs. And in that context, Trump is utterly fearless when it comes to the media. None of their attacks gain traction. None of it bothers him. That, and I think ONLY that explains why people absolutely love him. He is their David to the media Goliath.

          3. I just think your original argument is flawed. To derive the state of the Church from how polls say Evangelicals are voting in a Presidential election just makes no sense to me. Your definition of “Evangelical” is probably VASTLY different from the pollsters’ definition. Your definition is probably closer to what I would call Reformed. The pollsters’ definition is: “Would you refer to yourself as an Evangelical?” Anyone who answers yes to that question counts. And who knows how they’re framing the question. Maybe they only have a choice between Christian or not, then Catholic or Evangelical. That means everyone who considers themselves a Christian but not a Catholic would count. How many of them are even actually believers?

          But my biggest problem is simply the notion that you can discern the state of someone’s morality or discipleship by how they’re voting, without even having a conversation with them. That just makes no sense to me.

          Don’t get me wrong, I think the state of American Evangelicalism is atrocious. But that’s because I’m a seminary graduate and committed to Reformed theology of the Westminster standards. I’m in a tiny little minority of American Christianity.

          4. Ultimately, I don’t understand how anyone could POSSIBLY hope for a righteous man who truly believes in Christ to occupy the Oval Office. I don’t understand why anyone even HOPES for that. Would I welcome that? Of course I would. I even am willing to acknowledge that such a thing might be possible – though I insist it’s astronomically unlikely. But what I don’t understand is WHY people HOPE for that. That seems like misguided, misplaced hope to me.

          The object of our hope is NOT properly this world or this country or this government or the President. Our hope is in Christ alone. Our hope is properly in the eschaton. Our hope is properly NOT in this world.

          This is why I don’t even HOPE for a true believer to run for office. Such hopes are, in my opinion, misguided and misplaced. Yet many people seem to put ALL of their hopes in this. This is idolatry at the end of the day. The hope that should be reserved for Christ alone is given to another.

          So let’s say we abandon hope for a true believer to occupy the White House. Then someone’s faith or lack thereof should not be considered in choosing a candidate. And I assume that any candidate’s profession of faith in campaign speeches are just a lot of empty talk – because campaign speeches are a lot of empty talk.

          So how do we properly judge a candidate’s worthiness to hold office? It must be on your opinion about whether or not they will uphold justice.

          But here’s the rub: justice FOR WHO? A President’s charge is to uphold justice for HIS PEOPLE. I do NOT vote for a President who will uphold justice in the world, but for a man who is charged with defending the Constitution for US Citizens, which are the only people governed by that Constitution.

          Does that mean I want the President to wantonly and indiscriminately to order the armed forces to slaughter people all over the world with no regard for whether it is warranted? Of course not. I obviously care about those things, as ANY decent human being, Christian or not, would.

          But I don’t believe Trump or Cruz are capable of that. I really don’t care what their rhetoric is during the campaign. Again, empty talk. I simply don’t take it seriously. It’s one thing to get carried away with emotions and talk about turning the Middle East into a glass parking lot. It’s quite another to actually DO it.

          Nonetheless, I completely and utterly reject the notion that the President of the United States has ANY obligations to people in other countries other than whatever he is bound to by treaty and common human decency.

          In the case of the Islamic State, this group is a direct threat to us, our interests, our allies and the world. Their goal is nothing short of taking over the entire world and killing all Christians in it. Their goal is sharia law covering the entire globe.

          How should an individual Christian respond to this? Not by going to war and fighting for his “rights” to worship God how he pleases. A Christian should worship God how God has commanded him to, regardless of what anyone else ever says. And if there are consequences to that, so be it. We must accept that. We must be willing to die for the privilege of worshiping God according to his command through the merits of Christ. And it is only through those merits that we are able to worship God at all.

          Therefore, how should a Christian actually respond to the Islamic State? By passively allowing them to do what they will and refusing to stop worshiping God. That is the Christian thing to do.

          Obviously, that morality cannot and should not be imposed on a state. There is no clear Scripture pointing to how a state should interact with other states. All we can do is use whatever wisdom we can to apply the principles of justice to the situation.

          And justice says this: the Islamic State has attacked us and our allies. Thus attacking them is justified. It is a just war.

          And that means, whatever we have to do in order to bring them to submission is also justified.

          How will we win this war? Obviously we have to try winning it in the gentlemanly way of targeting only armed combatants. But defining “armed combatant” becomes difficult when even the internet has become a weapon to radicalize and thus weaponize even women and children.

          This is not WW2. This is something far worse. When women are armed with assault rifles, when children pull guns on their teachers…

          To win this war, we are going to have to do some VERY ugly things. War is ugly. War is hell. It is a VERY grim duty. I am glad I have served my time and done my own grim duty. I do not envy those whose duty still lies before them. I hope my children one day do not have to do this grim deed.

          But of this you can be certain: grim, grim deeds are in store for us. If we fail to perform those grim duties, we will eventually be forced to do them merely to survive. Debates about whether or not it is in keeping with just war theories seems out of touch with the reality on the ground.

          Not that I applaud Presidential candidates speaking about these things as if they are glorious, of course, because they are anything but. They are the mark of how far we as a race have fallen.

          • Mr. News, re: your #1, please read the whole of this short piece by Keith Pavlischek: https://providencemag.com/2015/12/the-donald-trumps-morality/

            There is a crucial moral difference between intentionally targeting civilians and honestly recognizing that civilians will be harmed in attacks on valid military targets. And educating citizens, government officials, and soldiers so that they are able to make – and care about – these kinds of moral distinctions is of great significance to the cultural character of a nation.

          • Regarding your #2: The belief that people cannot speak their minds in America and that a bully like Trump is therefore needed as a defender of liberty is itself nurtured by a segment – a large and successful segment – of America’s media. As someone who grew up in a country where speaking your mind actually could get you thrown in prison I consider the constitutional protections of conscience and speech among the glories of American political life. To celebrate a demagogue as a champion of liberty is to ignore the experience of history – demagogues in power are never friends to the freedoms of citizens.

          • Regarding your #3: If I had time I would elaborate on the ways in which I agree and disagree with what you write here. I tried to be careful in how I wrote my lament: I’m not making a carefully researched sociological or ethnographic claim, I’m reporting on a hunch. And my hunch is that only a very small portion of churches in America ever attend to the testimony of history in the discipleship of their members, for example acquainting them with the struggles of believers trying to follow Jesus in political life through the centuries.

          • Regarding your #4: I’m only able to respond to two things you say, given my other responsibilities.

            The Christian hope in God making all things right in the each atom is not separate from our present-day lives, it is directive for our present-day lives. What this connection means is a central question of political theology, but the reality of the connection (rather than a separation) is all I want to emphasize for now.

            You cannot speak of a just war and then claim that all means are justified in its prosecution. Centuries of tough thinking by soldiers and theologians have taught us that for a war to be just it must have both just cause and just means. Moral discourse on America’s wars in the light of these centuries of tough thinking is a primary reason for the existence of Providence as a journal.

  • Dan

    I doubt that it comes as news to many that Trump is an unserious populist. Cruz’s comments, on the other hand, are pretty clearly hyperbole in expressing his resolve to defeat ISIS, not a description of the specific military tactics he would employ to do that. Why would you lump them together into the same category?

    Of course, Sanders and Clinton support policies that are at least as un-Christian as the ones you attribute to Cruz and Trump so we evangelicals are in the difficult position of having to either choose the least among many evils or abstain from voting altogether.

    • Dear Dan, the category into which I’m lumping Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz is that of (1) candidates for the office of Commander-in-chief (2) who have publicly and vehemently made morally reprehensible statements about how America would wage war were they to become President (3) while nonetheless retaining the support of a significant portion of voters who describe themselves as white evangelicals. As someone who has indulged in hyperbole myself every so often I don’t consider it a mitigating factor when evaluating candidates for political office.

      Please don’t abstain from voting – as someone who grew up in a country where the vote was not available to every citizen I can assure you it is a marvelous privilege and sacred duty. But yes, the choices are neither simple nor obvious. I’ve found this article by Steven Garber very helpful in that regard:

  • Certainly discipeship is a contributing factor to what many evangelicals are clamoring for. But it is only one of the contributing factors and to say there is only one is to make us more insular.

    Another contributing factor is scynretism. Syncretism can be best explained as trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. Certainly one can hit the peg hard enough to accomplish the task, but damage is going to occur to both the peg and the hole. So it doesn’t matter if the peg represents the Christian faith or the inconsistent to the Scriptures allegiance we so cling to, damage will be done to the Christian faith.

    And what is driving this syncretism is tribalism. We can define tribalism as having more loyalty to one’s group than commitment to principles and morals. The end result is that what is right and wrong depends on who does what to whom. So whether that tribalism revolves around political and/or economic ideology, a political party, a national identity, an ethnic identity or race, a denomination, an economic class, or whatever factor that creates a group, loyalty to these groups can interfere with our commitment to follow Christ.

    Yes, discipleship is a factor. But the groups we align ourselves with can also be factors. And without identifying the different groups we belong to and without acknowledging the degree of loyalty we have toward those groups and how too much loyalty can cause us to compromise our Christian faith, the resulting tribalisms can easily fly under our discipleship radar. This plays a significantly affects how we respond to cultural pressures.

    Finally, we should note that tribalism isn’t the only factor that causes us to compromise our faith. Materialism causes compromises as well.

    • You’ll have no disagreements from me about the downsides of syncretism, tribalism, or materialism, Mr. Day. And the half or more of white evangelicals who have warm feelings toward the prospect of either Mr. Trump or Mr. Cruz as President of the United States undoubtedly have a variety of impulses, interests, and ideas driving their support for those candidates – some of which are probably quite legitimate. My concern on this occasion, though, is what such support might tell us about political discipleship among American evangelicals, and thus my emphasis.

      • Gideon,
        What should political discipleship look like?

        • Curt, that is a key question and one I’m investing my life in trying to answer. My hunch is that political discipleship is not separate from discipleship as a whole. The big question is, how do we (Christian communities of faith) follow Jesus in our time and place … in every aspect of our lives? I believe this includes congregations studying the Bible and the practices of Christians in other times and places, and communally exploring the implications of their discoveries for their own local practices.

          Practically: does a congregation regularly pray for citizens and government officials and soldiers in response to the issues of the day, are there sermons on the central and enduring challenges of political life, do groups in the congregation study political life in the light of the Scriptures and Christian practices in other times and places and share what they learn with the whole congregation? (I would ask the same question about family life, business life, media consumption, and several other inescapable aspects of life.)

          • Gideon,
            There are two areas of study that are involved with political discipleship which I think of right now: a Christian’s responsibilities to society and the state, the histories and current events in the relevant parts of the world. Though in the first subject, we need to rely more on Christian than nonChristian sources, we religuosly Conservative Christians are currently too insular to adequately either subject

          • I must disagree at least to a degree, Curt, about the insularity of Christians. There is a large literature on the public responsibilities of Christians that goes all the way back to the Bible, stretches through Augustine to Aquinas to John Calvin to Leo XIII and Abraham Kuyper to Bonhoeffer to Martin Luther King Jr to our time (and I’m only mentioning a handful of names among hundreds). There are a great many people writing today and in the recent past about current events from various Christian perspectives. For just a taste (in addition to Providence), take a look at the work of the Center for Public Justice, the Institute for Global Engagement, the Acton Institute, the Canadian think tank Cardus, and the film criticism in Christianity Today.

          • Gideon,
            Two points. First, how insular conservative Christians are really depends on which group of Christians we are talking about. There are some groups who are more insular than others. Personally, I come from a conservative Reformed perspective in theology and also in terms of church affiliation. In addition, I participate on a number of Christian blogs and read other sources. I know from the Reformed perspective there is a great deal of insularity.

            Second, we need to be specific on what is meant by insularity. What I mean by insularity. Insularity refers to the inwardness of the sources we rely on. We rely so heavily on Christian sources that have been so associated with our Christian western subculture and have shut out all other sources.

            An example of our insularity is found in the Acton Institute. This institute takes a conservative Christian authoritarian apporach to associating Western Capitalism, today’s neoliberal capitalism in particular, with a Christian definition of economics. Sure they decry “crony capitalism,” but by objecting to most regulatory efforts, including that of the environment, they have not only ensured what they denounce, they shut out the voices of people like Bonhoeffer and King as they would speak to economics.

            See, we are insular when we don’t look to share society with nonChristians as equals. And we don’t look to share society when we insist on marginalizing socialists of all stripes and those from the LGBT community. We are insular when we insist on American Exceptionalism and the supremacy of Western civilization. Yes, some of the organizations and individuals you listed above are broader than others in their scope, but they all firm a basic association of Christianity with Capitalism and Western Civilization.

            To further point this out, please consider if the conservative Christian church in America acts as an institution of indoctrination for the status quo on issues other than social conservatism. Which of the organizations you listed above do that? Who understands that people like Martin Luther King rejected Capitalism in favor of what he called Democratic Socialism? Who follows his position of a guaranteed national income and opposition to American hegemony and imperialism?

            So how many Christian leaders and Church teachers are teaching on secular issues using sources outside of Christian and Capitalist sources?

          • Dear Mr Day, it would seem we have somewhat different understandings of insularity. To my understanding it is not insular to take a particular perspective, it is insular not to interact with those who take other perspectives. In my sense neither the Acton Institute (which does indeed take a particular perspective on what they call democratic capitalism) nor the Center for Public Justice (which takes a quite different perspective from Acton) are insular because they quite robustly engage those with different perspectives.

            For what it’s worth I write from a perspective that is deeply informed by my African birth and commitments. And when it comes to economic life I’m influenced more by Friedrich List than Adam Smith, more by Karl Polanyi than Friedrich Hayek, more by Bob Goudzwaard than Michael Novak.

            Keep an eye out for my forthcoming Providence piece on an alternative to American imperialism.

          • Gideon,
            Your first note claiming that Christians aren’t insular seems to indicate that you confused diversity and insularity. Certainly, there are some different Christian perspectives out there. And I also noted that the degree of insularity is dfferent from group to group. And even that statement should be qualified with saying that I do not have the same familiarity with all groups.

            I am very familiar with the Acton group. Yes, they interact wth other perspectives, but using what as resources? When I conversed with them about socialism, being a socialist myself, they told me that what I believed to be socialism, that is non-elite-centered rule with workers, if not owning outright, having equal ownership with of businesses as those who own by wealth, they told me that non-elite-centered rule socialism did not exist. For them, only what the West uses to caricature Socialism was allowed to be called socialism. Rucj Ogukkuos’ latest article calling socialism evil serves as another example of a view of socialism that strongly indicates insularity.

            BTW, I think you’ll find contradictions between democracy and capitalism. Democracy refers to the freedom of a group to exercise self-rule while Capitalism emphasizes individual “freedom” based on ownership of wealth. In Capitalism, you have private sector entities that employ top-down authoritarian structures, even the horizontally structured businesses lean that way, based on how much of the business each owner owns. The voting in such a structure is $1-one-vote rule. Democracy is more egalitarian in terms of its power sharing because it relies on 1-person-one vote rule.

            Yes, some of these organizations study outside entites. But mere study does not remove the insular label here. What does remove the insular label is when our understanding of those outside groups come from reading the original sources outside of our own group. Thus when you wrote:


            I must disagree at least to a degree, Curt, about the insularity of Christians. There is a large literature on the public responsibilities of Christians that goes all the way back to the Bible, stretches through Augustine to Aquinas to John Calvin to Leo XIII and Abraham Kuyper to Bonhoeffer to Martin Luther King Jr to our time (and I’m only mentioning a handful of names among hundreds). There are a great many people writing today and in the recent past about current events from various Christian perspectives.

            such doesnot remove the insular label if the understanding of those on the outside comes solely from those within your group.

            Of those you listed, I would say King and Bonhoeffer were not insular because they would read outside sources to understand outside groups. I can’t speak for the other groups you mentioned, but my experience with Acton is that this does not seem to be the case.

            In addition, my experience on the blogs and in conservative churches, experiences to which you cannot speak, illustrate the same principle at work. That understanding of outside groups comes from reading those, usually scholarly elites, from within one’s own group. And when we learn about outside groups by reading those within our own group, thinking about those outside groups does not remove the insular label.

          • Dear Curt, one more response and then I’ll have to call it quits — but I look forward to future conversations in relation to my articles and appreciated your insights and arguments.

            I would agree with you that communities are insular when all or most of their interactions with perspectives other than their own are filtered through their own internal elites. And I acknowledge that by that definition insular religious communities do exist in the USA.

            One of the great things about human relationships, though, is that all or almost all of us are participants in a variety of relationships and kinds of relationships, so that our selves exist at the intersection of multiple communities, associations, and inter-personal interactions. This intersectionality of our identities allows for slippage between the various perspectives from which we behold God’s world … and that slippage prompts consideration and invites change. So, for example – at least in most of America – even in the most insular of religious communities people interact with employers and employees and customers and suppliers and fellow sports team parents or even just neighbors down the street who dress differently … which differences makes one wonder.

            I’ll let my friends at Acton (who have some sense of my differences with them on economic matters – I am no socialist, but neither am I a supporter of an unbridled capitalism) speak to their possible insularity, should they notice this correspondence.

            I don’t know if I’ve pointed to this piece of mine yet, but it will give you a first sense of where I come from with regard to economic life: https://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/359/market-economy-yes-market-society-no/.

            I look forward to our future conversations as I sign out from this one.

            Gideon

          • Gideon,
            I too look forward to future conversations. I’ve enjoyed this one and part of that has to do with how you express disagreement. Thank you

  • kirk7088

    I very much enjoyed the article and appreciate the thoughtfulness on many levels. I agree with many parts of it.

    However, one criticism, which is perhaps also a compliment, is that the article could be easily refashioned to identify similar (and perhaps greater) moral problems with other candidates.

    For example, consider this slightly revised version of the article’s first several paragraphs. (I wish I could upload a redline version to emphasize how few the revisions.)

    ——————-

    According to potentially outdated polls, more than a third of self-identified evangelical voters (along with over 40% of Catholic and Protestant voters) currently support a presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, who resolutely affirms and defends legal protection, social encouragement and federal funding to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent babies annually, a disproportionate number of whom are poor and/or minorities.

    These kinds of numbers suggest that American Christians have a serious discipleship problem when it comes to ethics, including the ethics surrounding intrinsically evil acts. Were the songs, TV shows, movies, and celebrities that prompt popular sentiment more tragic in the classical sense, it might have been possible to imagine that the problem is the persistence of a pagan ethos untempered by acquaintance with the long centuries of ethical discourse since even before Augustine. Instead, I believe that many evangelicals have succumbed to a politics of the gut that has little to do with serious moral formation of any kind.

    The political sentiments reported in polls like these suggest a dismal but unsurprising possibility: that very few American evangelical churches offer their members the opportunity of a discipleship that gives attention to the history of Christians over the past two millennia struggling to follow Jesus in their times and places. Dismal because such a discipleship—alongside sacramentally-centered worship and Jesus-centered public proclamation of the good news of the reign of God—is what constitutes the life of a church. Unsurprising because shallow and misguided discipleship is a persistent reality in the life of churches recorded already in the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul and his fellow epistolators.

    This possibility does not call for pride (in the superiority of my own political judgment), scorn (towards morally misguided evangelical voters), disgust (at the pandering polemics perpetrated by Mrs. Clinton), or despair (at the dismal state of discipleship in so many Christian congregations). Instead, it calls for repentance (of my own arrogance), compassion (towards the many people bereft of congregations with a long memory of Christian discipleship or even a basic grounding in ethics), intercession (for the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of all of America’s present and aspiring political officeholders), and catechetical resolve (to contribute to discipleship in those congregations where I am able to make a difference).

    At depth the problem is not the politics of evangelicals or the nominalism of many self-identified Christians or the secularization of America in our times. The problem is the perennial distraction of Christian churches from the core practices that make them churches and presenting the Church’s most fundamental ethical teachings even when they touch on political issues, or perhaps more accurately, the distortion of these teachings and practices by personal, communal sins and cultural pressures. As someone intimately familiar with the tremendous power of such sins and pressures, I also know what a grace it is to be exposed to the work of God in the celebration of baptism and the eucharist, in public prayers and worship songs, in preaching and communal Bible study, in Christian ethical reflection and catechesis, and in the dear and demanding friendship of fellow followers of Jesus.

    —————

    I point this out for two main reasons.

    First, it shows that other presidential candidates with very significant evangelical support embrace candidates who support policies that are at least as morally problematic as those embraced by Trump/Cruz.

    Second, it shows that the underlying causes Gideon identifies (i.e. “perennial distraction of Christian churches…” etc) have much broader consequences than the various foreign policy views of Trump and Cruz. This affirms Gideon’s central point although I think perhaps many observers might conclude that the article means to identify something notable about Trump/Cruz by contrast with other candidates.

    Thanks again!

    • Kirk, you’ll have no disagreement from me on the human rights of babies yet to be born, and I would concur that your amendment to my piece affirms my central point.

      I pity American voters if the choice comes down to Mr Trump or Mrs Clinton. For that matter I pity American citizens given the current state of the Republican and Democratic Parties (and I say this as a fervent champion of partisan involvement: https://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/4619/join-the-party/).

      Thank you for engaging here – I hope we’ll hear from you again!

  • Kernel Kangaroo

    For the past eight years, I have seen so many evangelicals minimize and provide excuses for our current President: a President who voted for infanticide no fewer than three times, a President who spearheaded a sexual revolution in our country, a President who used the EEOC to pursue ministerial challenges to our Churches, a President who told his supporters to punish their enemies, a President who lied about not funding abortion through his medical act, a President who told his supporters to bring guns to a knife fight, a President who just recently laughed at the death of a Supreme Court Justice, and a President who told Planned Parenthood they were doing God’s work. Are you bothered that Trump is vulgar, or that he doesn’t hide his vulgarity with better diction? I don’t know why the church cares now.

    • Dear Kernel Kangaroo, I am grateful for the privilege of interacting with my readers and gladly do so in the comments to my articles when my correspondents address the substance of what I write and have the courage and courtesy to do so over their real names.

  • Wm Armstrong

    Mr. Strauss, Are you advocating that we elect a national leader on how pacifistic or how soft spoken they are? Should we elect someone who tries to talk compromising words to our enemies or seek a more gentle way to deal with them?

    If so, then your idea of what a national leader is for is not Biblical. Romans 13:4 shows that the government and its leaders are there to show wrath and sure punishment to those evil doers. Maybe we need some honesty in saying what we will do to those who attack innocents and shed innocent blood.

    If our government is not willing to destroy the wicked, then they are failing in God’s purpose for them. And their rhetoric should match what God says to do; execute wrath upon them.