During the annual Christianity and National Security Conference, Jon Askonas presented an Anglican view of political theology.
Thank you, thank you very much Mark. I agreed many months ago to participate in the conference, Mark asked will you speak again our national security conference and I said sure and then I was stunned to get the email where he had proposed a topic for me, Anglican statecraft all right and then I look at the schedule and I realize I’m after lunch. Then I arrived today, and I discovered I’m not only after lunch and also following the brilliant eloquent Baptist Paul Miller. So, Mark wanted me to speak about in defense of the established religion of the church of England to a bunch of American Baptists in the torpor of lunch after one of the most brilliant defenders of Baptist statecraft. And my only conclusion is that Mark Tooley had it out for me, to which I could, I would remind him that both Charles and John Wesley lived and died Anglicans, and the Methodism is of anything a sort of a Jew a little brother in the church of in the Anglican Communion. Now I think I have three three things to commend my little speech versus my good friend and often debate partner Paul Miller.
The first is that I think what I had to say will be a little bit novel I was I had to scratch my head when I was given this topic because there is so little written about what it would mean to have an Anglican statecraft, there’s hardly anything about Anglican political theology as such and at least written recently there’s been some revival thanks to folks like Brad Littlejohn and the David Institute and anything that I have to say that’s good and valuable you can ascribe to them any mistakes or historical errors are my own. So, I think what I have to say will be a little bit novel, I think I also have the benefit of being right or at least being able to poke some holes in some of the things that Paul said even just now. And then as is often the case of Anglicans against Baptists I will speak short where he has spoken law.
So, all right let’s get started I thought I would offer today four distinct elements that could be understood to contribute to a distinctly Anglican mode of statecraft now to even speak of an Anglican mode of statecraft is already to gather together a lot of disparate and contradictory themes within the history of the Christian church and the history even of the Anglican church. If Anglicanism is anything, it is and has always been a somewhat discordant mess of people who have found themselves together due to historical circumstances I actually think this is a beautiful and important and distinctive and valuable part of Anglicanism that I will hope to be able to defend to you later. In addition, I’m going to make these claims in contradiction to I think two other really important modes of Christian political theology, the Anabaptist tradition of which the Baptists are only the more reasonable members the vast majority of Anabaptists are no longer with us because of some of the extremities and contradictions inherent in Anabaptist theology perhaps. And on the other hand, the Catholic political, the Roman Catholic political theology. So, and I was also surprised by the way to hear Paul claim the american founding for the Baptist, I think the father of our country George Washington might have been a little bit surprised to hear that as would the majority a significant majority of presidents who have been Episcopalian, Presbyterian, or Methodist.
So, before I get to what I think are these four distinct elements I wanted to stipulate something that’s I think distinctive and often difficult to understand about Anglicanism something
which I as someone who was born and raised in Baptist had to come to understand. Which is to say that it’s a distinctly historical way of thinking about the church in the church’s life, it doesn’t begin from either trying to attempting to find a set of creeds or systematic theology which is held to be true, completely true, completely according with scripture although certainly there are attempts at theology that is faithful to scripture faithful to the Christian tradition. And it doesn’t claim to be the represent it does not claim to be the sole representation of Christianity on earth. Right. It doesn’t claim, now it does claim that there the church is a reality on earth, and I think that’s an important part of his statecraft which I’ll explain in a second.
So, the first of these four elements I would hold is that Anglican statecraft is realistic about the relationship between faith and the state and faith and the nation. One could say the nation state although I think one has to immediately bracket that to say not that the nation is something that is sort of transcendent and beyond the people, but the nation as the life of the people and the state as the magistrate overseeing and responsible for the life of the people. To put in another way Anglicanism, Anglican statecraft takes a high view of the spiritual role of the magistrate on the one hand the anti-Baptist tradition effectively rejects the spiritual role of the magistrate, it does not necessarily reject, although many adapters do the role of the state as such, but it rejects the role of the state as teacher or the state as a spiritual or moral exemplar. On the other hand, the Catholic tradition of course affirms the spiritual role of the magistrate holds that by virtue of the spiritual role of the magistrate, the state is subject to the moral and often political power of the Roman Church.
Now, I would contend that Anglicanism seeks to preserve what was in fact the medieval consensus around the role of the magistrate you know the most anti, the almost anti-Catholic or anti-Papist article of the 39 articles stipulates that the Pope has no authority in the realm of England that is a direct quote from the statue of pre-statute of primonery, I’m probably mispronouncing that, of 1392 you know promulgated 200 years prior to the reformation right. So, the medieval position contra the sometimes pronouncements from the Vatican was that while the Pope enjoyed a moral authority that political authority and temporal authority necessarily belonged to the particular princes and magistrates of particular states responsible to particular peoples there. So, while the Pope had the church, had this universal jurisdiction there was a necessarily local lesson necessarily emplaced tradition or power for the magistrate. At the same time, it did not reject the spiritual importance of the state and of the magistrate. In other words, the Anglican statecraft would hold that state power necessarily intersects with faith and the object of Christian government which is of course the protection of a development of Christians of a Christian faith of a society which even if it does not seek to bring heaven up onto earth, at least seeks to grow in grace. And so that enterprise is inseparable from state power and any version of any political theology which rejects this is unrealistic and ignores the way in which a so-called secular political theology is in fact simply replaces one faith for another. And I have to say the passage of history seems to support this notion, that any state which says that it is neutral upon questions of faith and questions of morals will prove itself over time not to be so.
Now the second element of Anglican statecraft I would hold is a freedom of conscience, emphasis on conscience. Freedom of conscience as the Anabaptists would have it amounted to a kind of total freedom of subjective moral belief as it relates to matters of worship but also the matters of life that come out of one’s worship, right. The early, if you look at early Baptist life the Roger Williams Colony here in America, they adopted and not just them but also offshoots and splinters and other inevitable elements of Baptist polity they would adopt stranger in stranger uh modes of worship and behavior that had serious social implications as well as serious implications made before for the development of the Christian faith. So Anglican statecraft as it develops over time centers on the fact that the state cannot and will not compel belief, it will even it will respect and acknowledge the breadth of beliefs and over time more further and further developments of respecting the breadth of forms of worship. But it never backs down from the from the notion that again as this the state necessarily has a spiritual role that it has a role as a teacher. There’s this famous saying of course, lex orandi, lex credendi, again I’m butchering that in my Latin, the law of prayer is the law of belief, right or one might even just say the law.
Anglican statecraft has emphasized heavily common a public words of worship and a common and accessible public liturgy it’s the it’s the Church of England under the sponsorship of King James that creates the King James version of the Bible which so many Baptists love to use. It is a Church of England that has the book of common prayer and which allows a large amounts of freedom of conscience of freedom of theological belief around the interpretation the book of common prayer around British churchmanship all with one common mode of prayer a motive prayer which over time helps foster the life the spiritual life of the people there’s a reason why throughout the English language around the world it is phrases from the King James version of the Bible and from the book of common prayer that form the kind of classic modes of prayer even outside even in Methodism even outside of the Church of England even not said Anglicanism, if you go to a Baptist church and they’re trying to have a traditional sounding marriage they’re going to use language from the book of common prayer.
And this leads to the third kind of distinctive character of Anglican statecraft which is its ecumenism. Anglicanism because it does not hold that it is either the soul receiver of true belief or the true life of the church on earth has been a has been modest in its claims about other forms of Christianity and has been eager to cooperate with the broader kind of creedal tradition. There’s a reason why Mere Christianity was written by an Anglican, C.S. Lewis. From the 16th century on the Church of England was in communion with many of the other reformed churches and has always seeked to expand the breadth of its communion within under the scope of baptized believers. And so, this this kind of cooperation, this ecumenism this modesty I think is an important part of Anglican statecraft. It led to and encouraged cooperation on matters of faith even as the British empire expanded all over the world.
And that leads to I think the fourth element of and of course I should say to continue my theme this is a contrast to either an Anabaptist tradition which seeks ever more pure expressions of the true creed of the true belief, on the other hand roman Catholicism for whom ecumenism is predicated on effectively submitting to the authority of the Pope. So, then the last distinctive of Anglican statecraft over time I believe has been a kind of Evangelicalism. Now you might hear you might be surprised to hear that brought up as a form of statecraft but historically you can tell a lot about a state’s position and about the world order by looking at how it’s about the role of missionaries in that order. And I think this I think there’s an interesting contrast here, at one hand based on this ecumenism the British empire as it expands is open to again with possibly some exceptions for catholic missionaries it’s opened up to missionaries from other branches of non-conformist you know the Baptists, the Presbyterians, Methodists, etc; and yet this cooperation is under the aegis of a growing of the royal navy and of a growing of growing military power that is nonetheless subservient to the Christian faith, and to the attendance of Christian morality is understood and taught by Anglicanism, right. It’s no coincidence right that the earliest missionaries in west Africa were effectively under the protection of British canons, right it’s no coincidence that the China inland mission had at least the implicit protection of the
British forces in in the region, right. And this had tremendous impact tremendous impact on world history.
The political scientist Robert Woodbury published a really important article a few years ago the missionary roots of liberal democracy, that showed that the single greatest predictor of whether a state would achieve a developing state would achieve liberal democracy was the presence of what he called a conversionary protestants, right. Again, implicitly he didn’t say this most of the time protected by the British state and in its imperial form. And what was distinctive about these conversionary Protestants is they were because they were serious about Evangelism because they were serious about a form of Christianity based on freedom of conscience that emphasize conversion in interior conversion again perhaps with some of the pressure from the non-conformance from the puritans so emphasized material emphasized real interior conversion based around a high view of language a high view of the Bible a high view of common forms of prayer right. Whenever missionaries English-speaking missionaries went, they stood up colleges they stood up printing presses they educated and it’s those that kind of infrastructure that over many hundreds of years was very strongly correlated with having a stable democracy today.
So, if you ask you know having been asked to look at the last 400 years of history and trying to you know craft, see in the in that fog some clear themes of what could be described as an Anglican statecraft that is what I’ve come up with. So, I will end there and I’m happy to take any questions.
Questioner: Thank you. My name is Alex, I’m from ColoradoChristian University and I was justwondering if you could elaborate alittle bit more on your last point. I think that’s something that I oftenwrestle with and just you know being here at thisconferencetalking about the various subjects thatwas talked aboutI think that’s an importantpoint that you made that
missionaries have influenced politics to that degree and.
Jon Askonas: Yeah, I think missionaries influence politics missionaries moderated, I mean they still record declare missionary activity moderated other forms of avarice rooted in greed and power politics that were kind of byproduct of empire including in the sort of new imperialism in the 19th century. Missionary activity was an important motivator of Europe of European society kind of going out into the world but it took very many different forms right and again this is a value judgment as there were but I can’t help but think that the version of it that we saw under Anglicanism was one of the you know, in the long view one of the more, one that struck a better balance between the real need to convert the real the sense that Christianity is in fact true that God it’s God’s desire for every human to enter into relationship with him through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, that’s true. On the other hand, we can’t force that upon people, to do violence use violence to achieve that is also wrong right. And again to go back to my vague anabaptist versus catholic contrasts you know I think the anabaptist position which of course emphasizes belief event emphasis of evangelism doesn’t have very much to say to the problem that Christianity truly is a revolutionary message. And where and Christianity as was spreading throughout the world again largely in retrospect largely as part of this broader European expansion, it encountered serious political resistance. Missionaries were killed, missionaries were suppressed, Christians were persecuted and martyred and suppressed right. And so I think we should we should take seriously the notion that some measure of actual state power employed to protect missionaries or protect converted Christians was justified and I think that’s what Anglicanism largely did. It also was responsible for abolition right it was British warships
that broke the back of the slave trade in West Africa. So, you know that’s the kind of contrast to the Anabaptists position.
On the other hand, there is both because of this ecumenism and because of this emphasis on freedom of conscience there was more hesitance about sort of about a kind of a you might call it integralism, but a version of state power that projected both the power of the institutional church and the power of the state at the same time right so mostly most of these evangelism was not part of British State efforts right it was missionary societies and sort of civil society religious societies. But, it was under the protection of the British empire so that’s the kind of again a maybe controversial way of putting it but I think a distinctive element of Anglican statecraft.
Please well I should, yeah, I should say that you know I this was a kind of retrospective I think Anglicanism today looks very different. Anglicanism today largely because of this history is much more centered in the global south which I think is great, I think there’s a lot of tensions between the Church of England the Episcopal Church and other, Gaffcon and sort of the African
Church. So, it’s hard to say what the future of this enterprise is yeah.
Questioner: Nate from Liberty University, I had a quick question do you see America is
kind of less so now, but in the unipolar sense that was post-cold war, do you see that hegemonic power is kind of feeling the same thing in our ability to influence nations to release missionaries like Pastor Brunson and stuff like that? Do you see that as kind of fulfilling the same role as British warships did in the 19th century?
Jon Askonas: Yeah. I think that I’d be, I was thinking I was listening to Paul talk that I want to think more about where the United States fits in this story after it kind of takes the place of Great Britain as a kind of global hegemon. I mean the protection of missionaries has been a steadfast component of European diplomacy since the sixth you know 15th century actually going back to the crusades but, so I do think that is this important part of international law and diplomacy that continues to this day and that as you said the United States continues to play a role. Especially now as a kind of advocate of religious freedom, I think it matters that the world’s most powerful country is also the biggest advocate of religious freedom.
Questioner: Hi my name is Geo from the University ofDallas. My question for you is it was
related to the second question I was asked, do you think this vision of Anglican state craft will divide the Anglican communion? Because I’m a Catholic who used to be Episcopalian and I did see sort of more of a trend away from like you know what he said like the medieval Christianity and kind of that tradition, but whereas in other parts of the England Anglican community that’s not really the case.
Jon Askonas: I mean so yeah it’s a great question I think I forgot to mention you know the kind of example of England of Anglican statecrafts is not a theologian I think of course it’s her majesty Queen Elizabeth II long may she reign you know she is the only remaining anointed Christian monarch of Europe, no catholic country has actually anointed their monarchs anymore, her religion as far as anyone knows is his very prayer book very simple yet devout to me that’s kind of the exemplar. I think the fact that we can’t be certain what will happen under her son or grandson I think suggest says a lot about the uncertainty of the future of Anglican statecraft. You know I certainly wouldn’t want to hold against the possibility of a serious revival in the church of England, a serious return to orthodoxy but you know that’s not foreordained. So, I do think it’s very much in question, yeah. I mean certainly if the Church of England and the African church in African English Church is sort of schism, I think that the African churches at least will continue some of this model of Anglican statecraft and that the Church of England would sort of descend back into just being another national church, it wouldn’t have this maybe slightly broader vision of itself.
Jon Askonas: I mean I think it is it’s still maybe a little bit early, nonetheless, I do think it’s really interesting to see the important impactful yet moderating force that most Anglican clerics and most English bishops have in African Politics, right. I think look I mean if you go back to the end of the apartheid movement, right, you go back to any of these major elements of decolonization, I think Anglican church leaders have been extremely important at finding political middle ground about calling sides that were attending towards civil war back towards reconciliation with tremendous moral authority. I mean that to me is very much in line with Anglican statecraft.