In this week’s episode of Marksism, the editors discuss Mark Tooley’s conversation with Matthew Lee Anderson about justice, Kennedy Lee’s article about Belarus, and Marc LiVecche’s interview with Phil Klay about his book Missionaries.
Tooley: Hello, this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, with another episode of “Marksism,” the good kind, with fellow Mark(c)s and fellow editors, Mark LiVecche and Mark Melton. And today, we briefly will review three topics that we’ve covered in Providence this week. Firstly, an interview with the young theologian ethicist at Baylor University about how to think about justice theologically. Secondly, we’ll take a look at what’s happening in Belarus in terms of the ongoing demonstrations and resistance to the authoritarian leader and how the churches are participating, or not participating, in that resistance. And finally, we’ll take a look at a conversation with a novelist and his new book called Missionaries. So, Marc LiVecche, your thoughts on Christianity and justice? Matthew Lee Anderson wrote a series of commentaries from Mere Orthodoxy about how to think about justice. His concern is our concern in terms of how too many American Christians think about justice, to the extent they think about it at all in terms of theology, as simply identifying a few Bible verses and attaching on to them preconceived conceptions. And, of course, is the wider problem in terms of how American Christianity today deals with political theology. So, what was your reaction to his commentary?
LiVecche: I thought it was substantial. I mean, it’s Matt, you expect it’s going to be thorough, you expect it’s going to be insightful, well written, all that; he didn’t disappoint on any of those points. I really liked the move he makes which I think is incredibly helpful, even for me, as I think about my own ideas about justice, where he takes faith, hope, and love and maps those on to the principles of loving justice. Do justice, love mercy, and then walking humbly with God, he maps those on to each other as correlates that inform and support one another. I think that’s a promising route to go. Combining faith and justice is intriguing. It launches the mind in all sorts of directions, one being in a post-Christian world, which isn’t just post-Christian. In the United States, it’s post-faith, or at least post-monotheistic faith. If that’s the case, if there is no faith, can you have justice? And we’ve written in various ways, and touch on those, from Joshua Mitchell’s work on comparing the social justice movements to a kind of religion. All that I think is very promising. If you don’t have an established faith, are you going to be able to have the conditions actually for justice? You’ve got natural laws that might mitigate, but I think Matt is on to something, and I think it’s a fruitful investigation. I think he touches all the points. He recognizes the complexity of having to give to each their due. Recognizing those are complex questions. Simply stating that justice is giving each their due doesn’t give each their due. You’ve got to establish first what is due to them. They’ve got to be content with it. So, it opens a debate, doesn’t resolve it. I think he’s right to say that Christians should be suspicious of the social gospel, also the social gospel, but of the social justice movements. Without too quickly denying the grounds for which the social justice warriors launched their movement or even their polemics. That behind everything, there might be something with which we ought to empathize and ought to point to as worthy of discussion. So, that’s helpful. So, at least in your interview, I think his triad of articles does more substantive job, naturally, but in your interview, I think a lot of the questions were raised, not a lot of the questions were necessarily answered, but it was a fruitful discussion because it asks the right questions. And I think before we can get good answers, we have to have good questions. So, it was great.
Tooley: I asked Matthew whether Christians, in terms of addressing justice and public policy issues, should rely primarily on natural law or should they also cite scripture and, specifically, Christian teaching. He surprised me a little bit, but not entirely I suppose, in terms of affirming that Christians should cite scripture and historic Christian teaching in their public arguments. And perhaps that is more imperative in our post-modern age. Your thoughts, Mark Melton?
Melton: I thought it was a good interview. One of the things I appreciated was how he is okay with the word justice. Like, I know there has been a lot of Christian talk, amongst especially some conservatives who, basically I feel like they’re attacking the idea of social justice, but then they just cut out, it feels like throwing, the word justice. And by this I don’t mean the people who, there are very thoughtful, intellectual, like very academic-type people who are having these discussions, and in those writings, I think I see some nuance of what they’re discussing. His definition of justice I think kind of pairs pretty well with pretty much what I’ve heard most of my life, which is the idea of doing justice, or justice means giving someone their due, which is a very broad and vague. And it kind of addresses a lot of different situations without giving a specific prescription. But one of the things that has annoyed me with a lot of these debates is when I see I think most of the people who are in this discussion are, how do I put this, they’re, I feel like they’re having a political debate and not a theological debate. And this is what I see mostly in the comments on a Facebook post and Twitter and whatnot. And so, I feel that they are attacking, basically one side is using terms they don’t like, so they attack the term. But if you take away the idea that Christians need to be concerned about justice, then why should Christians be concerned about abortion? To me, it’s like those two things are connected. And so, to me there’s a lot of semantic debate, a lot of debate over the definition of words, and people aren’t really defining the word. So, I appreciate the fact that he defined the words, and defined it in such a way that it’s pretty much what I’ve heard from most of my life. But I think that there’s in these, kind of in our Providence circles, we kind of use these terms. We know what we’re talking about a lot, but I think in general discourse a lot of people aren’t necessarily on the same page.
Tooley: In terms of justice and Belarus, the ongoing demonstrations there against the 25 or more-year dictatorship. We published commentary by our young intern who herself knows Russian and is studying at a Russian university. But she reflects on the role of the Catholic Church in Belarus and its support for the demonstrations. The Orthodox Church there is more ambivalent. But we here at Providence style ourselves as Christian realists, and what is a Christian realist approach to the resistance in Belarus? On the one hand, it seems almost futile and that Russia, Putin likely will assert their will over Belarus. And yet these demonstrations obviously are on the side of justice and liberty. And so, as Americans and as Christians, we intrinsically sympathize with them. So, Marc LiVecche, Christian realist, where do you stand on Belarus?
LiVecche: I mean, circling back to Matt Anderson’s thing, or his thing, his response to your question about whether it’s natural law or whether or not he can specifically cite your sources. Christians have to be prophetic in the world. And so, there can’t be a complaint about that. The Christian realist, I’ve said 1000 times, I’ve continued to say it because it’s essential, before the Christian realist can do anything, they have to have an accurate description of the facts on the ground. Or at least as accurate description as they can acquire. And a part of that is going to be, and it’s a justice issue because you’re giving things their due, you’re calling things by their names. That’s within, that’s one of the first tasks that Adam had. You call things according to their kind. And so, when the Catholics are standing up against a dictatorship and they’re demanding their due, the simple things, right. They’re not asking for luxuries, they’re asking for the things that allow human flourishing, for a little bit of justice, a little bit of order, to approximate the kind of peace that allows them to lead flourishing lives. That’s their due. Where their neighbors are not being given it, the Christian realist says, “Stand up.” Now, there has to be prudence. They’re not starting an insurrection, which would be doomed and hopeless. They’re simply giving voice to concerns and bringing the world’s attention to it, which also is helpful, because on their own they’re never going to be able to do a thing. But yeah, the Christian realist I think can stand behind that. The church has to be incarnational. It has to be incarnational in the streets when justice is being demanded, whether or not that’s walking with your fellow citizens across a bridge in the South, or if it’s standing up in the streets in Belarus. The Christian should be, in most situations, among the first to speak truth to power.
Tooley: What I’ve especially appreciate about the demonstrators there is their clear love of country, at the prominence of their national flag.
Tooley: These are very, very young people for the most part. Their country has never been free, and all they know is the current dictatorship. But if you’re older, all you know is the Soviet Union. And so, it would be very easy to be cynical and almost nihilistic in terms of politics in Belarus, and yet the demonstrators seem to be very positive, even joyful, and motivated by deep gratitude for where God has placed them.
LiVecche: I think that’s right. I think, again to circle back to your discussion with Matt, I think that’s what’s essential about his linking these two triads together. Because justice is a love issue. Love is a justice issue. If you love your country, you do not want your country to be unjust, because to love something means that you want what is best for it. And nations, like people, flourish under fairly limited ecologies. And when a nation is being unjust and you love that nation, you’re going to call it out, because you want it to be better.
Tooley: Perhaps a lesson for many of the protesters in our own country.
LiVecche: Yeah, it could be. You would think.
Tooley: Mark Melton, would you be out in the streets in Belarus?
Melton: Probably, I guess. So, the, I mean, one of the things you were talking about earlier was the idea of do you do something even if it’s doomed. And I was thinking with that comment about the resistance in Poland, both against Nazis and then against the Soviet Union. And for a long time, I would assume it felt very doomed. And it takes a little chipping away at these autocracies and kleptocracy. And a lot of times they seem very stable until they suddenly collapse. And with this, I think there’s a big question. Whenever you see these kinds of movements rise up, there’s a big question of who is in power and who backs them. And if the military is going to support Belarus, and the Russian military is going to support Belarus, then Lukashenka will, I think, remain in power for a long time. But if there’s a switch there, then I think all of a sudden, the card shifts suddenly. And the same thing with Russia. When this stuff is going on with Lukashenka, you have Alexei Navalny being poisoned in Russia about the same time. And I think there’s a paranoia within Russia that if Belarus falls, and then you have Navalny having support at the same time, and you have all these different resistances to the Kremlin, then the Kremlin stability, or this Kremlin stability, is not guaranteed. And I think it’d be very interesting for American foreign policy going forward. I think the United States should put pressure on this, on these regimes, especially with their kleptocratic ways of laundering money and like basically trying to hide their wealth. I think we need to expose that and attack it. I think that it won’t cause the regimes to fall, but I don’t think we should play nice and let them use anonymous bank accounts to hide their wealth. So, within all of that, I think it’s going to be a long-term pressure campaign. But there are countries where we see the sudden changes that we weren’t necessarily expecting. And I think we need to be prepared for it, and particularly with Russia. I think if this happens in Russia, I think it could be a very, especially if the different regions of Russia start to fall apart, it could get very bloody. It could destabilize lots of different corners of Eurasia. And that could cause a lot of headaches for the United States. So, we should be prepared for that. But at the same time, I think justice would mean that we don’t make it easy for kleptocrats, right.
LiVecche: And I think that the history that Melton is gesturing to is important. The Belarusian have to understand, the Belarusian Catholics have to understand, they’re playing the long game. And that long game will be sustained by American support. Just like in 1989, that Americans support is ultimately essential. Their long game won’t go long if they don’t have that support. So, and how you do that of course is complex.
Melton: I think this also shows that the Belarusians, and also the Russians, can have an influence in the direction of their countries. So, sometimes people will say, “Russia should have their sphere of influence.” Well, sometimes the countries within their sphere of influence want to have a say in what sphere of influence they’re put into. I think you see this in Ukraine, you see this in Poland, you see this in the Baltics. Countries that we thought, especially Poland, maybe the Baltics, countries that 30-40 years ago we thought they’re not going to support democracy, they’re not going to do this stuff, or some people would have said that. They ended up doing it, and they ended up becoming much more prosperous than countries who align more closely with Russia. So, yeah. The directions of these countries are not set. I think it is fluid and it is in flux.
Tooley: Well, speaking of doom, we have to remember the demonstrators and resistance in Hong Kong who don’t seem to have a lot of hope at this point, but in God’s time hopefully they will. Finally, Marc LiVecche, your interview with Mr. Klay about his new novel. In just a minute, tell us a little bit about it.
LiVecche: Yeah, Phil Klay is a Marine veteran. He wrote an incredible book of short stories a few years back called Redeployment, where he uses his own and other stories drawn from his combat experience, or not his combat experience, he did other things for the Marine Corps. But he tells the story of the human soul in conflict, in war. Missionaries itself is an extension of some of his earlier work. It takes place ostensibly in Colombia, but Colombia in many ways stands in for the Middle East and the American counterinsurgency there. He has four predominant characters who lead different lives. Who all come together in a moment in which American support against the drug cartels in Colombia comes to a head in a particular mission that has first order consequences. Which ostensibly are good, but has second and third order consequences, which radiate out in all sorts of predictively unexpected ways. And he tells their story. It’s a story about history in cycles of violence, about the exportation of good intentions coupled with Marshall power, and again, the second and third order consequences of those. What I love about Phil is that he’s, he has a critical voice regarding US intervention and US exertions of power without being anti-American. So, just like the flag-waving Belarusians, he loves the thing he’s critiquing. He wants it to do more of the good that it has done, and he wants it to learn from its mistakes and errors. His writing is great. It’s a fiction novel. Perfect for winter. So, I urge everybody to read it.
Tooley: On that upbeat note, Marc LiVecche, Mark Melton, thank you for another insightful “Marksism” conversation. Until next week, bye-bye.
LiVecche: Take care.
Melton: Thank you.