Mark Tooley: Hello, this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity and American Foreign Policy, with another episode of Marksism, but with only two of the three usual Marks – myself and Mark Melton – addressing three pieces appearing in Providence this week. One by a new contributor, a young woman named Braulia Ribeiro – hopefully Mark Melton can correct my pronunciation – who wrote a very insightful piece called “Transcendence and Poverty: Lessons from Brazil” about the influence of Pentecostalism there; secondly, a piece I wrote about a New York Times op-ed penned by three integralists advocating a more “restrained” U.S. foreign policy; and then finally a reposting of a piece from our iconic father publication, Christianity in Crisis, from seventy-five years ago by John Bennett, Reinhold Niebuhr’s cohort on the need for evangelism, which was as controversial then as it is now. But first, this piece on Brazil from which I want to briefly quote, talking about the transformative effect of a particular new Pentecostal congregation in a slum of a Brazilian city, and the author concludes rather poignantly that “the activity to locate oneself in the transcendent universe transports individual existence. That is the contention of Eric Voegelin in his work, The Order and History. Transcendence positions the individual in the flow of history beyond what the imminent society offers to him or her. It attributes meaning to concrete experience without devaluing it.” So, this is, in part, why Pentecostalism is so popular in Brazil especially, but certainly throughout the Global South, most particularly in Africa. Mark Melton, your thoughts?
Mark Melton: Yeah, well I could probably say a couple of things on this. So, I think her name is Ribeiro – I’m not sure in the Portuguese how that’s pronounced, but anyway, so she’s writing about this documentary that actually came out a while ago about this church in Brazil, a Pentecostal church, and how it was able to influence the community for the better, and how, even according to when she was writing, the value of the houses – even though I think the houses around this slum area were illegal but people wanted to live there and not further away – so the church had a lot of positive benefits to the rest of society. And, it’s kind of counterintuitive because Pentecostals had all these rules of things you can’t do, and so, if I remember correctly, the directors or the people producing the documentary were kind of curious as to why people wanted to participate in something that told you that you can’t do this or that. And like you say, the justification for that is that the faith gave the people hope, it gave them meaning, an eternal meaning that the materialist world around us would not give, and so she writes about poverty and how, according to these people, poverty wasn’t necessarily a lack of goods, but a lack of eternal hope. And so, I think that kind of ties into – we talked a while ago about our Advent series on hope, and I feel like this would have been a good piece if it had come in around that time, it could have fit in very easily into that series on hope about what is it that we hope for in the world because there’s a lot of things that we can be downbeat on. And so, kind of a second point here is it reminds me of when I was living in France, and the only church I really found there that people actually went to was a Pentecostal church that was in a hole in the wall. I think it might have been a storefront that was converted into like a little makeshift church. When I tried to go to the Catholic churches, which were, you know, the dominant ones in this town, massive buildings, they even had like Republic Francesa over the doors because they were pre-1905 built churches, so I believe the state owned, operated, and maintained them, which a lot of people don’t realize that laicite laws in France allow that. But this Pentecostal church was far outperforming it, like whenever I tried to go to the Catholic churches, they were empty or closed. What they did was they would rotate Mass, and I was never able to figure out when Mass would occur on the Sunday in the church nearby. But like this Pentecostal church had a community of people there. And so, it’s interesting that, not just in the global South, but you see in other parts of the world where Pentecostalism is very powerful. And I think a lot of points I could make I think I might save for when we talk about the evangelism article with Bennett.
Mark Tooley: Well next, my piece on an integralist foreign policy versus a Christian realist foreign policy. We addressed this topic a bit in our conversation. Last week, The New York Times op-ed by Sohrab Ahmari, Gladden Pappin, and Patrick Deneen, although not referenced in the article, they are integralists and part of the New Right advocating a U.S. withdrawal from the world, in essence saying because the U.S. is, from their perspective, “decadent.” “We should be focusing of social, moral, spiritual renewal at home and not promoting American values universally.” I critique their piece from several perspectives. One: I should think that a truly integralist perspective connected to the historic teachings of the Catholic Church would be much more realist in terms of understanding that the world intrinsically is a competition among nations and competing interests, so to think that if America withdraws that somehow there’s going to be a peaceful result is, by definition, unrealistic. Also, a more integralist America, that would be, according to their vision, their dream, a Catholic confessional state, arguably would be more prone to war and conflict than the current pluralistic America in that a theocracy by matters of principle would be much more drawn to combatting ideological and theological rivals around the world – China and Russia certainly would be chief rivals to a Catholic confessional state in the United States of America. And then finally, I make the point that no wise nation living realistically and pragmatically has the luxury of focusing exclusively on its own interior spiritual uplift and sanctification while ignoring the rest of the world. This is the struggle and challenge for all nations and all times, dealing with their domestic troubles and failures, while also seeing to their security from potential external threats. Any thoughts, Mark Melton?
Mark Melton: Well one line I kind of highlight in here, in fact when I was scheduling tweets for Providence, I used this for one of the tweets, if not already, then it’ll be scheduled to come out soon. But like you write, “all nations have their tawdry, internal corruptions that should preclude national sanctimony. But wise nations abjure naivete and don’t pretend they can sustain peace and security by closing their eyes and praying for their own sanctification.” And that line kind of reminded me of what Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in the mid-forties talking about the pride of victors when fighting literal Nazis, he’s like “do not be prideful, even though they are bad.” You know, defeat them, but don’t think that you are eternally better than these Germans you defeated. We still suffer from original sin, and, some Christian groups, Catholics, wouldn’t say this, but we believe in total depravity – the idea that even if you try to do good, that you can’t do good. Or even if you do good, you sometimes do it for the wrong reasons, which means you didn’t do good. So, between original sin and depravity, we will always have internal corruptions. And just because America has internal corruptions doesn’t mean that it is evil, doesn’t mean that it can’t be a force for good in the world. So, it does seem to me that this and other writings that I’ve seen from them that demand for a certain purity, that is not possible. That is unrealistic and naïve, as you say. And so, my concern with the integralist view in general is that I think it kind of underappreciates just how deep depravity runs through our hearts and also our churches. I think we can see where churches screw up, and I think the best check for that is both renewal but also allowing churches to fade if they’ve become corrupted instead of supporting them and trying to prop them up, and that’s the reason that I support religious freedom and the idea of – and I’ve written about this before – but the idea of a free market of churches.
Mark Tooley: And finally, John Bennett on evangelism in 1947, but he could be writing in 2022, talking about the controversial aspects of evangelism and yet the need for the it in the world in 1947, still reeling from the impact of World War II and entering into the Cold War in need of spiritual renewal. There had not been a spiritual revival in America even during World War II, but he notes many soldiers serving in the war had experienced a personal spiritual renewal. He sees no great hope for civilizational revival without a spiritual revival, which requires, by definition, evangelism by the church, and the church has a responsibility to share the Gospel with all who are willing to listen. Pertinent and wise words, then and now. What think you, Mark Melton?
Mark Melton: Yeah, so he’s talking about the need for evangelism, and at this time, people were apparently talking about how evangelism was what they associated with narrowness and intolerance and spiritual imperialism. And, he says, basically it’s trying to tell people about the Gospel. Also, like the writing is a little vague, but kind of reading it over and over and over, it seems that he is responding to a contemporary critique at that time that said that – no, not a critique – but a view that if we can convince people that the church is good for secular worldly reasons, like it’s good for your health, your wealth, your-
Mark Tooley: Your morals.
Mark Melton: Your morals – I can’t even remember because there’s other articles in Christianity in Crisis that talked about, I think like, different worldly ends that could be attained by going to church. And he’s like that’s not really what’s going to draw people into the church. What’s going to draw them into the church is that they’re going to find God in the worship of Him, and there can be secondary benefits, but that’s not – the main driving factor is that people find God in the worship that reaches them. In other words, there is an evangelism there, a genuine faith. You don’t go to church, in other words, because it’s good business. I know some people would say, “well, there’s an argument in going to church because you get to meet people who will get you businesses, or sometimes, so there’s a secular or worldly view of “I’m going there to meet people.” You know, that’s not the main drive that’s really going to sustain a church. It’s going to be the spiritual benefit. And I think that connects to the Brazil article and that documentary of like, yes, there are these secondary benefits that help the community, but the main driving factor was that the people were able to have a spiritual relationship with God because of that, and so it is finding the genuine faith that is the primary point of the church. And so that’s why, I think, I entitled this “Evangelism First,” and so my point with that is first, you have to go after the evangelism. Everything else is secondary. Everything else is a benefit. Everything else is a blessing. Sometimes it doesn’t happen. Sometimes, there can still, I think, be failures within the society despite the church doing its job. Just because there was Christianity spreading in the Roman Empire did not save the Roman Empire. It still fell apart, and I think for the betterment of the world. That can be a controversial point, maybe, for our different contributors, but coming form a Celtic heritage, I think that’s better than Rome in a way. So, in other words, there can still be benefits even if the world falls apart around the church, and that God can still have a plan that we may not understand in that moment. So, I know I probably rambled a little bit there, but I hope that answered your question.
Mark Tooley: Well, that’s the Celtic perspective anyway on the Roman Empire. It’s interesting to have this appeal for evangelism from Christianity and Crisis magazine in that Reinhold Niebuhr and Christian realism are not typically associated with evangelism, and Niebuhr himself had a critique of Billy Graham in his great evangelistic outreach through global crusades, and yet there it is. So, thank you for this latest episode of Marksism, Mark Melton, and until next week, hopefully with the third Mark, Marc LiVecche. Until then, bye-bye!