January 30, 2002
Andrew Sullivan's analysis of the State of the Union address reinforces my worry that evangelicalism is under greater pressure than ever to conform to the demands of patriotism. How many people even notice, let alone care?
January 21, 2002
ROWAN WILLIAMS, until recently the leading candidate to succeed George Carey as archbishop of Canterbury, has found himself in hot water after questioning the justice of the war in Afghanistan.
The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Rev Rowan Williams, said the bombing campaign in Afghanistan had lost credibility and was morally equivalent to the terrorism it sought to defeat.
The words "morally equivalent" are shocking not because I have never heard them before in the popular press, but because I have never heard them from anyone with Williams' theological sophistication and acumen. Until I see evidence otherwise, I cannot believe he said them. Christian theologians in his theological tradition simply do not use them this way, because they belong to a different ethical vocabulary than theirs.
Williams' own words further down in the article suggest the point he actually is making:
"It is just possible to deplore civilian casualties and retain moral credibility when an action is clearly focused and its goals are on the way to evident achievement," he writes.
"It is not possible when the strategy appears confused and political leaders talk about a war that may last many years."
Later, a spokesman for Dr Williams said the Archbishop had written the book from a "Christian view".
Williams' spokesman should have been a little more detailed. Williams is thinking within the contours of the Augustinian "just war" tradition. He is not weighing the war's moral equivalence. Just war theorists are not interested in moral equivalence. The question is not whether we are sinning less than they are. The question is whether God would approve of us. Williams is weighing the war's moral credibility.
Christian pacifists can argue over whether Williams should be justifying war at all. Just warriors can argue over whether the classical Augustinian criteria should apply as Williams applies them, or even whether Augustinian criteria are flexible enough to fit a "war against terrorism" without substantial modification. As a "Church pacifist" I argue both that Christians should be grateful for those who defend us justly, should concentrate on showing mercy ourselves, and should speak prophetically in order to keep the violence of governing authorities just. (To me, the war in Afghanistan looks pretty just so far, and I am grateful to those who are pursuing it. Nevertheless, I am ready to listen to Williams' reasons for why the effort may no longer be just.)
But whatever my differences with Williams may be, I am delighted that on theological grounds he is challenging our governments to keep what they do just. That is exactly what he should be doing. If challenging Downing Street and Pennsylvania Avenue costs him a run for leader of the Anglican Communion, then it only demonstrates further that the Anglican Communion has not a clue about what it is and what it's for.
Still, the flap should caution all of us who talk Christian in public. Britain is a sufficiently post-Christian culture, and journalism a sufficiently reckless profession, that we can no longer expect British journalists (or American ones, for that matter) to understand even that there is a just war tradition, let alone know its precepts. The Christian ethical tradition Williams and I both speak for is neither utilitarian, nor relativist. Thus the burden is on Williams and his spokespeople, and on all of us who want to get the Good News across intelligibly, to articulate carefully just what "Christian view" we are describing.
It will be a pity if what stops Williams' candidacy for archbishop is not the merits of his argument, but his audience's inability or unwillingness to hear or understand it in the first place.
January 19, 2002
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM and America's successes since 9/11 are squeezing American evangelical loyalties and compromising our heritage. So I contended today in a Westmont College panel.
January 14, 2002
Since 9/11, "strength" has been in demand, while "weakness" is falling out of favor. And with good reason. If not for the conventional strength of worldly authorities, the world would soon be one big Somalia.
But conventional strength only goes so far. It can protect, but it can't redeem. If not for something radically different from the conventional strength of worldly authorities, the world would soon be one big Roman Empire.
I just learned about Gabriel Said Reynolds through this article on Muhammad in Books & Culture. The last sentence says it all about how a career studying Islam can enrich Christian faith:
Certainly I, as a student of Islam, have fallen more deeply in love with the Lord whose most powerful expression was clothed in weakness.Amen. In an era that worships "strength" (whether triumphalistically or desperately), what a temptation it is to forsake God's "weakness." I imagine it is even more so when your career is in studying a tradition of "strength" that is so contemptuous of "weakness" that, except for a few scholarly dissenters, it refuses to accept the death of Jesus, despite all the historical evidence, and even despite the ambiguity of the Quranic verse that supposedly speaks to it. Not to mention a tradition that has been so influential in its rejection and persecution of Christianity's "cult of weakness."
Yet Reynolds' sensitivity is a common theme among Christian students of Islam such as Kenneth Cragg (whom he apparently follows) and Louis Massignon. Those who don't follow Muslims in abandoning the logic of the cross grow to see the cross as more precious than ever. While conventional power can transform an Afghanistan or a Somalia, it takes the unconventional power of the cross to transform a Roman Empire.
The bin Laden school of theology will never understand that.
One danger to Christians after 9/11 is that fighting bin Ladenism can turn us into disciples of a countervailing cult of strength into disciples of Donald Rumsfeld, as it were, rather than Jesus of Nazareth.
But a second and rarer danger is that fighting cults of worldly power can turn Christians into worshippers of worldly weakness. Cragg's work sometimes turns the gospel into tragedy. In lifting up the cross, we forget about the tomb, where an equally powerful expression of God's love inaugurated a whole new world. Here liberation theologians and my fellow Pentecostals have something to say to Muslim and Constantinian triumphalists, Christian defeatists, and Nietzschean secularists. God's last word on our warring world is an empty tomb, not a bloody cross.
If I were an Indonesian Christian whose village is being slaughtered by Laskar Jihad, my hope would be in the Sunday that's coming, not just the Friday that's here. Our God is powerful. Incomparably so.
Bless you, Mr. Reynolds. Keep up the good work.
January 2, 2002
WELCOME, all zero of you readers. This is either the beginning of a marvelous new thing, or a career detour into wasted time.