Recently, a friend shared with me the correspondence he had had with a former female classmate now an Episcopal priestess in New York, over what she called “white supremacy” and “toxic masculinity,” and asked what I thought. After reading the exchanges, my response was very simple: given the ideological assumptions real discussion of those issues with her was probably not possible, barring some Road to Damascus conversion.
Of course, the views of my friend’s acquaintance are widely held among Christians these days, and not just among more leftist Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Methodist clergy, and their respective congregrations. The Catholic Church, once the unbreachable bastion of theological and social traditionalism, has in large part, certainly since Vatican II (1965), succumbed to a leftward march—with some notable exceptions (e.g., Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the Society of St. Pius X, The Remnant newspaper, etc.). And even among Evangelicals who are thought to be conservatives not only in theology and cultural matters but in social polity, wide fissures have occurred.
I remember a news item from two years ago that brings all this into focus, that, in fact, is emblematic of what infects much of contemporary Christianity. Back on September 29, 2017, a few weeks after the Charlottesville incident, an article appeared in the press, announcing the formation of an organization of Evangelical Protestant leaders, “Unifying Leadership”. This group of Evangelicals had issued an “Open Letter” to President Donald Trump.
Spearheaded by prominent Southern Baptists, including Dr. Steve Gaines, President of the Southern Baptist Convention; Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina; and controversial Baptist Russell Moore, the group urged President Trump to condemn the so-called “Alt-Right” movement, racism, and “white nationalism.” Co-signed initially by thirty-nine leaders of American Evangelical Protestantism, an equal number had, by October 3 of that year, added their endorsements, as well. At least ten members of the Southeastern Theological faculty had co-signed, and various other Evangelical Protestants, including leaders of the largely-black National Baptist Convention, had also added their signatures.
In addition to addressing theological and moral questions, there is nothing unusual about religious leaders speaking out on specific social questions. Indeed, arguably, it is imperative that on social and political issues which in some way affect or touch religious practice and belief, there is a requirement to do so. Certainly, there is a long history of Christian leaders addressing questions of justice, morality, and equity in a social context, based both upon Scripture and the continuous historic teachings and traditions of the Church.
During the past four decades, to cite one horrific example, orthodox Christians have spoken forthrightly on the issue of abortion, but not just in its moral context of unjustly taking a human life, but to the fact that it is the polity—the state, or more specifically, the legal system, that perpetrates, protects and perpetuates the practice. Thus, the boundaries between church and state are often profoundly blurred, and necessarily so.
The dictum of John Henry Cardinal Newman rings true: “At the base of all political issues, there is a religious question.” Religious truth must undergird and inform any state that seeks to rightly mete out and administer justice to its citizens. From the Church Fathers forward, from St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas there is the understanding that human society is governed not just by the ordinances of Natural Law—nature’s arrangement, regulation and settlement of our physical environment, but also by Divine Positive Law, whether from the Decalogue, the immutable doctrines found in Holy Writ, or by successive teachings of the Fathers of the Church, the Ecumenical Councils, and the incorporation of those truths socially and, eventually, politically.
The absolutely necessary requirement for any pronouncement or declaration grounded in this understanding must always be that its basis and essence be contained within Holy Scripture and within the continuity of Sacred Tradition, taught immemorially from the time of the Apostles and codified subsequently in the orthodox confessions and professions of faith and in practice.
Misunderstandings in either theology or history have led even the most well-intentioned advocates astray, into error and the eventual undermining of the Christian gospel, itself. The history of the Christian church is filled—replete—with examples of those whose reasoning floundered on the shoals of faulty premises, a lack of comprehension, or, even, personal and overweening pride.
The “Open Letter” to the president appeared in its origin to be motivated by good intentions: a desire to “condemn” a “hatred” based specifically on ethnicity. Certainly a foundation for such condemnation is contained within historic Christian teaching. Yet, there are in the “Open Letter’s” text very significant problems—applications of faulty reasoning and demonstrably false premises—which vitiated and, ultimately, undermined the statement, and, more seriously, demonstrated its assumption of a rhetorical expression and ideological sentiment that owe more to historic Marxist theory than to historic Christianity.
First, let us examine the language employed. The immediate observation is that these Evangelical notables, in their condemnation of the “Alt-Right,” “white nationalism,” and “racism,” failed to provide clear and unmistakable definitions of what they were condemning. Were they saying, for instance, that having pride in one’s own race or in one’s ethnic heritage equals racism? Were they denying the historically incontrovertible, preponderant role of white Europeans in the creation and governing of the American nation? In quoting author Jared Taylor, “thatrace is a biological fact and that it is a significant aspect of individual and group identity and that any attempt to create a society in which race can be made not to matter will fail,” were they denying the historical existence of race and the debate that continues about whether there are significant inherited and distinguishable biological characteristics that differentiate the races in varying degrees?
None of this—none of these points—necessarily implies “racism,” that is, the belief that one particular race is superior or better than another race. None of this discussion necessarily implies or should imply “hatred” by someone of one race against those of another race. Differences, of whatever form, whether just skin deep or genetic, or social, or cultural, or historical, do not imply hatred, or even discriminatory sentiments.
What did the authors of this letter mean when they employed the term “Alt-Right?” From appearances they focused on what they term “the white identity movement”: “the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists.” But, then, they continue on and declare: “It concerned many of us when three people associated with the alt-right movement were given jobs in the White House.”
Obviously, the intended reference here included Steve Bannon (who has since left the White House). But there is a serious problem in this not-so-veiled attack, a serious failure on their part of the required Christian virtue of Charity, not to mention Prudence and basic rationality. The grave injustice, the ideological legerdemain they commit is, essentially, to assume that the tendentious and nebulous accusations and character assassination mounted by the Mainstream Media against Bannon (and others like him) are true, without the proper and due investigation that honorable men, in justice, must pursue.
They implied, thus, that Bannon is: a racist, a white supremacist, potentially an anti-semite, and that he “associates” with Klansmen and Nazis. And they did so without proof, without anything but the assertions of punditry and publicists who work, broadcast and write for a Mainstream Media that is demonstrably and unabashedly pushing a cultural Marxist narrative, and for whom anyone to the right of Bernie Sanders is, ipso facto, a “rightwing extremist, a “racist,” or a “white supremacist.” The rather cavalier use of such “devil terms,” thrown about with abandon by supposedly scrupulously moral Christian leaders, is both scandalous and repulsive. Not only does it weaken their arguments, it makes a mockery of their feigned Christian concerns.
The document is also fraught with problematic assertions historically. Midway through their excoriation of the “Alt-Right,” the authors wrote, somewhat gratuitously: “Alt-right ideology does not represent constitutional conservatism. The Constitution promotes the dignity and equality of all people.”
As a statement of history that is simply not true. The Constitution of the United States, as confected by the Framers, does not speak of “equality of all people.” Indeed, it enshrined inequality and left untouched the rights of the individual states to legislate amongst themselves on such questions as voting, religious tests, and slavery. That was the stated intention, the open wish, of the Framers, and had it not been so, there would not have been an American republic.
And, indeed, even the Declaration of Independence, with its much quoted (and misunderstood) words about “equality” is referring explicitly to a narrow and demanded “equality” between the former American colonists and their erstwhile English brethren represented in parliament, not an equality of opportunity or condition between individuals living in the new republic. A clear reading of the documentation—the correspondence, the broadsides, the speeches leading up to and during and after the Declaration’s issuance—abundantly illustrates that, as the late Mel Bradford (in his study, Original Intentions), Barry Alan Shain (in his exhaustive, The Declaration of Independence in Historical Context), and others have shown, the document is clearly not a proclamation of the “universal [equal] rights of man,” similar to the French Revolutionary proclamation. (A good summary of Bradford’s arguments may be found in his lengthy essay, “The Heresy of Equality,” published in Modern Age, Winter 1976, at ).
But there is another, perhaps even more grievous, problem inherent in the “Open Letter”: Its assertion that an egalitarianism of not just opportunity but of, implicitly, condition is consistent with historic Christian theology and teaching. An historical consideration and analysis of this statement of belief belies its truthfulness as traditional Christian teaching.
The most illustrative means of demonstrating this come from Holy Scripture, itself, as well as from the its interpreters throughout the history of the Christian church. Perhaps one of the best examples, following the gloss of several of the Fathers of the Church and the exegesis of historic figures such as St. Thomas Aquinas and others, can be found in St. Matthew’s Parable of the Talents (Mt. 25: 14-25) (also found in St. Luke 19:12-19). Three servants are entrusted by their Master with, respectively, five, two and one talent, and directed to invest them properly. On the Master’s return, he finds that the servant entrusted with five talents has doubled their value, as has the second with his two talents. But the third has done nothing with his one talent but bury it in the ground. To the first and second servant the Master declares: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
But to the servant entrusted with only one talent, he states:
“Wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sow not and gather where I have not strewed. Thou oughtest therefore to have committed my money to the bankers; and at my coming I should have received my own with usury. Take ye away therefore the talent from him and give it him that hath ten talents. For to every one that hath shall be given, and he shall abound: but from him that hath not, that also which he seemeth to have shall be taken away. And the unprofitable servant cast ye out into the exterior darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [verses 26-30, Douay-Rheims Version]
We are not judged by God on what others do, we are not judged by what others have or make from their investments in life. We are judged by the satisfaction of our own potential, living up to our own very unique God-given model. That is our measure, not the social status or economic condition of our neighbor—or of Bill Gates or the Sultan of Brunei. I may have the “right” to vote when I turn eighteen, but not before; it is conferred on me by the Constitution of my state, not by God. The sixteen year old and the convicted ex-felon do not enjoy equal rights. And the Christian faith does not demand that they do.
The nature of humanity—the nature of things—is that inequality is the norm, inequality in wealth, inequality in the different aspects of our intelligence and abilities, inequality in the respective rights and very opportunities that may exist for us, and these are natural, part of the order ordained by God in Creation.
And, again, as the Parable indicates, it is not necessarily the man who is poor in talents who will gain the favor of the Master; indeed, it was the servant with five talents who fulfilled his mission and gained election. While the inequality of great wealth and superior position can well be an impediment—the difficulty of threading the eye of a needle—they aren’t necessarily exclusionary by any means.
The modern egalitarian idea does not come from traditional Christianity, nor from traditional Christian teaching. It is a proposition emitted from the fevered minds of 18th century Revolutionaries, taken over by more zealous advocates of 19th century Liberalism, and finally, utilized by 20th century Marxism as an attractive myth—a shibboleth and talismanic slogan to both subvert and convert Christians to a faith that is only a disfigured and fatal mirror image of its teachings
That it is employed by contemporary church leaders should not be that surprising, but that it be used by supposed conservatives and Evangelicals demonstrates just how far and just how deep the radical transformation and disintegration of traditional Christianity has progressed.