Friday, May 30, 2008

Thornwell on politics in church

Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Rev. John C. Hagee, and Father Michael Pfleger share at least one assumption: that politics has a place in the pulpit. Presbyterian pastor, educator, and theologian James Henley Thornwell (1812-1862) had something to say about that error.

A South Carolinian, Thornwell was instrumental in founding the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America. Southern Presbyterians set up their own denomination only after their Northern brethren, in the 1861 General Assembly, voted to make loyalty to the United States a religious obligation.

The Presbyterian Synod of South Carolina met in Abbeville in November of that year. While these ministers and elders were assembled, they unanimously declared their personal loyalty to their country. The Confederacy was struggling for its survival in an “ unjust, cruel, and tyrannical” war, its success “ the only hope of constitutional liberty, on this continent.” They went on to endorse President Davis’ call for a day of fasting and prayer. But the Abbeville resolution was passed by men acting, they were careful to emphasize, “ not in their ecclesiastical capacity as a court of Jesus Christ, but in their private capacity.” Despite the passions of war, they understood that the church must be above politics or even patriotism. Thornwell had taught them well.

The following quotations (taken from The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell, published in 4 volumes) speak to the sorry situation that exists in America today, as churchmen of the right and left, black and white, confuse their own opinions with the Gospel.

During the twenty-five years in which I have fulfilled my course as a preacher– all of which have been spent in my native State, and nearly all in this city [Columbia, South Carolina]– I have never introduced secular politics into the instructions of the pulpit. It has been a point of conscience with me to know no party in the State. Questions of law and public administration I have left to the tribunals appointed to settle them, and have confined my exhortations to those great matters that pertain immediately to the kingdom of God. I have left it to Cæ sar to take care of his own rights, and have insisted only upon the supreme rights of the Almighty. The angry disputes of the forum I have excluded from the house of the Lord. And while all classes have been exhorted to the discharge of their common duties, as men, as citizens, as members of the family, while the sanctions of religion have, without scruple, been applied to all the relations of life, whether public or private, civil or domestic, the grounds of dissension which divide the community into parties, and range its members under different banners, have not been permitted to intrude into the sanctuary. The business of a preacher, as such, is to expound the Word of God. He has no commission to go beyond the teaching of the Scriptures. He has no authority to expound to senators the Constitution of the State, nor to interpret for judges the law of the land. In the civil and political sphere the dead must bury their dead. [“ Sermon on National Sins,” CW4, 511]

The Church, it is true, is to declare and enforce revealed Truth, and, among other duties, she is to enjoin obedience to the powers that be. But when the question arises, who and what those powers are, and how far obedience must be carried, the Church must remit the answer to the civil tribunals of the land, and to the dictates of the individual conscience. She has no commission from her Lord to declare what form of government any people shall adopt, how long they shall continue to maintain it, or under what circumstances they shall change it. Her members, as citizens, may and should take an active part in all discussions of the kind, but her courts, as authoritative tribunals of Christ, must be as silent as their Master. General principles she may and must announce— the eternal principles of the moral law; but their concrete application to political constitutions and political changes does not fall within the limits of her power. [“ Reasons for Separate Organization,” CW4, 440]

If she [the church] undertakes to meddle with the things of Cæ sar, she must expect to be crushed by the sword of Cæ sar. If she condescends to put herself upon the level with the countless institutes which philanthropy or folly has contrived for the earthly good of the race, she must expect to share the fate of human devices and expedients. She is of God, and if she forgets that it is her Divine prerogative to speak in the name and by the authority of God– if she relinquishes the dialect of Canaan, and stoops to babble in the dialects of earth– she must expect to be treated as a babbler .... We have seen the experiment tried in certain quarters of reducing the Church to the condition of a voluntary society, aiming at the promotion of universal good. We have seen her treated as a contrivance for every species of reform— individual, social, political. We have seen her foremost, under the plea of philanthropy, in every species of moral knight-errantry, from the harmless project of a pin-cushion club, to the formation of conspiracies for convulsing governments to their very centre. The result has been precisely what might have been expected. Christ has been expelled from these pulpits, and almost the only Gospel which is left them is the gospel of the Age of Reason. [“ Theology as a Life in Individuals and in the Church,” CW2, 45– 47]

Jesus Christ is the only king in Zion— the Bible, the only statute-book He has given to His people, and whatever is beside, or contrary to it, is no part of the faith or duty of the Church. [“ The Revised Book of Discipline,” CW4, 312]

[T]he Church is not at liberty to speculate. She has a creed, but no opinions. When she speaks, it must be in the name of the Lord, and her only argument is Thus it is written. [“ The Relation of the Church to Slavery,” CW4, 384]

Friday, April 11, 2008


Demonstrators demanding freedom for Tibet, and protesting China's abysmal human rights record, created a furor around the world as the Olympic torch made its way from Greece to the site of the summer games in Beijing. The flame was actually extinguished on several occasions. Lost in the news coverage was the origin of the Olympic torch-bearing tradition.

It's not that old, and certainly doesn't go back to ancient Greece. As Chinese dictators hope to burnish the image of their regime in hosting the 2008 games, the XI Olympiad held in Berlin in 1936 was a grand opportunity for the Third Reich to put on a public relations spectacle. What better way to symbolize the supposed continuity of classical civilization with their own "New World Order" than to light a flame at Mt. Olympus and bear it to the capital of the Reich? A mirror made in Germany by the Zeiss corporation focused the sun to light a torch, fabricated of steel-clad magnesium by Krupp, which was then run by relay to Berlin, the event lovingly covered by Josef Goebbels. The route taken was through southeastern and central Europe, countries that would soon be overrun by the armed forces of National Socialism.

Hitler's Germany permitted capitalism but allowed no political freedom. It's only fitting that the People's Republic of China, today's largest fascist state, continue to carry the torch.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Is Racism Only a White Problem?

Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, the 8,000 member congregation where Barack Obama is a member, has finally garnered some of the scrutiny he so richly deserved. Sen. Obama, now that he is about to clinch the Democratic nomination for president, has at last distanced himself from his longtime friend.

"Hillary ain't never been called a nigger," observed the reverend on one occasion as he denounced the privileged Clinton and boosted Barack. Will the preacher's promotion of politics from the pulpit cause his church to lose its tax exempt status? You know the answer to that.

Will Rev. Wright's retirement quiet the controversy? Probably. But the problem is not just Wright, but the blatantly racist church he led. According to their own website, Obama's church promulgates a "Black Value System," and proclaims itself "a congregation which is Unashamedly Black." [Capitalized in the original.] "We are an African people, and remain 'true to our native land,' the mother continent, the cradle of civilization ... We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a Black worship service and ministries which address the Black Community."

If a white candidate belonged to some cult that promised to minister only to whites, held up something called a "white value system," and promoted Eurocentrism, would not that “church” be denounced— and rightly so? Aren’t all Christians to uphold their Creator’s value system?

The Bible clearly teaches that God is concerned about individuals and their relationship with Himself. He sent Jesus to die for the sins of mankind, and He calls all to repentance and salvation. If God is colorblind, can His church be anything less?
The problem here is double-mindedness on the part of those calling themselves Christian. Rev. Wright’s rhetorical indiscretions got him in trouble, but his church continues to promote racialist nonsense. When will this congregation—and its most prominent member—be called to account for the sin of racism?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Our "Civil Religion"

From The Myth of a Christian Nation, by Gregory A. Boyd:
"No version of the kingdom of the world is closer to the kingdom of God than others because it does its job relatively well. For God's kingdom looks like Jesus, and no amount of sword-wielding, however just it may be, can ever get a person, government, nation, or world closer to that. The kingdom of God is not an ideal version of the kingdom of the world; it's not something that any version of the kingdom of the world can aspire toward or be measured against. The kingdom of God is a completely distinct, alternative way of doing life."
"If you peal back the facade of the civil religion, you find that America is about as pagan as any country we could ever send missionaries to .... The fact that we have a quasi-Christian civil religion doesn't help; if anything, it hurts precisely because it creates the illusion in the minds of kingdom people that we are closer to the example of Jesus than we actually are."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Here they go again

Liberals claim to be outraged over supposedly “racist” and “inflammatory” statements made in a Ron Paul publication fifteen or twenty years ago, by a staff writer unknown to the congressman. We’re still waiting for the media to mention another presidential candidate’s church. To refresh your memory we repeat our comments first posted here, on the SCLoS Historian blog, on August 26 of last year:


The church in question, it was discovered, openly promulgates a “White Value System,” and proclaims itself “a congregation which is Unashamedly White.” “We are a European people, and remain ‘true to our native land,’ the mother continent, the cradle of civilization … We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a White worship service and ministries which address the White Community.”

Don’t get excited. This is all made up. But can’t you imagine the “breaking news,” the denunciations by civil rights leaders, the candidate stuttering to explain, and then withdrawing in disgrace?

Well, it’s not entirely made up. The statements quoted above are taken from the website of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, the 8,000-member congregation where Dr. Jeremiah Wright is senior pastor. And where Sen. Barack Obama is a member. All we’ve done is insert the words “White” in place of “Black,” and “European” in place of “African.”

No need to dwell on the liberal double-standard when it comes to the “R-word.” We all know how that works. What seems most striking though, is this church’s double-mindedness. Shouldn’t Christians seek to uphold their Creator’s value system, not one based on race (whatever that means)? Those in Rev. Wright’s flock may prefer the company of those who look like themselves, but the Savior’s church cannot be built on bigotry.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Lincoln's Unnecessary War

Liberal sensitivities were shocked one more time when presidential candidate Ron Paul suggested that the American “ Civil War” didn't have to happen. AOL went on to conduct a poll, asking people if they too believe that Lincoln was wrong to wage the most costly war in American history. As of this writing over 90,000 have responded, with the YES vote in 31 states prevailing. Granted, it's not a scientific survey, but we can only conclude that thinking people are beginning to question Lincoln and his war.

The real Lincoln is very different from the demigod generations of Americans have been taught to worship. Some admirers claim that Lincoln was a “benevolent dictator.” Judge Andrew Napolitano responded to this in his recent book, The Constitution in Exile. “The numerous civilians who were injured by Lincoln’s troops, the citizens whose homes were burned and destroyed, and the parents and wives who lost their loved ones in the … War would certainly not have called him a ‘benevolent dictator.’” Judge Napolitano concluded that “The bloodiest war in American history could have been avoided. But, with very little regard for honesty, Lincoln increased federal power and assaulted the Constitution.”

Thomas DiLorenzo, in his groundbreaking book The Real Lincoln, made it very clear what “saving the Union” meant: “[Lincoln] wanted to use military force to destroy once and for all the doctrines of federalism and states’ rights that had, since the founding of the republic, frustrated ambitious politicians like himself who wanted a highly centralized and greatly enlarged state.” Lincoln destroyed the voluntary Union of the states, replacing it with a consolidated, coercive government the Founding Fathers would not have recognized.

Prof. DiLorenzo likened Lincoln's “saving the Union” to a man who was abusing his wife, causing her to leave him. The man goes out and grabs her, beats her up, drags her back into the house, and says, “If you leave again I'll kill you!” Can that man be applauded for having “saved the marriage” ?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Total war had made its lethal debut"

"By the end of the [Civil War] the process of radicalization made possible by identifying war aims with a humanitarian cause had turned the conflict into a merciless and bloody war of attrition in which the Confederacy did not figure as a real state with any legitimate humanitarian claim to existence. Southerners had become in the eyes of their opponents subhuman demons defending a reactionary order, a dark power dedicated to block the forward march of emancipatory progress. One need only read the newspaper accounts of the day to understand that this is no exaggeration. Confederate efforts to reach a settlement were thus rebuffed and 'total' war had made its lethal debut.
"The history of the modern age is written largely in celebration of this disastrous shift in ethical authority. Those who oppose it are depicted as history’s villains when they lose. The million young Southern men who tolerated four years of merciless deprivation and war, convinced as they fell that they were defending their homes and families, now figure in our national story as bigoted racists who devoted their efforts to the utterly unjust defense of a repressive and anti-humanitarian status quo. Their very battle flag has become a symbol of evil."

Dr. T. H. Pickett, "War, Power, and Supremacy:
A Conservative Interpretation," Modern Age, Summer 2006, pages 200 and 204.