Tuesday, 29 July 2008

God's politics? A response to Jim Wallis (Part One)

A guest-series by Douglas Harink

Part 1: The Ecclesia Called America

As a Canadian, I have asked myself whether a Canadian Christian would be likely ever to write such a book as this for the Canadian political context. It seems very unlikely indeed, for at least a couple of reasons.

In the first place, the very phrase “God’s politics” would strike many or most Canadians either as ridiculous – because “religion,” which is where God belongs, is its own thing and politics is quite another; or it would strike us as dangerous – because look what happens when people with strong religious convictions make them operative in the realm of politics: you get the likes of Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush. Canadians by and large studiously observe the separation of religion and politics. Just ask Canadian politicians, even the conservative ones, who have tried to get votes by playing the God-card. It might win them some votes from a few conservative Christians, but it is more likely to lose them the election.

On the other hand, Jim Wallis shouldn’t worry too much about that for Canada’s sake, because in Canada we have a social and political landscape that is much closer to the vision that Wallis holds dear than in the United States. And we don’t need to have faith, religion or God to get us there. We have no need of that hypothesis. If God and faith are good for American politics, as Wallis is convinced they are, in Canada we know better than that. Maybe a lot of Democrats have a hunch that we are right, in which case, rather than “getting it” from Jim Wallis, they are more likely to tell him to get lost.

Here’s another odd Canadian phenomenon. It seems that many evangelical Christians in Canada are not too worried about the godless politics of our nation. You do not often hear them clamouring for more God-talk from Canadian politicians. What’s wrong with these Canadian evangelical Christians anyway? Are they simply good examples of the privatization of religion that Wallis decries? Well, there may be some truth to that. The idea that religion is a matter of strictly private conviction and practice is deeply ingrained in the Canadian psyche. The very idea that God and politics might be jammed together as in Wallis’s title, makes most Canadians, including evangelicals Christians, nervous. And I want to come back to that point in a minute, because if that is the case, I think it is a problem. But I think there is something else going on here which makes a book like God’s Politics inconceivable in a Canadian context.

Imagine Jim Wallis, as he presents himself in this book, as a Christian preacher, preaching to a congregation, the people of God. Now ask, who is that congregation? It is not in fact a congregation of the sanctorum communio, nor is it a denomination, nor is it even all the Christians in America. The assembly or congregation which Wallis addresses in the book is the American people itself, the nation. That is clear throughout the book. For example, after Sept 11, 2001, he writes, “the future of politics must become a discourse about values, which includes moral and religious ones. We should talk less about the ideological categories of Left and Right, and more about what kind of people we want to be, what kind of community, what kind of world” (p. 68, emphasis added).

Or, consider this example: “Most of the biblical prophets (whom we pass over week after week in our congregations) would offer a quite searing indictment of contemporary American society. Specifically, that we have become a nation of endangered souls and that our society and politics are governed by values quite foreign to the heart of our religious traditions…. How does a nation of endangered souls recover an authentic faith that is true to the gospel, the example of Jesus, the witness of the prophets, and the crushing needs of our time?” (p. 36, emphases added).

The assembly of the people of God whom Wallis addresses here, and whom he assumes the prophets and Jesus would be addressing, is America, a society and a nation of “endangered souls.” It is about this assembly that Wallis asks how it can “recover an authentic faith that is true to the gospel.” It is more than a little interesting, by the way, that actual congregations and churches are not mentioned as the locus of this recovery of authentic faith, but are in fact included as groups within the larger assembly of God’s people, America.

As we discover in many places in the book, actual church congregations are presented as making a contribution to the larger assembly. For example, Wallis writes, “When either party [Republicans or Democrats] tries to politicize God, or co-opt religious communities for their political agendas, they make a terrible mistake” (p. xiv). But the terrible mistake is not that the political parties expect “religious communities” to make a useful contribution to the nation, but that they expect that usefulness to be merely partisan. Instead, Wallis writes, “The best contribution of religion is precisely not to be ideologically predictable nor loyally partisan. Both parties, and the nation, must let the prophetic voice of religion be heard. Faith must be free to challenge both right and left from a consistent moral ground” (p. xiv). The message of Isaiah and Amos must be heard in the ecclesia of God’s American people because these prophets proclaim, Wallis writes, “the kind of talk we don’t want to hear much these days in America. But we need it” (p. 247). When preacher Jim says “we” he invariably means, not the church of Jesus Christ, but the assembly of his fellow Americans.

Two decades or so ago, Stanley Hauerwas complained that “the subject of Christian ethics in America is America,” that is, “the first subject of Christian ethics is how to sustain the moral resources of American society” (Against the Nations, p. 36). It would be hard to find a better example of that than Jim Wallis’s book, God’s Politics. One of the subtitles of the book makes it explicit: the book is “A New Vision for Faith and Politics in America.” The subject of this book on Christian politics is indeed American politics. Old habits die hard, it seems.

Doug Harink will conclude this series tomorrow.

26 Comments:

d. w. horstkoetter said...

Well done, Prof. Harink. Its a good set-up and I'm eager for tomorrow.

IndieFaith said...

As a fellow Canuck I am often tempted to drift into American politics because it seems so much accessible and flashy. The whole context lends itself to theological discourse. Who would you point to in the contemporary Canadian landscape writing on Canadian politics. Travis Kroeker at McMaster is doing good work but I am not sure he writes on Canadian issues. I think there is a guy at the Lutheran Seminary in Waterloo but I wasn't left with a good taste for him after I heard him speak.
Perhaps we should just leave well enough alone!

kim fabricius said...

In the UK too, as the spin doctor Alistair Campbell, playing Aaron to Moses, famously interrupting Tony Blair when the Prime Minister was asked at an interview about his faith, said: "We don't do God." Public displays of religion and piety are a political liability in Britain. Of course the UK, or rather England (and, at least culturally, Scotland and Wales too), has its own form of exceptionalism, but its patriotic discourse is not theological - the Queen stands in loco Dei - so there is no place for Winthrop's-to-Reagan's "city upon a hill" biblical rhetoric.

Douglas, you have nicely set the table. I get the feeling that the main course is going to be something like Pelops on a paten.

mattn said...

Thank you for your thoughts on Jim Wallis’s book. As an American that has lived in Canada (my son is Canadian), Uganda, Greece as well as 3 states, I enjoyed your perspective. We Americans make many assumptions regarding morality and the often-argued “Christian foundation” of our nation. I often miss the “faithful” past that many reflect upon and wish to return. I do have hesitation and like you mention see problems regarding confining faith to the private sphere. How can transformation be limited to one aspect of life? I look forward to your next installment.

Danny said...

I do not see why the subject of Hauerwas's ethics is any less American than Wallis. The fact that many believe he somehow escapes this criticism constitutes a failure to contextualize Hauerwas and his generation. For instance, I could mention a dozen similiraties between Hauerwas and Rev. Jeremiah Wright. As such, I suppose Wallis is as relevant to Canada as Hauerwas would be to a country like Germany. That is, Hauerwas would be hard to make sense of in certain places because his theology is inherently American.

Anonymous said...

Canadian Christians may believe in separating their faith from the government. But the Canadian government has no problem interfering in matters of faith. Most recently, Rev. Boission of Alberta was ordered not to preach against homosexuality. Are Canadian Christians a model of political self restraint or quietistic defeat?

d. w. horstkoetter said...

Danny, you're right that to some degree the state divides, even for those who don't want it to. However, there is a difference between having a contextual ecclesiology and having one's ecclesiology be the USA.

Evan said...

If Harink interprets Wallis through something like Hauerwas' ecclesial ethics, then of course it will look like "ecclesiology as the USA" rather than a "contextual ecclesiology". But Wallis isn't speaking from this perspective. That Wallis decides to speak of the Christian prophetic voice and ethics at work in the public context of a pluralist nation-state doesn't mean his scope of political discourse is coterminous with his understanding of the Church. That Wallis decides to speak about meaningful community outside of the communion of the faithful does not tie him to those who dismiss all such extra-ecclesial communities for the grandeur of their notion of the Church.

As to American exceptionalism, I'd have to see Wallis contrasting American life with life in other countries disparagingly to be convinced of that. That he focuses on the American context and a Canadian blogger interprets it as exceptionalism simply isn't an adequate demonstration of the fact. Call us isolationist or self-absorbed if you will, but I for one am always confused as to why non-Americans eagerly follow American culture and then somehow project this fixation onto us.

Summary: 1) Wallis seems to separate Church and nation in his consideration, and thus the critique that reads a "patriotic ecclesiology" in him seems to depend upon reading his politics through lenses that are not his. 2) Likewise, charges of exceptionalism should probably pull from Wallis an actual critique of "the un-american" rather than simply his exclusive discourse about America if it is to make a convincing argument for anything more than an American concerned with his own community.

Halden said...

@ Danny,

It's certainly one thing to say that Hauerwas's theology is American in the sense that his sensibilities and priorities are often determined by his social location as an American theologian. That, however, is quite a different matter from saying that the subject of his theological ethics is America in the same sense as Wallis' ethics are. The former is a descriptive, contextual claim, the latter is a normative one. Certainly there may be legitimate criticisms of Hauerwas to be made, but the notion that Hauerws is doing the same thing as Wallis when he does theological ethics is simply absurd, regardless of what legitimate criticisms of Hauerwas we should be me making. I don't think that Doug's point goes much further than that. Hauerwas and Wallis have a very different self-understanding of what they are doing in their theological-ethical work. That much seems pretty undeniable to me.

@ Evan,

Only regarding your first point, namely the notion that, for Wallis, "his scope of political discourse is" ostensibly not "coterminous with his understanding of the Church." The very notion that a Christian theological understanding of political discourse would not be coterminous with our understanding of the church is to make quite a radical ecclesiological claim, namely that the church can be described without reference to the political. If, as you imply, public, political discourse about community, the common good, etc. is one thing and ecclesiology another, that seems to presuppose the very problem that Harink and Hauerwas are calling into question. In other words, you are assuming (for all practical purposes, I doubt you'd want to describe yourself this way) that the church in itself is apolitical, and therefore discussions of politics, such as the one advanced by Wallis should not be taken to indicate a defunct ecclesiology, because after, all, ecclesiology and politics are different things. What Harink, Hauerwas, and I would want to say is that any notion of the church which claims that a theopolitical vision is not coterminous with our understanding of the church is already defunct.

This may simply put me among those you describe as dwelling too much in "the grandeur of their notion of the Church." But I'm fine with that in that, to my reading, Scripture and the Tradition seem to view the church in just such grand term! : )

R.O. Flyer said...

Great critique, Doug. Evan and Halden's disagreement here really gets at the heart of the conflict between Wallis and Hauerwas. Wallis sees America as the "public" space -the place where the church can participate in politics, in the "wider" world; Hauerwas doesn't really believe such a place allows the church to be public at all -for the church is a public in its own right. The church, then, is "wider" than the world. And this is why Hauerwas thinks ecclesiology is the church's politics.

Danny said...

No where did I suggests that Hauerwas and Wallis are doing the the same theological ethics, but simply that “the subject of both their inquires is America”. Of course with Hauerwas this expressed in an entirely negative fashion.

Let me reference Stephen Webb's interesting article, "The Very American Stanley Hauerwas" which demonstrates in number of ways how American Hauerwas's theology really is. Nothing is more applepie than American religios sectarianism.

Danny said...

No where did I suggests that Hauerwas and Wallis are doing the the same theological ethics, but simply that “the subject of both their inquires is America”. Of course with Hauerwas this expressed in an entirely negative fashion.

Let me reference Stephen Webb's interesting article, "The Very American Stanley Hauerwas" which demonstrates in number of ways how American Hauerwas's theology really is. Nothing is more applepie than American religios sectarianism.

Halden said...

That would really depend on what you mean by "the subject of both their inquiries", inquiries being the key word. But, regardless, that wasn't Doug's point in the post. Rather he noted Hauerwas's comment that "the subject of Christian ethics in America is America”. By this Hauerwas means that Christians have wrongly assumed that the way of life appropriate to Christian claims somehow has immediate reference to those who are not Christians.

Doug's point was to highlight a material difference between Wallis and Hauerwas as to what the proper subjects of theological ethics are. None of this need imply that the concerns addressed by Hauerwas are not concerns that are distinctly American, nor is that fact, in itself any problem at all. The issue is a material one: what sort of self-understand should Christians have about their ethical claims and who they apply to. Hauerwas and Wallis are giving different answers to precisely that question, and that is what Doug was pointing out.

JM said...

Prof. Harink, You make a really good point about religion in the Canadian political sphere. I've observed before that in the US you'll never become president without being overtly Christian. In Canada it is now impossible for an outspoken Christian to become PM.

Of course Harper is a Christian, and an Evangelical no less. He's even said "God Bless Canada" a few times. Even that was enough to ruffle a few feathers. On the whole though, he's kept his religious convictions safely out of site.

In the previous Liberal governments both Martin and Chrétien kept their Catholic faiths completely out of their political lives. This dualism is the expectation in Canada: when you act in the name of the public office you are obliged to surrender whatever beliefs you may hold and assume the vague convictions of the liberal secular state.

Evan said...

[from Halden] "The very notion that a Christian theological understanding of political discourse would not be coterminous with our understanding of the church is to make quite a radical ecclesiological claim, namely that the church can be described without reference to the political."

This is where I think you (and Harink, and perhaps Hauerwas) are confusing things. You begin by talking about a "Christian theological understanding of political discourse" and then you switch to criticizing the idea that "the church can be described without reference to the political."

So what are we talking about here?

Is Wallis giving us an understanding of political discourse, or a description of the Church? My point is that he's not trying to give us a description of the church in the first place, and so we have no grounds to accuse him of saying that "the church can be described without reference to the political" (funny, wasn't the original critique that he described the Church in terms of America?! Wallis seems to be all things to all opponents!).

That politics and the Church are not coterminous does not mean that the Church bears no reference to the political, or politics to the Church. It simply means that they're not the same thing.


For myself, I'm actually rather close to Hauerwas on a lot of points and I've never been too enthused about Wallis, but I don't think that the Church as a public excludes the possibility of other publics working constructively with it. While I'd agree with r.o. flyer that Wallis' particular conception of the public may present problems for the Church, I don't think that should lead to an irresponsible exaggeration that reads him as talking about an ecclesial America. He simply isn't. He's talking about faith and politics in America, and his conception of America is irreconcilable with Hauerwas' conception of the Church. But this says nothing directly about whether Wallis is handing over Peter's keys to the nations. It simply says that Hauerwas wouldn't have written God's Politics, something I think we all already knew.

Halden said...

"Is Wallis giving us an understanding of political discourse, or a description of the Church?"

But that's precisely the problem, you can't do one without doing the other. I didn't mean to imply that "politics" and "church" just mean the same thing in a univocal fashion, only to say that the terms are so very much intertwined that one could not give a theological description of one without simultaneously giving or implying one of the other.

And that is exactly what Wallis in fact does in the book. He clearly is operating with a very clear understanding of the church in his book, and in that book the church functions solely as a social agent which is a means to his larger end of making America more just. All of this clearly implies an ecclesiology, and indeed a sort of political cosmology in which it is truly the nations, and in this case, specifically America that are the bearer of the meaning of history and it is through apparatus' that we hope for justice. This is, I think, the major problem with his project.

I also didn't mean to imply that I don't think the church can work with other publics, I certainly belief that we can, though how and in what ways must be very carefully discerned. I am just very wary of forms of theopolitical discourse like Wallis's which seems to cede the definition of the "public" entirely to the nation-state.

Evan said...

"If, as you imply, public, political discourse about community, the common good, etc. is one thing and ecclesiology another, that seems to presuppose the very problem that Harink and Hauerwas are calling into question."

Exactly, and I wouldn't argue with a critique like this. But my point is precisely the inverse- that critiquing Wallis on these grounds presupposes the very conception of the Church that Wallis calls into question (a sectarian either/or), and bases the idea of Wallis' supposed "ecclesia called America" on a Hauerwasian idea that he wouldn't own. I'm not so much defending Wallis' own points as I am rejecting certain critiques of him.

Doug Harink said...

Thanks to all for the comments so far. Thanks also to d.w. horstkoetter, R.O. Flyer, and Halden for making a number of responses that I would have made. Halden in particular goes to the heart of the issues raised by Danny and Evan. I agree that Hauerwas is American (even worse, Texan, which I don't think is the good thing he thinks it is), and perhaps cannot be adequately understood apart from that context. Perhaps there's only one way he could be less American and more Christian, and that is by being more catholic than he actually is: that is, more externally bound to, more obedient to, more inexplicable apart from, less voluntarily related to the visible body politic of Jesus Christ than he is. I think Hauerwas would agree that as long as you think of yourself primarily as "choosing" to be Christian in America, you are probably more American than Christian. And in general I think he tries to avoid voluntarist accounts of being Christian; but, as a Methodist, he likely finds it difficult to embrace a robust doctrine of the election of God's people, which I think is essential to the church's political witness. "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9).

As to "contextualizing ecclesiology" (an interesting ambiguity there): The gospel contextualizes everything. As long as it is thought necessary for the church to "contextualize" the gospel, it has already failed in its witness. The church is ingredient in the gospel, not something in addition to it. Therefore, ecclesiology cannot be contexualized either, that is, thought in terms of something "wider," more real, and more determinative than itself -- a point that d.w., R.O., and Halden have each also made. The church in America or Canada or anywhere else must contextualize those powers in terms of the gospel, and therefore in terms of itself as God's elect nation, not the other way around. Wallis has lost sight of that in a fundamental way, as I think tomorrow's post might make more clear. (Oddly, Wallis [in a conversation I had with him] pitched Yoder against Hauerwas on this score, claiming that Yoder's notion of "middle axioms" supports Wallis's whole agenda in this book. But all I read in God's Politics is an updated version of Reinhold Niebuhr's "realism.")

I did not claim that Wallis is an American exceptionalist -- I don't think he is, and he makes that pretty clear in the book. Nor is his a "patriotic ecclesiology." He is not Stephen Webb. My point is that Wallis thinks that Jesus and the prophets speak directly to the American people, calling them as a people to a way of life, irrespective of whether there is a church in America or not. Perhaps it "helps" that the church is there, but Wallis's preaching about "God's politics" is not intrinsically about the church, or to the church. That represents a failure, not to understand the current political moment, but to understand the gospel itself, which is God's power to call out from the nations a PEOPLE for his name -- a people in whom God's cruciform politics takes concrete shape in its internal and external relations.

A comment about Canada: Anonymous asks whether Canadian Christians are a model of political self-restraint or quietistic defeat. Or, a victim of intimidation by the liberal media, or by the often arbitrary and bullying Human Rights Commissions. Possibly all of the above, and more. I am not arguing that it is any better that the "G" word cannot be spoken in Canadian politics than that it cannot not be spoken in America. What is equally troubling in Canada as in America is the state of the church. The mainstream (more liberal) denominations in Canada used to have the kind of political power that the evangelicals do in the US. No doubt their "translation" of the gospel into a socio-political agenda for the nation has had a great deal to do with their demise not only as a political voice, but also as a church. Who needs all that God-talk and all those churches if the nation, precisely in its secularity, embodies all that the gospel has to offer? The nation has become the church (and the "church" has accepted its role in the private "religious" sphere, from which it may make "prophetic" announcements to the nation-as-church). The only difference between Canada and the US is in the "values" (a word Wallis likes a lot) that the nation-as-church embodies, and the fact that the US thinks it needs "God" as the backer of those values. What Wallis wants is many of the Canadian socio-political values, but he needs to use the "G" word to persuade his evangelical audience. In either case (US or Canada), however, the church fails to understand itself, to take itself more seriously than the nation, to see its own cruciform political life as a proclamation of the gospel to the powers, apart from which the nations will fail to hear, and be saved.

Doug Harink said...

A note in response to IndieFaith about Travis Kroeker. Kroeker is one of the very best Canadian theologians (from whom I have learned a great deal), working on, among other things, political ethics. However, following Augustine, Yoder and O'Donovan, he thinks that in order to do that Christianly, you must speak in the first place about the messianic political reality called church. The way for a Canadian Christian theologian to address political issues in Canada, is to give an account of the church as a body politic.

Chris Donato said...

"But all I read in God's Politics is an updated version of Reinhold Niebuhr's 'realism'."

That's exactly what I was thinking, or put differently to fit the circles I travel in: "Kuyperian Transformationalism." Wallis is, essentially, the Falwell of the Left.

"Give me [separation] or give me death."

Christian Baptist said...

In the first place, the very phrase “God’s politics” would strike many or most Canadians either as ridiculous – because “religion,” which is where God belongs, is its own thing and politics is quite another; or it would strike us as dangerous – because look what happens when people with strong religious convictions make them operative in the realm of politics: you get the likes of Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush.

There are a lot of assumptions and presuppositions in this one thought that mark the beginning of this discussion. (1) It is very presumptuous to tell God where his place is (unless God is merely a theoretical idea). (2) It shows a certain hubris on the part of the Canadian people because in their secular humanist mind they are in fact sovereign over God. (3) It assumes that religion is dangerous and leads to the most horrible evils in the world, though the worst atrocities committed in modern human history were perpetrated at the hands of atheistic secular states (i.e. USSR, China, NAZI to name a few).(4) It assumes religion belongs in the private sphere and not the public sphere which in my opinion is perhaps one of the worst examples of intolerance that can be perpetrated against a population.

In the end, I guess it is easier to focus on the dust in the neighbor's eye than the plank in one's own eye (See anonymous' example). As a minister and theologian-in-training, I would rather live in a society where speaking openly about matters of faith, politics, and life are not considered taboo or "illegal" speech.

Doug Harink said...

A note in response to Evan. You wrote:

"... critiquing Wallis on these [Hauerwasian] grounds presupposes the very conception of the Church that Wallis calls into question (a sectarian either/or), and bases the idea of Wallis' supposed "ecclesia called America" on a Hauerwasian idea that he wouldn't own. I'm not so much defending Wallis' own points as I am rejecting certain critiques of him."

This seems an odd argument. You seem to say that you reject those critiques of Wallis that don't share his fundamental ecclesiological assumptions -- in fact that such critiques are illegitimate. It's not clear to me why one would have to adopt Wallis's assumptions in order to critique him; indeed, there would then be no need to do so. We have a fundamental disagreement about ecclesiologies here, which requires arguments for one or the other. That's the point.

IndieFaith said...

The way for a Canadian Christian theologian to address political issues in Canada, is to give an account of the church as a body politic.
Thanks Doug, that is actually quite helpful.

Evan said...

That's not quite what I'm trying to say. I actually happily agree with most of the critiques that have been made against Wallis here, in your post or in comments that follow. While I'm not sold on all that he says, I'm much closer to Hauerwas than I am to Wallis on these issues. The part of the critique that I don't agree with is the ecclesiology that you and some others have attributed to Wallis... your "ecclesia as America" and Horstkoetter's "having one's ecclesiology be the USA". That is, I reject the critiques that don't share his fundamental ecclesiological assumptions and try to put words in his mouth on the basis of these differing assumptions. It's the totalizing rhetoric of Hauerwas (or R.O., or some of the other very robust theologies out there these days) that seems to go overboard in their deconstruction efforts. What I see happening is, "Wallis says X, but X really implies Y, so Wallis is saying Y"... and I don't think this way of arguing recognizes that if Wallis doesn't understand X to imply Y, he really doesn't intend to say Y and shouldn't be interpreted as such, even if X does indeed imply Y. It's a matter of hermeneutical charity that I don't think is always present in these projects of genealogy or subversion.

Putting all that aside, I must also say that I was born in Houston and, though I moved away at the tender age of 2, I am compelled to reject your critique of Hauerwas and his Texan heritage.

Halden said...

Evan, I see your point, but let me press you a bit further. I don't think anyone is going so far as to put words in Wallis's mouth, but are simply pointing out that what he says in his book has implications that are very problematic vis a vis his other purported allegiances and priorities (i.e. being and "evangelical" Christian). Put differently, Wallis seems to be speaking about of both sides of his mouth and we're trying to pierce through the doublespeak.

I appreciate that you are seeking a hermeneutic of charity, certainly that is needed. But sometimes we also need to play rough, especially, I think, in matters as fundamental as notions of identity and allegiance. These are the things that people kill and die for, so we must not softpedal things for the sake of serendipity. Not saying that you are encouraging people to do that, only saying that for some of us the importance of this issue precludes us adopting a hermeneutic that is gratuitously generous.

From my perspective, the whole point of doing theology, of making theological claims and writing them down in a venue to be read by others is for the express purpose of getting people to draw implications from what is said. In other words, having read quite a bit of Wallis's work, from the early days on, I think it is very safe to say that in this case X does indeed imply Y, and that Wallis does intend to say Y. That certainly doesn't mean that he would agree with our way of describing what he's saying, but that's the point its a material disagreement. In other words, Wallis almost certainly wouldn't say that he believes America is the church, but when America qua America becomes to primary reference point and subject of his theological claims and advice, it just seems that an ecclesialization of America has taken place whether he admits it or not.

Doug Harink said...

Just to pick up quickly on the Texan strand. There is of course a reason why H. plays the Texan card from time to time (ok, many times). It's because being Texan is not something he chose, it's something he is "involuntarily." It's more basic for him than being American, not to mention that Texas has something like its own 'national' identity (not unlike Quebec in Canada). That enables H. to gain a measure of critical distance from being 'merely' American. I think he would agree that in that sense Texas is the kind of thing that the church must be, namely that unique socio-political reality apart from which I do not know who I am, and in view of which all other ways of saying who I am are somewhat optional. The church should enable all of its members to know themselves as "elect exiles of the diaspora" as Peter characterizes them -- God's chosen people who are, by virtue of that fact, both not at home in their own 'natural' political contexts, and who may also be freely there as witnesses to the coming new order of which the church is an anticipation.

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