03 September 2012

Putin and a Punk Band- Sacral Russia and American Evangelical Silence

Sacralist minded American Evangelicals have long hoped for some form of synthesis between Church and State. While they generally eschew a formal or legal union with an Established Church, they want the two 'spheres' to work in a symbiotic relationship.

The political leaders should be members of and thus accountable to the Church.[i]

The Church helps to define key moral and theological concepts which guide the state and it grants legitimacy to the state, conceptually, theologically and by implication (in a Sacralist framework) democratically.

When a political office holder violates the teachings of the Church, he is disciplined, censured, or excommunicated....thus losing his political standing and legitimacy.

The Church doesn't micromanage the affairs of the state or engage in the ebb and flow of political deliberation, the technicalities and procedural details of jurisprudence, nor the technocratic aspects of policy.

The Church largely addresses the state on a macro- or ideological level.

Under the Sacralist paradigm, the state is to promote law and order, defend the land, and to promote the official (if formally unconstituted) religion.

The state is to promote and to protect the Sacral religion.

In Western Christendom this was the default political order. The Church informed and in many senses regulated the State. One of the narratives of the Middle Ages concerned this struggle over the question of the state, its obligations to the Church, and the state's own self interest.[ii] This led to substantial conflict.

The Reformation actually marked in many ways a triumph of the state. [iii] It was an empowered state meant to be held accountable to the Church, but this did not always come to pass. In addition the Church in the Reformation and post-Reformation narrative specifically looked to the state as a means of protection.

In the East, if I can make a sweeping generalization, the Church was generally subordinate to the interests of the state. This is the phenomenon known as Caesaropapism....the king or emperor is the de facto head of the Church.

It's interesting comparing and contrasting the role of the Roman Catholic Church in Franco's Spain, or much of Italian history under the Popes vis-a-vis the Protestant Established Churches. While the Northern European Protestant tradition generally eschewed Caesar-type figures (with some exceptions like Cromwell or Adolphus, certainly a Hitler)...these states have de facto exercised a similar level of control over the Church.

Maybe the difference is they have not looked to the Church for political support in the same way the Byzantine Emperors did. This also might have much to do with the tide of cultural secularism which began in earnest by the late 16th century. The Wars of Religion and the Reformation itself in many ways opened the door for the modern world and the secularism that came with it.

Leaders like Franco empowered the already existing ecclesiastical bureaucracies while the Northern political tradition looked more to crafting new forms of governmental agency instead of reforming and revising ecclesiastical bodies in order for them to aid the government. The technocratic tradition runs deep in Enlightenment Europe, something with much more shallow roots in traditional Catholic societies.

Regardless of these differences, all the systems share the same Sacralist root. And all these tensions and parties enumerated above find some kind of ideological if not practical similarity to factions within the American Christian Right. In every case the aims and goals somehow coincide with historical precedent. For example I think a Santorum government would have (if enabled) approached very closely to what we saw in Spain under Franco. I'm speaking of the role of the Church in society, its enforcement and the militarism that usually comes with that type of social arrangement. I could also argue that someone like Bush saw himself very much in the role of Oliver Cromwell or Gustavus Adolphus.[iv]

I therefore find it strange that the Evangelical Church has proven so silent with regard to the current controversy finishing its course within the Russian legal system.

By now I would assume most have heard of the female Russian punk band 'Pussy Riot' and the anti-Putin demonstration they staged within a Moscow cathedral. Escaping arrest at the time, when the video went viral on the internet, they were charged with anti-religious hooliganism.

Don't these laws reflect something of what American Sacralists would hope for? Don't they want laws that would protect the Church from insult?[v]

The neo-Tsar Vladimir Putin commented on the case condemning their actions, demanding punishment, but also arguing for a degree of clemency.

Isn't this the proper Sacral role for the head of state?

Why aren't American Evangelicals praising Putin and the Russian system? Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church[vi] has been steadily reforming and returning to its historic relationship with the Kremlin.

Increasingly the Russian Orthodox Church is being granted in voice in policy, especially in terms of shaping the religious narrative and culture for Russian society. Protestantism is at this point an established Russian sub-cultural tradition and tolerated. But Jehovah's Witnesses and others have faced considerable difficulties within the Russian legal system. Many believe the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarchate have played no small role in this.

Isn't this what a Sacral Ruler is supposed to do? Protect the land from foreign influence and foreign heresy?

I would think many American Evangelicals would have spoken out in support of the Russian state when it comes to this issue. Why not?

They might argue that they don't wish to support the Putin dictatorship? Why not?

They have consistently argued that democracy does not work in a society that has lost its social consensus. Watchdog/monitoring organizations would be required, perhaps an oligarchical guardian council to ensure the values of the Republic are maintained in the light of considerable democratic opposition.

While Putin's motives are certainly power related...and they're naive if they ever think it's anything different with any ruler... in the end he's doing what needs to be done in order to support traditional Russian society. He's supporting the Russian Orthodox Church and no surprise it is supporting him.

It seems to be a golden moment for the American Sacralist Enterprise to point to a social and political example and say...that's how it should be done.

But they don't. Why? Are they willing to place politics over ideology? Are they willing to be silent even when their political enemies do what they believe to be right?

So then we must ask what takes precedent in their worldview? Is it ideology or national and political allegiance?

I wasn't looking for a headline on CNN that Tony Perkins or Dobson were publically praising Putin and what is happening in Russia. But I monitor the commentary sphere and I expected to hear something.... these commentators certainly don't shy away from commenting on geo-political issues.

Well he's a dictator they might say. So? That's never stopped them before. They'll praise African and Latin American dictators if they're American allies and willing to push the social agenda of the Christian Right.

Don't they use the same criteria when commenting on history? When speaking with regard to Calvin's Geneva or other historical examples, don't they try to navigate the difficult questions and problems but stick to the principle? Don't they argue that even though 'some' things weren't right, overall Geneva, Scotland, England, New England etc..., were on the right track?

I would think they would be excited to see a modern state in the year 2012 enforcing Christian Sacral principles.

So does it really come down to politics? If so, even in a Sacralist framework, they're idolaters and their placing of politics over truth tells me that in the end they're not concerned with what is right...their concerned with attaining and wielding power.

[i] The Religious Test is forbidden in Article 6 of the Constitution. Obviously its presence within the foundational document does not determine whether the concept is right or wrong.... but it also provides a bit of commentary regarding the mindset of the Founders in the drafting of the document. No modern Sacralist-oriented Evangelical would sign on to or endorse such a clause.
[ii] sometimes dynastic, at other times domestic in a general sense
[iii] Which in terms of political order had been in the process of becoming a modern nation-state. Previous to this, the medieval 'state' was a kingdom where power was centered on an aristocracy and its interests. We can speak of it as being a state because of the governmental function it exercised, but our modern concept of 'nation' is relatively new. Many problems in the world are due to this political construct being artificially forced on peoples and regions where there's really no basis for it. In many parts of Africa, Asia, and even portions of Europe, the state is but lines on a map with an army to back it up. There's no cohesion. Sociologically they are still pre-modern clan or tribal societies with a modern political order being forced upon them.
[iv] Not that he would know who any of these people are! They would be cartoon characters to him. But if he was aware of them, he would find comparisons and emulative descriptions to be complimentary.
[v] I all but gasped listening to Mohler the other day. He often comments on the fact that what is illegal does not always coincide with what is actually sin...and laments this fact. He suggests we should labour to make our laws reflect the Biblical worldview and that sin...should have social consequence and result in punishment. He often talks about how many sins can't be dealt with in legislative terms. You can't criminalize coveting for example. He's right and in fact I would take that principle much further, understanding sin as a matter of the heart.
But what about blasphemy laws? He surprised me because he said no to this...that the Church shouldn't regulate speech. Despite the fact this contradicts what he's said elsewhere on that point I agreed with him. And though he's hardly an advocate of a Two Kingdom theology, he got that point right even if (I would argue) it is inconsistent with his general framework. On that point he would definitely differ with not only the Theonomists but many Evangelicals. I would be interested to know if it is indeed a mere inconsistency on his part or if it reflects a principle wherein he views blasphemy as something theological in a way obscenity isn't...because he would certainly call on the state to enforce obscenity laws.
Of course I might ask...so what about if someone incorporates the two? Would you only prosecute the obscenity? What about in the case of Pussy Riot? What would be their crime? Criminal Trespass? Disturbing the Peace?...or something more? What if they did it on a college campus during an assembly or conference? Is that Free Speech or not?
[vi] Evangelicals seem to grant Roman Catholicism the status of a legitimate Church. Will they deny this to the Eastern bodies? If so, on what basis?


Jim C. said...

Hey John,

I think the reason why American evangelical social commentators have ignored - or at least given superficial treatment to - what has transpired in Russia is that they are endeared to neither party in the dispute.

For obvious reasons they don't like Pussy Riot. They represent feminism, sexual liberation, rebellion against authority and hatred of religion, among other things. They also play punk rock and some Christians still believe that that genre of music is inherently Satanic - a throwback to the hysteria from the 1980s.

It would be different if Pussy Riot were a Christian band and had a more innocuous name. Their plight would be played up as Christian persecution (whether it actually would be or not is irrelevant) and it would give the Christian Right the impetus to petition the US government to take punitive action against Russia.

On the other hand, they're also not enamored of Putin. They don't like the fact that a former KGB agent who was stationed in East Germany and coordinated with the Stasi is now the Russian head of state. They don't like his nationalistic protectionism. They certainly don't like his implied anti-Americanism. This is against a backdrop of almost 100 years of rivalry and mutual distrust that emerged with Lenin and his communist system.


Protoprotestant said...

Right but you don't agree that it's kind of disingenuous?

Of course I also laugh...Putin and the KGB. We in the west hear 'KGB' and say oh no!

But of course 99% of the rest of the world responds the same way when they hear CIA.... And of course we had George HW Bush as our president.

I don't expect anyone to come out defending Putin....but come on, Nationalism helping the Church....that's exactly the formula they're looking for.

How irritating it must be that it's the 'bad guys' who are doing it.

But then they also have a dilemma...Pussy Riot is protesting Putin...I understand they don't like the punk rockers, but it just seems to me that if the situation was slightly tweaked they'd be all over this.

I'm just struck by how often they choose to ignore stories. So many of these commentators get into just about everything....lots of foolish commentaries about Europe and Asia...often exposing the fact that they don't know what they're talking about....

But no one seems to want to touch this one.

I'm probably reading more into it than I should....but, I think so many of these guys are just grandstanding pseudo-intellectual phoneys and I wish some one would call them out.

Protoprotestant said...

If this had happened in Uganda, and the president there had responded in the same manner I have a feeling there would be a stream of positive comments.

Museveni (who is a dictator by most people's standards) is a friend to American Evangelicals who have been involved in that country. I think they would have praised him for the same actions.

Anonymous said...

Don't get me started on Museveni and "christian evangelical" Uganda...

Uganda is one of those "nations" that is merely lines on a map with an army to back up the corrupt "leader." Christain Right americans would have their ears burning to hear how Acholi Ugandans feel about the USA and its imperialism. Sadly, these things do not apparently have their HEARTS burning.

Jim C. said...


Hey John,

All I can say is - when you have the time (and there's no rush) - you gotta see this. There's a video on their main webpage called "Dishonorable Disclosures" where they basically attack Obama for allegedly revealing military secrets in public for political gain.

Jim C.