The formation of a new international polity is integral to the Apostle Paul’s understanding of the gospel. The Church provides a model for transformed international relations.
For three weeks now, I have been listening to Mary’s Magnificat sung as a part of the mid-week evening prayer service in my congregation. Last week, I leaned over to my five-year-old and told her, “This is the story of Jesus’ Mommy when she was pregnant with him.” Rereading a paper that I wrote on this text in college, I critiqued an over spiritualization of these words that are “a vivid proclamation of God’s eternal justice and intention to uplift the weak and lowly in a ministry of love…a call to social action on behalf of humanity.” Now, as I sit with the text, I can only say that it is all of this and more…
We have all been around people who constantly tell stories in which the person telling the story is also the clear hero of the story. And none of us wants to be that person. I think this should be the case not only in the sharing of personal anecdotes, but in the stories we tell one another professionally about our professional lives, so it would be disingenuous to write a series on teaching political theology which leaves readers with the impression that I have it all figured out (or think that I do!). This month I want to share a story about a particularly persistent problem in teaching political theology – one to which I will not suggest I have the answer.
Marriage equality is a hot topic in Christian communities. Recently, Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop, came to Fuller to talk about the freedom to love. As a result, many students at Fuller are beginning to rethink their heteronormative understandings of marriage. While I am all for LGBTQ equality in all arenas (anything else is shenanigans), the resurgence about the right to marry and marriage as an existentially important institution worries me […]
Four years ago, I was an idealistic college student who believed in change. Frustrated with the years of Bush-style imperialism and capitalism, I was ready for some big government and the return of civil liberties, singing the doxology Praise God From Whom all Blessings Flow as balloons reigned down and Obama waxed eloquent on a stage overlooking thousands of people. Needless to say, I have learned my lesson over the last four years. Although a less harmful sovereign, Obama turned out to be—surprise, surprise—a neo-liberal. The problem, however, was not with Obama, it was with me….
The crucial thread in Perry’s narrative has been that of the “turn to loyalty”: where Rawlsian liberalism can dismiss the problem of religious loyalty and imagine that religious and political loyalties ought by their very nature never to conflict, Locke recognized clearly that such conflicts do happen, and such loyalties must be carefully attended to if they are to be harmonized. Accordingly, he provides not merely a solution of political theory, but a solution of political theology that attempts to establish, from within Christianity, the proper nature of Christian loyalty. Unfortunately, most interlocutors today simply no longer recognize the tension but persist in a naïve conviction that civil loyalty and religious loyalty ought to pose no threat to one another in modern America…
Chapters 4 and 5 of Pretenses of Loyalty constitute the heart of Perry’s argument, offering as they do an intriguing re-interpretation of Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration and revealing the tensions that will bedevil it in following centuries. Perry’s overall thesis, we will recall, is that modern liberalism suffers from an amnesia, forgetting that there are in fact two prerequisites for a successful policy of religious toleration: harmonization of loyalties and abstract respect. Relying upon the latter alone, modern liberals find themselves flummoxed at the frequency with which border conflicts erupt between religion and politics—having agreed to tolerate all purely religious practices, governments find that many believers insist on expanding the scope of their religion to include civil matters. They ask that believers consent to be led behind a veil of ignorance, willing to treat others and themselves be treated as abstract rights-bearers, but many believers refuse.
One of the most valuable contributions of Perry’s book is his attempt to illuminate the heretofore rather unexplored territory of Locke’s early work—his 1667 Essay on Toleration and especially his 1660 First Tract on Government. So obsessed are political philosophers and Locke scholars with the magna opera of 1689 that they have tended to pass over these earlier works in silence, but from the standpoint of understanding Locke’s theory of toleration, this is a great mistake, as Perry shows. Why? Well because the early Locke was an opponent of toleration, arguing forcefully against Puritans in the First Tract that the magistrate had the right to impose uniformity in religious practice, and ought to exercise this right. Why the about-face? Only if we take seriously this question, says Perry, will we be able to understand what led him to articulate his full-blown theory of toleration in 1689, and what he sought to accomplish with that theory. Moreover, in so doing, we will find that the argument for toleration is not so much of an about-face from the argument against it as we might have imagined.
John Perry’s recent book “The Pretenses of Loyalty” offers a clear, penetrating, and persuasive diagnosis of the predicament of contemporary liberal political theory through consideration not only of its present tensions, but more importantly, of its amnesia regarding its historical foundations. I say clear because Perry’s exposition is tightly focused, lucidly written, and structured so as to ensure ease of understanding. By missing no opportunity to repeat his main thesis and the key issues at stake, he walks a fine line, to be sure, between assisting and insulting his readers, but ultimately avoids the latter in my judgment. The diagnosis is penetrating because it does not rest content with surveying the ongoing contemporary conflicts between politics and religion and the critiques marshaled by communitarian theorists such as Michael Sandel and Stanley Fish—though he does this admirably in the first two chapters—but digs right down to the historical roots of liberal theory, the amnesia of which, he argues, is largely responsible for its present predicament….