Sunday, December 28, 2008

The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same, Part II:

I've blogged quite a bit how orthodox Trinitarian Christians (of the Protestant and Roman Catholic bent) tend to define Christianity as synonymous with orthodoxy. A lot has changed in America culturally and religiously since the Founding era. But this is not one of them. Here is the latest example from an article on WorldNetDaily entitled Focus on the Family website yanks Glenn Beck interview. From the article:

Focus on the Family, the evangelical organization founded by Dr. James Dobson, has removed from its website an interview with former CNN host Glenn Beck following complaints over the politically conservative TV personality's Mormon faith.

The original article about Beck's best-selling new book, "The Christmas Sweater," appeared on the ministry's CitizenLink website on Dec. 19, but three days later an article published on ChristianNewsWire criticized Focus for promoting a Mormon "as a Christian."

"While Glenn's social views are compatible with many Christian views, his beliefs in Mormonism are not," writes Steve McConkey of Underground Apologetics on ChristianNewsWire. "The CitizenLink story does not mention Beck's Mormon faith, however the story makes it look as if Beck is a Christian who believes in the essential doctrines of the faith."

FOF are using the test of orthodoxy to exclude Mormons from the concept of "Christianity."

Richard Price, who profoundly influenced the American Founding, and himself an Arian who believed Jesus a divine but created and subordinate being, discussed this dynamic during the Founding era. What follows is from his widely read address Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution, indeed an address that George Washington "read with much pleasure."

Price says a number of interesting things in the address. First, he identifies as a Christian and promotes Christianity:

When Christianity, that first and best of all the means of human improvement, was first preached it was charged with turning the world upside down.

But he also slams the Trinity and its inclusion as an essential doctrine which the clergy must read and to which the people must assent:

Perhaps nothing more shocking to reason and humanity ever made a part of a religious system than the damning clauses in the Athanasian creed and yet the obligation of the clergy to declare assent to this creed, and to read it as a part of the public devotion, remains.

Then in the context of arguing religious liberty and equality for all (not just "Christians"), Price asserts:

Montesquieu probably was not a Christian. Newton and Locke were not Trinitarians and therefore not Christians according to the commonly received ideas of Christianity. Would the United States, for this reason, deny such men, were they living, all places of trust and power among them?

Understanding this dynamic -- that Americans were divided over how properly to understand "Christianity" -- is essential for understanding the political theological problem of the American Founding. The Founders solved it by taking Trinitarian Christianity out of politics and replacing it with "religion" in general, or some more generic kind of "Christianity" that would include basically anything that terms itself "Christianity," without having to meet any kind of theological test. Hence are the Mormons Christian? Yes. Why? Because they call themselves Christian. That's what "Americanism" as the Founding Fathers delivered it to us is all about. That the Mormons didn't exist during the Founding is irrelevant to my point. Substitute for "Mormons" Arians, Socinians, theological Universalists, and the logic stands.

No comments: