I confess to being somewhat astonished and perturbed, perhaps even contemptuous, by the lack of committed Evangelical comment on the NSA leaks, particularly by its leadership. On the days after the initial leads (June 5/6, 2013), Albert Mohler dutifully reported the incidents with studied neutrality. Etobicoke (Toronto) pastor and Evangelical-approved book reviewer fashions a pietistic homily1 on the matter; only obliquely giving indication of his sentiments in an emphatic denial of approving NSA actions in his comment section. There is Lutheran theologian of some note on the Patheos Evangelical channel (Gene Edward Veith) and a few bloggers. The only other Evangelical of note with an intelligent and intelligible opinion on the matter is John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute2, who is currently representing a Marine, Brandon Baub, who was taken into psychiatric custody without justifiable cause, based on domestic surveillance of his rantings on his Facebook pages.
There are many reasons to explain this dearth of publicly expressed concern about the ramifications of Edward Snowden’s revelations. And many of those reasons, I can think of, would appear as quite mean-spirited toward Gospel-of-Niceness-Truth-Be-Damned ‘evangelicals’ in this era of EVANGELICALISM STUPID and EVANGELICALISM IRRELEVANT and EVANGELICALISM TAINTED WITH CO-OPTION and EVANGELICALISM TIMID and EVANGELICALISM TEPID.
It is not as if the Evangelical leadership is averse to voicing specific opinions to highly complicated political issues. I observe that Rev. Franklin Graham is fast off the mark to opine to Obama about his intervention into Syria, having written an open letter on June 14, 2013.3 And Evangelical pastors are roaming the countryside like Constantinian bishops, rustling up support for an Immigration Reform Bill, googling up 40 Scriptural proof-text verses which have nothing to do with this specific policy initiative. 4 Political non-involvement and comment is not for most Evangelical theologians, an issue it would seem.
But for those who earnestly seek to avoid needlessly alienating the general public on secondary matters from considering the Christian message, the global omniscient surveillance state poses a threat to the unimpeded promulgation of the Gospel and Full Counsel of God. If religious liberty has now become a chief sociopolitical concern of Evangelicals; how much more so general liberty? Have we forgotten the logic of the altar and the gift on the altar?
You fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Whoever therefore shall swear by the altar, swears by it, and by all things thereon. And whoever shall swear by the temple, swears by it, and by him that dwells therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, swears by the throne of God, and by him that sits thereon.5
However, a full discourse on a nuanced approach to Christian involvement with secular society and politics is beyond the scope of this essay (and is a work in progress).
Of the few comments garnered from evangelical sites, there is evident and understandable conflict about the actions of Edward Snowden and its ramifications, which needs to be fairly addressed. And perhaps, it is time for Evangelicals to go back to school with regard to Christian political thought; revisiting the same sort of issues that Reformers, Anabaptists, Puritans etc of the 16th, 17th and 18th Century needed to deal with in order to promote the Gospel and Full Counsel of God in their time. (This is not to suggest that there exists a legitimate, coherent and consistent Christian political theory on this side of Judgment Day. However, there is much counsel to be ascertained and promulgated from the Protestant/Evangelical thinkers of those times; whose ideas were adopted by more secular-minded writers and founded on more naturalist underpinnings.)
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If a man steals an item from the thief, which had stolen that item from the legitimate owner, in order to restore the item to that original owner, is that theft? What if that thief was a government agent, who used the organs of government to expropriate that item? What if that civic expropriation required a secretive contortionism of interpretation of applicable laws in order to utilize the organs of the state to nick that item?
Perhaps, by the standards of legal niceties and procedural rectitude, the man who steals from a thief, is a thief. But is that natural justice? Common folklore celebrates the mythical Robin Hood; less because his roguery appeals to the baser angels of our natures, although that element certainly exists. It is in recognition that criminality remains criminality, even if a civic official or even a President does it. (Do we not remember Nixon’s Napoleonic complex moment6: “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”7 Sorry Mr. President. Even if state depredations do not quite show up in FBI statistics, they nevertheless remain a crime.
If a man violates a law or judicial interpretation of a law, which itself violates the plain (and common) understanding of the articles of a Constitution, via deft judicial sophistry and casuistry, is that man a traitor to the Constitution; to the Higher Law? Are laws and constitutions written in pig Latin, such that only credentialed legal priests have capacity to decipher them? But if the understandings of laws and articles of Constitutions become so contorted and distorted as to be inscrutable by the persons for whom they are to apply, is that lawfulness and justice? Have we not entered into Kafka’s version of the Twilight Zone?
If Edward Snowden broke the law and is a traitor to the Constitution, it is only in the sense argued by 21st Century American administrations and the toads who croak in choreographed unison. Theirs is a lawfulness and constitutionality of procedural rectitude.
We’ve got congressional oversight and judicial oversight…And if people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress and don’t trust federal judges to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.8
A cadre of duly elected and appointed civic officials has conspired to concoct this “architecture of oppression”. Because this elite priesthood has deemed legal, violations to the Constitution and the plain understanding of the letter and spirit of its Articles, it must be legal. Two and two is equal to five because the duly elected and appointed overseers have all concurred with this madness. It seems incredible and unbelievable! For, even ‘checks and balances’ government is no guarantee against tyranny, wholesale injustice and lawlessness by its civic officials; especially when deft sleight of hand maneuvers were utilized to circumvent the Constitution.
America (and other modern states) has approached the full fruition and reckoning of that judicial coup d’état of 1803 (Marbury v. Madison), which laid the groundwork for the undermining and overthrow of a written constitution and reversal of the American Revolution through the interpretative duplicity of sophists. “The Constitution on this hypothesis is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please.”9 Ultimately, the blame for the clear cut violations of Constitutional articles rests with the long and winding road of judicial interpretative contortionism, which allows the present President and his Pips, in their superior wisdom and comprehension of pig Latin, to deem wholesale overthrow of civil rights as “modest encroachments on privacy”.
The Administration’s argument is the same argument as that of the medieval Romanist Magisterium against Martin Luther and the Reformers. Over the centuries since Christ, the labyrinth of “proper” Magisterial interpretation of Scriptures became at wide variance and dissonance to common rendering and understanding of the original text. And like in Luther’s time, the duly appointed authorities deemed submission to authorities to be the only lawfulness, regardless of the virtue, wisdom and lawfulness of that authority and its rendering of the Biblical Constitution.
If Jesus of Nazareth had abided to this principle of lawfulness, He would have been a sinner. For, Christ defied the prevailing interpretation of Mosaic Law in regard to Sabbath Laws, the fourth article of the Decalogue, defined by the duly appointed Jewish religious authorities. He did not submit to their duly appointed authoritative interpretation of Mosaic Law. And as Christ pointed out by the deft hermeneutics of Jewish religious scholars in regard to Corban10, the interpretative traditions of religious jurists had construed to violate the fifth article of the Decalogue (“Honor your father and your mother: that your days may be long on the land which the LORD your God gives you”11)
Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.12
If Luther had capitulated to the Vatican demand that he submit to the duly self-appointed apostolic succession with its accumulation of hermeneutical contortionism which left Scriptures beyond all recognition, the Reformation would not have happened. (To underline the level of contortionism, this Roman Magisterium made the gift of conjugal sex, inherently imbued with evil and made conjugal relations that occurred on 67% or more of the days of the year, a venial sin requiring penitentials of various kinds.)
Without the fundamentally necessary principle of soul competence, the right and requirement that a doctrine, whether religious or secular, requires to be incontrovertibly proven to the subjective faculties of the beholder; the rise of Western Civilization would not have occurred. Yes. An individual may not, through disuse of intellectual faculties, intellectual dishonesty, lack of knowledge and understanding of proper principles of hermeneutics, reason and judgment of artifacts, find the truth. But knowledge of the truth is still a potential. This is a lesser ‘evil’ than the return to a medieval dark age; where cadre of priests, whether religious or secular, is able to pontificate assertions, without being perpetually subjected to scrutiny of any and every kind. It is for this reason; this modern dependence on ‘expert texperts’ and authoritative credentialism, that bullshit reigns in every intellectual discipline and sociopolitical endeavour.
Likewise, the same dynamics and principles that required an overthrow of duly appointed and credentialed authority in religious matters, requires a same application to secular political constitutions. The current understandings and practices by the civic agents of the state are at a great dissonance to the plain scrutable rendering of a Constitution that has neither been legally abrogated nor amended to justify such strange understandings of its wording. Just because the incompetent and compromised buffoons in Congress, the arrogant Pretender in the White House, kowtowing to the military-industrial complex, and judicial deceit have incestuously conspired to fashion a Kafkaesque lawlessness that blatantly contradicts reasonable understanding of the Constitution; their practicable interpretations of constitutions are no more legal than the ways that the Nazi regime contorted the non-abrogated Constitution of the Weimar Republic. It was through clear violations of a common understanding of the Weimar Constitution that German war criminals were convicted at Nuremberg.
Martin Luther repudiated the vow of celibacy that was insisted upon all Romanist theologians. His argument was that it was not an oath that was justified by the plain rendering of Scriptures but was that coerced through magisterial contortionism by a religious judicial tradition that had contorted the original and reasonable understanding of Biblical text. Edward Snowden’s oath, which he has violated, can be deemed similarly to be more valid, if by that oath he is required to do nothing while lawlessness and evil is perpetuated. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke) If Snowden violated laws, which themselves violated the Higher Law; in this case, the plain rendering of the Constitution, he is no more a criminal and traitor to the American Constitution than Jesus Christ or Martin Luther was to the Law of God.
Something is constitutional or lawful, when the plain and scrutable rendering of the constitution or law allows for it; not when some judicial priest contorts and distorts the meaning of said constitution or law beyond all recognition!
Christians are a People of the Book. We have a long history of contending with those many deceitful persons and artifices which have construed to make the Biblical Constitution state what it does not state, and to not state what it does state. We ought to inherently understand the dangers of a political establishment which has done much the same and in which the Constitution is becoming thoroughly unrecognizable in its practicable application by the duly elected and appointed.
©Copyright Johnny Hutchinson
- Tim Challies, “Fear God More Than the NSA”, …Informing the Reforming, June 12, 2013, Accessed http://www.challies.com/articles/fear-god-more-than-the-nsa on June 18, 2013.
- John Whitehead is a Christian civil rights lawyer, having represented Paula Jones against Bill Clinton. There was a write up by Ted Olsen of Christianity Today “The Dragon Slayer” (December 7, 1998). Otherwise, his perspective can be found at https://www.rutherford.org/publications_resources/john_whiteheads_commentary/.
- Franklin Graham, “Letter to President Obam”, Samaritan’s Purse, June 14, 2013, Accessed http://www.scribd.com/doc/148384711/Rev-Franklin-Graham-urges-President-Obama-to-keep-America-out-of-Syrian-conflict on June 18, 2013.
- It should be understood that I have conflicted thoughts on this matter. I am not a citizen of the jurisdiction in which this issue is being debated. My contempt is for the unjustified conscription of Scriptures to support a political issue. See “Evangelical Support for Immigration Reform is Biblical, Not Political” reblogged on Timothy Dalrymple’s Patheos Philosophical Fragments blog, March 13, 2013, Accessed http://www.patheos.com/blogs/philosophicalfragments/2013/03/13/evangelical-support-immigration-reform-biblical-not-political-soerens/ on June 18, 2013.
- Matthew 23:19-22
- As understood by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment, (1866) as beyond above the laws of God and men.
- David Frost, Interview with Richard Nixon, Part 3, May 19, 1977.
- President Barack Obama, “Speech in San Jose, California”, June 7, 2013.
- Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Spencer Roane, 1819.
- Mark 7:7-13
- Exodus 20:12
- Mark 7:13