Cape Town, South Africa

(Click to return to Blog)

  • Ellen Bassett

January 6, 2021

I’ve been mulling over what one could possibly write about what happened in Washington, DC on this date. Just when you think you have read all the gory details – deaths; ruthless beatings; vandalism; theft; inadequate security; guys with zip-ties, knives and automatic weapons—it actually gets worse. (Say, public defecation in the building.)


(No, this is not a screen shot from a Monty Python film. Source: Associated Press.)


As it unfolded, I, like most people in Charlottesville, was really astonished at how under-prepared the Capitol Police appeared to be—given that we all knew it would be violent. The denials of knowledge of potential violence coming from the FBI, Homeland Security, and others seem really suspect now, having been undermined by a dire report written by officers in the FBI office in Norfolk based on what they were seeing online on forums like Parler. And like many people across the country who had summers dominated by BLM protests and discussions on racial equity and policing (see another blog post on Portland in Summer 2020), it was evident to all that the protesters were being treated with kid gloves by security forces compared to what would have happened had they been people of color and allies of the BLM movement. Where were the para-military forces that were in front of Portland’s federal building this summer taking on people in bike helmets and armed with leaf blowers?


As a professor who teaches in a public policy field, what has really disturbed me the most has been the narcissistic and completely smarmy posturing of Senators Hawley and Cruz. Both of these men have degrees from very fancy universities (Hawley: Stanford and Yale Law; Cruz: Princeton and Harvard Law). One might think since they have been trained by some of the best legal minds in the country, they should be amongst the most committed to upholding the Constitution and its provisions.


Not really.


It is one thing to understand something and quite another to believe in it. While I am unsure about Cruz’s ideology (outside of crass self-interest and an inflated sense of self-worth), Hawley’s lack of adherence to legal norms and clear disinterest in upholding the Constitution appears to be derived from a more fundamentally disturbing and scary belief system that is “anti-Pelagian” or what we might call “Christian Nationalist.” In a very important and interesting essay in the New York Times, Katherine Stewart provides an overview of what this means. (Follow this link: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/11/opinion/josh-hawley-religion-democracy.html ) If you have a belief in the fundamental importance of the separation of Church and State (I do)—you need to read it.


One quote summarizes it well and also helps explain the Faustian bargain evangelical Christians have made in their support of Donald Trump. She writes:


In multiple speeches, an interview and a widely shared article for Christianity Today, Mr. Hawley has explained that the blame for society’s ills traces all the way back to Pelagius — a British-born monk who lived 17 centuries ago. In a 2019 commencement address at The King’s College, a small conservative Christian college devoted to “a biblical worldview,” Mr. Hawley denounced Pelagius for teaching that human beings have the freedom to choose how they live their lives and that grace comes to those who do good things, as opposed to those who believe the right doctrines.


The most eloquent summary of the Pelagian vision, Mr. Hawley went on to say, can be found in the Supreme Court’s 1992 opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Mr. Hawley specifically cited Justice Anthony Kennedy’s words reprovingly: “At the heart of liberty,” Kennedy wrote, “is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” The fifth century church fathers were right to condemn this terrifying variety of heresy, Mr. Hawley argued: “Replacing it and repairing the harm it has caused is one of the challenges of our day.”


In other words, Mr. Hawley’s idea of freedom is the freedom to conform to what he and his preferred religious authorities know to be right. Mr. Hawley is not shy about making the point explicit. In a 2017 speech to the American Renewal Project, he declared — paraphrasing the Dutch Reformed theologian and onetime prime minister Abraham Kuyper — “There is not one square inch of all creation over which Jesus Christ is not Lord.” Mr. Kuyper is perhaps best known for his claim that Christianity has sole legitimate authority over all aspects of human life. “We are called to take that message into every sphere of life that we touch, including the political realm,” Mr. Hawley said. “That is our charge. To take the Lordship of Christ, that message, into the public realm, and to seek the obedience of the nations. Of our nation!”


It has been a very good period, however, for political cartoons. Let’s end this post with a cartoon that has joyful Christian referents.


Last Updated:  20 January 2021