Does the Green Party welcome Christians?

One of the things about this blog is that, every so often, I get contacted by a Christian who is considering joining the Green Party. Usually, they ask me one of two things. Firstly, whether the party has an equivalent of Christians on the Left in Labour, the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum, or the Conservative Christian Fellowship. Secondly, they want to know about my experiences in the party, and whether it welcomes Christians. As my e-mail reply to the last person who asked never got delivered, I thought I’d post about these issues here.

The answer to the first question is simple. At the moment there isn’t a Christian group within the party. I have thought about starting one, but don’t really have the capacity.

The answer to the second question has a bit more to it. A lot of the people who ask it have heard about the incident where a Green Party councillor called Christina Summers was removed from the Green group in Brighton and Hove because she spoke and voted against same-sex marriage because of her Christian faith. There was a lot more to the story than appeared in headlines, but I’m not going to go into it in this post.

My personal experience in the party has been good. I am not shy about my Christianity, and I have never had a problem with another member of the party over my faith. Whilst there are a handful of Dawkins-style “new atheists” in the party, that is true of all the mainstream UK parties, and I have never come across anybody like that in person.

Most party members who would describe themselves as Christians are theologically liberal, though I know at least half a dozen party members who are Evangelical Christians. They include a Green Party councillor (not Christina Summers) and a church leader. None of them have ever mentioned having problems within the party because of their faith.

So, basically, the party does welcome Christian members who broadly agree with what the party stands for (if you’re left-wing and think that environmental issues are important, that’s probably you). However, there are some issues (basically sexuality and life issues) where Christians are reasonably likely to have views that could cause conflict with the party. Generally speaking, other party members will not have a problem with you holding these views as long as you are careful about how you express them. Also, if you are ever in a position where you are speaking for the party (e.g. as a councillor), you will have to exercise a bit more care to ensure that nobody could mistake your view for the party’s view.

Life issues

The party is pro-choice on abortion and in favour of euthanasia. There is a strong feminist current within the party, and a tendency to say that these issues are ones of individual responsibility. I’ve never had a problem explaining that I view the unborn child as a human being in his/her own right, or that I am extremely uncomfortable with the idea of euthanasia. As long as you are sensitive in the way that you convey pro-life views and don’t give people the impression that your views are party policy, no party member is going to have a problem with you. However, doing something considered incredibly insensitive – like joining a protest right outside an abortion clinic will cause problems.

Sexuality

The party has had a strong LGBTQI* group for a long time, and party policy has had a strong gay rights policy for just as long. This is, of course, at odds with a traditional Christian view of sexual morality, the nature of marriage, and – to some extent – at odds with faith groups expecting their leaders, employees, or members to uphold these morals. There are a lot of people within the party who think that Christians holding the traditional view that gay sex is a sin are necessarily homophobic, and that any opposition to same-sex marriage is incompatible with the concept of equality. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t express those views, but you just have to be very careful how you do it (more so than with life issues). In particular you need to be sensitive to the way LGBTQI people feel about these issues, and be aware of the hurt many of them have experienced at the hands of Christians bringing condemnation, rather than love. You also need to be aware that the difference between the view of most party members and the traditional Christian view has its roots in some pretty fundamental bits of worldview – the two views depend on very different understandings of identity, sexuality, love, and equality. Which means that many party members won’t understand how any thinking person could believe that gay sex is a sin, or that marriage should be restricted to opposite-sex couples.

*LGBTQI stands for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer, Intersex” – which is the current initialism of said group within the party.

Israel vs Palestine – a Christian view

This is the latest in my series of blog posts critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. I’m in the middle of chapter 12 on Foreign Policy, this time looking at the thorny issue of Israel and Palestine.

The History

Grudem begins with a history of the conflict which is very one-sided. He says that the root cause of the conflict is that Palestinian Arabs (he is reluctant to use the term Palestinian) and other Arab nations refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist as a nation. He views Israel’s actions as the only way of defending its citizens, and his only criticism of Israel is that Israel does not to enough to protect religious freedom – particularly with regards to Palestinian Christians. There is no indication anywhere in the chapter that some of Israel’s actions may have been disproportionate, or that the Palestinians might have legitimate grievances with Israel. He believes that the first step in any solution must be demanding that the Arab states give up claiming that Israel has no right to exist, and that no other negotiations should take place until that happens. He also thinks that the US should continue to be a close ally of Israel.

It should be fairly obvious that I think that Grudem’s analysis of the situation in Israel is somewhat skewed. But then most accounts of this conflict are skewed to one side or the other. What is most interesting here is his attempt to apply theology to the situation.

The Theology

He begins by bringing up the dispensational system of interpreting the Bible. On the question of Israel, dispensationalists (tend to) believe that God’s promise in the Old Testament to give land of Israel to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still applies, and is yet to be completely fulfilled. Grudem does not belong to this school, and points to a number of New Testament passages that describe some of these promises being fulfilled in the church, rather than the nation of Israel. He particularly mentions Hebrews 8:8-13, and 1 Peter 2:1-10.

He then goes on to mention some points that both dispensationalists and non-dispensationalists can agree on. Firstly, he brings up the issue of salvation – Jewish people will not be saved apart from Jesus. Secondly, that God still regards them as “a special ethnic group out of all the people of the Earth”, citing various verses from Romans 11. Grudem then goes on to say that he thinks this means that God has “a special favor and care for the people of Israel”.

Grudem brings up a number of reasons why he thinks the USA (and, presumably, other Western nations) should support Israel. The theological ones are as follows:

1) Moral values.

Grudem paints Israel as a contrast to moral relativism and confusion, and also to harsh, totalitarian governments in strict Islamic states. He maintains that Israel has similar convictions to the moral standards of both Christians and the Bible, tracing both Christian and Jewish morality to the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). He appears to be assuming that the state of Israel holds to a (religious) Jewish morality.

2) God’s plan

This point is that, because God is sovereign over the affairs of nations, and because of Bible passages saying that, at some point, large numbers of Jewish people will be saved (Romans 11), “it seems right to see the establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948 and the present gathering of 5.5 million Jews there as a significant preparation that God has made”. Grudem believes that supporting Israel’s continued existence and well-being will contribute to the “full inclusion” of the Jewish people into the people of God at some point in the future. Whilst he goes into a bit more detail than I have quoted, I am still unsure how he came to that conclusion.

3) Promises to Abraham

Whilst Grudem believes that many of the promises to Israel in the Old Testament have been fulfilled in the church, he believes that it is uncertain whether the promise to Abraham in Genesis 17:8 is one of those promises. The passage reads:

And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God. (emphasis from Grudem)

He points out that it is only God’s covenant (or agreement) with Moses that is explicitly said to be the “old covenant” in the New Testament. And it is the old covenant with Israel that is the one said to be superseded by the new covenant of Jesus.

Of the various arguments Grudem gives for supporting Israel, this is the one I think is strongest. It is not overwhelming (the fact that the Jews did not rule any part of the holy land between 73AD and 1948AD is a problem for this interpretation). But it’s certainly possible that the creation of the modern state of Israel is a fulfilment of Biblical promises and prophecy.

4) Spiritual Warfare

Grudem goes on to suggest that anti-Semitism may have been partially caused by spiritual sources, both historically and today. He suggests that demonic hatred is “the most likely source behind the inhuman evil of the suicide bombers” who attack Jewish civilians. Because he sees the actions of some Palestinian groups as demonic, he is obviously more inclined to support Israel.

Whilst I don’t rule out the possibility that some of the suicide bombers may be influenced by demons, I think Grudem is overselling the case that this is the main cause. Palestinians see the conflict as one of Israeli oppression. They often believe that Israelis are all involved in the military (and the fact that Israel has compulsory conscription makes this easier to believe – even if most conscripts do not serve in the military). And suicide bombings are often the only weapon they have in the conflict.

Whilst I agree with Grudem that suicide bombings in civilian areas are a despicable tactic, I can see how some Palestinians might come to the conclusion that it is worth the sacrifice without having to assume that the cause is demonic.

One final note, Grudem accepts that the USAs strong support of Israel will cause some Islamic Jihadists to attack them as well. This is in contrast to his claims in the chapter on Defence policy that US actions in the Islamic world have nothing to do with the reasons the US is a target for Islamic terrorism.

Does Foreign Aid Work?

After a long blogging break brought about by real life, I’m back, and picking up my series critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. Today we’re continuing to look at the chapter on Foreign policy, focusing in on what he says about Foreign Aid. Grudem says that this is an area in which the US (and presumably other rich-world nations) can promote their own interests and also do good for other nations. He divides this subject up into six different areas, and we’ll be looking at this in the same order.

Military Aid

Grudem says that military aid – giving or selling weapons and military training – can be used to help other nations defend themselves against attack and maintain their freedom. He doesn’t mention the historical cases where such aid has been used for oppression.

Humanitarian Aid

Grudem agrees with sending humanitarian aid to places suffering from natural disasters. He says that the US gives more than any other country, but does not point out that this is only true in absolute figures. There are many other nations that give more in proportion to both the size of their population and the size of their economy.

Economic Development Aid

Grudem says that it has been assumed for years that rich-world countries should give aid for economic development in poor countries. He doesn’t explain the term, but it means giving money to help relieve poverty and to encourage economies to grow, so that these countries have the resources to help themselves.

Whilst he does not go into the arguments, Grudem says that a number of studies have claimed that foreign aid has been harmful, as it has “always been channelled through corrupt governments”, has tended to entrench their power, and has created a culture of dependency, which prevents them from becoming self-sustaining and economically healthy. Grudem concludes that the rich world should stop giving aid.

However, even assuming these criticisms are valid, that doesn’t mean that we should abandon foreign aid. In fact, they form a stronger case for reforming it. Instead of channelling funds through corrupt governments, we could send it directly to anti-poverty projects, or make it conditional on cleaning up the corruption. As for dependency culture, this depends on how things are spent. If, for example, aid is spent on one-off infrastructure projects (e.g. digging a well in a village so they have easy access to clean water), then there is no danger of creating dependency.

Debt forgiveness

Grudem spends a lot of time talking about the issue of cancelling the unpayable debts that many poor countries owe. He mentions that there are a number of Christian groups promoting this idea, based on the year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25:8-55. Grudem doesn’t explain any of the arguments in favour of the idea of cancelling these debts, but argues against the idea. He argues that the analogy with the forgiveness of debts in Leviticus is flawed, as lenders in ancient Israel knew that the debts would be cancelled, whilst lenders today don’t. He believes that cancelling the debts would be unfair to the lenders, especially if it would leave poor countries free to borrow again. He also argues that the countries that are most heavily in debt are corrupt, and have very little economic freedom, and that changing this is the actual solution to the debts. Finally, he says that the money to pay off the debt must come from somewhere, and that the costs of paying off the debt will ultimately be borne either by bank shareholders (who he says are mostly pension funds) or by rich world taxpayers, and considers either option to be a bad thing.

He appears to be unaware that the initial idea of asking for debt forgiveness came from the people of the poor countries themselves, who genuinely believe that the debt repayments are a major cause of their countries’ poverty. He doesn’t consider that the measures governments are taking to make the debt repayments might be a partial cause of their corruption and weak economies, or that it might be making things worse. And he seems to be unaware that the 21st century banking system is able to create money essentially out of nothing. In short, he ignores the reasons why the idea was originally floated in favour of saying that poor countries should follow his economic ideal (which I pointed out was deeply flawed when covering the chapter on the economy).

Restrictions on Aid

Grudem believes that it is important that the US doesn’t give aid that would advance morally wrong agendas (he cites George W Bush refusing to fund Chinese population control measures that would promote abortion, or which involved forced abortion), and that it doesn’t give aid that will help oppressive totalitarian regimes. This is nice in theory, but it raises two big questions. Firstly, how should a government decide what is and isn’t a “morally wrong agenda”? Secondly, how do you balance helping the people living under an oppressive regime with not helping the regime itself? Grudem doesn’t mention either question, let alone attempt to answer them.

Who Gives What?

Grudem says that the US is responsible for giving far more aid than other countries. He cites a statistic that the US apparently accounts for more than 70% of all “financial flows” reaching developing countries from the G7 developed world (i.e. the US, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan) – adding together private investment, private philanthropy, public aid, and private remittances.

This figure is somewhat misleading. Firstly, it is not clear what the phrase “financial flows” refers to. Given that, legally speaking, all transactions in US dollars have to go through the US, the phrase could be used to say what proportion of those payments were made in US dollars. Even assuming that means payments coming from the US, private investment is not usually considered to be foreign aid. Given that most of the largest companies in the world are (at least nominally) American, including it is bound to inflate America’s numbers. Also, it doesn’t tell us how generous the US is relative to other countries. They have a much larger population and economy than any other rich-world nation, so other countries do not need to give anywhere near as much in absolute terms in order to be more generous. When it comes to government aid, the US gives a significantly less per capita than other rich-world nations.

In short, Grudem has relatively little reason for the national pride he demonstrates in this section. The US gives more, but that is because it has more resources from which to give, not because it is more generous with what it has.

Who to vote for?

Whilst it’s fairly obvious who I am going to vote for in both the local and European Parliament elections in May, I thought it might be worth looking at some of the arguments for various parties. A couple of months ago, the rather excellent God and Politics in the UK blog ran a series of articles entitled “I’m a Christian, and here’s why I vote X”. The articles are:

The articles vary in their style and substance. For example, the Labour article is light on theology and heavy on personal experience, whilst the UKIP one doesn’t bring anything particularly Christian to the issues raised. Nevertheless, before choosing who to vote for, it is worth reflecting on the differing values that political parties present.

And, just to give you a bit more information, here’s my party’s Mini Manifesto, outlining some of the things we would hope to achieve if elected. It’s short and readable.

European Elections: the West Midlands

In the UK, MEPs are elected by region. I live in the West Midlands region, which comprises Birmingham, the Black Country, Coventry, Solihull, Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire, and Herefordshire. Whilst I’m not going to do a post on all the regions, I thought I’d say a little bit about mine.

At the last elections, we elected 2 Conservative MEPs, 2 UKIP ones, 1 Labour, and 1 Liberal Democrat. Since then, we have gained one more Conservative (the Lisbon treaty gave us an extra seat, and it was given to the party that would have gained the seventh seat at the election), and both UKIP MEPs have left to form their own parties.

Who’s on the ballot
There are:

  • An Independence from Europe
  • British National Party
  • Conservative Party
  • English Democrats
  • Green Party
  • Harmony Party
  • Labour Party
  • Liberal Democrats
  • No2EU
  • UKIP
  • We Demand a Referendum

A quick rundown of the less-well-known parties:
An Independence from Europe are the UKIP splinter group formed by MEP Mike Nattrass after he was deselected. The split was not over policy issues.
English Democrats are mostly after an English Parliament. They are definitely right-wing (probably somewhere between UKIP and the BNP).
Harmony Party are newly formed, and appear to be another right wing anti-EU party.
No2EU are a far left group who want out of the EU. Their lead candidate is Dave Nellist, a former Labour MP who was expelled for being part of Militant (a Marxist group within the Labour Party).
We Demand a Referendum is a UKIP splinter group led by Nikki Sinclaire MEP, who left UKIP because of the kind of right-wing parties they associated with in the European Parliament.

None of these minor parties have any realistic chance of getting a seat, though We Demand a Referendum might do reasonably well in some parts of the region.

As for where my vote will be going, here’s a short video from the lead candidate of my party about issues specific to this region.

What’s the point of European Elections?

With the European Parliament elections coming up on the 22nd of May, it’s worth asking what these elections are about. Not the personality and policy issues that will dominate the media, but what difference they actually make.

These elections take place in every member state of the EU under proportional systems (so the number of seats a party gets is roughly the same as its share of the vote). The UK, being one of the large countries in the EU gets about 9% of the 766 seats (although parties like UKIP, whose MEPs actively avoid taking part in policy-making, mean that our influence is significantly less than that).

The European Parliament is one of three main institutions that determine EU policy. The European Commission is made up of commissioners appointed by the member states (though they must be ratified by the Parliament), and runs the EU day-to-day. The commissioners, however, do not have a say in European Law. That is determined by the Parliament and the other institution, the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers is made up of representatives of the governments of the member states – usually the government minister responsible for whatever issue is under discussion. Most European legislation must pass through both the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

How does the Parliament work?

So now we know what the Parliament is, and how it relates to the other parts of the EU, how does it work? The political parties that are elected to the Parliament are almost all confined to a particular country. And proportional representation means that the representatives from any given country will tend to disagree with each other. But this doesn’t mean that the Parliament is a mix of lots of micro-parties, because MEPs form groups of parties. A group needs to consist of at least 25 MEPs from at least 7 EU member states, and they have to be able to claim some form of common political belief. MEPs who are part of the groups get better access to the committees that draft European legislation, and have significantly more influence.

At the moment, there are seven groups on the Parliament, plus a number of Non-Inscrits – independents, or parties that have been unable to form a group. Let’s have a look at the parties and their make-up.

European People’s Party (EPP) The largest group, with 274 seats (36%), has members from every member state except the UK. It consists of centre-right political parties, like Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats from Germany. It would be the natural home of the British Conservative Party, but they left it to form a more Eurosceptic grouping.

Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) – also known as the Party of European Socialists (or the PES). The second largest group, with 195 seats (25%), is made up of traditionally centre-left parties, such as Labour in the UK. It has members from every member state.

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) is the third largest group, with 85 seats (11%). It consists of liberal parties (economically right-wing, but socially liberal), such as the UK’s Liberal Democrats. Its members tend to see themselves as centrists. It has MEPs from 20 of the 28 member states. 12 of these are from the UK Liberal Democrat party, and another 12 are from the Germany FDP – both of which have seen major electoral meltdowns in recent elections in their home countries.

The Greens-European Free Alliance is the fourth largest group, with 58 seats (8%). This group consists of Green Parties and left-wing regionalist parties, such as Plaid Cymru or the Scottish National Party. The MEP from the Swedish Pirate Party also belongs to this group. It contains MEPs from 15 member states. At the 2009 Euro Elections, it was the only group to increase its number of seats.

European Conservatives and Reformists is the fifth largest group, with 57 seats (8%) from 11 member states. 26 of its seats come from the UK’s Conservative Party. The group is right-wing and moderately Eurosceptic, and some of the member parties have stances on certain issues that would be considered extreme right in the UK.

European United Left-Nordic Green Left is the sixth largest group, with 35 seats (5%) from 13 member states. It consists of far-left groups. Sinn Fein sits in this group.

Europe of Freedom and Democracy is the smallest group, with 35 seats (5%) from 13 member states. 10 of these MEPs are from UKIP. The group consists of Eurosceptic parties, though only UKIP wants to actually withdraw from the EU.

Finally, the Non-Inscrits – MEPs with no group – consists of 30 MEPs from 11 countries, who are unable to form a group. They include far-right parties like the BNP, parties with no natural allies, like the DUP, and MEPs who are not happy with the group their party has chosen to join (there is one UKIP and one ex-UKIP MEP in this category).

If you want to vote from a fully informed perspective, it is certainly worth considering how the British parties on your ballot paper fit into the Europe-wide party structure.

Christians on the Left?

One of the drawbacks of belonging to a smaller political party as a Christian is that there is rarely a specifically Christian group within the party, and because your time as a party activist is limited, it’s difficult to find the capacity to set one up. As a result, I was somewhat interested to read that the Christian group within the Labour Party Party was rebranding itself from the “Christian Socialist Movement” to “Christians on the Left”. The name change clearly sends the message that the organisation wants to expand itself to cover those of us in other left-wing parties (and yes, Ed Miliband does seem to have moved Labour from centre-right Blairism to a genuine centre-left position).

So, I contacted them to find out whether the impression they had given was actually the case. Their response was the following:

Christians on the Left has always been open to members of any party and, indeed, we have individuals who are Greens, LibDems, Communists and Christian Party members. As an organisation, however, we are and will remain affiliated to the Labour Party.

Which seems to be a definite “no” to the question of whether the new name actually reflects the reality. Because, as an active member of the Green Party I cannot in good conscience join an organisation where part of my membership subscription goes directly to a party which I will be standing and campaigning against in an election (which means that I have opted out of my trade union’s political fund). So, I e-mailed them back, asking

But if I were to join, part of my membership fee would go to the Labour Party? Thus implying that I support them.

Their response was the following:

It works out at 83p per member goes on the affiliation fee to the Labour Party. You could perhaps counter that with a donation of 83p to the cause of your choice?

Which completely misses the point. If Christians on the Left offered a non-affiliate membership, Christians like me within smaller left-wing parties would be able to have the same kind of support as those within the big three parties do. As it is, they are sending the clear message that left-wing Christians are honour-bound to support the Labour Party. A message which, in my opinion, is incredibly harmful to Christian involvement in politics.

Conservativism and Christendom

A couple of recent posts I’ve read have made me think about how our ecclesiology (that’s our theology about the church) affects the way we think about politics.

The first is over at Think Theology, which talks about the differences between Zwingli (one of the leaders of the Reformation) and the Anabaptists (the radical reformers) boiled down to their view of the church. This is how Andy Johnston describes the differences:

If, as Zwingli believed, the Church embraces the whole of society (the medieval view of corpus christianum), then it seems only reasonable that the magistrates, as God’s representatives, inputted on spiritual decision-making.

and

The “magisterial” reformers – Luther, Calvin, Bucer, Bullnger, Oecolampadius etc etc – all defended this view of baptism. Society was, they believed, essentially Christian, albeit a somewhat doctrinally confused and sub-standard version of the faith. The Anabaptist view was altogether different. Their ecclesiology was one of a “gathered Church”, a Church into which individuals consciously opted via believers’ baptism and membership was maintained and the Church kept pure through discipline. Such a Church was very definitely, in the view of the radicals, outside the control of the magistrates. Authority lay with the congregation and with elders appointed from within the congregation.

Then, there’s a guest post from Alexander Boot on the “Archbishop” Cramner blog, which asks the question of what conservatism should be about.

To narrow this to just one party, what is it that the Conservative party is for? What would it like to conserve?

I’d suggest that a Western conservative – regardless of his faith – can only answer this question one way without losing intellectual credibility. His desideratum has to be the preservation of whatever is left of the religious, cultural and political heritage of Christendom.

and

The starting point of deliberation for any Christian thinker is that the key institutions of Christendom, which is to say of the West, must somehow reflect the teaching of Christ and, on a deeper level, his person.

If you’re not familiar with the term, Christendom is basically the view that Zwingi took – that the church and the government are both explicitly Christian institutions, existing within an essentially Christian society. Even a casual glance at Western society would tell you that we are no longer living under Christendom. Boot is arguing that we should make every effort to preserve what’s left of Christendom, and work towards restoring the rest.

Boot’s post has made me realise two major reasons why I am not a Conservative. Firstly, I believe that Christendom is pretty much dead and gone. We live in a society that is no longer Christian in any meaningful sense. Our culture knows little, if anything, of Christ and has no desire to be shaped by explicitly Christian values. Trying to squeeze society into the Christendom mould is only going to be possible if we see large numbers of people being saved and added to the church.

Secondly, I think that the Anabaptist view of the church is far closer to what is taught in Scripture than the Christendom model. In the New Testament, the church had no connection to the institutions of government, or to society in general. They got on with preaching the gospel, serving the poor, and generally expanding God’s Kingdom without expecting or anything anybody outside the church to look outwardly Christian.

In short, my ecclesiology rules out Boot’s general approach to politics.

As for what this means in practice, let’s look at the current controversy over same-sex marriage. Both me and Boot would presumably agree that the Bible’s teaching about the nature of marriage does not allow for marriage between two people of the same gender. We differ, however, about the political implications. Boot believes that it is important to try and prevent the government from changing the legal definition to allow same-sex marriage. My view is that society has not had a remotely Christian view of marriage for a very long time. So, whilst I would prefer the legal definition of marriage to stay as it was, it does not worry me that it has changed. As long as Christians are still free to believe, teach, and live out a Biblical understanding of marriage the church is in no real danger from such legislation.

Foreign Policy: Working with Others

This is the latest in our series of posts critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. Today we’re in our second of five posts covering the chapter on foreign policy. Today we’re looking at two things. Firstly, the subject of the United Nations, and secondly, Grudem’s claim that Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been helping America’s enemies and hindering its friends.

The United Nations

Grudem begins this section by saying that the UN is the only effective forum where representatives of all nations can meet, negotiate, and debate, and so the US has no choice but to stay actively involved with it. He then says that:

If the United States were to pull out, the United Nations’ decisions and policies would become even more forcefully anti-democratic and anti-American

He claims that a block of Muslim nations, aided by “dictatorial” or “autocratic” nations like North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, and sometimes Russia and China and some anti-democratic African nations form a “significant majority” of UN members who are anti-American and anti-Israel (Grudem outlines a strongly pro-Israel stance later in the chapter).

He then goes on to allege that the way the UN spends its money is incredibly corrupt, although he does acknowledge that it does some good (citing education, science, cultural exchange, and peacekeeping missions).

Grudem believes that the US should seek to minimise the influence of the UN where it is “bringing harmful and destructive results throughout the world”, and that they should be aggressive in building alternative associations of freedom-loving nations in the world as some form of counter-balance.

I believe that the picture Grudem paints of the UN is somewhat skewed. Most of the UN’s decision-making powers are vested in the Security Council, where the US and two of its allies (Britain and France) have permanent seats that come with veto powers. Therefore, there will never be an anti-American UN Resolution. Secondly, in order to check Grudem’s claims, I had a look at the number of democracies in the world, and found that, as of the year 2000, the World Forum on Democracy classified 120 out of the world’s 192 countries as democracies and 85 of them as “liberal democracies” (i.e. countries that are both free and respectful of human rights). Since then, there have been solid moves towards democracy in a number of countries. So Grudem’s claim that a “significant majority” of UN members are anti-democratic looks hyperbolic at best.

As for claims of corruption, Grudem is probably closer to the mark. There have been reports finding widespread corruption in the organisation, and limited accountability. But surely the response to this should be to press for reform of the structures in order to bring people to account.

Obama’s Foreign Policy

Grudem alleges that American foreign policy since Obama took office in 2009 meant abandoning America’s allies and helping their enemies. He goes through some examples, which we’ll look at in turn:

Iran

In 2009, there were serious allegations of vote rigging in Iran’s Presidential elections (Grudem uses the phrase “shamelessly stole”). Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets. Grudem believes that the protesters were hoping for US support in “the court of world opinion”, and that Obama should have strongly condemned the election of President Ahmadinejad.

Grudem’s arguments really demonstrate the difference between how foreign policy looks to the domestic audience and how plays in the foreign countries in question. In Iran, the government was condemning the protests as being the result of a conspiracy by Britain and America. For Obama to come out strongly in support of the protests would be playing into that narrative, and would probably have justified a bigger crackdown on the supporters than actually happened. Whilst his non-committal response looked weak at home, it almost certainly avoided making the situation worse in Iran.

Latin America

Grudem claims that Fidel Castro’s Cuba and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela are (well, were – Castro retired and Chavez died between the book’s publication and this blog post) military dicatorships that pose “the two greatest threats to freedom and democracy in North and South America”. He claims that they send money and soldiers into other Latin American countries to destabilise their governments and bring them into the Cuba-Venezuela orbit of “totalitarian states” that incline towards socialism or communism. He condemns Obama for endorsing these two governements’ legitimacy, for not giving any help to democratic opposition within those countries, and for lifting restrictions on travel, commerce, and mail to Cuba.

In actual fact, Chavez came to power by means of a democratic election and maintained it by being popular. Whilst his regime was autocratic, it definitely wasn’t a military dictatorship. Yes, Castro’s regime was somewhat totalitarian (though US sanctions have probably made it more so). Yes, Castro came to power through a coup in 1959. But his regime is clearly the legitimate government of Cuba, and all Obama has really done is recognise that both governments are legitimate and begin to normalise relations with Cuba.

Whilst both nations have tried to build influence in Latin America, their actions are on the same level as the US intervention in Columbia. Other, less controversial, left-wing leaders (e.g Brazil’s Lula) have been far more influential on the region.

In addition, Venezuela is clearly a functioning democracy, and there is no real democratic opposition within Cuba. If Obama supported the opposition in Venezuela, he would be sending the message that it’s OK for governments to interfere in somebody else’s democracy (so, for example, the British Government could provide support to the US Democratic Party).

Grudem also brings up events in Honduras, where he condemns Obama for “pounding tiny Honduras, which tried to save itself from the Chavez- and Castro-admiring Manuel Zelaya”. He is referring to the military coup in 2009, where the Supreme Court told the military to remove then-President Zelaya from power because of a non-binding (and apparently illegal) referendum he held on whether to hold a constitutional convention. Grudem insists that supporting the coup was the only course of action consistent with democratic values. Given that Honduras eventually settled on ignoring the referendum and letting Zelaya serve the rest of his term, things ultimately turned out fine, and it really didn’t matter either way.

China

Grudem condemns Obama for raising “not even a whisper of protest” against increasing persecution of leaders in the Chinese house-church movement, and refusing to meet with the Dalai Lama. He contrasts this with George W Bush openly condemning China on the issue. This criticism ignores the fact that we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors in diplomatic negotiations. Whilst Bush’s approach played well domestically, it is not necessarily the best way to get results. Especially when dealing with a nation where saving face is a very important part of the culture. If Obama has been raising the issue through diplomatic channels, he might well have got better results on the issue than Bush did.

Conclusion

Grudem doesn’t really address the fact that Obama’s regime has greatly reduced the amount of anti-American feeling in the world. Simply by being more tactful and less overtly gung-ho than his predecessor, he has made up for much of the ill-feeling that Bush created in a lot of countries. His criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy come across as naïve, assuming that foreign policy that comes across well to a domestic audience will also be effective. And occasionally he manages to look ignorant (Chavez was clearly not a military dictator, no matter what Fox News says).

Having said that, it is easy to understand his concerns (especially if you take his assumptions about what methods of diplomacy work, and his understanding of the facts of situations).

What does the Bible say about foreign policy?

This is the latest in our series critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. So far we’ve looked at the first eleven chapters. Today, we begin the chapter on foreign policy, looking at the bits that talk about the principles of foreign policy.

Self Defence

Grudem starts by saying that foreign policy should start from the principles established in the chapters on government in general (chapter 3) and on defence (chapter 11). In particular, governments should defend themselves and their citizens against threats from other nations. Grudem cites Romans 13:3 and 1 Peter 2:14. Grudem also notes that he has already said that defensive alliances (e.g NATO) are an appropriate way of doing that.

Grudem then goes on to claim that, by protecting their own sovereignty, governments protect nations from “the horrible tyranny that would result from … the establishment of one worldwide government”. Grudem’s objection is that such a government would have far too much power, which would lead to immense corruption, which would then lead to terrible oppression, from which there would be no place to flee.

Obviously fears about a worldwide government come across as rather paranoid. Attempts to create such a government by conquest have always fallen apart. The largest empire ever created was the British one, and we eventually realised that the cost of maintaining it was far greater than the benefit we gained. Attempts to create continent-wide (let alone world-wide) governments by consent have also proved troublesome. The European Union has proven to be mired in bureaucracy, and relatively weak in terms of its powers over member nations. The United States has a system of government that is in perpetual deadlock. India and China are the closest to success stories, but China is an ancient empire with a long common history, and India was formed from the bits of the subcontinent that were culturally similar. Neither is much of a guide to how a hypothetical worldwide government could be workable.

Even if we agree with every part of Grudem’s concerns (which, despite being in a section labelled “Biblical Teaching” are not drawn from the Bible), they beg the question of just how big a country can be before it has too much power. And whether we should be working towards the creation of more, but smaller, countries as an antidote.

Seeking good for other nations

Grudem points out that the command to love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:39) gives us good reason to seek to do good for other nations. Though he maintains that the first duty of government is to defend and seek the good of its own citizens. He points out that there are a wide variety of ways in which this can be done. Grudem points out a number of ways in which he believes the US does this. Firstly, he says that the US Navy do the lion’s share of protecting commercial shipping from piracy. Secondly, he says that they maintain the Internet, and says that turning control of it over to an international organisation like the UN would be harmful because some countries (like China) oppose free speech and others (like the European Union) have “anti-market impulses”.

Thirdly, he cites NASA satellites that monitor the atmosphere. Fourthly, he cites maintenance of telecommunication lines. Fifthly, he cites the fact that the UN headquarters is in New York, though he claims that this is a mixed benefit. Finally, he cites foreign aid – both public and private. He uses absolute figures here, which show the US giving more than other nations (because the US has a much bigger economy than other nations). If he had cited the figures as a percentage of the US economy or of government spending, then the figure would have been far less impressive.

Freedom and human rights

Grudem says that the United States should use non-coercive means (i.e. diplomacy, cultural/educational exchanges, public relations, media reporting, and foreign aid) to promote greater freedom and human rights in other nations, and points out that he is talking about influencing other nations, rather than imposing American views on others (I would point out that using foreign aid in this way can sometimes cross that line).

Grudem says that slavery and oppression are always viewed negatively in the Bible, whereas freedom is viewed positively. He cites Exodus 20:2, Leviticus 25:10, Deuteronomy 28:28-29, 33; Judges 2:16-23, and Isaiah 61:1 in support of this. Grudem expanded on this view of freedom back in chapter 3, where we saw that his idea of what freedom means seems somewhat skewed. He also refers to his claim that the Bible offers indirect support for the idea that democracy is the best form of government from the same chapter (a claim which we established was somewhat shaky).

Grudem then goes on to the US Declaration of Independence, which proclaims the concept of human rights. This is, of course, irrelevant to a specifically Christian view of politics – being a propaganda document that was actually written after the American colonists began to wage their war of independence. This is, presumably, why Grudem talks about the United States in particular in this section. Grudem says that it means the US is committed to the principle of liberty, and that governments only have the right to rule by the consent of their citizens.

Grudem also says that promoting human freedom and democracy in other nations is an act of self-interest. He says that genuine democracies are less likely than other forms of government to launch aggressive attacks against other countries (a claim that looked somewhat exaggerated when he made it in the chapter on defence as part of his reasons why Iraq and Afghanistan were Just Wars). This, presumably, means that he disapproves of American foreign policy during the Cold War that sought to help overthrow democratically elected governments who tended towards communism.

Grudem bemoans budget cuts to Voice of America radio, which he considered to be one of America’s most effective means of promoting freedom and democracy. He claims that American political leaders are confused and embarrassed about advocating freedom and democracy, particularly when it comes to saying that freedom of religion is better than oppressive governments that seek to impose Islamic law and practices on their populations.

Conclusions

There is nothing particularly controversial about what Grudem says in this section of the chapter. Yes, some of what he says is significantly overstating the case (mostly things which he argues for in other chapters, and simply mentions here). There is a lot of scope for different views of how to apply the principles, but we’ll be covering that over the next few weeks as we go through the rest of the chapter.