Sunday, November 09, 2008

An Orthodox Bishop Talks Politics

John Couretas over at that most excellent blog of the American Orthodox Institute has a post this morning on recent comments by Bishop Savas of Troas (GOA) on His Grace's blog "Sava on a Rolla." Let me let John speak for himself:

Did God ordain an Obama victory? You get that impression from Sava on a Rolla, the blog of Bishop Savas of Troas. In a post titled, "This is the Day that the Lord has made!," the chancellor of the Greek Archdiocese celebrates the victory of President-elect Barack Obama in terms that can only be described as divine:

Do I expect miracles from the President-Elect? Am I confusing the man with the Messiah? Of course not. But neither is he the Antichrist, as some of his opponents would have you believe. Americans did a good thing yesterday, an inspired thing. They didn't voice their opinion, they shouted it. A new day has dawned, a day that the Lord has most emphatically made. Are you as delighted as I am? Send up thanks to the Lord our God! Are you for any reason unhappy? Pray to the same God for our President-Elect's enlightenment.
I don't know. It's almost like reading the Genesis account of Creation. OK, the Bishop's guy won, and he has every right to celebrate. Then he goes — to put it nicely — really over the top.

You can read the rest of John's comments here.

Below for your thoughts are my comments posted on AOI:


Thank you for your post and comments on Bishop Sava's blog.

The election of Sen Obama as the 44th president of the United States is, I think, a mixed good. Certainly, it is noteworthy that within Mr Obama's lifetime we have traveled as a society from the shame of Selma (a shame I should add was not limited to the South) to the election of an African-American as president. In addition to this, I think his election will have a generally positive effect on how we are viewed throughout the world, especially (though not exclusively) in Europe.

I agree with His Grace that "The Body Politic is another body altogether" from the Church. I agree as well that the "only way the [Body Politic] can approximate the [Body of Christ] is if the goal of government were to fulfill the law of Christ, which is to 'bear one another's burdens' (Gal 6:2). 'Have you seen your neighbor?' asks one of the Desert Fathers of the Church, and continues, 'You have seen your God.' Blasphemy? Reread St John's 1st Epistle."

Where I disagree with him, and agree with John, is his contention that "The goal of government ought not to be to protect us from one another, to teach us to treat the other as competition or nuisance or threat, but to help us to help one another." Here His Grace conflates a number of points in a manner that obscures rather illumines an Orthodox Christian response to government–secular or ecclesiastical.

To dismiss out of hand the policing function of the government is simply not biblical. St Paul is clear, the government is entrusted with the sword not only to punish wrong doers but also for the common good (see Rm 13.1-7).

Immediately after discussing the God-ordained authority of the government (a government hostile to Christians in general and Paul in particular) and the obligation of the Church to submit to that authority, the Apostle then begins to delineate in verses 8-10 the obligation of Christians to love their neighbor. Government, rightly ordered, I would argue, allow us the freedom and affluence to care for one another. While not perfect, there is no better example of this the US government.

While governments can and do have a role in the care of especially the weak, they do this first and foremost through the establishment of an society in which its citizens are (relatively) free from the predators among us (which I why abortion cannot be legalized–it is a threat to the life of one of the weakest among us).

This first step is admittedly a negative one–but the policing powers of the State or no less essential for being protective and preventative.

Following on its police powers, the State much ensure the equal treatment under the law of all it citizens. This means not only passing and enforcing laws against criminal conduct, but also contract law and the somewhat more mundane concern of government for commerce, weights and measures.

None of this of course will make us virtuous. But the American systems does not aim at cultivating virtue it the citizenry. Rather the US Constitution presuppose virtuous citizens and strives (however imperfectly at times) to provide them with the political freedoms need to exercise virtue without fear.

Where the American experiment seems to be breaking down is our transfer of virtue from the private realm to the governmental. We have come to expect the State to be virtuous so that we don't have to be.

The genius, and weakness, of the American experiment it that the government presuppose strong, healthy private (as distinct from governmental) mediating structures –the family, the church, newspapers and businesses–that stand between the person and the government and serve to foster virtue it the citizenry.

But these smaller, mediating structures, have more and more abdicated their responsibilities as corporate citizens–what does the Orthodox Church do for example to counter the range of social ills in her midst–unwed mothers, divorce and dead beat dads to name only three–that plague society as a whole?

I agree with those who say that Pro-Life Christians are sometime narrow in our focus. But that narrowness of vision is not the exclusive property of the religious right. The religious left also seem disinclined to foster virtue as well.

(For example, what percentage of the Orthodox Church's resources go to care for the poor? What percentage of the GOA's budget is given to the poor? What do we say to men who abandon their children and the mother of their children?)

There is much in Bishop Sava's words to reflect on. But I am worried that his post reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the American experiment and the Church's obligation as a corporate citizen in the Republic.

Again, thank you for your important ministry.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Print this post