Mideast Christians and Authoritarian Regimes

2000px-Coptic_cross.svgLast week’s ruling in Obergefell took up a lot of attention, but I’ve been meaning to link a couple of good articles about Mideast Christians, specifically, their relationship with authoritarian regimes. Outsiders often criticize Mideast Christians for coming to terms with such regimes. But the regimes are often the best alternative in a terrible situation.

First, at Crux, John Allen has been writing a series on Egypt’s Copts, who are going through one of the worst periods of persecution in their long history. Yesterday, he posted an interesting piece on relations between Copts and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. El-Sisi has made a number of high-profile gestures of solidarity with Copts, including attending a Christmas Liturgy, and the vast majority view him very favorably. The Coptic Church is solidly behind him, and for most Christians, Allen writes, “it’s axiomatic that el-Sisi is the best thing that’s happened in a long time.”

But there are dissenting views. Allen interviews a few Copts who say El-Sisi’s warmth is just for show, and that his regime continues to oppress Copts, just as the Mubarak and Morsi governments did. Crimes against Copts continue to go unpunished, and there is still  “forced displacement, harassment under the country’s anti-blasphemy laws, kidnappings and physical assaults.” Indeed, one commentator reports that, “in virtually every category… the number of incidents today is going up rather than down.” Perhaps Christians’ support for el-Sisi is misplaced–or perhaps, as most Copts argue, el-Sisi is doing all he can to change traditional Egyptian attitudes, and is the best option in a very imperfect situation. My sense, from reading Western news accounts, is that the latter is the case. But I’ll admit Allen’s reporting makes me wonder a bit.

The second is this wide-ranging interview from La Stampa’s “Vatican Insider” with Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II. Aphrem–who previously served as his church’s archbishop in America, incidentally–discusses a number of topics, including Christians’ relations with the Assad regime. Here’s a snippet:

Some Western circles accuse the Christians of the East of submitting to authoritarian regimes.

“We have not submitted ourselves to Assad and the so-called authoritarian governments. We simply recognise legitimate governments. The majority of Syrian citizens support Assad’s government and have always supported it. We recognise legitimate rulers and pray for them, as the New Testament teaches us. We also see that on the other side there is no democratic opposition, only extremist groups. Above all, we see that in the past few years, these groups have been basing their actions on an ideology that comes from the outside, brought here by preachers of hatred who have come from and are backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt. These groups receive arms through Turkey too, as the media have shown us.”

You have to read between the lines here. What he’s saying, it seems to me, is not that Assad is wonderful, but that the alternative for Christians is incomparably worse. Aphrem makes other allegations that seem dubious, for example, that the West is arming terrorist groups that are massacring Christians. I guess he’s referring to Turkey’s alleged links with ISIS. Anyway, it’s hard to argue with his basic point that the West should not judge Syria’s Christians for the choices they have to make. Like the Allen piece on Copts, the La Stampa interview is worth reading for a sense of the pressures Mideast Christians face every day.

Movsesian at ICON-S Conference This Week

ICON-S-logoOn Thursday, I’ll be appearing on a panel at the annual ICON-S conference on Public Law, to be held this year at New York University. The conference is sponsored by the International Journal of Constitutional Law, and draws scholars from around the world. My panel, “The Foundation of an Uncertain Law,” will discuss Cambridge’s new collection of commentary on the jurisprudence of Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Benedict XVI’s Legal Thought: A Dialogue on the Foundation of Law (Cartabia & Simoncini eds. 2014). Other panelists include Michel Rosenfeld (Yeshiva), Ran Hirschl (Toronto), and John Garvey (Catholic University of America). The panel will be moderated by Sabino Cassese, formerly of the Italian Constitutional Court. CLR Forum readers at the conference, please stop by and say hello!

Omar and Duffey, “Peacemaking and the Challenge of Violence in World Religions”

This month, Wiley-Blackwell released “Peacemaking and the Challenge of Violence in World Religions,” by Irfan A. Omar (Marquette University) and Michael K. Duffey (Marquette University). The publisher’s description follows:

Written by top practitioner-scholars who bring a critical yet empathetic eye to the topic, this textbook provides a comprehensive look at peace and violence in seven world religions. 

* Offers a clear and systematic narrative with coverage of Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Native American religions

* Introduces a different religion and its sacred texts in each chapter; discusses ideas of peace, war, nonviolence, and permissible violence; recounts historical responses to violence; and highlights individuals within the tradition working toward peace and justice

* Examines concepts within their religious context for a better understanding of the values, motivations, and ethics involved

* Includes student-friendly pedagogical features, such as enriching end-of-chapter critiques by practitioners of other traditions, definitions of key terms, discussion questions, and further reading sections. 

White, “Reforming Sodom”

In August, the University of North Carolina Press will release “Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights,” by Heather R. White (University of Puget Sound). The publisher’s description follows:

With a focus on mainline Protestants and gay rights activists in the twentieth century, Heather R. White challenges the usual picture of perennial adversaries with a new narrative about America’s religious and sexual past. White argues that today’s antigay Christian traditions originated in the 1920s when a group of liberal Protestants began to incorporate psychiatry and psychotherapy into Christian teaching. A new therapeutic orthodoxy, influenced by modern medicine, celebrated heterosexuality as God-given and advocated a compassionate “cure” for homosexuality.

White traces the unanticipated consequences as the therapeutic model, gaining popularity after World War II, spurred mainline church leaders to take a critical stance toward rampant antihomosexual discrimination. By the 1960s, a vanguard of clergy began to advocate for homosexual rights. White highlights the continued importance of this religious support to the consolidating gay and lesbian movement. However, the ultimate irony of the therapeutic orthodoxy’s legacy was its adoption, beginning in the 1970s, by the Christian Right, which embraced it as an age-old tradition to which Americans should return. On a broader level, White challenges the assumed secularization narrative in LGBT progress by recovering the forgotten history of liberal Protestants’ role on both sides of the debates over orthodoxy and sexual identity.

McGinnis on the Roberts Opinion in King v. Burwell

This isn’t about law and religion, but readers might enjoy John McGinnis’s essay in the City Journal on last week’s decision in the Affordable Care Act case, King v. Burwell. John argues that Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion is principled, though wrong, on statutory interpretation. Did I mention John cites my early scholarship on statutory interpretation? My salad days, before I discovered law and religion.

“Young Sikhs in a Global World: Negotiating Traditions, Identities and Authorities” (Jacobsen & Myrvold, eds.)

In August, Ashgate Publishing will release “Young Sikhs in a Global World: Negotiating Traditions, Identities and Authorities” edited by Knut A. Jacobsen (University of Bergen, Norway) and Kristina Myrvold (Linnaeus University, Sweden). The publisher’s description follows:

In attempting to carve out a place for themselves in local and global contexts, young Sikhs mobilize efforts to construct, choose, and emphasize different aspects of religious and cultural identification depending on their social setting and context. Young Sikhs in a Global World presents current research on young Sikhs with multicultural and transnational life-styles and considers how they interpret, shape and negotiate religious identities, traditions, and authority on an individual and collective level.

With a particular focus on the experiences of second generation Sikhs as they interact with various people in different social fields and cultural contexts, the book is constructed around three parts: ‘family and home’, ‘public display and gender’, and ‘reflexivity and translations’. New scholarly voices and established academics present qualitative research and ethnographic fieldwork and analyse how young Sikhs try to solve social, intellectual and psychological tensions between the family and the expectations of the majority society, between Punjabi culture and religious values.

Markofski, “New Monasticism and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism”

In June, Oxford University Press releases “New Monasticism and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism” by Wes Markofski (University of Wisconsin-Madison). The publisher’s description follows:

For most of the last century, popular and scholarly common sense has equated American evangelicalism with across-the-board social, economic, and political conservatism. However, if a growing chorus of evangelical leaders, media pundits, and religious scholars is to be believed, the era of uncontested evangelical conservatism is on the brink of collapse-if it hasn’t collapsed already. Combining vivid ethnographic storytelling and incisive theoretical analysis, New Monasticism and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism introduces readers to the fascinating and unexplored terrain of neo-monastic evangelicalism. Often located in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods, new monastic communities pursue religiously inspired visions of racial, social, and economic justice-alongside personal spiritual transformation-through diverse and creative expressions of radical community.

In this account, Wes Markofski has immersed himself in the paradoxical world of evangelical neo-monasticism, focusing on the Urban Monastery-an influential neo-monastic community located in a gritty, racially diverse neighborhood in a major Midwestern American city. The resulting account of the way in which this movement reflects and is contributing to the transformation of American evangelicalism challenges entrenched stereotypes and calls attention to the dynamic diversity of religious and political points of view which vie for supremacy in the American evangelical subculture. New Monasticism and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism is the first sociological analysis of new monastic evangelicalism and the first major work to theorize the growing theological and political diversity within twenty-first-century American evangelicalism.

The Same-Sex Marriage Case

For those who are interested, my quick reaction to yesterday’s ruling in Obergefell is in a symposium today at the First Things website. I discuss the Court’s reasoning and the implications for religious liberty. Here’s a snippet:

First, although some commentators predicted that the Court would issue a narrow, pro-gay marriage ruling, the reasoning of Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion is actually quite sweeping, returning the Court to the heady days of substantive due process and unenumerated rights. Forget about textualism and originalism. As Chief Justice Roberts points out in his dissent, even the restraints of “history and tradition,” a limit Justice Harlan once suggested, are effectively shunted aside. A five-justice majority believes that same-sex marriage is a fundamental element of personal liberty, and that makes it a constitutional right.

For constitutional conservatives, this is very disheartening—whatever one’s views on the merits of same-sex marriage as a policy matter. After thirty years and more of trying assiduously to end, or at least limit, substantive due process, the doctrine still carries the day. As Justice Alito writes in his dissent, “Today’s decision shows that decades of attempts to restrain this Court’s abuse of discretion have failed. A lesson that some”—actually, anyone paying attention—“will take from today’s decision is that preaching about the proper method of interpreting the Constitution or the virtues of judicial self-restraint and humility cannot compete with the temptation to achieve what is viewed as a noble end by any practicable means.” Incidentally, today’s ruling demonstrates again how important the 1987 defeat of Robert Bork was, and how much Senate Democrats gained in putting up such a fight against him. It was the defeat of Bork that led to the nomination of Anthony Kennedy.

You can read my analysis, along with the other contributions to the symposium, here.

Summer Fridays With Pascal: On the Nature of Law

Many law students know the rough outlines of the distinction between naturalLaw law and legal positivism. Both are theories about the nature of law–about what is distinctive about law as a concept. There are many difficulties and nuances here, but as a rough and ready statement, one could say that legal positivism holds that in order for something to be “law,” we must look to its provenance or pedigree in this social world, and only in this social world. It follows that for legal positivists, there is an unbridgeable conceptual gap between what the law is and what the law ought to be–between something’s being law and something’s being a just or moral law. The natural law conception of law is quite different. It holds that “law” includes as its fundamental or “core” example just law–morally correct law. This does not mean that the natural lawyer refuses to believe that there can be unjust laws. Surely there can be. What the natural lawyer believes is that a law’s justice, or its morality, is an integral part of what makes law truly, or fully, or in its core case, law.

It is interesting to see Pascal weighing very much in on the side of legal positivism. He is coming, of course, not from the perspective of what one typically associates with contemporary legal positivism (a late nineteenth/twentieth century phenomenon) but from the Jansenist perspective of the fallenness of postlapsarian humanity. His view is that though natural justice exists (i.e., Pascal is not a relativist), humanity simply cannot know what it is in its depraved state. Whatever laws exist are law simply because bodies vested with proper authority have issued them. Note also that this view of law and justice greatly reduces the issue of compliance against conscience with what one deems an unjust law. What do you expect in this world, with these fallen creatures, after all, but unjust law? Here is Pascal:

On what shall man found the order of the world which he would govern? Shall it be on the caprice of each individual? What confusion! Shall it be on justice? Man is ignorant of it.

Certainly had he known it, he would not have established this maxim, the most general of all that obtain among men, that each should follow the custom of his own country. The glory of true equity would have brought all nations under subjection, and legislators would not have taken as their model the fancies and caprice of Persians and Germans instead of this unchanging justice. We would have seen it set up in all the States on earth and in all times; whereas we see neither justice nor injustice which does not change its nature with change in climate. Three degrees of latitude reverse all jurisprudence; a meridian decides the truth. Fundamental laws change after a few years of possession; right has its epochs; the entry of Saturn into the Lion marks to us the origin of such and such a crime. A strange justice that is bounded by a river! Truth on this side of the Pyrenees, error on the other side.

Men admit that justice does not consist in these customs, but that it resides in natural laws, common to every country. They would certainly maintain it obstinately, if reckless chance which has distributed human laws had encountered even one which was universal; but the farce is that the caprice of men has so many vagaries that there is no such law.

Theft, incest, infanticide, parricide, have all had a place among virtuous actions. Can anything be more ridiculous that a man should have the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of the water, and because his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have none with him?

Doubtless there are natural laws; but good reason once corrupted has corrupted all. Nihil amplius nostrum est; quod nostrum dicimus, artis est. Ex senatus–consultis et plebiscitis crimina exercentur. Ut olim vitiis, sic nunc legibus laboramus. [My translation: Nothing more than this is ours; what is ours is what we say, our art. Crimes are mandated to us by the senate, the consuls, and the people. Once we suffered from our vices, now we suffer from our laws.]

The result of this confusion is that one affirms the essence of justice to be the authority of the legislator; another, the interest of the sovereign; another, present custom, and this is the most sure. Nothing, according to reason alone, is just in itself; all changes with time. Custom creates the whole of equity, for the simple reason that it is accepted. It is the mystical foundation of its authority; whoever carries it back to first principles destroys it. Nothing is so faulty as those laws which correct faults. He who obeys them because they are just, obeys a justice which is imaginary, and not the essence of law; it is quite self-contained, it is law and nothing more….

From Fragment 294 of Pensées.

Conference: “Persecution of Christians in the World” (Brussels)

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For our readers in Europe, the European People’s Party will host a conference at the European Parliament next week on the persecution of Christians around the world:

The Group of the European People’s Party (EPP Group) has the pleasure to invite you to a conference organised by the Intercultural Activities and Religious Dialogue Unit on ‘The Persecution of Christians in the World’. The conference will take place on 1 July 2015 from 14.30-18.00 hrs in the European Parliament in Brussels.

The aim of the conference is to raise awareness at EU level and to provide a follow-up for the Motion for Resolution on the persecution of Christians in the world, in relation to the killing of students in Kenya by terror group al-Shabaab, adopted on 30 April 2015 in Strasbourg by Members of the European Parliament. In this Resolution, Members condemned the persecution of Christians and called on the EU and its Member States to address the persecution of Christians as a priority issue for their foreign policy.

The conference will consist of two parts: the first session will concentrate on the broader Middle East region, notably the cases of Syria and Iraq, and the second on other areas of the world, by giving examples from Asia to Africa.

Interpretation will be provided in ES-DE-EN-FR-IT-HU-PL

The event will take place in Brussels on July 1. Details are here. (H/T: Peggy McGuinness).