Paul Lim, associate professor of the history of Christianity at Vanderbilt Divinity School, marks the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation by discussing global Protestantism, as part of CFR’s Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call series.
FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York, and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the national program and outreach here at CFR.
As a reminder, today’s call is on the record, and the audio and transcript will be available on our website at CFR.org and on our iTunes podcast channel "Religion and Foreign Policy."
We’re delighted to have Paul Lim with us to mark the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. Paul Lim is associate professor of the history of Christianity at Vanderbilt Divinity School, specializing in Reformation and post-Reformation Europe. His latest book, Mystery Unveiled: The Crisis of the Trinity in Early Modern England, won the 2013 Roland H. Bainton Prize as the best book in history and theology by the Sixteenth Century Society & Conference. His other research interests include the history of evangelicalism and global Christianity. He’s currently writing a book on the transformation of global evangelical attitudes toward the eradication of human trafficking and structural poverty.
Paul, thanks very much for being with us today. We know that you are a leading expert on this. And it would be great if you could talk about the current state of global Protestantism 500 years after the Lutheran Reformation, and specifically on global evangelicalism in particular.
LIM: Thank you very much, Irina, for this opportunity to speak with so many people out there. And it just kind of occurred to me that in 500 years, Luther could not have imagined doing something like this with about 100-plus participants from all over North America and perhaps in other places to talk about ideas that matter to us a lot. So, once again, good afternoon, and welcome to our conversation on global Protestantism.
So as many of you are aware, today’s conversation is occasioned by the marking of the 500th year since the erstwhile Augustinian monk and professor of sacred scriptures at the University of Wittenberg, Martin Luther, either nailed or mailed his 95 Theses. What we will do, however, is not primarily focus on the past—although we will clearly refer to the Lutheran Reformation and multifarious reformations as an ideological launchpad to think about contemporary issues. In other words, we will turn our attention to the sheep of global Protestantism in our world in 2017 and the way Christians all over the world are participating in the journey of loving God and loving neighbor to the best of their abilities in the name of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. In doing so, we hope to cover salient aspects of the present dimensions of global Protestantism, as well as raise some questions about the future of that particular branch of world religious experience.
So I want to think about global Protestantism under three major rubrics. They are doctrine, or theology; and secondly, economics; and thirdly, politics. Since I only have ten minutes to cover these very, very broad themes, I’ll have to go through kind of quickly and really looking forward to our conversation afterward.
So doctrine, or theology. As we know, as many of us are aware, the whole doctrine of justification, how a sinful human person stands righteous and declared righteous in the presence of God, mattered a great deal in late medieval Christianity and what would become Reformation Protestantism as well. Luther’s idea, as he came to realize throughout his lectures in scriptures, in Psalms, Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews, his idea of justification by faith alone—which he averred was not a novel doctrine but a doctrine that had been taught by many in the past—mattered a great deal to him, and it really kind of unleashed this powerful dynamic of splintering Western Christianity and creating sort of a political and religious parallel universe where one branch of Western Christianity no longer adhered to or expressed allegiance to the bishop of Rome, also known as the pope.
And also, another aspect of his theology had to do with the extent of priestly mediation. One aspect of this idea was the priesthood of all believers, that you did not need the priestly mediation, human priestly mediation to approach God, but as individual Christians, in the power of the Spirit, you could approach God through Jesus Christ.
Well, if that was then, what about today’s theological world? What are some of the aspects that we want to focus on today? I think one of the things that come to mind is, to me, about Protestantism and other faith traditions—in other words, ecumenism and world religions. We’ll have some time to talk about that, hopefully, during our Q&A time—and secondly, explosion of global Pentecostalism and its concomitant impact in the way we think about faith, health, and wealth. And thirdly, questions about human identity, sexuality, and liberty of conscience. We know that global Anglican communion has gone through a lot of birthing pain of splintering its own communion over the issues of ordination of gay priests and that the same reverberations are felt in the way that Protestant Presbyterians and Methodists are also thinking about these matters. So it’s not particularly and only about human sexuality per se, but also about the human identity matrix writ large.
Also, the issues of liberty of conscience seems to be a very, very important aspect of global Protestantism today. Currently, I teach a course called Human Rights, Human Trafficking, and Remaking of Global Christianity, at Vanderbilt University, and it’s become—it’s garnered a great deal of attention recently. The issues of human rights and the issues of trafficking of human persons and how do we think about that within the context of this remaking of global Christianity, especially in the past four or five decades or so, that issues of social justice and human rights have become a very key issue for evangelical Christians worldwide. So my current focus dealing with Indian evangelicals’, Korean evangelicals’ and American evangelicals’ attitudes towards, and efforts on, the eradication of human trafficking. So the whole doctrine, we’ll come back to this matter a lot.
So doctrine, firstly, and secondly, economics. Luther’s 95 Theses had tremendous economic consequences. Thesis 43, for example—I don’t know if you had the chance to read this recently—but it’s very, very interesting in terms of the economic impact this will have in an unforeseen way. Thesis 43 among the 95 Theses writes like this: “Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.” And the whole debate about the efficacy of indulgences was what occasion Luther’s writing these 95 Theses, and Thesis 45 leaves nothing ambiguous at all. He writes: “Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy person and passes him by but gives his money for indulgences does not buy people indulgences but God’s wrath.” So he was kind of concerned about what about those who cannot afford the purchase of indulgences, and what does that mean for our economy of salvation.
So let’s think about the economic implications of the Christian faith as manifested in Protestantism. So Max Weber’s famous book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism might no longer be the relevant paradigm in thinking about the economic impact on Protestants and how global capitalism is in turn influenced by Protestant work ethic. Nonetheless, I think it does behoove us to ask the question about the connection today. Amartya Sen’s well-known book Development as Freedom offers a clear picture of global economic development as the best way of ensuring political freedom, both at the individual and national as well as global level. And Sen is by no means a Protestant Christian, but as Protestantism has argued, if true freedom is found in one’s belonging to God, and that freedom has economic implications, how does one do that today?
So recent efforts to think about HIV/AIDS as a global economic issue, not just a health—global health issue I think has garnered a lot of support from Protestants all over the world. You know, there was a recent conversation between a recent Senate hearing that had the pastor of Saddleback Community Church, Rick Warren, along sitting right next to Elton John—Sir Elton John, and that really provided a very interesting juxtaposition of coalescence of efforts in terms of economic impact for our global community. I think Nicholas Kristof’s comment is quite helpful when he wrote in the July 30th issue of 2011, an op-ed piece that he wrote for the New York Times. He says: go to the frontlines, at home or abroad, in the battles against hunger, malaria, prison rape, obstetric fistula, human trafficking, or genocide, and some of the bravest people you meet are evangelical Protestants or conservative Catholics—similar in many ways—who truly live their faith.
Lastly, politics. Now, Protestant identity has been inevitably enmeshed with national identities. In 1555, a major battle between Roman Catholic and Protestant forces within the Holy Roman Empire ended in a truce, and the compromised solution was, in Latin, “cuius regio, eius religio,” which means, “whose region, his religion,” meaning whoever rules in that particular principality, whatever his or her religion is, will be the subject’s religion. And if you don’t like it, that meant that it will be a massive period of religious immigration and migration and refugees. Confessional identities were to be divided up along the religion of the region’s supreme governor, queens and kings. And so there’s a kind of very inseparable connection between religious identity and national identity of political allegiance.
One of the interesting aspects of contemporary global Protestantism, as I have noted, is the trend to transcend the national barriers and boundaries, to create sort of multinational faith-based efforts to exert political influence. So this is clearly seen in the way that many American Evangelicals and others have sought to influence the way political decisions, especially regarding human rights and freedom, are to be understood and practiced and protected.
I think I’m going to probably just stop for now and then would really love to hear some questions, feedback and comments. Thank you very much.
OPERATOR: Our first question comes from Peg Chamberlin with Council of Churches.
CHAMBERLIN: Hi, thank you so much.
I’m interested in this issue of conscience, personal conscience. The pope has recently lifted that up, but I’m also interested in the way in which that personal aspect of faith versus a communal aspect of faith has been taken over by what we call the evangelical community to allow us to ignore the community responsibilities of faith. Thank you.
LIM: Yeah, thank you very much. I think that really has been historically true, I think, with many evangelicals focusing on individual salvation as the sole goal of one’s spiritual journey that has had a sort of an unfortunate divorce between individual salvation and social and corporate kind of responsibility. And I think that has been historically true and I think there’s sort of new evangelical community’s desire to ameliorate the situation and become much more globally conscious and socially aware. So I do think that maybe it’s also a generational divide, because among some of the younger evangelicals that I know, many of them did not vote, for example, for Donald Trump. They would be very leery of this kind of individualistic, kind of solipsistic vision of the Christian journey. But I think you’re right, that historically speaking, that’s an entirely warranted statement. Thank you very much.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
Paul, I’m going to intervene here as the moderator. You’ve researched evangelicals in the fight against human trafficking in India, Korea, and the United States. Can you talk about how Protestants around the world are coordinating this effort?
LIM: Right. I think, you know, so for example, there’s a pastor in Seoul, Korea, a Korean-American who was—who grew up in the Chicagoland area named Eddie Byun. He is an ex-pat doing a lot of ministry in Korea with a lot of help both from the Korean nationals as well as global Christians who live in and around Seoul. They do a lot of work with Southeast Asian kind of communities where there’s the steady presence of human trafficking, particularly in the area of sex trade. And I think that they are not just focused on me, myself, and I getting saved, but really thinking about the global and corporate dimensions that have—(inaudible)—in the way that foreign policies are conducted and social justice is pursued, and similarly here in North America, as well as in India. But, yeah.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Greg Han with Interfaith Ministries Greater Faith Houston.
HAN: Hi, thank you.
I’m reflecting on the—what I’ve heard is kind of the conciliatory tone especially between—here in America between the ELCA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Catholic Church. Stanley Hauerwas had a nice piece as well about “why still Protestantism.” And with these—especially at the 500th anniversary, these growing desires for some reconciliation, I’m curious about your thoughts on the future of, in some ways, Protestantism. And to echo Stanley Hauerwas’s question, why still Protestantism?
LIM: Yeah, thank you, Gregory. That’s a great question. I think it’s a question that was raised as early as the Colloquy at Regensburg for example. So this is within the first two decades of the Reformation, Catholics and Protestants sought ways to see each other as co-religionists and brothers and sisters in Christ.
So I think it’s been for about 500 years, you know, the efforts have been going on. I think that, for example, when you look at the Eastern and Western, so Eastern Orthodox tradition and Western Christianity, there is a kind of recognition that we are worshipping the same God, that the East-West split has not been as politically charged or, you know, all of that, as controversial as the split—intra-split within Western Christianity. And I think that model between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic, kind of rapprochement helps a lot in the way that we see our kind of identities within Western Christianity.
And I think, yeah, but at the same time, Eastern Orthodox are not saying, OK, we’re going to stop being Eastern Orthodox. I think they are being who they are, at the same time, deeply cognizant of the connective tissues between Eastern and Western Christian traditions. And I think that similar—that paradigm helps me to see the future for intra-Protestant conversations and dialogue. And I think a lot of times, you know, for better, for worse, I think a lot of the younger generation of Christians aren’t so hung up on the particulars in our national confessional identities. Again, I say that it’s got kind of both pros and cons to that.
LIM: So—and I think there is that future of, you know, kind of genuine collaboration and conciliation that I think is entirely possible and has been going on. So I also agree with Stanley that, yeah, just because there’s a lot of effort to recognize mutuality and commonality, does not necessarily mean that I give up my Protestant particularity—not out of pride, not out of some kind of obstinate desire to keep my own house to myself, but to recognize that there are different rooms in the house of the Lord And I think that’s the way that I see it. Does that help, Gregory?
HAN: It does. It’s—and it reflects—I’m a Presbyterian minister and do a great deal of interfaith work here in Houston, yeah, and that’s what I see. I see that as well in my pastoral as also my academic and community experience.
LIM: Sure, sure. I hope you guys are doing OK. Are things going all right in Houston these days? I know—
HAN: We are—you know, we are doing—we are doing well. And—but again, we still have areas that are still pretty hard-hit. But we’re pretty resilient and a unified city. So—but thank you for asking.
LIM: Thank you. Prayers are with you. Thanks a lot.
HAN: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: So, Paul, why are U.S. evangelicals more visible today in human rights campaigns around the world than they were 50 years ago? Is that a true statement, and if so, why?
LIM: OK, sure. I think so. I think, you know, one of the things that is a very important event in the history of global evangelicalism or global Protestantism is Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. And one of the aspects of this first Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization was the presence and the participation of what I would call the two-thirds world Christians, right? So Christians from South Asia and Latin America really put a lot of pressure on many of the Anglo-American delegates to think more holistically about the nature of the Christian gospel, that it is the social elements that inextricably connect it to the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ. And I do think that there has been a lot more effort to recognize the—sort of the both/and rather than either/or nature of the Christian identity and Christian gospel, so I think there’s been a lot more effort to implement more of a both/and approach. Yeah.
And let’s talk about the roles of national governments and state actors in the social justice efforts for the movement.
LIM: Yeah. I mean, so I think, you know, I was just talking—I’ve been teaching this in the last couple of weeks. You know, there’s this effort in—started with President Clinton, you know, passing this whole—you know, the anti-human trafficking bill, and then under President George W. Bush, as well as President Barack Obama. So it’s both a bipartisan effort to really kind of see the American soft power, you know, being sort of the agent of bringing about what some would call the global shalom—right?—the global peace in terms of kind of ameliorating their human condition in terms of those persons who are trafficked across whether in Albania, or Thailand, or Sudan, or right here in Nashville, Tennessee. And I think that’s been a real kind of concerted effort on the part of the government that has worked with kind of faith-based communities.
But I think, you know, there are some understandable critics who see that American foreign policy has too strong a sort of Protestant hue to it. For example, a recent book by Professor Yvonne Zimmerman called All the Dreams of Freedom talks a lot about how American foreign—American policy in terms of anti-human trafficking bills and efforts are basically sort of American Protestant work ethic and sexual ethic writ large. So I think, you know, though she is very, very critical of it, I think she’s also, in doing so, aware of and I guess acknowledging the sort of footprint—the fingerprint of American Protestantism that’s there in the—for better, for worse in the way that American foreign and domestic policy with regard to human rights has been carried out.
FASKIANOS: In terms of the Trump administration—you mentioned the trends in the Bush and Obama administration. What do you see happening in this administration?
LIM: In this administration? Yeah, that’s a great question.
I think—yeah, I think the current administration is understandably kind of involved with issues of, you know, the global threat, whether coming from North Korea or, you know, in different parts of the world in the Middle East or—and also the whole issues of DACA and—so I think they are issues that have to do with global threat and human rights. But I do think that there are a lot of Evangelical Christians who are, I guess, committed to supporting the current President Trump in his efforts, and so I do think that it’s yet to be seen in terms of bold strokes, because we haven’t really hurt much about President Trump is doing in terms of fighting against the human rights violations, particularly human trafficking. So that remains to be seen. He still has three years to go—three years and several months to go. So I hope that helps.
FASKIANOS: Yes, it does.
And we have a lot of members of the faith community on the call today, including, you know, ordained clergy and nonprofit administrations of faith-based organizations. What are the lessons learned from the movement that could be brought back to respective communities—their respective communities?
LIM: Yeah, you know, I want to—I mean, this is a pretty well-known book now, Allen Hertzke’s book. It’s about the effort that many Christians and Jews and others and secular atheists and global feminists have done to fight against the issues of human rights violations. It’s called Freeing God’s Children: The Unlikely Alliance for Global Human Rights. I do think that—and there are an increasing number of global Protestants, particularly evangelicals, who see that there are issues that transcend our confessional boundaries and religious barriers, and that is, you know, people created in the image of God, and which means all people in this world, have the inalienable right of human dignity and identity, and any time that is violated ruthlessly against and in a coercive fashion, I think there is—the role that all human communities—religious communities and neighborhood organizations have to play. Oftentimes that means the primary questions, the ultimate questions of who God is and where salvation is found can be set aside in order to pursue the common good. And I think that would be a very important takeaway for our community leaders and faith-based groups.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Eduardo Vargas with International Center for Religion and Diplomacy.
VARGAS: Yes, thank you. I appreciate your time.
LIM: Thank you.
VARGAS: I was actually wondering, kind of taking it back a little bit to the Trump query, I think one or two questions before, and taking a different spin on it—you know, in my line of work I come across—working with faith-based organizations in conflict zones and development areas—and I found—basically the question is, how are evangelicals, specifically American evangelicals—how are they able to reconcile either in a doctrinal or a theological way the current Trump administration’s apparent disregard for, as you mentioned, DACA, refugee rights, human rights, all these things that typically, you know, at face value just scream Christian ideals but, you know, are not being upheld that way, yet, you know, you have strong people that profess a strong faith in Christianity, you know, defending Trump’s or the administration’s, you know, policy changes?
LIM: Yeah. Thank you, Mr. Vargas. That’s really great, the question, that is.
I want to go back to [Peg] Chamberlin’s her question about the sort of solipsism of Evangelicals Christians, meaning that, you know, when Christian identity becomes sort of tribalistic, that’s where the real problem starts, meaning that when Christianity is—when American Christianity and the word—the inflection on American becomes more important than Christian or Christianity, than we become sort of let’s circle the wagon of American exceptionalism, and I think that’s where the problem really does arise and really exacerbates the situation.
So as I mentioned earlier, there is a shift among younger evangelicals, but doesn’t mean that the older evangelicals are no longer around or influencing, you know, this was a making and some of the highest epicenters of power, including the White House. So I think there is a kind of ongoing kind of engagement, sometimes a painful or conflictual engagement about how to think about the issues of Christian identity in politics in terms of sanctuary cities or does the Church become a place of embracing those who are, you know, refugees and whose legal statuses may be in jeopardy. And I think there is an ongoing conversation about that, and I think—so I do think that, to answer your question more briefly, yeah, I think there are quite a number of evangelical Christians that I do know who are deeply troubled by the kind of connection, the connective tissue between American evangelicals and President Trump. But that’s not the only one. I mean, that’s—because they aren’t the only spokespersons for American evangelicalism, however. And I think therein lies the percentage battle, right?
LIM: Because what is the percentage of evangelicals supporting everything that President Trump does? I don’t know. We haven’t—I mean, I’m sure there are some surveys that try to cover that. And I do think that—the kind of Christians, the evangelical Christians that I talk to—because my family attend an evangelical church right here in Nashville—and there are many who are deeply concerned about the way that sort of the hijacking of evangelical identity with some kind of political attachment, right? So, I mean, I often say, look, Christianity is neither Republican nor Democrat. I mean, Jesus is absolutely refusing to kind of take either/or side. And the moment that we do that, I think therein lies some of our deep-seated problems. You know, I think—yeah, I think that’s what I would say. I hope that’s helpful.
VARGAS: It is. It is. Can I have—can I add a follow-up question to that, if you don’t mind?
FASKIANOS: Absolutely. No, go ahead.
VARGAS: Thank you.
This is super helpful, and I really appreciate you for shedding—you know, shedding this light on it. Would you say this, as you said, kind of like tribalistic identity is exclusive to American evangelical Christianity, or are we seeing this, you know, become a trend kind of throughout other parts of the world? I mean, in general, right?
LIM: Yeah, you know, so I think, you know, I’m sure many others have done similarly, but, you know, I’ve gone to about, I don’t know, 18 or 19 countries and lectured and taught and learned a lot about the way that God is, you know, moving. And I think one of the things that I do emphasize a lot is to not repeat the sort of—the kind of mistake that to attach American national identity with confessional identity. And as I said in my presentation earlier, I think that’s already been laid down very clearly since 1555, right? I mean, like, if it says, OK, whose region, then his religion. I mean, that means there’s an inexorable connection between national identity and confessional kind of circumscription. So I do think that—but, you know, you think about the early Christians, it didn’t really matter whether you’re Jew or gentile, or male or female, or free or servant, and I do think that it is that sort of rediscovering that vision that was truly transnational and global and universal, I think is really helpful. I’m sure he knows this book, a little dated but still very relevant, Jim Wallis’ book God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It. I do think that it’s important for Christians, especially in our very, very divisive and even more divisive era today than it was a year ago, to remember that. I think—because there’s always going to be that tribalistic cooptation of Christian identity to be exclusively belonging to the left or the right. And I would just try my best to resist that, and I do my—I also talk about it a great deal, that it is important to—it doesn’t mean that the centrist get it right and they only get it right. That’s not true, either. So I think it’s going to be a back-and-forth affair, I’m afraid.
VARGAS: Super helpful, Paul. Thank you so much.
LIM: Thanks a lot.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Satpal Singh with State University of New York at Buffalo.
SINGH: Hi. Thanks for taking my question, which expands on a couple of earlier questions.
SINGH: From a general spiritual point of view, in your opinion, where does one draw a balance between strong nationalistic approaches on one hand and broader issues of human dignity and the really dire needs of displaced persons on the other hand? And in relation to another earlier question, what is the role that faith leaders can play in this issue in general?
LIM: OK, sir, so this issue meaning—what was it again, I’m sorry?
SINGH: The drawing a balance between nationalistic approaches, very strong nationalistic approaches, and trying to contain, you know, your people within your borders and not allowing others on one hand, and on the other hand the really, you know, significant needs of displaced persons.
LIM: Yeah. So the whole how does one draw balance between the sort of nationalistic, tribalistic approach of protection of borders and the other issue being more of an embracing of the stranger, right? So thank you.
LIM: I think, you know, so the Reformation, as the historian Heiko Oberman said, is a refugee movement, and we often forget that, that as a result of this major religious and political upheaval, many people moved from one nation to another seeking a safe haven of religion and a safe place to be politically correct, if you want to put it that way. And I think it is important that during this time period there was a lot greater desire to really think about human rights and think about going beyond the issues of national boundaries, to think about the sort of confraternities that were created because of one’s religious connection.
And so this pastor by the name of John Calvin, a Genevan pastor who’s often kind of caricaturized as someone who only talked about predestination, said some things like God has a real special preference of treatment for those who are orphans, widows and aliens. And I do think that it is important for Christian communities, especially the sort of evangelical Protestant communities, to think about what it means to really embrace and protect the orphans and widows about whom very few of us have problems, but when it comes to aliens and strangers, then we seem to have a real problem. And I think it is important to recognize that, you know, I think it’s very clear that—for example, in the Hebrew Bible, in the Old Testament, it is very clear when it says, you know, I want you to remember that you yourselves were once foreigners, and therefore you ought to extend your hand of welcome to those who are foreigners and strangers among you as well. Now what that means in terms of how that translates into policy is going to be the next key question, but I do think that it’s important to have that general kind of mindset and sort of a commitment to it, because—so, you know, let me read something from the book of Leviticus. You might not think that—what good does—what possible good can come out of the book of Leviticus. Leviticus Chapter 19: It says: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I’m the Lord your God.”
And I think—and Calvin’s commentary to this is really, really interesting. He says God recommends aliens and sojourners to Him just as if they had been their own kindred. They then understand that equity is to be cultivated constantly and towards all men and women. And I—so for me, when I think about my own kind of religious identity as a Protestant Christian, there’s this kind of rich history and kind of legacy of people who really talked about these matters, both because it is what the Bible says but the other matter being that in the city of Geneva, there’s a mounting sense of xenophobia. So in 1545, they started this thing called Bourse Francaise, which is sort of a community mutual fund. It was designed to help the refugees to settle into the city of Geneva. And I think the circumstances are not so dramatically different. So I do think that drawing balance is really important, but I think many Christians throughout history have said my ultimate allegiance belongs to Jesus Christ, not to Caesar, not to some prime minister, not to some president. And I think there’s always going to be that tension of living between two cities, the city of God and the city of man. And I think we see that a lot more in clear kind of stripes and other times it’s much more ambiguous. And I think right now with DACA et al. and these—we’re seeing it much more in center of the national debate.
SINGH: Yeah, if I may follow up briefly on one of the things that you just mentioned.
SINGH: You actually give very interesting description of being between the city of God and the city of man.
SINGH: And if the city of God, you know, using the same kind of descriptor—if the city of God sees the city of man is going way too away from the faith’s, you know, teachings, so what is the best approach that the city of God can take to reconcile human dignity and the need for our humanity with respect to what the city of man is doing?
LIM: Yeah. So I think there’s a letter—so I would answer it first historically and then theologically, I suppose. There’s a letter called Epistle to Diognetus which talks a lot about the early Christian behaviors. So I think, you know, there’s a kind of—and that says that, you know, they’re not—they were following different kind of dictates, meaning that they weren’t going to be following the Roman customs in many ways, for example. So there’s a kind of dialectical tension. As citizens, it says they share in all things with others, yet they endure all things as foreigners, and it says they marry as do all others, they beget children, but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table but not a common bed. They are in the flesh but they do not live after the flesh, which means that I think they were really kind of cognizant of the need to be that hospitable group to create an alternative paradigm of sociality and humanity so that the city of man, if you want to put it that way, will look to the city of God and say, you know what, they’re living kind of differently. They’re kind of peculiar people, and then there may be some things that we can learn from them. Now, you might come back and say show me some historical instances when that was in fact the case, and there are some for sure, but I think that’s been the way that early Christians have lived their lives. And I do think that that’s why it is entirely salutary to look back at the early Church, the way that they really constructed their identity that was transnational.
I hope that helps.
SINGH: Yeah. Thank you so much.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Carmen LaBerge with Reconnect.
LABERGE: Hi. I might ask this in a rather messy fashion, so bear with me.
LABERGE: I think that one of the things I hear you describing is a bit of a realignment of global Protestantism maybe between what we would recognize as historic versions of Protestantism and then more a confessional evangelicalism. Maybe we see that happening in the United States as well.
LABERGE: Maybe you could make observations about the parallels that we might see today to what Luther might have observed in his day in terms of the motivations maybe related to the role of the Church in the world, or the professionalization of the clergy, or that which is distinctively Christian—whatever observations you might make about the parallels that we might see today that might call for a kind of new reformation.
LIM: Yeah, thank you. That’s a great question. So, yeah. I think maybe kind of back to what we have talked about, some of these issues of human rights and human identity, but also the economic kind of implications of the Christian gospel, right? So—because I think, you know, if Jesus said that, you know, other people may have places to, you know, rest their body but the Son of Man does not have—you know, even have a pillow to rest his own weary head, I think the Church was much more marked by—not marked by material acquisitiveness in the way that many Christians in the West and perhaps even beyond are really kind of living as if this world and this world alone is what counts and what comes around. So I do think that in terms of this kind of reformation—new reformation, I would say is to take more seriously the world yet to come as a blueprint for the way that we live our life today, right? So if lion and lamb should lay down together, for example, in that Isaiahnic vision, what does that mean for us to be more peace-pursuing, rather than quickly picking up arms. And, I mean, we can draw up multiple imageries right away, whether it is in Texas, or Las Vegas, or in many, many epicenters around the global village. So I do think that, you know, what does that mean for Christians to really take the call of peace seriously and also the nonacquisitiveness with regard to material possessions really seriously, right? And I do think that that would be a very powerful testament, right?
Because I think—and also the early Christians were really known for—you know, we know the word xenophobia, fear of the stranger. But the antonym of that would be philoxenia, a love of the stranger, right? And because in the letter to the Hebrews, the writer says, you know, be not afraid of the stranger. You know, entertain them and express hospitality, radical hospitality rather than hostility to them. And I do think that for now, in ways that are kind of beyond Luther’s kind of—beyond Luther’s scope and understanding is the world has really come to—the world has become much more flat, if you know what I mean.
LIM: It’s just—meaning that, I mean, right now, I mean, it still—even as I’m doing this right now, it is kind of mindboggling that I’m in this kind of conference call with 100-plus people. I mean, try to tell that to Luther, or Calvin, or Teresa of Ávila. They wouldn’t get—like, what are you talking about, right? So I do think that the issues of human conflict and interpersonal issues or interconfessional issues have become exploded because, you know, now if I say something offensive to somebody, somebody’s going to put it on social media, and it could easily go viral—right?—depending on who the person was who said it, what it is that was said, and so on and so forth. So I do think that there’s greater ripple effects, both positively and negatively. And I think in terms of a new Reformation, it is to really take seriously that this world and this world is not all there is to it, and material possessions and acquisitions cannot define who we are. And what a better world it will be, in my humble opinion, if Christians would take that very sacredly and seriously. So I hope that helps.
LABERGE: Thank you very much. Yeah, absolutely. Thank you.
LIM: Sure, you’re welcome. Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Kevin McBride with Raymond Baptist Church.
MCBRIDE: Hi, thanks for this call.
MCBRIDE: I said thank you for this call. It is absolutely amazing and very informative.
LIM: Thank you.
MCBRIDE: I just wanted to emphasize what I think you said earlier, that I’ve been a part of a couple of different groups as evangelicals in the U.S., the Evangelical Immigration Roundtable, and Bibles, Badges, and Businesses. So there are a significant number of us who have been speaking out for the last 10 years on immigration reform and especially with DACA as it affects, like you said, the strangers and the aliens amongst us. So there are a significant number trying to bring reform in the light of something—you know, something else you may be hearing in the news as a whole. So it’s encouraging to know that, you know, there are people working on this.
LIM: No, I mean, I thought there was a question to what Pastor McBride said, but I just—yeah, I mean, I think that’s really—there are certain kind of segments within the global Christian population that take very seriously and wrestle with—we don’t have easy solutions—right?—because one of the things that one often forgets is that our ultimate allegiance to one city often means our resistance to the other city. And I think whereas in the Catholic social teachings, I think there is a lot more capacious allowance for the Church being an alternative society or alternative paradigm, I think for many evangelicals, I think the Romans 13 teaching of, you know, honoring the civil magistrate has really predominated the conversation so that it never really—for many evangelical Christians, they didn’t really think much about the sort of resistance theory. But, ironically, historically speaking, the very basis of the Calvinist resistance theory was actually from Romans 13, which actually reads: Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. So, I mean, it’s kind of interesting when you look at it that way.
Or for example, the many gentile Christians who, during the Nazi kind of occupation and their desire to exterminate the Jews, certainly disobeyed the secular authority in order to obey God by hiding away the Jews. And the stories of Corrie ten Boom and numerous others come to my mind. So I think we need to remember that sometimes it will cost us something to express our beliefs in the—(inaudible)—of God, right? Because I think—I mean, I for one—you know, I’m not persecuted for my faith, right? I mean, I live in North America and I live in Nashville, so there is not much kind of overt religious persecution to come my way; therefore, I become sort of accustomed to the fact that maybe believing in Christ will not come at any cost. But I think, you know, the global Christianity is a very powerful kind of theater to show us in living colors that there are sisters and brothers, whether in—I mean, I won’t name all the countries, but, you know, belief in Jesus Christ means that—it really counts for something because it’ll cost something. So I think learning more about the global Christian community has been a really humbling thing, and very convicting to me.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Dr. Ted Esler with Missio Nexus.
ESLER: I’d be curious to know if you have—I am aware that there’s 150 to 200 or possibly more churches that have been started in Europe just through refugee ministry in many different cities, many of these people coming from Muslim countries and Muslim backgrounds, and that this is having a rejuvenating effect on many of the churches that are in Europe. And I wonder if that couldn’t be a model that we look for here in the U.S. as well. Have you seen that, and what’s your understanding of what’s happening there in regards to the refugee influx and outreach to them?
LIM: Yeah, no, that’s a great question. So the largest church in London is not a typical white English congregation, right? And I think—and it’s because of globalization and immigration, right? Because when one thinks about European religious landscape, one easily thinks of Islamic Europe, and I think in many ways that is true. But at the same time, there are many of these kind of cosmopolitan centers where the largest—you know, the real vibrant church communities tend to be immigrant/refugee communities.
I mean, here, even in North America—so I was born in Korea, grew up in Philadelphia from age 15—some of the largest churches in North America are not your typical white evangelical church. There are plenty of Nigerian and Kenyan churches. There are plenty of Korean churches, whether in L.A., or in New York, in Washington, D.C., that are there. And I think so often they just go relatively undetected, right? They are not talked about a lot, and so on and so forth. And I think there’s a need for kind of a fresh scholarship that focuses on global Christianity right here in North America, because when one thinks about global Protestantism, inevitably, one things of beyond the borders. But the borders have become much more porous, for better, for worse, depending on where you are politically. But, you know, therefore religiously speaking, a lot of, you know, refugee-seeking individuals as well as immigrants have come to our country and have found their religious expression right here. And some of their kind of congregations—not just in terms of numerical size but the prominence and the communal impact that they’re having—you know, for example, Hispanic Pentecostal churches, a lot of them are really, really significant in terms of not just the number of worshipers on Sundays but also in terms of their impact that they have regarding the community, kind of embracing those who feel downtrodden and marginalized and disenfranchised. So I do think that it is vitally important for us to be more aware of the presence of the erstwhile refugees and immigrants in many of these kind of epicenters, cosmopolitan and metropolises, not only in Europe but also in North America. I hope that helps.
ESLER: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Paul, can you give us a little preview on your upcoming—the research that you’re doing for your book on human trafficking and global poverty?
LIM: Yeah, so I think, you know, the project has morphed a little bit. It has less to do with poverty but much more to do with the kind of work that is anti-human trafficking, particularly kind of sex trafficking.
And I also have—I’ve come to realize why evangelical Christians have this kind of fascination with—or preoccupation with sex trafficking. When you think about human trafficking, globally speaking, surely sex trafficking is a big component of the—a big piece of the pie. But the other enormous piece of the pie is bonded labor, labor—so the whole issue of bonded labor is a really huge matter, for example, in India and other countries, but it doesn’t get as much attention here in North America. So I think the project is kind of looking at the issues, whether in India and in Delhi and Calcutta, as well as in Seoul, Korea, as well as in several cities in North America—how Christians who are—who self-identify as evangelicals have caught this kind of new vision and what that has meant both politically in terms influencing decisions, but also just congregationally and cultural shifts.
So I’m about two-thirds of the way through the book. I had a year off, thanks to the Louisville Institute, last year, and I’m hoping to finish the book by the end of 2018, so December, so maybe 13 months from now the book will be done. And I learned a lot about this, both the courage and sometimes misdirected zeal, but I think courage often breeds—because, you know, I may be courageous, but my results and outcome may not be what I’d intended. And so it’s not a—it’s not a book that is defending or decrying. So I, as a historian of global Christianity, I’m kind of trying to face what has triggered this kind of renaissance of interest among global evangelicals, and what has it looked like, and what might that mean for the future. So, I mean, as a historian you’re not supposed to be talking about the future so much, but, yeah, the past and present dimension. So, yeah, that’s the book.
FASKIANOS: Sounds terrific. We will have to keep an eye out for it and have you come back to talk about it when you’ve published it.
LIM: Thank you very much.
FASKIANOS: Paul, it was really terrific to have you with us today to talk about this really remarkable anniversary and to share your—the research that you’ve done over the years and your analysis. So thank you very much for being with us, and thanks to all of you for your questions and comments. We encourage you to follow Paul’s work and be on the lookout for his book and to follow CFR’s Religion and Foreign Policy program on Twitter, @CFR_Religion, where we’ll tweet out announcements about upcoming events and information about the latest CFR resources.
If any of you are going to be at the American Academy of Religion annual meeting this weekend, we have a big luncheon event on ethnonationalism on Monday, November 20th, from 11:30 to 1:00 p.m. So if you haven’t gotten the invitation or you happen to be going to Boston, let us know. Email [email protected], and we can give you more details on that.
So thank you all again, and thank you, Paul Lim for being with us today.
LIM: Thank you very much.