Ethno-nationalism and the Christian Trinity: Follow Up Discussion

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In my previous post one Christian commenter took a contrary position to the one I had taken in regards to ethno-nationalism. We had a discussion that further elucidates my views on the subject and also presents the opposing position taken by the majority of modern Christians. I have pasted the discussion here below:

Samuel O. Griffin: This is an interesting perspective, especially considering so many (e.g., Moltmann, Zizioulas, Volf, Fiddes) have used the trinity to argue for the exact opposite conclusion—desegregation / mutual embrace.

I have a few comments and I’d love to hear your feedback.

First, if we assume definitional clarity on racial identity and belonging (no small feat), we can agree different human “sub-types” display “varying abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.” If this is the case, it seems to me the church suffers loss if such sub-types segregate, since there are fewer opportunities for mutual edification. I see a similar, though not identical, parallel in Paul’s discourse on spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12). In that chapter, Paul acknowledges a diversity of gifts but credits them to one Spirit and for the whole body such that each member relies on one another for health (vv. 24-25). If I separate myself from believers, especially of different cultural, racial, political, etc. background, I have lost an opportunity to correct and be corrected, to encourage and be encouraged, to serve and be served. Ethno-nationalism, it seems to me, robs the church of such opportunities.

Second, theologians (e.g., John of Damascus, Aquinas, Calvin, Moltmann, Zizioulas, Swinburne) sometimes speak of perichoresis—mutual inherence between trinitarian persons in loving cooperation. While I share your concern to preserve distinction between trinitarian persons, perichoresis and procession, I think, works against your argument, since there is no closer relation than between Father, Son, and Spirit. They are, in other words, codependent and reciprocally implicating. The Father has no “space to [himself] in which [he] can express [himself] as such.” He has, instead, existed in essential, eternal, coequal subsistent relationship with persons different than himself. This suggests to me, then, it is precisely when differentiated sub-types enjoin themselves to / with one another within shared communities that we can see something of a reflection of triune relations. Ethno-nationalism, from my perspective, appears to promote a form of individualism (very charitably, one that can be maintained harmoniously) that serves as a denial triune relationality, not its affirmation.

Third, you ground ethno-nationalism in the creation mandate, in which “we deduce from the principle of stewardship a need to preserve species and sub-species of various plants and animals.” Stewardship, I think, includes both preservation and governance—to exercise dominion for creation’s welfare (e.g., infrastructure, irrigation, agriculture). What are your thoughts on interbreeding between plant species (“to produce new crop varieties with desirable properties”)? Do you believe this technique violates the principle of stewardship? If so, I wonder if your interpretation of stewardship in inconsistent with governance. If not, your argument for the preservation of human “sub-species” (and by extension, ethno-nationalism) appears undermined. This, of course, is reductio ad absurdum, and I wonder if the consistent application of what I take as your interpretation of Gen. 1:28-30 would prohibit things as innocuous as plant breeding.

Thanks for the interesting post. I look forward to your reply.

Manly Task: First of all, to clarify, politics is a necessary evil. In my view, I make a very sharp distinction between the kingdom of man (the state) and the kingdom of God (the church). Christians live in a world of sin and unbelief. Government is a necessary check on fallen man. If everyone were a member of the Church invisible and completely sanctified, we wouldn’t need governments or borders.

As long as we are involved in missions and allow foreign residents, students, and visitors into our homelands, I don’t see why we wouldn’t have plenty of opportunities for mutual edification. I heard an anecdote once from R.J. Rushdoony that under segregation black and white churches would come together on occasion, have a mixed service, and share dinner together. This allows both congregations to retain their identity while coming together a few times a year for united worship with Christian neighbors. Ethnically homogeneous homelands have been the assumed norm throughout human history. Were our Christian forefathers in previously all-white Europe or are our modern day brethren in all-Japanese Japan any less sanctified or edified than we are in multi-racial America? I would tend to think not.

The more sanctified a group of heterogeneous people become the more closely they resemble perichoresis as you describe it. That is the closer they can come to one another without dissolving into oneness (unitarianism) and retaining their distinctness without coming into conflict and then ultimately breaking apart (polytheism). The passage from Revelation I quoted in my article gives us a vivid image of exactly what this looks like. In this perfected vision we have the platonic African at the height of his African-ness and the platonic European at the height of his European-ness worshiping side by side. As I said though, we live in a world of sinful Christians and unbelievers. Ethno-nationalism as a philosophy and political tool is the perfect solution for our present age.

Are you saying that producing hybrid-plants with desirable properties is part of governance? Sorry, I’m a little confused. There were laws against hybridization in the old testament. “Keep my statutes. Do not let your cattle gender with a diverse kind. Do not sow your field with two kinds of seed. Neither shall there come upon you a garment of two kinds of stuff mingled together (Lev. 19:19). Do not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed; lest the fullness of the seed which you have sown be forfeited together with the increase of the vineyard. Do not plow with an ox and an ass together. Do not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together (Deut. 22:9-11).” While we live in the new testament dispensation and old testament statutes no longer apply, I do believe that hybridization does tend to run against the grain of nature. Hybrid animals can’t survive in the wild and I would assume (not an expert on the subject) letting hybrid plants into the wild would cause ecological imbalance. Hybridization practiced on a limited scale I wouldn’t have a problem with, but on a massive scale it is, I believe, irresponsible and unwise. That applies whether we’re talking about plants, animals, or humans.

Samuel O. Griffin: Thanks for the helpful response. I think this reveals some divergent underlying presuppositions, specifically concerning the nature of culture / race (and perhaps the historical formation of such cultures / races), its place within individual / corporate identity, and its relation to Christian identity.

I’ll try to keep my questions and comments concise.

First, granting that ethno-nationalism allows for “foreign residents, students, and visitors,” it’s unclear to me how ethno-nationalism succeeds in “creating protective environments” that shields “from the destructive effects of modern globalization,” since the very presence of such residents exerts influence on the indigenous culture.

Second, in answer to your question about the sanctification of homogeneous cultures, I’ll simply reaffirm, with you, that particular cultures have “varying abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.” My Japanese Christian friend, in fact, does believe Japanese churches fail, because of their homogeneity, to benefit from the perspective and presence of other believes. It’s precisely when, say, a Nigerian believer interacts with his Japanese counterpart that the former’s unique, God-given abilities and strengths can address and correct the latter’s unique weaknesses. Could this happen through occasional interactions? Of course. Yet, it seems to me, lasting mutual edification and encouragement happens within the daily lived experience of Christian communities.

Third, yes, I’m taking agricultural methods as an aspect of governance. I have a few questions here: (i) can you explain why such regulations as Lev. 19:19 apply not simply to cattle, seeds, and cloths but to human races as well, (ii) since you see no problem with “hybridization” on a limited scale, would you thereby see no problem with, for example, interracial marriage on a limited scale, and (iii) cultures / races, it seems to me, derive from “hybridization”—having singular origin in Adam, diverse cultures / races emerge in interaction with one another (e.g., Judeo-Christian heritage, Anglo-Saxon); as such, rather than cultural / racial dissolution, wouldn’t greater cultural / racial exchange promote greater varieties of human sub-types (cf. Gen. 1:28-30: “be fruitful and multiply”)?

Fourth, relatedly, can you explain (if space and energy permits) the nature of culture / race? For example, what exactly is the platonic form of African-ness? For example, what language is spoken by the ideal African? To what tribe does he (she?) belong? What is the ideal African’s skin tone? As I recall, Plato thought we could perceive the forms by reflection on their spatiotemporal instances. In perceiving the form of African-ness, on whom do we reflect? My point, of course, is that culture / race is far more dynamic and diverse than I think you admit. In my opinion, asserting such things as African-ness or European-ness as univocal categories diminishes cultural / racial diversity within those contexts by artificially selecting one grouping as representative, and thereby dissolves into oneness, something we can both agree should be avoided.

Let me know if you think I’ve overreached. Thanks!

Manly Task: The ethno-state exists to further the integrity, interests and wellbeing of its ethno-group. It doesn’t have to be 100% pure to do that, %90+ is a more realistic aim. As long as the state takes measures to protect the history, culture, and identity of the people it was created to preserve, I don’t see why you couldn’t allow for a limited foreign presence? This was sort of standard practice pre mass-migration.

Imagine you could flip a switch and shake up the world population so that there is an equal distribution of all races and kinds in every country in the world. In order that every Christian congregation could experience this edification you speak of, would you flip the switch? Before you answer, I’d ask you to seriously consider the ramifications of your decision.

Reading through numerous old testament passages I think you can safely extract from them that mingling of mixed kinds as a general principle was opposed by God. Inter-marriage between Jew and Gentile was also forbidden, “And Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them, Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel. Now therefore make confession unto the Lord God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives.” No, I don’t have problem with intermarriage occurring on a limited scale. I thought that was clear from my last comment.

Yes, intermixing between tribes and peoples occurred throughout human history and yes this does at times create new people groups and sub-types. This sort of historical intermixing however happened slowly and organically. We are talking about an entirely different thing here in the modern era. This is a massively random and chaotic commingling created by our new world of mass-transit and globalization. Under normal circumstances the tendency is for mankind to develop in isolation. This gives time for a unique culture and people to develop and form.

As I envision it, we need to think of a hierarchy of categories and sub-categories. There is the platonic Man, the platonic European, the platonic Northern European, the platonic Scots-man, the platonic Highlander and on down to the most specific category. To give an example, the platonic Scots-man represents both what is common and unique to all Scots in an ideal and perfected form. Same with any other category in the hierarchy. I just arbitrarily picked African and European to make an illustration.

Bonus side factoid. Creationists posit that there were so called “kinds” which Noah saved in his Ark and that from these “kinds” were derived the wide diversity of animal life. In taxonomy, this so called “kind” would occur about at the family level. Dogs, wolves, foxes, and jackals all are members of the biological family Canidae. Did you know that a dog and a wolf have more in common genetically than an African and a European?

Samuel O. Griffin: Thanks for the reply. I think we’ll have to part ways here. (I admit defeat.) Once we start delineating necessary and sufficient conditions for participating in the platonic Scots-man the conversation has ventured beyond my pay grade.

If I may leave with a personal anecdote, I’ve lived most of my life in predominantly white, middle class, conservative environments. Since then, I have been privileged to worship, and live, with believers of various cultures, ethnicities, nationalities, church traditions, and political affinities. I believe it’s precisely because I have lived in close proximity to these believers that I have grown in my faith, better able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of my own cultural identity.

Honestly, I welcome the destruction of any cultural particularity that distracts or detracts from reception to the gospel, ultimately because my identity in Christ supersedes all others (e.g., white, middle class, conservative, American, reformed Baptist). (*Interesting factoid. Did you know I have more in common with a Nepalese believer than with any unbeliever in my biological family?) If God uses globalization to strengthen his people and extend the gospel to all peoples and my white cultural heritage (whatever that means) is destroyed in the process, I’ll gladly praise God in whatever language I use.

Would I shake up the world’s population to ensure an equal distribution of peoples in every country? Probably not, though I think eternity with look something like that. I can say whatever the ramifications, there would no longer be unreached people groups, and for that I’d be grateful.

Again, thanks for the post and the gracious responses. I expect we’ll both see eye to eye some day.

Manly Task: Your perspective and insights are a welcome contribution. Thank you for the civil discourse.

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2 Responses to Ethno-nationalism and the Christian Trinity: Follow Up Discussion

  1. Roland says:

    Griffin seems to argue that the unity of God is more significant than the plurality of God into three Persons, and indeed that this unity renders the plurality almost meaningless. In truth, both unity and diversity in the godhead are real and significant, and one does not subsume the other.

    If he affirms spiritual unity of Christians as the only acceptable unity, he ignores the divine provision for nations, biblically defined as ethno-groupings. Acts 17:26- 27 states that the division of nations leads men to “seek after God.” Thus there is no contradiction in Christian men affirming their unity of human kinship and as well as spiritual unity in Christ. The Apostle Paul certainly did so (Rom. 9:1:3). Also we see in the Book of Revelation that nations will continue to exist in Heaven. Thus again, after the fashion of the Trinity, we see unity and diversity working in harmony.

    If the spiritual unity of Christians is all that matters, a position suggesting the gnostic notion that matter doesn’t matter, we can deduce that all national frontiers should disappear and that we should cease to think of ourselves as Americans, Brazilians, or Russians. It sounds a bit like Babel. Is Griffin willing to go there? That’s where his logic leads.

    Liked by 1 person

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