(1st Things) Adrian Vermeule–A Christian Strategy

Strange as it may be, Macaulay and Schmitt, the liberal Protestant-trending-atheist and the conservative Catholic apostate, have it right. Dubious though this pairing may be, they have no less an authority than St. Luke to back them up. A Christian politics must always be strategic, viewing political commitments not as articles of a sacred faith, but as tactical tools to be handled in whatever way best serves the cause of Christ.

Luke’s picture of Paul in Acts is a sustained portrait of the strategic Christian. Indeed, Acts is something of a manual of tactics for an embattled Church, navigating the complex political environment of a multicultural, multi-faith imperium that is both puzzled by the Church and structurally (although episodically) hostile to it—somewhat like our own liberal imperium. Luke’s Paul is, like Macaulay’s Jesuits, radically dogmatic as to ends, radically flexible as to tactics and means. He is loyal to the regime and obedient to its authority in matters where there is no conflict with Christian truth, and yet, if need be, entirely strategic about loyalties—depending upon what stance best serves the interests of Christ’s Kingdom. Part of the tongue-in-cheek humor of Acts, even in matters deadly serious, is Luke’s portrayal of a Paul who possesses multiple political identities—Jew, Roman citizen, Christian—and who strategically emphasizes one or another identity at will and as necessary, relentlessly subordinating the Jewish and the Roman identities to the Christian one.

Before the Jews of Jerusalem, Paul calls himself a Jew and emphasizes that he was raised in Jerusalem (although born in Tarsus) and was a student of the famed rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22: 1–3). Before the Sanhedrin itself, torn between its factions of Pharisees and Sadducees, Paul adopts an even more sectarian identity, calling himself “a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees” and framing the charges against him by saying that he is “on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6). This sectarianism is, of course, a political tactic, intended to drive a wedge between the two factions. Roughly speaking, the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, the Sadducees did not, and Paul attempts to affiliate himself with the former to find shelter behind the partisan stalemate. (We may note sotto voce that Paul was referring not, as the Pharisees would have it, to a general resurrection of the dead at the end of time, but to a distinctly singular Resurrection that had already happened; doubtless the blurring of that difference suited his ends.) Before the Roman authorities, Paul sometimes emphasizes his Roman citizenship when it gives him immunity against certain punishments (Acts 22:24–29) and when it grants him a right of appeal (Acts 25:10–12). On the other hand, he lets the Roman authorities view him as just another Jew when advantageous—as when a bored proconsul believes that the accusations of Jewish authorities against Paul are just an intramural dispute, of no imperial concern (Acts 18:12–17).

In general, Luke’s Paul exploits the imperium’s legal procedures whenever doing so benefits the Church.
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Posted in Church History, Ethics / Moral Theology, Theology, Theology: Scripture