‘The New Fascism’ – a response

defiance-1948023_1280Apparently I’m a Fascist! This comes as something of a shock discovery, as I had always thought of myself as a democrat who believes in the rule of law and the pursuit of social justice, that all of life should be lived under God and for his glory. But apparently I have used my vote to ‘contribute to the new fascism’ because I voted to leave the European Union.

This accusation comes in a recent document put out by the International Fellowship of Mission as Transformation (INFEMIT). This is a group of world mission thinkers that came together out of the Lausanne Movement (though as far as I can tell the two organisations are different) and are committed to the integration of evangelism and social justice, a key tenet of Lausanne. In response to Donald Trump’s inauguration and on the same day, they issued A Call for Biblical Faithfulness amid the New Fascism. I am as concerned about the growth of neo-fascists as they are, but in their statement they have gone too far, especially in the following key paragraph:

‘As followers of Jesus, we also feel compelled to issue this call because we find it disturbing that many self-identified evangelicals in their respective countries contributed in no small part to the new fascism by the way they voted in a number of recent referenda (e.g. Colombia, United Kingdom) and national elections (e.g. Philippines, United States). In the case of the U.S., we mourn the reduction of the gospel that resulted in single-issue voting, even as we acknowledge the complexity of the political process and the agony of many over the options available. It is true that for many evangelicals, their vote was more against the other candidates than it was for the one they elected. Nonetheless, we grieve the part that evangelicals played in electing a person whose character, values, and actions are antithetical to the Gospel. Furthermore, we find it inadmissible that some high profile evangelical leaders have hailed the President-elect as a Christian and a prophet. It does not surprise us that many people, especially from the younger generation, are abandoning the evangelical world altogether.’

Allow me to respond with a measure of graciousness and nuance as a ‘self-identified evangelical’ (surely a pejorative term) who understands the word evangelical as sitting under the authority of inerrant Scripture and seeks to surrender to the Lordship of Christ as my Redeemer.

First, I voted to leave the EU in the June 23 referendum. Was that contributing to the ‘New Fascism’? Fascism is a term that can be used in lots of ways, but I have always understood it to include the rejection of the rule of law, the centralisation and abuse of political power by a tight political class, leading to the oppression of the poor, the weak and the marginalised. It also carries with it some sense of racial superiority, and the veneration of human reason and the exclusion and indeed the persecution of orthodox Christianity. Because I reject Fascism, I voted to leave the EU. I don’t think the EU has become Fascist as yet, but its abuse of power and unaccountability is startling. The EU Council of ministers can overrule the will of the people expressed in the EU Parliament, and because the Council only meets for a weekend a couple of times a year, much of its power meanwhile is vested in the unelected EU Commission. The European Court of Justice can strike down any law of a national parliament, thereby frustrating the democratic process, and can itself make law for the whole EU. The European Central Bank can tell national governments to inflict austerity on their peoples despite the will of the people expressed in free elections, in order to protect a currency project that is impoverishing them. The EU ceased to be an internationalist family of independent nations back in the early 1990s, and is evolving into a supranational state with little democratic accountability.

Am I a fascist for wanting to leave this set of institutions? I don’t think so. It is because I value all the nations of Europe, and believe that we have flourished best when we have been independent of each other and have learnt to respect each other, that I was a longstanding supporter of the EC (as it was) but, as things radically changed, surprised myself by changing my mind completely so that I voted to leave the EU. It was not a distrust of ‘foreigners’, a fear of the ‘other’, or a desire to retreat from the world. It was a desire to see our country taking its place in the world again, and being genuinely internationalist, and in particular opening up trade to those African countries that have been so beggared by EU protectionism for so long.

The people of Colombia also had a referendum in October on the peace deal with the FARC guerrillas, and they narrowly rejected a peace deal. Why? There are all sorts of reasons why, but one of those was that a secular ‘diversity’ agenda was included in the peace deal, promoting same sex marriage and the transgender agenda, something that was unacceptable to the growing evangelical population, along with more traditional Catholics. (See mt article in the December GBM Herald.) Pressure from large numbers of evangelicals after the vote forced the President to listen and to revise the deal in the light of their objections. To characterise this as having ‘contributed in no small part to the new fascism by the way they voted’ ignores the convictions of the voters. They had genuine concerns about key moral issues, and did not like what they were signing up to. There were also other issues in Colombia about justice, truth and reconciliation, as with all peace processes. So please look carefully at the ballot paper before you misinterpret the motivations of voters.

Now let’s come to President Trump. I say that because there is a huge difference between the British or Colombian referendums, and the American election. (The same is true of President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, though INFEMIT have paid him very little attention.) I am appalled by many of the things that Donald Trump stands for. He has followed President Obama’s example by acting by Executive order, without recourse to Congress, and the effects of his travel ban have been ludicrous – some countries banned, but others escape without explanation. One of the first families refused entry to the US from the Lebanon and sent back turned out to be Christian. Trump’s statements about torture are likewise reprehensible, being condemned by those, like Sen. John McCain, who know that torture does not work, and, thankfully, by his own Defence Secretary. The issue of the wall on the Mexico border is a bit of a red herring. It has been an issue for a generation, there is already a wall or a fence for a good part of the border, and it is extensively patrolled. They are not closing a wide open border, but behaving in the way he has towards the Mexicans shows the naivety of the new President. There is much to despair about in looking at Trump’s early days, except that the US system has checks and balances, and his more hair-brained ideas will not get through Congress. And while liberals label him as a new fascist, let’s remember that he and his party are the only ones speaking up for the unborn. The Obama administration backed Planned Parenthood to the hilt, with all its lurid revelations on video about the sale of tissue from aborted babies. Before we go labelling people as fascists, we need to think about how politicians handle the issue of the right to life.

Look carefully at the INFEMIT declaration: ‘We grieve the part that evangelicals played in electing a person whose character, values, and actions are antithetical to the Gospel.’ Well, many evangelicals counted themselves out in this election and refused to vote, especially those I follow on Twitter, and had I been American I would have done the same.  We pray that he will yet be saved, for he is certainly not a Christian let alone a prophet. So please don’t lump all American evangelicals together on this. But where they did vote for Trump, why was that? They faced the worst of all choices: two candidates ‘whose character, values, and actions are antithetical to the Gospel.’ They genuinely feared for religious freedom in America, and for the destruction of marriage, the perpetuation and advancement of abortion (which was campaigned for by the Clinton camp in the most outrageous language – can anyone be ‘Pro-abortion and proud of it’?!), and so much more. Can we say that Hillary would have been better than The Donald? On some issues yes, especially the treatment of refugees and on racism. But American voters were faced with an impossible dilemma, and I find the INFEMIT statement does not adequately accept that. The strong implication of the statement is that it was mildly bad to vote for Hillary, but worse, unthinkably worse, to vote for Trump. In so doing, I can’t help thinking they are ignoring the way that the sanctity of life issue (they can’t bring themselves to name it explicitly) will continue to vex American politics and distort the nation’s elections until the US Constitution is amended to protect the life of the unborn. That decision, which I pray will one day come, would then depoliticise the Supreme Court and allow people to elect a president on the basis of a wider range of issues. America needs to address this failure of its constitution and establish the basic right to life in explicit terms. A brief mention of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ in the preamble was not enough to outlaw slavery and is not enough to guarantee the rights of the unborn.

The INFEMIT statement includes the following words: ‘As representative members of the global evangelical community, we stand with all who oppose violence, racism, misogyny, and religious, sexual and political discrimination by resisting the leadership of a person whose life, deeds and words have normalized and even glorified these postures.’ I agree with ‘opposing violence, racism, misogeny and religious, sexual and political discrimination.’ But I cannot sign up to ‘resisting the leadership’ of a person who was elected President, if that means filling the streets with the very hatred, venom and even violent protest that he thrives on. There are better ways to overcome the President’s executive orders. The Congress is much more principled than he is, owes him no favours, and can rein him in. Out-debate him in Congress, and in the courts, and shape the national conversation in the media, not by bile and hatred but with light and truth. ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ (Rom 12:21)

Finally, why is INFEMIT only speaking up now? Why haven’t they been as zealous over the years in criticising Robert Mugabe, Silvio Berlusconi, Vladmir Putin or the recent actions of Xi Jinping in clamping down on churches? Yet none of these names shows up on their website. Trump has no monopoly on misogyny or racism, and is certainly not the first bully to become a head of state. I am puzzled that the INFEMIT board think themselves ‘representative members of the global evangelical community.’ They were not elected as such by any church groupings, so it is hard to see who they represent. I admire much of the work of those among them who I have read or met, but this statement is too politicised, too partisan, and too condemning of those they should be seeking to win over.

We face a huge task to bring God’s redeeming grace to the lives of rich and poor alike, to transform every level of society and change the culture of nation after nation, to build nations where the poor are helped to find work and the weak are protected and provided for, where the refugee finds sanctuary and a new beginning, and where all ethnicities live together as one human race. But when a democratic country throws up a weird election result and elects someone unfit for government, rather than get mad, resist and fight, we need to dig deeper and ask why the people did that, and ask what is wrong with the system and its political class.

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One thought on “‘The New Fascism’ – a response

  1. Thanks for this Jim. I think you hit on a very important issue in your penultimate paragraph. I agree that INFEMIT hold no brief to speak on behalf of the Evangelical Church. However, herein lies a problem; the fractious nature of evangelicalism means that there is no one who speaks for Evangelicalism. The closest we have globally is the WEA, as the body representing all of the national Evangelical Alliances. Lausanne and its various offshoots are analogues of the independent mission agencies; they perform a useful function, but they are not churches.

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