Harding, “Charity Law and the Liberal State”

This October, Cambridge University Press will release “Charity Law and the Liberal State” by Matthew Harding (University of Melbourne).  The publisher’s description follows:

Charity Law and the Liberal StateCharity Law and the Liberal State considers questions relating to state action and public discourse that are raised by the law of charity. Informed by liberal philosophical commitments and of interest to both charity lawyers and political philosophers, it addresses themes and topics such as: the justifiability of the state’s non-neutral promotion of charitable purposes; the role of altruism in charity law; charity law, the tax system and the demands of distributive justice; the proper treatment of religious and political purposes in charity law; and the appropriate response of the liberal state to discrimination in the pursuit of charitable purposes.

Phelan, “The Formation of Christian Europe”

This October, Oxford University Press will release “The Formation of Christian Europe: The Carolingians, Baptism, and the Imperium Christianum” by Owen Phelan (Mount Saint Mary’s University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Formation of Christian EuropeThe Formation of Christian Europe analyzes the Carolingians’ efforts to form a Christian Empire with the organizing principle of the sacrament of baptism. Owen M. Phelan argues that baptism provided the foundation for this society, and offered a medium for the communication and the popularization of beliefs and ideas, through which the Carolingian Renewal established the vision of an imperium christianum in Europe. He analyzes how baptism unified people theologically, socially, and politically and helped Carolingian leaders order their approaches to public life. It enabled reformers to think in ways which were ideologically consistent, publicly available, and socially useful.
Phelan also examines the influential court intellectual, Alcuin of York, who worked to implement a sacramental society through baptism. The book finally looks at the dissolution of Carolingian political aspirations for an imperium christianum and how, by the end of the ninth century, political frustrations concealed the deeper achievement of the Carolingian Renewal.

BBC Essay on the Armenian Church in Myanmar

_77109118_churchnewtop

Photo from the BBC

From the BBC’s News Magazine, here’s a lovely essay, “The Last Armenians of Myanmar,” about a small Armenian parish church, St. John the Baptist, in the capital city of Yangon. The Armenian community built the church in 1862, when the country was still known as Burma, and the city as Rangoon.The Armenians had come to Rangoon in the 18th century from Iran, by way of British India, following the trade routes.They established close ties to the Burmese monarchy, which donated the land for the church in the center of the city.

As its title suggests, the essay has a wistful, elegiac tone. Hardly any Armenians remain in Myanmar today– most departed for Australia after World War II – and the parish gets only a handful of worshipers on Sundays. But the situation is not altogether grim. Faithful parishioners continue to maintain the church lovingly– photos of the interior make it look Victorian and vaguely Episcopalian – and the liturgy is said every Sunday by Fr. John Felix, a South Indian convert from Anglicanism. The choir continues to sing the hymns in classical Armenian.

There is hope that two things will work to preserve the building. First, as Myanmar opens to the world, international tourism is increasing. As one of the the city’s principal historic landmarks, the church should benefit. Second, the church has become the focal point for the small Orthodox community in Yangon, not just Armenians:

Already diplomats, business visitors and tourists from a range of Orthodox countries and churches – Russian, Greek, Serbian – occasionally swell the numbers at St John the Baptist, the only Orthodox church in Myanmar’s biggest city.

A new worshiper here, Ramona Tarta, is Romanian, a globetrotting business woman, publisher and events organizer who has lived in Yangon for the last few months.

“My faith is very important to me. Wherever I am in the world, I seek out an Orthodox church. But I was about to give up on Yangon. I thought it was the only city I’d ever lived in which had no Orthodox place of worship,” she complains.

She chanced across the Armenian church when driving past, and believes that with a little promotion, this historic building – and the tradition to which it bears testimony – could have a more secure future.

There’s a lesson here. Many of these Orthodox Churches have been out of communion for thousands of years. Formally, they are not supposed to worship together. But at the ends of the earth, and surrounded by people for whom these sectarian differences mean nothing, Christians somehow manage to cooperate. A hopeful example of practical ecumenism that Christians everywhere should keep in mind.

“Creedal Discrimination is Still Discrimination”

A very interesting essay in Christianity Today on the author’s experience at Vanderbilt with its “all comers” policy. One feature of the piece that struck me was how such policies end up flattening out beliefs or creeds as such. Readers may remember that another policy like this was the subject of the complaint in CLS v. Martinez some years ago. The terrible problem that these policies seek to remedy seems to be that people have distinctive beliefs. The policy’s aim seems to be to compel all associations to reflect certain core commitments, which in turn destroys their own distinctive creeds, thereby demolishing what is special about them in the first place:

In writing, the new policy refers only to constitutionally protected classes (race, religion, sexual identity, and so on), but Vanderbilt publicly adopted an “all comers policy,” which meant that no student could be excluded from a leadership post on ideological grounds. College Republicans must allow Democrats to seek office; the environmental group had to welcome climate-change skeptics; and a leader of a religious group could not be dismissed if she renounced faith midyear. (The administration granted an exception to sororities and fraternities.)

Like most campus groups, InterVarsity welcomes anyone as a member. But it asks key student leaders—the executive council and small group leaders—to affirm its doctrinal statement, which outlines broad Christian orthodoxy and does not mention sexual conduct specifically. But the university saw belief statements themselves as suspect. Any belief—particularly those about the authority of Scripture or the church—could potentially constrain sexual activity or identity. So what began as a concern about sexuality and pluralism quickly became a conversation about whether robustly religious communities would be allowed on campus.

In effect, the new policy privileged certain belief groups and forbade all others. Religious organizations were welcome as long as they were malleable: as long as their leaders didn’t need to profess anything in particular; as long as they could be governed by sheer democracy and adjust to popular mores or trends; as long as they didn’t prioritize theological stability. Creedal statements were allowed, but as an accessory, a historic document, or a suggested guideline. They could not have binding authority to shape or govern the teaching and practices of a campus religious community.

Around the Web This Week

Some interesting law and religion news stories from around the web this week:

Soloveichik to Lecture on Hobby Lobby (Sept. 4)

On September 4 in New York, Rabbi Dr. Meir Y. Soloveichik will deliver a lecture, “Jews, Christians and the Hobby Lobby Decision,” as part of Touro’s Jewish Law Institute’s Distinguished Lecture Series. Details are here.

Baumgarten, “Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz: Men, Women, and Everyday Religious Observance”

In October, the University of Pennsylvania Press will release “Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz: Men, Women, and Everyday Religious Observance” by Elisheva Baumgarten (Hebrew University of Jerusalem). The publisher’s description follows:

In the urban communities of medieval Germany and northern France, the beliefs, observances, and practices of Jews allowed them to create and define their communities on their own terms as well as in relation to the surrounding Christian society. Although medieval Jewish texts were written by a learned elite, the laity also observed many religious rituals as part of their everyday life. In Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz, Elisheva Baumgarten asks how Jews, especially those who were not learned, expressed their belonging to a minority community and how their convictions and deeds were made apparent to both their Jewish peers and the Christian majority.

Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz provides a social history of religious practice in context, particularly with regard to the ways Jews and Christians, separately and jointly, treated their male and female members. Medieval Jews often shared practices and beliefs with their Christian neighbors, and numerous notions and norms were appropriated by one community from the other. By depicting a dynamic interfaith landscape and a diverse representation of believers, Baumgarten offers a fresh assessment of Jewish practice and the shared elements that composed the piety of Jews in relation to their Christian neighbors.

“Military Chaplains in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Beyond” (Patterson, ed.)

This month, Rowman & Littlefield releases “Military Chaplains in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Beyond: Advisement and Leader Engagement in Highly Religious Environments” edited by Eric Patterson (Regent University). The publisher’s description follows:

The role of military chaplains has changed over the past decade as Western militaries have deployed to highly religious environments such as East Africa, Afghanistan, and Iraq. U.S. military chaplains, who are by definition non-combatants, have been called upon by their war-fighting commanders to take on new roles beyond providing religious services to the troops. Chaplains are now also required to engage the local citizenry and provide their commanders with assessments of the religious and cultural landscape outside the base and reach out to local civilian clerics in hostile territory in pursuit of peace and understanding.

In this edited volume, practitioners and scholars chronicle the changes that have happened in the field in the twenty-first century. Using concrete examples, this volume takes a critical look at the rapidly changing role of the military chaplain, and raises issues critical to U.S. foreign and national security policy and diplomacy.

Fisher, Lemons & Mason-Brown, “Decoding Roger Williams”

This month, Baylor University Press releases “Decoding Roger Williams: The Lost Essay of Rhode Island’s Founding Father” by Linford D. Fisher (Brown University), J. Stanley Lemons (Emeritus Professor at Rhode Island College) and Lucas Mason-Brown (Graduate Student at Trinity College, Dublin).  The publisher’s description follows:

Decoding Roger WilliamsNear the end of his life, Roger Williams, Rhode Island founder and father of American religious freedom, scrawled an encrypted essay in the margins of a colonial-era book. For more than 300 years those shorthand notes remained indecipherable…

…until a team of Brown University undergraduates led by Lucas Mason-Brown cracked Williams’ code after the marginalia languished for over a century in the archives of the John Carter Brown Library. At the time of Williams’ writing, a trans-Atlantic debate on infant versus believer’s baptism had taken shape that included London Baptist minister John Norcott and the famous Puritan “Apostle to the Indians,” John Eliot. Amazingly, Williams’ code contained a previously undiscovered essay, which was a point-by-point refutation of Eliot’s book supporting infant baptism.

History professors Linford D. Fisher and J. Stanley Lemons immediately recognized the importance of what turned out to be theologian Roger Williams’ final treatise. Decoding Roger Williams reveals for the first time Williams’ translated and annotated essay, along with a critical essay by Fisher, Lemons, and Mason-Brown and reprints of the original Norcott and Eliot tracts.

Cole, “Just War and the Ethics of Espionage”

This month, Routledge Publishing releases “Just War and the Ethics of Espionage” by Darrell Cole (Drew University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Just War and the Ethics of EspionageThe War on Terror has raised many new, thorny issues of how we can determine acceptable action in defense of our liberties. Western leaders have increasingly used spies to execute missions unsuitable to the military. These operations, which often result in the contravening of international law and previously held norms of acceptable moral behavior, raise critical ethical questions—is spying limited by moral considerations? If so, what are they and how are they determined? Cole argues that spying is an act of force that may be a justifiable means to secure order and justice among political communities. He explores how the just war moral tradition, with its roots in Christian moral theology and Western moral philosophy, history, custom and law might help us come to grips with the moral problems of spying. This book will appeal to anyone interested in applied religious ethics, moral theology and philosophy, political philosophy, international law, international relations, military intellectual history, the War on Terror, and Christian theological politics.