13 July 2018

Interview published in Brazil

I was recently interviewed by Guilherme Piton of Santo Antônio de Jesus, Bahia, Brazil, and he has posted the interview here: Fé Cristã e Política: uma pequena entrevista com David T. Koyzis. Here is the same interview in English. Piton's questions are in italics.

First, a brief presentation. Who is David T. Koyzis and how did he get involved with Christian faith, philosophy and politics?

I was born near Chicago and grew up in a Christian family that was politically aware. One of my earliest memories was of the assassination of President John Kennedy and of the huge impact that had on the American polity. As a young man I was fascinated by the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon. At virtually the same time, my paternal relatives in Cyprus became refugees after Turkey invaded the island state in 1974. All of these influenced me to study politics in a more focused way. When I was about nineteen I began reading Abraham Kuyper and his intellectual and spiritual heirs on Christianity and politics, and I was deeply impressed with their conviction that our faith has implications for public life. This conviction has animated my own work over the decades, including graduate studies and university teaching.

Secondly, how did the thesis of your book, Political Visions and Illusions, emerge?

The idea for the book came to me during my first year of teaching an introductory course on political ideologies. I was unable to find a book that did what I thought needed to be done in such a course, so eventually I wrote my own. Published originally in 2003, it is due to come out in a second edition early next year.

My thesis is that each of the contemporary political ideologies, including liberalism, conservatism, nationalism, democratism and socialism, is right about one thing, but they take that one thing and effectively make an idol of it. In the case of liberalism, the one thing is individual freedom, which is a genuine good. But as liberalism has developed over the centuries, individual freedom has come to squeeze out other legitimate considerations, including our obligations to the communities that have shaped us. Liberalism has attempted to make all such communities into mere voluntary associations, thereby masking the differences amongst marriage, family, state and church institution. No society can survive over the long term where such obligations are reduced to voluntary contract.

How do you see Christianity in the political spectrum? This includes the Christian's relationship with the state, militancy, and activities in the social environment. Can Christians position themselves on any spectrum? Is there a limit to that?

If you mean the left/right spectrum, then I don't think the Christian faith can be located along such a two-dimensional line. As Christians, our most basic confession is that our world belongs to God and not to us. We are merely stewards of the cosmos, responsible to the God who has created and redeemed us. This includes political life. We must recognize the irreducible complexity God has built into his creation, including human society. If we pursue only the rights of individuals, we risk neglecting the integrity of those communities that cannot be easily reduced to the products of an aggregation of individual wills. If we single-mindedly pursue the greatness of our nation, we are in danger of embracing a totalitarian policy ignoring the normative limits of the state and the integrity of nonstate institutions.

The Christian worldview is neither liberal, socialist nor nationalist. It recognizes what I have called the legitimate pluriformity of society, including the pluriformity of authorities to which we are subject and in which we are embedded.

Third: In Brazil, there has been a bias between right and left and a discovery of political and philosophical conservatism on the part of young people. We see Christians positioning themselves on both sides and fighting each other over the role of the church in politics, in supporting candidates and on the guidelines they advocate. How can we understand this question?

To begin let me indicate that I do not believe that the church as an institution should be endorsing political parties and candidates. This goes well beyond its divine calling, which is to preach the gospel faithfully, administer the sacraments, and to maintain discipline among its members. No one should ever harness the institutional church to a particular fallible political agenda.

On the other hand, the church as body of Christ must indeed be politically active, as it must participate in every other area of life. Yet even here we should avoid tying the cause of Jesus Christ to a secular ideology, which is a major reason for my writing my book.

Over the long term, it would be good if Christians could co-operate in establishing political movements or parties to pursue policies that would do public justice to individuals and the variety of communities of which they are part. In the short term, we may be forced to support those movements and parties we have reason to think will do the least damage. This is how we tend to vote in English-speaking democracies such as Canada, my current home. It's not an ideal situation, but the Christian life is often about trying to do the right thing when faced with less than happy choices.

Fourth: How can politics assist in the church's mission?

Well, I don't think I would phrase the question in this way. We shouldn't be relying on the state to facilitate the kingdom of God. Perhaps a better question is: What role does politics play in the church's mission? To this question I would respond by saying that if the mission of the church—the body of Christ—is as extensive as the whole creation, then it naturally includes political life.

Fifth: As stated in the third question, many young people have discovered philosophical and political conservatism here in Brazil. Especially in reaction to the leftist political vision that many scholars propagate since our redemocratization phase after the military period. At the same pace, these youngsters have also embraced the Reformed faith and are reading Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer and David Koyzis. What is your advice to these young people?

On one level I can understand the attraction of conservatism, which generally has no ambitions as such to remake society according to a single idea and to impose it on everyone. As a cautionary warning, conservatism has much to recommend it: If change is to come, it should come gradually and carefully. We should reject ideological visions that promise much and deliver little. We should respect history and refrain from pretending that we can somehow break with it.

On the other hand, conservatives often lack vision for a forward movement. Conservatives seem content to put the breaks on—to drag their feet and slow things down. But if the followers of other ideologies are moving us towards the abyss, conservatives can only delay the inevitable. As Christians we need a positive vision of justice with which to move into the future. Young people should be seeking to articulate and implements such a vision, while paying close attention to the writings and experiences of those who are older than they.

Sixth: What are your reading recommendations for the Christian who wants to understand the relationship between faith and politics?

I don't know everything that is available in your language. Of course, I would recommend my own book, Political Visions and Illusions. I hope that Vida Nova will see fit to translate the second edition into Portuguese. But there are many others. I have personally benefited from the writings of James W. Skillen, Bob Goudzwaard, Jonathan Chaplin and many others.

And lastly, when you want to go to Brazil and counsel the Brazilian church?

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to your country two years ago and am greatly looking forward to returning soon. I am tremendously excited by what the Holy Spirit is doing in Brazil, and I would love to be a part of that in some way. I eagerly await the next invitation.

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can be contacted at: dtkoyzis@gmail.com