Jesse S. Cone: Fr. Leonid’s Culture War

Jesse S. Cone provides a compelling critique below of Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky’s signing of Jim Wallis’ “Circle of Protection” proclamation. The document was crafted by Wallis and signed mostly by left-leaning Christians ostensibly to protect the poor from draconian budget cuts.

Wallis is a 1960’s style liberal who still believes that government has the resources and tools to eradicate vexing social problems like poverty, poor education and so forth. He never takes into account how the government inflow of money into poorer areas exacerbated the decline of the nuclear family (in the 1950’s 70% of Black children in Harlem lived in intact two parent families, a trend that was increasing; 10 years after the Great Society that number dropped to 30%), contributed to the collapse of public education (the worst performing schools in America are in the inner cites of Democratically controlled cities) and created generational dependence on government welfare.

There’s a difference between supporting government programs that ostensibly care for the poor and actually doing constructive work for the poor. This distinction is hard for many people to make because “Christian Progressives” like Wallis appropriate the lexicon of the Christian moral tradition to lend moral weight to Progressive ideology. No one wants to be accused of selfishness but the Progressives argue you are selfish if you criticize their agenda.

By signing the document Fr. Kishkovsky added his voice to the chorus and aligned the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) with Wallis’ Progressive ideology. Is he equating Orthodox moral teaching with Progressive ideology? It sure looks like it.

Economic laws are like physical laws. You can cheat them for a time but in the end they always win out. Accrue debt and sooner or later you have to pay it back. Accrue too much debt and in the end the borrower owns you. America is perilously close to default and the nations who lent us the money (primarily China although many other nations) are more alarmed than many in Washington seem to be. They haven’t forgotten elementary economics.

For example, take a look at China’s (China!) two warnings to America last week (here and here). It’s not pleasant being reproached by China but who can argue with the reproach?

Progessivism is failing morally and fiscally as anyone who is not intimidated by the strident exhortations coming from Progressivist quarters already knows. Fr. Kishkovsky needs to examine the Wallis world view with greater sobriety. A lesson in economics wouldn’t hurt either.

Cone also mentions an organization I had a hand in organizing and am presently involved with called Christians for a Sustainable Economy (CASE). We agree with Wallis that budgets have a moral component but we believe encumbering the next generation with our debt is immoral. We do not believe that the Progressive vision is morally justifiable or economically sustainable.

One minor correction. CASE believes that government has a role in funding the social safety net. We also embrace the counsel of F. A. Hayek who cautioned that the transition from welfare dependency to a model of personal responsibility must be handled with great prudence and deliberation. Nevertheless, events are going to force these transitions upon us as last week’s budget imbroglio made clear. We need to do it well. Jesse S. Cone’s essay follows.

Source: OCATruth | August 3, 2o11 |By Jesse S. Cone

Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky

Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky

Amid heightened concerns that factions in the OCA want to follow in the footsteps of The Episcopal Church by catering to social trends, Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky, the OCA’s Director of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations, put his name and the OCA’s alongside The Episcopal Church USA’s Presiding Bishop, Katherine Schori, on the Circle of Protection. The Circle of Protection is an ecumenical statement attempting to support governmental social programs whose funding is being threatened by the current debt crisis. It is supported by the National Council of Churches, and receives a large part of its funding by the leftist billionaire George Soros. You can see Fr. Leonid’s name under that of the General Secretary of the NCC, Michael Kinnamon.

The Circle says that,

As Christians, we believe the moral measure of the debate is how the most poor and vulnerable people fare. We look at every budget proposal from the bottom up—how it treats those Jesus called “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45). They do not have powerful lobbies, but they have the most compelling claim on our consciences and common resources. The Christian community has an obligation to help them be heard, to join with others to insist that programs that serve the most vulnerable in our nation and around the world are protected.

There is no disagreement among Christians that we should minister to the poor and needy, though there is plenty of disagreement about the Circle and Church’s role in the governmental programs it is supporting. On the basic level it is an issue of who should actually be doing the ministering: individual and organizations of Christians directly, or intermediaries; in this case the government. Should it be the Church that ministers to the fatherless and the widows, or should the Church support ministering programs? While these questions are not simply either/or, the polarities — and the consequent tensions – are real. Nevertheless it is ironic then that the Circle defends the government backed social programs they wish to protect by appealing to the signatories’ own experience of ministering directly to the poor and needy.

We know from our experience serving hungry and homeless people that these programs meet basic human needs and protect the lives and dignity of the most vulnerable. We believe that God is calling us to pray, fast, give alms, and to speak out for justice.

So what justice is the Circle of Protection crying out for, and what programs are they trying to protect? Programs like SNAP (formerly food stamps), Medicaid, Head Start, CHIP, as well as general support for areas of Low-Income Education and Training, Shelter and Homelessness, Peacekeeping, and Sustainable International Development Programs. While these programs may not espouse explicitly debatable agendas, this does seem to be part and parcel with the agenda of the NCC. That agenda has definite leftist leanings, as witnessed by George Soros’ contributions, which make explicit use for lobbying in Washington, especially in regards to his proposed Criminal Justice reform.

The Circle’s claim that budgets “are moral documents” is disturbing to traditional Christians who consider the moral significance of supporting Medicaid. Medicaid provides some funding for abortions in almost every state. What situations allow for Medicaid funds to be used to pay for abortion varies by state, but there 17 states in the Union that have 1/3 of their abortions paid for by Medicaid.

The Metropolitan, who took heat on Mark Stokoe’s website for his “unilateral” and “political” involvement in the March for Life and the Manhattan Declaration has now been outshone by Fr. Leonid. However political and right-leaning one views Metropolitan Jonah’s actions, Fr. Leonid’s provide a far more obvious move in the opposite direction. Acton Institute president and co-founder Fr. Robert Sirico called the Circle “hyper-political” in a piece for The National Review .

The actions of Wallis and the co-signers of the Circle of Protection are only understandable in light of political, not primarily religious, aims. Wallis, after all, has been serving as self-appointed chaplain to the Democratic National Committee and recently met with administration officials to help them craft faith-friendly talking points for the 2012 election. And when Wallis emerged from that White House meeting, he crowed that “almost every pulpit in America is linked to the Circle of Protection … so it would be a powerful thing if our pulpits could be linked to the bully pulpit here.”

Think about that for a moment. Imagine if a pastor had emerged from a meeting with President George W. Bush and made the same statement. I can just imagine the howls of “Theocracy!” and “Christian dominionism!” that would echo from the mobs of Birkenstock-shod, tie-dyed, and graying church activists who would immediately assemble at the White House fence to protest such a blurring of Church and State.

Once again it seems that the criticisms don’t always cut both ways, and not just in Washington but also in Syosset. This is not to say that the Circle’s statement that “budgets are moral documents” is without merit. Christians who share that view but do not support the financial stances of the Circle have formed a response to the Circle, Christians for a Sustainable Economy (CASE). Orthodox priest Fr. Hans Jacobse played a role in CASE’s creation, and he reports on CASE and offers a critique of the Circle of Protection uber-supporter Jim Wallis and his liberal Sojourners group. It appears that the budget morality the Circle espouses is not Orthodox, and may in fact be at odds with the Faith.

Regardless of where one stands politically – whether you are incensed by this or not — it is the case that Fr. Leonid’s signature on the Circle of Protection is a political action, and one he is taking for the OCA. Some members of the OCA were shocked to hear of Fr. Leonid’s action, though it is not yet known whether the Metropolitan or the Acting Chancellor were consulted or apprised of his action before it appeared publicly. It is doubtful he received such a blessing, considering his strong disagreement with the OCA’s involvement with the Manhattan Declaration. Indeed, the OCA’s very involvement with the NCC and the WCC is questionable, considering the Antiochians withdrawal from both bodies back in 2005.

Interestingly enough, the trigger for the Antiochian’s withdrawal was a controversy that’s recently been the subject of much talk in the OCA of recent. From the 2005 article,

Reasons given for the withdrawal include the general liberalism of the NCC, whose General Secretary, Bob Edgar, withdrew his signature from a statement defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.

While I appreciate Fr. Leonid’s position in the OCA, I am curious to see how his participation profits the OCA’s relationships with the other Orthodox jurisdictions. It seems hard to believe that the Mother Churches are smiling blithely at what can easily be described as a unilateral political move in opposition to the Metropolitan’s public endorsements of traditional morality. I cannot state whether Fr. Leonid’s act was a conscious push-back against the Metropolitan, but the act is certainly a move in the opposite direction — and a move that is ostensibly without support. Those who lauded the Metropolitan’s involvement in the March for Life and Manhattan Declaration have already voiced their opposition to this progressive agenda, and those critical of the Metropolitan have called for non-involvement in such political hot-button affairs. Fr. Leonid’s actions do not correspond to either demographic.

I don’t believe, nor have I ever heard that the Office of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations exists to make statements about the federal budget and government programs. A case could be made for it, and I would look forward to being persuaded should the Holy Synod of bishops decide to present such a case. Till then, Fr. Leonid’s volunteering the OCA for such a tendentious initiative — especially considering our the current context – can be seen as an ill advised personal political endorsement at best; or a not-so-subtle act of rebellion against Metropolitan Jonah at worst.

Our reputation in the Orthodox world has suffered enough during the past year to keep Fr. Leonid busy, why add to the perception of the OCA’s establishment being a fractured group of in-fighters? One hopes our relationship within the Orthodox community matters more to us in the OCA than our status in the National Council of Churches.


  1. Geo Michalopulos :

    I’m wondering, did he get the permission of the Lesser Synod to do this? The Metropolitan Council? After all, what has exercized the Stokovites so much about +Jonah is that he “unilaterally” writes letters to Congress or signs manifestos. Goose. Sauce. Gander.

  2. cynthia curran :

    Well, I don’t always agree with the left but its true conservatives don’t want to pay taxes even for things that government is suppose to do like defense, police or fire. A town of Alabama demonstrates that some on the right are going too much into anarcho-capitalism. The town burn since they didn’t pay the fire department in another city. I hear of people complain that they don’t want the internet tax but if the old brick stores are going and more is done online then a lot of tax revenue is lost. Folks, conservatives can still disagree with the left on taxes but to encourage no taxes is stupid and harmful.

  3. Cynthia, You present the classic “strawman” argument about conservatives not wanting to pay any taxes. The argument from 99% of conservatives has never involved a call to stop paying taxes, but that increasing taxes destroys economic activity, stifles job-creation, and undermines wealth-creation. It hurts the poor and the middle class the most! Who do you think employs people, Obama and Congress? Also, the punitive system of progressive taxation is unethical and unfair. It punishes the responsible and productive job and wealth creators, the more successful you are the more you’re punished. Conservatives suggest a Flat Tax is much more ethical and fair.

    FYI, regarding the current insanity with the Trillion Dollar Deficits created and forced on the country by the Democrats and Obama, it is 100% a SPENDING problem. The reality is that even if we DOUBLED the federal income taxes for everyone in America, that would still leave the country approximately $400 BILLION shy of balancing the budget. DOUBLING federal income taxes for ALL taxpayers would raise only $1.1 TRILLION, still short $400 BILLION of the remaining YEARLY deficits. Yet, the liberals, leftists, and progressives persist in claiming that not increasing taxes is the problem. That is absolutely false! It’s a wholesale LIE!

  4. cynthia curran :

    Well, take Rick Perry for example that complains about Medicare being socialistic but his state has a high usage of free and reduce lunch programs since it has a high Hispanic population around 37 percent. Houston, Dallas and El Paso use the free and reduce lunch programs more than cities like Portland Oregon or Seattle Washington do. Conservatives like Perry failed to do anything about the border and he received a low mark from numbers USAa for immigration and his state has a lot of second and third generation Hispanics that also tend to use free and reduce lunch programs more than whites or Asians. I’m not being racists here its just a fact that blacks and Hispanics use the free and reduce lunch programs more so than whites and Asians do. Conservatives in the South and Texas have failed to get Hispanics and blacks out of poverty to reduce these numbers.

    • George Michalopulos :

      Cynthia, what you say is true but you can’t blame Perry because the US has a broken border policy. After all, when a state (like Arizona) tries to do the right thing and pass anti-illegal immigration laws then they get slammed by the Feds.

  5. Texas has created more jobs in the last 2 years than all the other states combined, while maintaining a balanced budget. There is no state income tax. Texas has very generous social services. Rick Perry is not perfect, but as a Texan, I am very happy. Cynthia, Chris is right. We cannot tax our way out of the deficit. The “rich” are already paying their “fair share”. The top 10% pay over 50% of the taxes that go to the federal government. As we speak, almost 1/2 of the country pay NO federal income taxes. What about their fair share? We must provide a safety net for the poor and needy. This we can all agree on. We just differ on how we accomplish that. Spending MUST come down. We are in an unsustainable situation. This not to mention the billions of dollars that could be going toward the needs of our own indigent people, instead of having loopholes to pay the needs of ILLEGAL immigrants. If we don’t change, then ranks of the poor and needy will grow exponentially, rather than diminish.

  6. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    The best anti-poverty program is a job. And, as long as were are praising Texas, here are new findings that their public school system isn’t too shabby either: Walter Russel Mead, Blue State Schools: The Shame of a Nation.

    Mead, BTW, is a liberal but an honest one in the mold of Nat Henthoff and a few others. By that I mean that they have not lost the respect for conscience and liberty that used to define American liberalism before its moral collapse*. There are still some of them left and they are still worth listening to. I’d put Pat Caddell, Jimmy Carter’s pollster, in the same category as well.

    *When enough time has passed and a reliable cultural history can be written, I think the key element in the collapse of American liberalism will be sexual promiscuity and abortion. Once regular Americans compromised there (and many were brow-beaten into it by the left-wing cultural elites who took over the Democratic party after the McGovern defeat, IMO), the die was cast.

    We are living in the collapse of the ideology of false promises promulgated by those elites in this decade I believe. It’s no accident that the flash point is homosexuality since the core of that issue is fundamentally anthropological, that is, it touches the deepest questions about what it means to be man or woman, and thus human. It’s a cultural struggle of the first order but also one that cultural conservatives like myself have not addressed adequately.

    I’m old enough to remember a childhood without porn, rampant promiscuity, gambling — all the social vices that we don’t really see as vices anymore. I bought into the lie growing up that those prohibitions represented a kind of oppression, a denial of man’s real nature. Fortunately and only by the grace of God, I saw early on that my way of thinking was a grave error and changed it. I have no doubt that it spared me much sorrow.

    Being a bit older now and in a profession where I see and deal with the wreckage that the removal of those barriers has caused in people’s lives, I see that the older generations had a wisdom we have lost. They intuitively obeyed the ancient proverb, “Remove not the ancient landmark” (Proverbs 22:28) or “Don’t tear down a fence until you first know why it was built” (Robert Frost). We celebrate those who “break taboos.”

    Another good article, again by Walter Russell Mead: American Challenges: The Blue Model Breaks Down

  7. Give me a break. Texas schools are awful and the state model is something to be feared by anyone that even aspires to a middle class existence. They are turning it into the most toxic state in the union, Texas leads the way in high school drop outs, illegal workers, percentage of those lacking healthcare insurance – oh, and venereal disease acquisition rates. Texas is great if you are upper middle class evangelical – low taxes, relatively cheap monster mansions, consumerism run amuck, a culture of very casual sex, and a permanent subservient class to make sure you live better than an emperor of old, all while feeling fully “justified”. They have their reward in this life: until they lose their job and find out how most people struggle just to get by.

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