Response by Prof. Dr. Kees Klop to the Kuyper Lecture of Ambassador Robert A. Seiple, Princeton April 6, 2006
Dear Dr. Seiple, Ladies and Gentlemen,
As a former member of the academic staff of the Abraham Kuyper Foundation in the Netherlands, it is a very special occasion for me to be invited to respond to Robert Seiple's Kuyper Lecture. I am honoured and pleased to stand here and speak to this distinguished ambassador of the Kingdom.
I use the title "ambassador of the Kingdom", although I am very well aware that, unlike my own home country, the United States of America is not a kingdom. I use the title 'ambassador of the Kingdom' in another sense, which you will readily understand. I feel free to do so because I recognise this ambassadorship in Robert Seiple's Kuyper Lecture. In his lecture, Robert Seiple emphasised the Kingship of God: "Planet earth is holy ground that needs to be reclaimed for the King", he said. With this statement, Robert Seiple disagrees with those Christians who emphasise only their individual salvation and see Christ only as their personal Saviour. To those brothers and sisters, he says: the Gospel is not about your personal wellbeing alone; it is first and foremost about God's sovereignty on earth. "His reign extends over families, churches, denominations, ideologies, institutions, as well as individuals".
This central sentence in Robert Seiple's text made me think of an often-quoted sentence of Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper said: "There is no place in society of which King Jesus doesn't say: 'this is mine!'". Indeed, he used the title 'King Jesus', not the more usual 'Lord Jesus'. Abraham Kuyper made this stirring declaration against those people who think that the State, with its legitimate use of power and force, is no place for Christians; people who think that Christians should live strictly peaceful, non-violent lives, leaving the political sphere, with its coercive power, to others. We still recognise this attitude, for instance, in the Quakers, who are not willing to fulfil military duties for the state. Kuyper saw that the only way to obey Christ fully was to become politically active. In the Abraham Kuyper Foundation, which was founded in the year of Kuyper's death, 1920, as a centre for research into the relationship between the Gospel and politics, we used to paraphrase him by saying that the State is too important to be left to the pagans!
So there is a lot of similarity between Ambassador Seiple and Abraham Kuyper. Both emphasise the Kingship of God. By doing so, they stress that the Gospel not only has meaning for individual persons, but also for the architecture of society. Seiple sees that if we are going to witness and struggle against religious persecution abroad, we first have to love the people we want to share our faith with and use the minds that God gave us. Good intentions are not enough. We may not simply leave it to the Holy Spirit. A more active, holistic ministry is required by King Jesus. This means: feeding the hungry; providing clean water and medical care; promoting leadership development and micro-enterprise loans. Seiple rightly quotes St. Francis with approval: "Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words."
In a similar way, Kuyper saw that in the industrialising European societies of the 19th century, personal charity and the church's diaconal ministry were not enough to help the poor. What was required was political law-making that structured industrial society along the lines of public justice. Otherwise, tackling poverty solely through acts of charity would be like trying to mop up a flood while the water kept running from the tap, as we say in Holland. That was not what Kuyper saw as the will of King Jesus. Real love for the poor meant for Kuyper not only personal love for your neighbour and supporting the church's ministry of compassion for the needy, but also political activism. For Kuyper such political activism meant transforming the state's role from that of a mere night-watchman against crime and foreign invasion to that of a socially just state which protected its weakest members. In the industrial Europe of his day, this meant passing laws that forbid child labour, laws that create freedom for trade unions to negotiate wages that enabled the worker to feed his family, and laws that produce social security systems for the sick, the disabled and the aged. As Kuyper might have put it, 'Preach the Gospel always; if necessary, make laws'!
Equality of freedom to confess
I recognise this political work of the Kingdom also in your ambassadorship for the US State Department, Dr. Seiple. Religious freedom is a very important aspect of the public justice that should be maintained by the State. I use the word 'maintain', because religious freedom in my opinion requires far more than leaving it to the choice of the individual citizen ("Je maintiendrai" – "I will maintain" - is the motto of the Dutch kings and queens, that they inherited from their ancestor William I the Silent, the founder of the Dutch State, who on this point was not silent at all!). The state has a duty to maintain this freedom. Religious freedom is not just a founding pillar of secular liberal democracy, where individual choice is sacrosanct; it is a founding pillar of the Christian view of the State that Kuyper promoted. In doing so, he continued a line of argument that started when the Dutch state was founded in 1581. It was established on the basis of a constitutional document which guaranteed freedom of conscience equally to every inhabitant of the country. It was the Christian duty of the Dutch state to maintain that equal religious freedom for all its citizens. This equality was a revolutionary idea in the Europe of that time, which was based on the cuius regio eius religio-principle of the Peace of Augsburg, 1530; where the ruler, not conscience, determined the religious allegiance of his subjects.
For people like us in the West, in the 21st century, this equal right to confess one's own beliefs within one country is self-evident. But it was not self-evident in our past. In his "Theory of Justice", the political philosopher John Rawls described how this freedom grew from an unavoidable compromise at the end of the religious wars in Europe. From this 16th Century need to tolerate one another through a more stable modus vivendi grew the moral core of modern constitutional democracy, with its over-lapping consensus about equal rights and freedoms. It is this idea of constitutional democracy which lies behind the various international declarations of human rights. In turn, equal freedom to confess one's own beliefs has become a universal standard in international treaties.
But in fact it is not a universal practice. At this very moment there is an Afghan citizen who risks the death penalty for becoming a Christian believer, sixteen years ago when he worked for a Christian aid organisation in Pakistan. This is exactly the way the Gospel should be preached, according to Dr. Seiple. Indeed, it could have been through an aid organization like World Vision that this Afghani Muslim became a Christian. But he is not an isolated example. Even in countries that have not reintroduced Sha'ria law, like Egypt, there is no civic sphere in which there is freedom to change your confession or freedom to interpret Islamic doctrine as a Muslim. Progressive Muslims say that they accept equal religious freedom. In fact, what they mean by that is simply the extension of the Koran's concept of the "People of the Book" to include not only Jews and Christians but also Hindus and Buddhists. But this freedom is not given to people of a humanistic conviction or to non-believers. This is the point of view that was also taken by the Muslim author in your book, Religion and Security. So in my opinion the Muslim world does not accept religious freedom on an equal basis of respect for every inhabitant of a country.
Why isn't this the case in the Muslim world? And why do most Christians accept equal religious freedom? What's the difference between these two religions on this point? I would like to hear your opinion on this question, Dr. Seiple.
Enlightened secularists have an answer to that question. They think that Christians just adapted themselves to modernity and, by doing that, in fact they gave up God's Lordship in favour of their own reason. In this enlightened secularist perspective, Muslims still have to take that step and if they will not, secularist enlightenment will force them to do so.
It is my view, on the contrary, that equal religious freedom is a profoundly Christian idea that was later accepted and secularised by the Enlightenment. This idea depends on the theological and moral motives on which Christians in fact base this seemingly self-evident human right. You mentioned that theological and moral motive in your Kuyper Lecture, when you said: "Mere tolerance is not enough. Tolerance inevitably will take us to a lower common denominator – forbearance but not necessarily equality. Respect, on the other hand, keeps the emphasis on the King, in whose image all of us were made. This we can celebrate as our common humanity. And respect helps us to get there."
From this quotation I learn that for you the basic idea about non-Christians is that they, like us, are made in the image of God. A Kingdom focus means respect for other creatures, even respect for their freedom to confess a faith or set of convictions different from our own. Only on the basis of this respect is it possible to share the Christian faith with them in the way that King Jesus expects from us.
It was exactly this conviction that all human beings are image bearers of God that inspired Kuyper's decision not to adapt himself to the secularised enlightenment view of the plural democratic state, in which he had to live whether he liked it or not. Instead, he promoted the profoundly Christian idea of a plural democratic state with equal religious freedom for all. Within such a State Christian believers, seen as people under the particular grace of the Gospel, could co-exist respectfully with unbelievers, seen as people under the common grace of being created by the same Creator.
The question that intrigues me is why Muslims, who believe that Allah is the Creator of all humanity, do not draw a similar conclusion. I can put this question very concretely: Why did Kemal Ataturk not do what Abraham Kuyper did, separating Church and State but connecting Belief and Politics? I am very curious to hear your view on the possibility of equal religious freedom in the Islamic world.
As you may understand from the parallels that I have spoken about, my conclusion is that Robert Seiple's Kuyper Lecture is indeed a real Kuyperian lecture. I suspect that this is not because Dr Seiple is a brilliant expert on Abraham Kuypers' work! Maybe he did not even know much about Kuyper before this occasion. He had more important things to do in his life than to read Kuyper! Therefore, the fact that there was so much in Dr Seiple's lecture that made me think of Kuyper must have its origins in the ambassadorship for God's Kingdom which they hold in common. As a practising Kuyperian in Dutch public life today, it makes me very happy to see their shared understanding of the relationship between politics and the Gospel, arising from the same source. It tells us everything about the King who makes Himself known to different people all over the world.