Law at the Jesus Creed: David Opderbeck

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Law, Church, Mission, Eschatology and the Powers

We recently had a lively discussion here on Jesus Creed about the Manhattan Declaration.  In the Summary Statement accompanying the Declaration, the drafters assert that the sanctity of life, the dignity of marriage, and the freedoms of conscience and religion “are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture,” and that Christians are obligated to respond with civil disobedience.  In addition, in the Declaration itself, the drafters argue that Christians are obligated to support legislative and other political efforts to curtail abortion and gay marriage.

 

What eschatological vision do these documents reflect?  What theology of the Church’s mission in the world flows from that vision?  When faced with laws we believe are immoral or unjust, how should Christians respond?  How do law, church, mission, and eschatology relate?

 

The MD Summary Statement’s reference to “powerful forces in our culture” strikes me as an obviously eschatological statement.  On its face, this refers to the various political lobbying groups that are promoting the socially “liberal” agenda of abortion rights and gay marriage.  The drafters of this document, however, are highly theologically astute, and also are echoing the New Testament’s vision of conflict prior to the return of Christ:    For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  (Eph. 6:12)


The MD’s drafters are
not interested in sensationalist “Left Behind” eschatology.  I perceive – partly based on the MD
itself and partly on some of the drafter’s other writings – that they espouse
versions of Reformed and Catholic eschatology in which the “Kingdom of God” is
a present (though as yet unfulfilled) reality and in which part of the Church’s
mission involves preserving and strengthening civil legal institutions, including, if necessary, through the means
of forceful resistance. 
They
are not “theonomists” – people who believe the Biblical Old Testament civil law
should apply essentially unmodified today – but they do believe that the Church
should play an active role in calibrating the civil law with moral law.

 

This “political theology” of the MD drafters runs deep in the
Christian tradition. Consider, for example, St. Augustine’s treatise “
On the Correction of the Donatists,” written around 417 A.D.  The Donatists were a group that
threatened to separate from the Roman Church over the question whether people
who renounced Christ during persecutions should be readmitted to the
Church.  The Donatists believed
those who had apostatized during persecution should be forever barred from the
Church, in contrast to the Church’s practice.  The Donatists thereby challenged the authority and
legitimacy of the Roman Church..  The
Roman government, at the behest of Church officials, persecuted the Donatists
as schismatics, resulting in violent military conflict and the confiscation of
Donatist property.

 

Augustine provided a theological rationale for this persecution:

 

If, therefore, we wish either to declare or to
recognize the truth, there is a persecution of unrighteousness, which the
impious inflict upon the Church of Christ; and
there is a righteous persecution, which the Church of Christ inflicts upon the
impious
.  She therefore is blessed in suffering persecution for
righteousness’ sake; but they are miserable, suffering persecution for
unrighteousness.  Moreover, she
persecutes in the spirit of love
, they in the spirit of wrath; she that she
may correct, they that they may overthrow:  she that she may recall from
error, they that they may drive headlong into error.   (Emphasis added.)

 

Compare this to the following statement in the
Manhattan Declaration:

 

And so it is out of love (not “animus”) and
prudent concern for the common good (not “prejudice”), that we pledge to
labor ceaselessly to preserve the legal definition of marriage as the union of
one man and one woman and to rebuild the marriage culture. (Emphasis in
original.)

 

The MD
drafters are not advocating military or physical persecution against advocates
of gay marriage.  Nevertheless,
they are making the very Augustinian argument that the Church can and should participate
in efforts to wield the power of the civil law in order to establish a
righteous community, and to resist forcefully if the civil law goes astray.

 

There is
another strain of political theology in the Christian tradition that rejects
such cooperation with the state.  Writing
in around 205 A.D., for example,
Tertullian said

 

Shall it
be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that
he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace
take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And
shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment,
who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs?

 

Tertullian is writing here specifically about
military service, but his argument in
The Chaplet arguably applies equally to all participation by
Christians in state violence.  Even
more importantly, we have the Apostle Paul’s instructions about how Christians
should live in a pagan society:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the
eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at
peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s
wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed
him;

if he is thirsty, give him
something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap
burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but
overcome evil with good.

 

Romans  12:17-21.

 

Are there alternatives to the political theology inherent in the
Manhattan Declaration?  What other
approaches could a faithful Christian take?

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Peter

    Thank you so much for this very clear summary. My thinking, I think, is quite muddled in this area and I am eager for some clarity, so I hope to follow this discussion closely. The putting forth of the MD as an attempt for the good of society is coherent, but does it follow the way of the Crucified (which Tertullian would question based on the above sampling of his writing)? Is this consistent with the teaching of Scripture? I think that the example of self-emptying love and the principles that flow from it would illustrate an alternative approach that includes efforts of individuals loving those near them for whom these issues are personal (“Love is an Orientation,” and the ministry it represents, for example). Do we work for a society with laws that make abortion difficult to obtain, or do we serve those around us to facilitate the choice to sacrifice and allow for life? Certainly we can work for both, and many have, but does one take precedence?
    And finally, with no intent to try to ‘trump’ the issues of abortion and marriage, what about the violence of war? It seems hypocritical to live here and enjoy the comforts of the empire but then say that I am unwilling to contribute to the violence that maintains it. Eager for insight from those who have wrestled with these issues. Thank you.

  • Diane

    Peter,
    “And finally, with no intent to try to ‘trump’ the issues of abortion and marriage, what about the violence of war? It seems hypocritical to live here and enjoy the comforts of the empire but then say that I am unwilling to contribute to the violence that maintains it.”
    As a member of a peace church (Quaker), I do wrestle with this issue, which really is the heart of the matter, to my mind, more so than the oft-repeated Home invasion scenario: “what would you do if an armed intruder threatened your spouse and children?” Yes, We/I enjoy the great material fruits of empire …. yes, that bothers me. On the other hand, we/I suffer the blight of a violent society, knowing that we carry the collective guilt of injustice.
    But where do we go? There are few countries without armies. As I say that, I know of Quakers who moved to Costa Rica in the early 1950s as an alternative to prison for not registering for the draft (some were jailed for a time and decided they didn’t want to be in and out of prison). They moved to Costa Rica to farm and help the locals, setting up a dairy farm in the rain forest. By the early 70s, they’d encountered scientists and become aware of the value of the rainforest, and then became instrumental in rainforest preservation, by, for example, helping to establish The Children’s Eternal Rainforest. So, with that example of how God, in unexpected ways, used faithful servants, perhaps we peace church people should emigrate to other lands …
    On the other hand … and I live in Amish/Quaker territory … as someone who loves this country, I would hate to see the groups that are a witness to a Christ-based peace leave. I do think there is a witness,in for example, the Amish, who go about there business and live peaceably. I can’t see them as hypocrites (perhaps the Quakers and Brethren and Mennonites are more hypocritical as we are more OF the world.)

  • Diane

    Also, a question for David: The early Quakers were constantly in legal trouble: Not only wouldn’t they serve in Cromwell’s army (even though he thought they were naturals for it), they wouldn’t tithe to the Church of England, they wouldn’t swear oaths and they wouldn’t take off their hats to their social superiors. Rival groups attacked them, saying they were not biblical, because the Bible enjoins us to obey earthly leaders … they retorted that in fact they WERE obeying the law and interpreted the law as offering them choices: pay your tithe or go to jail, swear an oath or go to jail, etc, and they were simply choosing option B: go to jail. What do you think of that as legal theory?

  • Diane

    OK, this is the last post :) …. It seems to me that religious groups who have effected social change were willing to suffer and in fact DID suffer greatly for their cause … and for all the talk of civil disobedience, I don’t necessarily see that willingness to sacrifice on either the political right or left … instead, it seems to be this endless and somewhat distasteful jockeying to get the whip handle of the “law” in one’s own hands to beat the other side with mercilessly … as a lawyer, what do you think of this approach? To me, it doesn’t seem particularly Christian to be constantly trying to get the principalities and powers on one’s own side … aren’t we supposed to be working through and in service to a different power?

  • Pastor Matt

    Scot,
    Just a few questions: (1) what about N.T. Wright’s reminder that one cannot separate the message of Jesus & politics? (2) What about Paul’s use of his Roman citizenship? (3) Is marriage, unborn children and the defense of the 1st Amendment right to freedom of religion worth the same effort as the right to vote or to end slavery?
    I guess I am asking, “what would Wilberforce do”?
    Thank you for the discussion and blessings to you and yours,

  • joanne

    At first blush, i accept the manhatten declaration. my worry is in the details and definitions around marriage and abortion. (i don’t embrace abortion) I have been active politically in the areas outlined in the manhatten declaration.
    what i learn in my experience is that when one speaks of abortion, one is not only speaking of a position on aborting a baby but an entire culture of life… which includes having as many children as one can have in a life time. Marriage too is defined in the circles i was in as more than between a man and a woman… it also involved the traditional heirarchial relationship in which the husband is the authority and has the final say. There is little wiggle room.
    So i get a little skiddish about joining up with these folks any more.

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com/ Joey

    When emails were circulating around our community during the 2008 elections about Obama being the expected Anti-Christ a pastor friend of mine jokingly quipped, “OK if Obama is the Anti-Christ then who are we to think that the democratic process would stop him from coming to power?”
    What eschatological vision do these documents reflect?
    That’s a tough one and I’m not sure I can tell. My guess would be that there is an underlying belief that we must control the bringing of the the Kingdom by some moral, and as a result, Christian nation/government and oppose anything that hinders that moral vision from becoming a reality.
    What theology of the Church’s mission in the world flows from that vision?
    We must fight for out place. Bringing the world to Christian morality is no easy task and we need all the soldiers we can muster. The assumption, seems to be (and I could be wrong), is that we must promote Jesus style morality even if the vessel carrying it is empty.
    When faced with laws we believe are immoral or unjust, how should Christians respond?
    It depends. I find it ridiculous that Christians expect those who do not know Christ to submit to rules that would suggest that they do. Abortion, in my view, does not fit into this category but gay marriage very much does. Who am I to tell a non-Christ follower what ethics they should submit to when innocent folks aren’t being harmed as a result of their choices? We must, “as far as it depends on” us live in a way that does not perpetuate violence, injustice, or immorality. There are times for civil disobedience, there are times for quiet protest, there are times for submission. We must be motivated by love above all else – above fears, opinions, embedded beliefs, and even morals.
    How do law, church, mission, and eschatology relate?
    Que Sera Sera? I jest. Law is for man, not man for the law. Christ will creatively and sovereignly bring to fruition what he desires. Our job is to be Eikons of his Kingdom while we are here – ushering forth what the Great Usher will eventually bring to completion. If we pretend that the laws of our government will somehow bring people to repentance or more importantly into a relationship with Jesus we are putting our faith less in Christ and more in rules. Our mission is to share Jesus. Morality is a result of faith and not a precursor to.

  • Aaron

    Oooh great post on many levels scot! I am looking forward to reading the feedback.

  • Scot McKnight

    Two folks have suggested I wrote this post. Sorry, even I would like to claim it as my own, this post is by law professor David Opderbeck who is doing an ongoing series on law for us.

  • dopderbeck

    Good discussion so far! I don’t really have the tension between “action” and “non-violence” worked out, which is one reason I posed these questions for the community here.
    One thing I’m sure I’m not trying to suggest is that it is always wrong for Christians to express their opinions in the public square or that Christians should never try to influence government. Pastor Matt (#5) mentions Wilberforce, who is featured prominently in the Manhattan Declaration. Indeed, I think most of us would agree that Christians such as Wilberforce who supported and fueled the cause of abolition in the 19th Century, Christians in the Confessing Church who opposed the Nazis during WWII, and Christians who led the cause of civil rights in the 20th Century, were doing important and faithful work.
    Here some a questions I’m mulling over in an effort to come up with some meaningful principles: Does it matter if our efforts to influence law have to do with protecting an oppressed “other” rather than protecting our own privileges? Does a pragmatic assessment of culture factor into the extent to which we might try to influence law to conform to a Biblical vision of the good society?

  • Matt K

    I think one of the major “alternative” visions to this theology is an “Anabaptist” take; a kind of disengagement with the state (along the lines of what Greg Boyd has been pushing the last few years) that the Kingdom of God is manifested in the worshiping body set apart from the state.
    Its interesting that though groups like the Manhattan Declaration and Sojourners seem so polar opposite, I observe there is a similar vein of theology regarding faith applied to civil law. Whether its for food stamps or ESCR– it seems this Augustinian view lies under both religious left and right.

  • joanne

    Are there alternatives to the political theology inherent in the Manhattan Declaration? What other approaches could a faithful Christian take?
    I think around the unborn there are a variety of alternatives such as getting in the trenches with young girls, nourishing their souls, helping them mature.
    I think too, politically we hit at the symptoms but do not always get to the root of an issue. Abortion is perhaps a symptom of greater issues facing our culture. I think abortion is symptomatic of a world–a sin system, that has severely defined women’s lives in relation to children, marriage and work and the stuff around abotion is a reaction to that.
    If one listens to feminists… they are speaking about the right to one’s own body. The body of a woman has been in history, owned by her father, husband etc. We might tune into that concern without advocating for abotion. (abortion is a simplistic solution)
    Perhaps we should deal with and face that issue because it still rears its head in our world today in silent ways.
    Further, in a world that is career oriented… the business world demands some kind of control over pregnancy in many circumstances. If one examines the history of how abortion was attached to the femminist platform, it was because the business world demanded that women be able to control their bodies. (something I read on femminist for life) Perhaps the issue is how we have not welcomed pregnant women –again in history — in the workforce. Perhaps we could beocme more friendly to men and women parenting small children.
    Also, the same group writing the manhatten declaration also advocates for not encouraging women to use birth control… espcially young sexually active women. (which i know conflicts with christian values). So when faced with un-exected pregnancy,abortion looms large as a quick alternative.
    I think if we listened better, we might find ways of find alternatives to help women feel whole and empowered and bring greater justice in the home and workplace.
    my thoughts.

  • Peter

    Re: dopderbeck (#10) – Thank you. Your second question (Does a pragmatic assessment of culture….?) is way beyond where I have been able to apply my limited biblical knowledge, but I do find myself rather opinionated in regard to your first question: unless our efforts to influence law have to do with protecting an oppressed “other” I am not sure on what biblical foundation one would stand for spending a lot of resources on protecting our own privileges; certainly not in the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

  • Scot McKnight

    I agree with Matthew, that there’s the anabaptist alternative where the church community becomes the focus instead of the State, and I align myself with the anabaptist vision. However, one thing that I’d like to see David address is the viability of the moral issues that the MD concerns itself with, whether one agrees with the underwritten political theology that props up many, if not most, of the articulators of the MD.

  • John C. Gardner

    It appears that orthodox Christians should attempt to hold fast to the traditional positions on moral issues(e.g. religious freedom, abortion themselves) but also non-coercively support Christians positions that might influence the law(think of William Wilberforce’s efforts to abolish the slave trade and slavery itself). We as Christians should be able to speak with a Christian voice in the public square(see Richard John Neuhaus’s writings) and maintain certain Christian positions in law(e.g. marriage which itself can be defended on both theological and secular grounds). However, we should not try to enact as religious institutions statutory provisions that would favor one religious group at the expense of another(see the recent book by Munoz).
    John C. Gardner

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    I’m intrigued by the reference to the Donatist controversy, in part because I’ve been reflecting on that myself in relation to the recent controversies surrounding the church’s response to the issues of homosexuality (less so, abortion). But my take has been somewhat different.
    As Opderbeck notes: “The Donatists were a group that threatened to separate from the Roman Church over the question whether people who renounced Christ during persecutions should be readmitted to the Church.” The analogy I’ve seen is that one group is threatening to separate from the larger Church because the larger Church hasn’t responded to an issue in the way they the “separatist” group thought they should.
    We’ve seen a number of churches who, while perhaps having a more “correct” view of the sin issues, have chosen to separate from their larger bodies (notably, the recent Anglican denomination forming out of Pittsburgh). I’m not aware of any recent examples of “liberal separatists” in this vein. The fact that it is the conservative groups that have been more “separatist” (as far as I can tell) troubles me.
    Borrowing another item from the Donatist controversy, one of the issues at the time was the question of whether or not sacraments performed by priests that had fallen away (due to persecution, in that instance) were still valid. It was determined that the power of the sacraments did not come from the person who performed them, but from God. Therefore, those previously performed sacraments were still just as valid as they were before the priest “fell away.” I would argue on this basis that it is permissible for Christians of conscience to remain in a denomination/church where some leaders may engage in “sinful” actions with which the conscientious Christian may object. (That’s not to forbid them to leave, per se. I am “troubled” by that phenomenon, but don’t necessarily see the separation as sinful, either. Rather, I simply want to make a case for staying.)

  • http://cathlimergent.ning.com/ John Sobert Sylvest

    Diane, I am deeply appreciative of the way you broke open this issue and related it to coercion, in general, and war, in particular.
    In the old thomist tradition, distinctions were drawn between an essentialist or idealist interpretation and application of Gospel norms and an existentialist or realist interpretation and application of them. This distinction is necessary because we live in a tension where we are undeniably realizing the Kingdom now even as we, as created co-creators, join all of creation in the labor and groaning of the act of giving birth to an ever more full Kingdom realization.
    The essentialist understanding seizes upon the efficacies of the Spirit’s help and the Word, itself, proclaimed and lived by faithful witnesses. The existentialist understanding recognizes our human frailty due to our radical finitude and sinfulness and so makes allowances knowing humankind will yet fall short of Gospel ideals. One would not want to say that the essentialist approach is theoretical and the existentialist practical, because one would not want to discourage any courageous persons from living out the Gospel, radically, as prophetic witnesses and lovers of God and all. We can say that the existentialist approach is pastoral, however, looking with compassion and understanding on us in our human condition, helping us to do the best we can.
    Concretely, then, for example, this tradition affirms both pacifism and just war principles as legitimate expressions of Gospel ideals. While I am not a pacifist, myself, I am in deep solidarity with and very much supportive of my pacifist sisters and brothers in my denomination and in other traditions. I would not want to live in a world without their voice of prophetic protest and without the witness of their lives. Your sharing of your personal experience with these tensions was depthful and generous.
    With respect to the law, the same distinctions apply, I think. Those who eschew any active and coercive legal and political engagements can also serve as authentic voices of prophetic protest and witnesses to the reality of the Kingdom, now among us and yet to come more fully. From a pastoral perspective, consistent with an incarnational outlook, we can also legitimately seek to permeate and improve the temporal order. I am thankful that our US founders integrated religion into the public square, strengthening its influence through nonestablishment and free exercise provisions. This was a healthy response to Enlightenment principles, healthier than the Enlightenment fundamentalism of the Continental experience, where religion was marginalized by secularistic forces.
    So, I’m for a robust engagement of religious and metaphysical perspectives in the public square. That’s not what’s wrong per se with the approach of the MD drafters, in particular, and many on the Religious Right, in general. Where they go wrong, in my view, is two fold: 1) They too often fail to translate their moral stances into a language that would give their moral intuitions a normative impetus for other groups of believers and even unbelievers. 2) They too often give jurisprudential considerations short shrift, emphasizing form over substance, paying too little heed to whether a law will, in actuality, be efficacious and bring about its desired aim, especially in a pluralistic society where demographics reveal a proposed law as not only unenforceable but possibly even counterproductive. There is a related problem, which is that the failure to successfully translate some religiously-derived moral intuitions results from the fact that certain of those intuitions are philosophically and anthropologically indefensible.

  • dopderbeck

    Scot (#14): as I understand it, the Manhattan Declaration asserts these three things as important moral issues: (1) religious liberty; (2) the sanctity of human life; and (3) the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman as a creation ordinance. I agree with the MD’s moral perspective on these three issues, and I agree that issues (2) and (3) are vital moral themes throughout the narratives of scripture. I’m not intending to suggest any revisionism about these basic moral issues. My concern is how our moral perspectives relate to our views about and advocacy relating to the civil law.
    (One minor caveat — as we’re discussing in another thread here, I’m not sure the issue of embryonic stem cell research is quite so black-and-white as the MD seems to make it. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, I agree that this needs to be considered as a life issue).

  • Publius

    I think Stanley Hauerwas, drawing on John Howard Yoder, has this about right. The church’s first responsibility is to be a faithful witness to Jesus Christ. Therefore the idea that “part of the Church’s mission involves preserving and strengthening civil legal institutions” makes no sense as a theological statement: it’s foreign to the teaching of either Paul or Jesus. It is of primary importance that Christians in America think of themselves always as followers of Jesus Christ first and only secondarily as Americans. The church in America has done a dreadful job of confusing those two things, perhaps by imbibing a good dose of Manifest Destiny and God Bless America.
    If Christians, as a rule, demonstrated a willingness to forbear each other, forgive each other, refuse to kill other human beings for the sake of the state, pay attention to the many forms of greed that consume them, then the issues that now seem to preoccupy its leaders (i.e. abortion and gay marriage) might have some purchase. As it is, the MD feeds the view that Christians are fearful people who are most concerned about legislating Christian standards of morality. That is not the primary function of the church which is why these declarations have almost no practical use.
    So Christians continue to kill other Christians in the name of the state, kill abortion providers in the name of God, and single out homosexuality as a more grievous sin than others (the MD notwithstanding). If Christians simply practiced what they preached, who would need an MD?

  • http://thepotluckpair.wordpress.com JMorrow

    David,
    Nice post. I’m a young adult Xtian who has seen his position on faith and social justice issues shift from Augustine’s ‘coercive’ state focused view to Tertuillan’s ‘non-violent’ more church focused view. I’m more weary of the MD/Sojourners than ever before. Meanwhile I see more potential in our day for the church to be a laboratory of social inquiry, reasoning and engagement. While I said I’m weary of it, I’m not wholly convinced the ‘coercive’ approach is fatally unfaithful. I see these approaches more as polarities to manage than as exclusive choices.
    Thinking about the civil rights movement and its appropriation of both views a couple of points:
    1. The movement (particularly its Church faction) addressed more than civil governments, they addressed segregated businesses as essentially corporate citizens and called out workers/owners who regarded themselves as “Xtians”. This I believe is important because it recognizes that civil engagement is not merely the turning of our attention toward government, but the many and diverse stakeholders in a society.
    2. The movement at times had to dabble in creating an Anabaptist alternative. The Montgomery bus boycott prompted the creation of a defacto transportation system for the boycotters. However, without serious capital would it have been sustainable beyond the year or so that the boycott lasted? How sustainable is the Tertuillan/Anabaptist option?
    3. Also worth noting, the alternative served as a model for the Kingdom as it was not technically segregated, but rather open to and dependent upon all who boycotted (whether black or not). The result was that those who used it maintained their dignity. In this way the alternative could have styled itself as a potential civil option if others were willing to finance & sustain it.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    I go back to the creation mandate of filling the earth and exercising dominion. That includes the cultural mandate to create a world in which eikons individually and corporately work for the greatest shalom (healthy relationships with God, others, and creation; long life; health; well-being; safety, etc.)The two great commandments (loving God, loving neighbor) are the core ethical imperatives.
    Sin entered the world and added to our creation mandate is the redemption mandate. Participation in God’s redeeming work is now added to … not put in place of … the creation mandate. Two elements to the redemption mandate are “loving one another” … being a community that gives evidence of the Kingdom … and the Great Commission of drawing others in. But these are all done in the context of our creation mandate to exercise dominion over the earth.
    Too much of the Anabaptist approach, to me, feels incomplete. Refusal to participate in creating human dominion that creates shalom, except in a mode of alternative protest, is not truly participating in the creation mandate.
    The challenge is how to participate. Moral suasion of others through example and dialog seems to me to be the primary means of building a more wholesome society. In extreme cases, protest and civil disobedience may be necessary. That does not mean making everyone a Christian. One must simply persuade enough people of the merits of one’s position for that position to become law. That Christians enter the market place and persuade others is not different than Jews, Muslims, and secularists bring their morals to bear in the public debate. Thus, when a law comes into effect that coincides with what Christians believe, it is not the church imposing its views on the society. It is the church having a role in the formation of the morality of citizens who in turn shape their society. The whole of idea of Christians imposing their will on others is a bit of a straw man.

  • Pastor Matt

    Scot and David,
    Once again, thank you for this helpful discussion. However, I have yet to see any discussion about Paul’s use of his rights as a citizen. Was the Apostle wrong to invoke his rights? Wasn’t his citizenship a privilege?
    Also, isn’t the basic thrust of the MD a statement that if the U.S. Government continues to follow the trend of curtailing 1st Amendment rights (look to the work of groups such as the Alliance Defense Fund at http://www.telladf.org for examples) then ministers will engage in civil disobedience. Is that so wrong?
    Finally, couldn’t one argue that the unborn are an oppressed class?
    Again, thank you so much and blessings.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Shouldn’t secular law be entirely secular? If one can provide objective sociological data that, say, polygamy or same-sex marriage would be a bad idea, wouldn’t that be enough?
    If not, ask yourself if a majority-Muslim area could vote in aspects of sharia law…

  • Rick

    Mark #16-
    Who are the separatists? Is it the Pittsburg group that wants to maintain strong ties with the worldwide Anglican body, or is it the “liberal” Episcopal Church that has taken controversial actions that distanced itself from Anglicanism?
    Publius #19-
    “It is of primary importance that Christians in America think of themselves always as followers of Jesus Christ first and only secondarily as Americans.”
    That sounds easier than it is. We get uncomfortable when we hear those of other faiths or nations express similar priorities in allegiance.
    Michael #21-
    “The challenge is how to participate. Moral suasion of others through example and dialog seems to me to be the primary means of building a more wholesome society. In extreme cases, protest and civil disobedience may be necessary. That does not mean making everyone a Christian. One must simply persuade enough people of the merits of one’s position for that position to become law.”
    Amen. The fact that MD had to come out indicates some failure of the church in our evangelism/missional approaches. I think of Tim Keller’s missional approach to the city in how a ripple effect can be caused by impacting certain segments of society. There is a tipping point (to borrow from Gladwell) in which achieving a certain percentage of a given community can greatly impact the influence in that community. We have failed to do that (in certain communities), and one consequence is to find ourselves in this position.

  • dopderbeck

    Pastor Matt (#22),
    The issue you’re flagging here seems to me to represent one of the problems with the MD. The MD seems very focused on the perceived threat that Christians who disapprove of abortion and/or gay marriage will face legal sanctions, which IMHO is a legitimate concern. Yet, it goes far beyond that narrow concern and takes, it seems to me, a militant stance on a much broader range of issues. In the process, I think it in some ways exaggerates the threatiness of things like hate crimes legislation (I may do a separate post on whether hate crimes legislation really poses a threat to religious liberty).
    The broader question whether, when and to what extent a Christian should exercise his or her legal rights is a thorny one. I think that generally if a Christian is facing state persecution it is appropriate to invoke available legal protections, as Paul did. This seems to me a relatively easy case. But what if, say, a Christian is defrauded in a business deal, or injured in an accident? Should the Christian sue? Does it matter one way or the other if the adverse party is a Christian? These can be difficult questions, to which I’m not sure there’s one right answer. I would not say it’s categorically wrong for a Christian to assert a legal right, but are a wide range of circumstances that need to be considered about whether to bring and maintain legal proceedings.

  • Diane

    John SS,
    Thank you. :)
    As for Christian involvement in influencing the state’s laws and the anabaptist stand being marginal, I think, in the grand scheme of things, ideally the anabaptist stand would spread, as Christianity spread before it had state sanction, and essentially, you wouldn’t need laws to prevent things like abortion, because people simply wouldn’t have abortions … or commit murder … or whatever. The law would be written in the heart. As I have said a thousand times before, I am not a Biblical scholar, but from having read the Bible with great concentration, it seems to me when Paul says there’s no slave nor free, male nor female and then says slaves obey your masters, and wives obey your husbands, he’s talking about a radical series of personal transformations such that categories such as slave and woman lose their negative connotations–and essentially their “principalities and powers” meanings–because Christians actually are living in loving equality–so yes, someone may be a slave, but he is not treated as a slave would have been, he is treated as a brother, and the same with wives. So to my mind, the point of Paul is not about changing the laws of the existing warrior nation states but to so change human hearts and minds that from the ground up–bottom up, not top down–we’re building the Kingdom of God. I just don’t see how you can build the KOG through changing the laws and not changing people’s hearts. Again, to me, it’s just putting the whip in another group’s hand. And it seems to me that effective legal change follows, doesn’t go before, peoples’ hearts changing. For ex., if we’re going to talk about Wilberforce and slavery, the legal change, it seems to me, followed the widespread and growing revulsion towards the slave practice. It seems to me–and of course, I think this comes from Jesus and Paul, at least this what my feeble mind “gets”–that lasting change comes from the bottom up and not the top down and so efforts to influence the elites, while well-intentioned, may be misguided. On the other hand, I do appreciate legislative attempts to fight injustice and protect the least of these. I don’t think it’s simply one or the other, but a process.

  • Diane

    And in my experience, it’s also true that when the church wants to enact laws that accord with our personal beliefs, we are all for it, but when the church supports laws we disagree with, we want the church to stay out of politics. “Our side” is always moral and Christian and of course, our beliefs self-evidently should be law–the other side is always “using” Christianity to legislate a suspect and probably anti-Christian agenda.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    Who are the separatists? Is it the Pittsburg group that wants to maintain strong ties with the worldwide Anglican body, or is it the “liberal” Episcopal Church that has taken controversial actions that distanced itself from Anglicanism?
    Here’s the thing. The “liberals” aren’t leaving anybody. If the ties are broken, it may well be argued to be a result of the “liberal” actions, but it is still the other members of the communion that would be taking the action that “separates” the bodies (although this scenario would be more akin to a corporate “excommunication” than anything else). Still, the point remains that the “liberal” Episcopalians are more than happy to remain a part of the larger Anglican Communion, if allowed to do so.

  • http://pastormattsblog.wordpress.com/ Pastor Matt

    David,
    Again, thank you.
    However, it is my understanding that similar trends in Europe and Canada have in fact curtailed religious liberty and to an alarming degree. Pastors may be fined for preaching on certain subjects in certain ways in Canada and Pastor Ake Green was imprisoned in Sweden for preaching on Romans under their version of a hate crimes bill.

  • Rick

    “…but it is still the other members of the communion that would be taking the action that “separates” the bodies”
    Which group, Pittsburg or TEC, is trying harder to “remain a part of the larger Anglican Communion”?
    I contend that it is Pittsburg. If the TEC was trying that hard, they would not have taken such actions.

  • BradK

    I’m not so sure that civil obedience is necessary on any of these issues. In fact, I’ll use what some consider to be a dirty word here – compromise. Might it not be possible for the church to compromise with the opposition on a couple of these issues?
    For example, who cares if abortion is legal if there are no abortions performed? Likewise who cares is it is illegal if there are still a bunch of them performed? While the evangelical church has embroiled itself in a political battle for decades over the issues, millions upon millions of babies have been aborted. And the opposition has entrenched to a position of antipathy towards the evangelical church in the process. What if, instead of seeking the abolition of abortion, we compromise with the opposition on keeping it legal if they will agree to support measures that will significantly reduce the number of abortions? Opposing that compromise would seem to put them in the position of not just supporting “choice” but in appearing to actively support actual abortions in great numbers. Not an attractive position, I think. The end result of this kind of compromise might be lots of human life preserved.
    Likewise for the homosexual marriage issue, why couldn’t we agree to grant certain rights for homosexuals and their partners in exchange for not having the state recognize it as marriage? To me it seems possible that homosexuals might actually be experiencing some injustice or inequality here that could be rectified. How does it hurt us if a homosexual is allowed for someone else that they choose to automatically inherit from them or act as next of kin in medical decisions or other practical matters or to be on their health care plan? Our main concern seems to be that the state continue to officially recognize only marriage as we think God sees it as marriage. Again, for the opposition to oppose a compromise like this would seem to put them in a position of not only wanting fair treatment, but wanting the state to essentially force others to recognize something as right or moral that they oppose.
    I could be totally off base here, but pragmatism here seems a better alternative than civil disobedience or even strident opposition.

  • dopderbeck

    Pastor Matt (#29) — The U.S. law would be different even if the reports you’ve heard about Canada and Europe are correct, particularly in our Constitutional context. Honestly, the materials I’ve seen from the religious right on this in the U.S. strike me as extremist propaganda. (Here is something I wrote about this a while ago).
    This highlights another thing that bothers me about statements like the MD. You might read the MD and think it’s mostly reasonable, with perhaps some quibbles here and there. If you put it into the context of the larger religious right propaganda campaign, however, it can take on another light. Perhaps it’s unfair of me to make this kind of linkage, but if you receive the information stream from some of these groups, hear the talk radio jabber, and so on, you start to wonder whether you’re getting the whole story…. Now, maybe the MD drafters have no intentions at all to provide grist for the publicity mills, but such a result is clearly foreseeable, which raises the question of prudence and mission.

  • Travis Greene

    Rick @ 21,
    ” “It is of primary importance that Christians in America think of themselves always as followers of Jesus Christ first and only secondarily as Americans.”
    That sounds easier than it is. We get uncomfortable when we hear those of other faiths or nations express similar priorities in allegiance.”
    Why? I certainly don’t. I expect Muslims to have greater allegiance to Allah than to the U.S., or to France, or to Iran. Commitment to Jesus relativizes all other allegiances.
    Michael @ 21,
    I am leery of prioritizing creation over redemption, or even of holding them in balanced tension. At the end of the day, Jesus trumps Moses. Or better: we can only really understand Moses/Genesis/the OT through Jesus/the NT (Yes, the same is true in reverse, but not in the same way). Redemption does not replace creation, but it does define it.

  • Pastor Matt

    David,
    I did hear about many of these cases from sources that many would lable as belonging to “the Christian right” but I double checked the Ake Green case and it seems to be pretty straightforward. You can find it easily at several different sources yourself.
    Also, I’m still not at all convinced that evoking rights as a citizen (esp. those guaranteed by both the federal and state constitutions), as those who signed the MD, are placing the flag above their loyalty to Christ or being theologically sloppy. I mean, the Bible uses militant language at times and, again, Paul doesn’t seem to have any problem with being a good citizen.
    Furthermore, it seems to me, though perhaps I am wrong, that many are romanticizing a persecuted church. Doesn’t Acts state that the church grew when Saul stopped persecuting the church and experienced peace? I believe it was Justo L. Gonzalez who wrote that the early church grew steadily in areas where little or no persecution took place.
    Just my two cents to this very stimulating discussion.

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com Joey

    Rick says:
    “That sounds easier than it is. We get uncomfortable when we hear those of other faiths or nations express similar priorities in allegiance.”
    I’m with Travis Greene here. This doesn’t make me uncomfortable at all. I can’t come up with a Gospel centered reason to have any other view than that of differing Kingdoms. They sometimes collide but keep their identity. It is the call of all Christians to maintain their Kingdom identity no matter what happens to their worldly one.
    Morality is brought by death and resurrection and not by laws. If our faith is in laws to bring forth the Kingdom Jesus died for nothing.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    Which group, Pittsburg or TEC, is trying harder to “remain a part of the larger Anglican Communion”?
    But they are doing so by actively separating from the currently-still-official American component of the Anglican Communion. This is my whole point. Do you deny this?
    I’m sure it’s all a matter of interpretation on some level. Nor is this just limited to Episcopalian/Anglicans. I could have as easily pointed to churches that were/are leaving the PC(USA) (perhaps to join some other, more conservative, Presbyterian body. Perhaps to become independent. The point remains). Even if they are right about the doctrinal issues (a fight I’d rather not get into, and certainly beyond the scope of this discussion), the actual “separating” is being done by one side more than the other, it seems to me.

  • Rick

    Mark-
    You see it as separation from the TEC, while I see it as maintaining strong unity with the Anglican Communion.
    Which brings up the issue, and perhaps part of the theme of this post: who/what are we seeing as our top priority in terms of loyalty.
    (brings to mind the political saying, “I did not leave the ____ party, it left me.”)
    Joey-
    I was not saying we should not find such distinctions, just that it is not always easy (we might get a sense of being “unpatriotic”, and that can be uncomfortable at first).

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    Which brings up the issue, and perhaps part of the theme of this post: who/what are we seeing as our top priority in terms of loyalty.
    A very good point. I’m confident that both sides would argue that they are choosing to prioritize loyalty to God over any other specific relationship. Therein lies some of the problem.

  • John Fouad Hanna

    Thanks for your as always thoughtful post David. This is an excellent discussion that involves a weighty and broad subject that takes us in many different directions. As a person who has added my name to the MD, I offer the following very limited remarks:
    1. I too am concerned about confusion between the state’s coercive power and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.
    2. I don’t see what the MD advocates as an illegitimate confusion. While I realize some of this discussion relates to abortion, I’m going to assume that most of those here agree that laws against killing human beings are a legitimate exercise of state power. Abortion laws extend this protection to the unborn. I think this valid and reasonable.
    3. It is with respect to marriage that I imagine many have difficulty. I think it important to realize that the marriage debate does not actually relate to the state using its power to prevent anyone from doing anything. The marriage issue takes behavior that is currently not subject to state regulation or involvement – same-sex relationships – and demands the state’s involvement.
    Brad K writes:
    “Likewise for the homosexual marriage issue, why couldn’t we agree to grant certain rights for homosexuals and their partners in exchange for not having the state recognize it as marriage?”
    I would concur with this. I cannot speak for all the signers (we have not all secretly agreed to assume power over the nation), but I don’t have an issue with people ordering their lives as they see fit – re visitation, inheritance, etc. But in the marriage issue it is precisely Brad K’s proposition that is rejected.
    I think what’s at stake in the marriage issue is not conduct or relationships but simply what we will call them. The marriage debate, in so far as i can tell, simply relates to the utilization of legislation to declare that same-sex is “just as good” and “no different” than male-female. This is what all the emotion, all the arguing relates to. Furthermore, it validates the view that opposition to same-sex marriage is akin to racism, segregation, etc. It does not relate to interference in people’s private/sexual lives.
    While I think state power is inherently coercive, this issue offers us a unique situation. I do not think it is a good idea for anyone for the state as a matter of law and public policy to entrench into our society the above views. Given that marriage has always and everywhere been a male-female insitution based on its complementary and procreative nature, this view of marriage is not advancing something uniquely Christian in the narrow sense of being only known through particular revelation, but something woven into the fabric of creation.
    I reject the notion that to simply take the position that marriage as a civil institution is a male-female institution is a power grab. I realize that it can and is interpreted that way (sometimes intentionally misrepresenting the viewpoint and sometimes sincerely). But this is where patient explanation can come in. Furthermore, it is here that a Christian witness regarding how we treat those with whom we disagree can come into play. Should the law fully and finally turn toward same-sex marriage, then I would readily accept this as God’s sovereign will, realizing that this would have no power to limit Christ’s kingdom, which advances in the same way he ushered it in – death and resurrection. In the meantime, however, I do not think I am obligated to support the state’s official endorsement of that which is harmful so that good may advance.

  • kerry

    I am writing from outside the USA and find it very strange that this discussion is occurring alongside a debate about the provision of universal health care. If the value of every human life is immense then surely the provision, by a wealthy country, of quality health care for all of its citizens would be welcomed by believers. But I gather that this is not the case at all, which seems very inconsistent with the arguments about the value of human life.

  • joanne

    I don’t feel like i got heard the first time so i am saying again perhaps differently.
    Re Abortion: there is an us and them attitude toward feminists and those who are pro-abortion. I want the church to listen to the fears behind the perceived need to have abortion in this country.
    Her is the fear: For centuries, the bodies of women have been owned by their fathers, husbands etc. The freedom to determine how one’s body is used is in this case a powerful desire.
    Now I don’t believe abortion is the solution to this need… that is a technical type change. What is needed is a deep social change around atonomy and respect for the bodies of women.
    Women are still raped by men they don’t know, by fathers, and uncles. something has been stolen… their body.
    I think we ought to listen to the fears and deal with the core stuff and then abortion might just take care of itself.

  • Diane

    Joanne,
    I heard you the first time and am sorry I didn’t respond. I completely agree with you. When it comes to abortion, pregnancy and childbirth–and let’s face it, childcare–we have two potential victims, mother and child. Often, sadly, in the abortion debate, the mother (and her body) is often rendered invisible, as if she were not a human being in her own right, but merely an incubator for that all-important baby. So, although I deplore abortion, I can’t not support choice–in the end, the mother, I believe, is the safest entity to make what will always be a choice about a birth, whether legal or not. I would much rather see us build a society in which women were valued as body, mind and soul (let’s not forget mind and soul)!! and their childbearing and childrearing needs truly cared for, in a true culture of life, rather than merely punishing a woman whose back might be against the wall. It does, I have to say, and I try not to go there too often because I become incandescent with unhelpful rage, that it does bother me when a statement like MD would condemn abortion but not explicitly advocate for such policies as universal healthcare and better economic supports for women would be expected to bear (and most often raise) children they didn’t choose to have. I would also like such a document to explicitly make a statement affirming the value of women as human beings (not merely faceless child incubators) with God-granted gifts behind the maternal that need to be supported as women go about the task of bearing and raising children.

  • Diane

    And on gay marriage: I read a book a few years ago–I wish I could remember the name-by a gay man supposedly giving a Christian defense of gay marriage. I never really understood what was Christian in his argument, but he did make an interesting statement: He said gays would not seek legal marriage if the institution of marriage had not become easier, for lack of a better term, because of no-fault divorce, among other things. So perhaps the answer, if you are against gay marriage, is to make divorce harder. That would also solve the problem of looking like hypocrites: Jesus speaks out against divorce, says nothing about homosexuality and yet the Christian picks out gay unions as the chief of sins while ignoring rampant divorce and adultery amongst its heterosexual ranks, even knowing the harsh price children pay for divorce and the steep price divorced men and women pay.

  • dopderbeck

    John (#39) said: The marriage issue takes behavior that is currently not subject to state regulation or involvement – same-sex relationships – and demands the state’s involvement.
    I respond: That’s a very tendentious way of putting it. To the extent the state is involved in defining what “marriage” means, and the state declines to extend that definition to same-sex unions, then the state is “involved” directly. Moreover, SSM advocates argue that the federal constitution and State constitutions afford them a right to have the state recognize their unions as “marriage.” Courts and legislatures are called upon to interpret and apply these higher constitutional norms, so again, the state is “involved.” There is “involvement” with respect to constitutional norms even if the best constitutional interpretation ultimately is that there are no such inherent constitutional guarantees as SSM advocates claim.
    I think that in this respect, the analogy SSM advocates draw to civil rights legislation is apt. Imagine, for example, an argument that prior to the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, “women sought to take something that was not then subject to state regulation — the ability of women to vote — and demanded the state’s involvement.” Obviously, the state was already “involved,” in that the law denied to women the ability to participate in a civil institution to which they claimed a right of participation.
    None of the foregoing is intended to suggest that the law should recognize SSM or that SSM is in every respect the same as women’s suffrage or the civil rights movement after the Jim Crow era. But this is one of those things that bugs me about documents like the MD: it states a number of things as certainties that just strike me as obviously wrong and ill-formed arguments. This starts to feel to me like coercion rather than truthful patience.
    Query: if the point really is that the state isn’t “involved” in regulating same-sex relationships, then why not advocate that the state simply get out of the “marriage” business altogether?
    Christians who wish to follow the Biblical pattern for sexuality and marriage could do so and would have their unions consecrated within their own ecclesial communities. Those ecclesial communities could focus on the health and welfare of the marriages and families they have consecrated. The tens of millions of dollars and volumes of ink and pixels spent on lobbying against SSM could be devoted to the flourishing of family life in the Church. The vicious anger and hatred the culture wars have fostered within the Church could be transformed into forgiveness and grace. And all this could serve as a witness to the world that almost certainly would have a more profound and lasting impact on our culture than any stop-gap lobbying efforts — which are sure in any event eventually to fail against the tide of SSM advocacy.
    Maybe another way of putting it is this: Are we a pilgrim Church in North America, “resident aliens” as Hauerwas put it, or are we the Church of Christendom? If the Church is a missionary Church in the North American culture, what should be the heart of our missional task?

  • dopderbeck

    One more thought / question: to what I said in (#44), I think the most cogent response is that marriage is a unique institution that is basic to the flourishing of society, and therefore the law ought to regulate it. I would respond to this in two ways:
    First — if this is so, then then the state is clearly “involved” in regulating SSM, so the line of argument that asserts otherwise should be dropped.
    Second — how do you draw lines with respect to state regulation between marriage and other practices, beliefs and institutions that also are basic to the flourishing of society?
    The first of the Ten Commandments is to have no other Gods besides the one true God. This Commandment is foundational to all the others and to all of Biblical ethics. We Christians assert that proper worship of God is ultimately the key to human flourishing and right social relationships.
    So why not insist that the civil law exclude worship of any God but the Triune God revealed in Jesus Christ?
    This is where the reference to eschatology in my original post comes in. We live in a time between times. The heart of the Kingdom of God is right worship of God, but this is something the civil law in our time between times cannot establish, even though Christendom tried repeatedly to establish it. We (the Church) have learned through the harsh discipline of religious wars that right worship of God can’t be compelled by civil law. The best we can do is support religious liberty and freedoms of speech and assembly so that there are no legal barriers to the construction of the Kingdom through the Church. Why is marriage different?

  • John Fouad Hanna

    David you ask, “why is marriage different?” (#45)
    The short answer is what I wrote in my previous comment (#39): “marriage has always and everywhere been a male-female insitution based on its complementary and procreative nature.”
    Throughout human history, the joining together of male and female has been the basis of human society due to the distinction between the two and the fact that when two come together they bring others into existence, forming a family. By definition, marriage is a male-female union. This reality has not been due to hate, prejudice, animus, “racism” or any other such trumped up claims.
    Same-sex marriage enshrines in law harmful and false views concerning gender and sexuality. It also establishes the view that we have now “advanced” beyond the hateful, prejudicial and backwards notion that male-female was somehow unique. I oppose this for numerous valid reasons. Among other things, it is the employment of state power to advance sexual libertinism. Even though I am opposed to sexual libertinism, i am wary of (and generally opposed to) using the law to limit it. However I do not think the law should be employed to advance it either. In addition to being inherently false, this view of human sexuality results in substantial social, educational and economic harm, even if such educational and economic harm does not often touch the lives of privileged western elites who advance same-sex marriage.
    Same-sex marriage also establishes that the Chrisitian (fully human) view of marriages is hateful, prejudicial, repressive, etc., as a matter of law, education and citizenship. Again, it is one thing for our laws to allow and make room for that which is opposed to Christianity and human flourishing. This is part of the civic view of freedom (including freedoms of religion, speech, etc.). I endorse this. Just as the law cannot make a person good, it cannot make a society good. It is another thing however to approve of and endorse laws that define that which is good as evil instead. If God allows it, so be it. But I don’t think it a denial of the gospel to oppose it until it happens.
    In talking about the state’s “non-involvement,” I am simply countering a claim that’s advanced that opposition to same-sex marriage inhibits and interferes with private and sexual relations. That it is government interference in “the bedroom.” The fact is that it is those of us who get married who invite the government “into our bedroom.”
    David, you speak of “vicious anger and hatred.” I can’t account for every “sky is falling” fundraising letter you may have received. I can’t account for things I haven’t said.
    David, you ask (#44): “Are we a pilgrim Church in North America, “resident aliens” as Hauerwas put it, or are we the Church of Christendom?”
    This is a good and valid question in which I am deeply interested. But it does lead me to make a particular point.
    In my discussions with Christians on these issues, what I often find is that those who are opposed MD type positions on abortion and marriage really don’t see much wrong with them. However, there are those, such as here at “Jesus Creed,” including you David, who uphold traditional Christian positions on these matters and have legitimate concerns about legislation affecting these matters as it relates to Christian witness. I take you at your word.
    There are those who support the MD, who hold to certain perspectives on America as a “Christian” nation and on the relationship of the church to law and society. I do not accept these views but am conscious of our identity as citizens of heaven sent into the world as cross-bearing disciples. Heck, I think a pretty good case can be made that the “glorious” American Revolution was not justified on Christian grounds. How do you like dem apples? It is somewhat frustrating to keep being told I believe things I don’t believe.
    You and many other commenters (seem to) take the position that being against same-sex marriage is inherently (regardless of approach) a denial of Christian witness and mission in the United States of America in the 21st century. I disagree.
    One last point/question:
    In #10,you wrote: “Indeed, I think most of us would agree that Christians such as Wilberforce who supported and fueled the cause of abolition in the 19th Century, Christians in the Confessing Church who opposed the Nazis during WWII, and Christians who led the cause of civil rights in the 20th Century, were doing important and faithful work.”
    These were all explicitly Chrisitian movements. In the U.S., the abolitionist movement was at the center of a civil war. How does endorsement of these square with the general tenor of comments 44 and 45?

  • Ted Seeber

    Publicus #19 writes: “The church’s first responsibility is to be a faithful witness to Jesus Christ. Therefore the idea that “part of the Church’s mission involves preserving and strengthening civil legal institutions” makes no sense as a theological statement: it’s foreign to the teaching of either Paul or Jesus. It is of primary importance that Christians in America think of themselves always as followers of Jesus Christ first and only secondarily as Americans. The church in America has done a dreadful job of confusing those two things, perhaps by imbibing a good dose of Manifest Destiny and God Bless America.”
    I actually greatly disagree with this. I see Jesus as Our Once and Future King, the Pope as His Vicar. That’s a *very governmental* Kingdom of God- a civil legal institution. And one foreign to America- in fact, opposed by the Constitution itself on several levels.
    If I, as a Roman Catholic, were to think of myself as a follower of Jesus Christ first and as an American second, then I’d be for, as a minimum, Amending the Constitution to clarify the Free Excise clause of the First Amendment, and strengthening the 10th Amendment to allow for repeal of the interstate commerce clause and Article I Section 10, as subsidiarity and Caritas In Veritate would demand (that smaller than federal governmental bodies be allowed to enact protectionist stances to improve the number of opportunities available).

  • Ted Seeber

    Diane #43- yes, I couldn’t agree more. To me, Divorce should be *MUCH* harder. But I think there are really two answers to same-sex marriage:
    1. The Louisiana method- make divorce much harder with the state cooperating with the church under a second “sacramental marriage” license that better fits what marriage should be.
    2. The inadvertent Texas method- get the state out of the marriage business entirely and leave it to the churches. Then, if you want to reward adults for the thrift of living together, you can have a civil union tax break- but don’t discriminate. AGAINST ANYBODY. Not against polygamy, not against Humong Cambodians whose marriage beliefs include kidnapping nine year old girls for additional wives, not against siblings who want to marry each other, nobody.
    It is my belief that the First Amendment requires Texas, not Louisiana. But my faith would want Louisiana, as does yours.

  • John Fouad Hanna

    David you ask and answer:
    “Query: if the point really is that the state isn’t “involved” in regulating same-sex relationships, then why not advocate that the state simply get out of the “marriage” business altogether?
    Christians who wish to follow the Biblical pattern for sexuality and marriage could do so and would have their unions consecrated within their own ecclesial communities. Those ecclesial communities could focus on the health and welfare of the marriages and families they have consecrated.”
    I am not averse to this but might be willing to sign on to something along these lines, in which the state allows parties to enter in a “civil union” of some sort but leaves “marriage” to “religious” communities. The fact of the matter is that what we have now in our society is not “marriage” as Christians have recognized it but a poor imitation. I do not and would not look to restore civil marriage as a God-ordained covenant fulfilled in Christ and his church.
    Furthermore, the notion that this might move us past the “culture war” on this issue is attractive. At the same time, I’m not as optimistic as you are regarding this. Issues of gender and sexuality, freedom and oppression are at the heart of what it means to be human. Different views will continue to run into each other when it comes to public endorsement, education, legislation, etc.
    Even as I am open to endorsing the option you present, I find a couple of difficulties. First of all that’s not where we’re at in the societal debate/discussion. Right now the issue is the state’s sanction of same-sex marriage [SSM]. Also, I think the option you offer would be rejected by SSM advocates. What I think at least some are looking for is the state’s “blessing” that their relationship is a “marriage.”
    The other difficulty, which I know your recognize, is that the removal of marriage from the public sphere would be bad for society. It is here that I find the vehement opposition to MD and its signers somewhat befuddling. MD commends marriage both from a particularly Christian standpoint and more broadly in a manner that’s reasonable and coherent.
    Thanks for initiating the discussion.

  • dopderbeck

    John (#46) said: “marriage has always and everywhere been a male-female insitution based on its complementary and procreative nature.”
    I respond: The serious problem with this argument is that, until relatively recently, marriage has also “always and everywhere” been an institution in which the female was regarded as property or essentially as property, and this remains true in most non-Western cultures today. Even in the Biblical witness we see a progressive development of the dignity of the woman within marriage, leading up to the very counter-cultural ways in which Jesus and Paul elevated the status of women. Unless you want to also encode into the law an ancient patriarchal-property view of the family, it seems to me that this isn’t a terribly helpful approach.
    I don’t believe this kind of “always and everywhere” natural law argument generally works in any event. Lots of things have obtained “always and everywhere” (or nearly so) that are pretty bad — not surprising, given human depravity. People “always and everywhere” have been “full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; . . . senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” (Romans 1:29-30). I’m certain we don’t want to encode any of these practices into positive law.
    John said: You and many other commenters (seem to) take the position that being against same-sex marriage is inherently (regardless of approach) a denial of Christian witness and mission in the United States of America in the 21st century. I disagree.
    I respond: No, I did not say that, in fact I said exactly the opposite (comment #10). I personally am “against” same-sex marriage in the sense that, as I said in comment #18, “marriage” in truth is a creation ordinance, part of the moral law woven into creation by God. I even agree with you that in an ideal world, it would be better for the civil law as a bearer and teacher of norms to recognize this fact. I have no problem with people saying and advocating this; here, I have said it myself, even though it is an unpopular and perhaps even unsafe thing to say.
    What I am deeply concerned about, and what I see clearly in the MD, however, is a distortion of the Church’s mission in the world, in which changing or preserving the civil law is elevated to one of our top priorities. I know you are not

  • dopderbeck

    Oops, some of my response to John (#49) got cut off….
    What I am deeply concerned about, and what I see clearly in the MD, however, is a distortion of the Church’s mission in the world, in which changing or preserving the civil law is elevated to one of our top priorities. I know you are not of this ilk personally, but the MD clearly communicates to me that we live in a moment of crisis and the the Church must address the crisis through political means at all costs.
    The “powerful forces in our culture” language in the MD is obviously eschatological, and it refers to a political theology that I reject in substance and style. The MD ties discipleship to politics in a direct way. It directly calls people to the point of martyrdom for politics. That is wrong!! I have seen the corrosive effects of this first-hand. I’ve been in worship services where the phrase “He is Lord of All,” situated over a cross hanging on the wall behind the pulpit, was literally covered over by a 40-foot American flag! Can you imagine a much more direct act of idolatry? This is not how you understand the MD, but it is how many ordinary people in the pews will take it’s call to arms. Based on thirty years of experience in the conservative evangelical subculture, I can’t help but see that effect as intentional by at least some of the “powerful forces” behind the creation of the MD.
    On this front, contrast the MD with the Evangelical Manifesto. Even though I would quibble with some parts of the EM, I was one of its first public signers. The EM on the whole is balanced, holistic, appropriately introspective, and yet morally clear. The MD, as I read it, far more narrowly ties discipleship to a particular political viewpoint and to exhaustive efforts towards political success.


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