Given the most recent Two Kingdom (2K) skirmishes that started over at Green Baggins and then dispersed to other blogs, it’s time to make some observations about the form of those disputes. To do that, we’re going to borrow the legal term “burden of proof.” Burden of proof refers to which side has to do the proving and the level of proof it has to attain. Prosecutors have to prove criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt, plaintiff attorneys have to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence and there are some proceedings that require “clear and convincing” proof, a level that is less than “beyond a reasonable doubt” but more than “preponderance of the evidence.”
For one reason or another, it seems that the burden of proof always falls heavily on 2K. Most recently 2K’s were basically put in the position of having to answer various allegations put forth by John Frame, but there are other reasons why the burden always seems to be on the 2K’s. First, although the 2K position has deep historical roots, it seems like a new idea in today’s reformed circles. Second, it’s a minority position. Third, there’s the sure-fire rhetorical tactic of mentioning things like abortion, gay marriage, bestiality, rape, or pedophilia (those are all actual examples except for pedophilia, but just wait) with the implication that 2K’s are indifferent to them. Well, that puts 2K’s on the defensive in a hurry and soon the 2K position looks over-subtle, complicated, and amoral.
In actuality the 2K position is really quite clear insofar as it impacts the church. And here it is: don’t politicize the church. Let the church worship, preach, and administer sacraments without talking about legislation, constitutional amendments, or candidates. We can talk about possible extraordinary cases but, really, it’s a pretty simple position.
What’s complicated is the position of the anti-2K politicizer. We can start with what seems to be their strongest case for politicizing the church: abortion. Should a church proclaim support for a state’s particular pro-life legislation? Should a church proclaim support for particular federal prolife legislation? But what if a member objects to the language of the state legislation or doesn’t believe the federal government should be involved in abortion? Should that member be disciplined?
Then, if churches begin to proclaim upon specifics in the realm of abortion, can they also make proclamations about other 6th commandment concerns? Perhaps a local session/consistory would come under the conviction that our overseas military involvement involves unjust taking of civilian lives and should be opposed on those grounds. Can they speak thus on behalf of God?
Then we could consider voting for candidates. One man votes to re-elect President Obama because he believes a welfare state tends to do justice to the orphan and the widow, and, moreover, believes that re-electing a black candidate will tend to greater justice for blacks. But, of course, President Obama is pro-choice. Should that man come under discipline?
Finally, consider elected officials themselves. Think of an elected official who has the power to veto pro-life legislation and does so. His rationale for the veto is that he would be breaking his vow to uphold the constitution by signing legislation inconsistent with Roe v. Wade. Shall that magistrate be disciplined?
See, it’s not about being pro-life or not – it’s about the complexity of political issues and the limits of church authority. And these tough questions are responsive to what is seemingly one of the easier issues to resolve on a purely moral level. When the burden of proof is shifted in this way – requiring the anti-2K to give details on just how we should politicize the church – it’s a very different conversation.