Two Kingdom Momentum

Is two kingdom thinking gaining momentum? From sources as diverse as Front Porch Republic and the New York Times, by men affiliated with denominations as diverse as the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Free Church, we get two angles critical of a too-close relationship between church and state.

From Front Porch Republic is an article about the West Point cadet who resigned in protest against that institution’s religiosity. Andrew Bacevich, a Catholic, reflects on that decision, and wonders if the church is not better off when it is more distinct from the state:

blake-page-mikey-weinstein-cnnYet beyond the military realm, the ongoing debate that Mikey is promoting raises questions that call for especially serious reflection. It’s we believers who are not soldiers who ought to reflect. After all, when agents of the state promote religiosity, their primary interest is not necessarily saving souls. Throughout history, states have employed religion to advance their own purposes, which they routinely insist coincide with God’s own. Religion thereby becomes an adjunct of state power. Gott Mit Uns, as it were.

Whenever they have deemed it expedient to do so, U. S. political leaders have adhered to this practice. Especially in times of war or national emergency, they have unhesitatingly appropriated religion, enlisting God on America’s side. To cite just one recent example, in the wake of 9/11, President George W. Bush, himself a believer, deployed God to provide a moral rationale for his Global War on Terrorism.

More often than not, American church leaders (to include the hierarchy of my own Catholic Church) have endorsed the proposition that America’s purposes align with the Almighty’s. When doing so, they validate the reassuring pairing of “God and Country,” as if implying a partnership of equals. In fact, what all too often ensues is “Religion Subordinated to State,” an unequal and even exploitive arrangement that serves chiefly to facilitate the exercise of power unconstrained by moral considerations.

If Blacevich is correct, he suggests an irony in which the church is actually weakened by alliance with the state because it tends to lose its capacity to make appropriate moral judgments about state action.  Given the inability of the Christian Right to engage in moral reflection on military engagement, he may have a point.

Then, writing on The of Decline of Evangelical America, in the New York Times, Evangelical Free pastor John S. Dickerson sees evangelicalism on the wane and proposes a partial remedy:

We evangelicals must accept that our beliefs are now in conflict with the mainstream culture. We cannot change ancient doctrines to adapt to the currents of the day. But we can, and must, adapt the way we hold our beliefs — with grace and humility instead of superior hostility. The core evangelical belief is that love and forgiveness are freely available to all who trust in Jesus Christ. …Instead of offering hope, many evangelicals have claimed the role of moral gatekeeper, judge and jury. If we continue in that posture, we will continue to invite opposition and obscure the “good news” we are called to proclaim.New Picture

I believe the cultural backlash against evangelical Christianity has less to do with our views — many observant Muslims and Jews, for example, also view homosexual sex as wrong, while Catholics have been at the vanguard of the movement to protect the lives of the unborn — and more to do with our posture. The Scripture calls us “aliens and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), but American evangelicals have not acted with the humility and homesickness of aliens.

Dickerson suggests that when the church embraces a political agenda of (by implication) the Christian Right, it tends to emit hostility and get the same in return. When the inevitable rhetoric-enhanced shouting match ensues, it’s harder for the unbelieving “opponent” to hear the gospel.

Of course, it’s one thing to criticize politicization of the church and another to embrace two kingdom thinking, but it does tend to create an environment open to the two kingdom solution.


Filed under Church and State, Culture Wars, Two Kingdom

7 responses to “Two Kingdom Momentum

    • I didn’t know Dobson was still in the league. Once men reach a certain age I try to avoid critiquing them. But here’s a quotable:

      For them politics, not faith, is their interpretive lens. Christianity becomes a blunt instrument in an ideological struggle. The result is that people of faith explain a brutal massacre by connecting imaginary dots. And the fact that doing so damages the Christian faith seems to bother them not at all.
      Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris couldn’t have done it any better.

      • Richard

        “Now, assume you were a parent of one of the children who was gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School and you heard a well-known Christian figure like Dobson declare that the worst thing you could possibly conceive of – the murder of your first-grade daughter — was a result of the wrath of God. If you believed this, it would only add to your grief. And if you didn’t believe it, it would only add to your anger. And what would Dobson say to the father of the boy who had just dedicated his young life to the Lord? Why was he the target of God’s judgment? Because Washington State passed a same-sex marriage initiative?” Boy, does that nail it.

  1. Zrim

    M&M, speaking of the FP, I just picked up “The Politics of Gratitude” by Mark Mitchell. In case you missed its existence, consider the heads up my stocking stuffer to you.

    • It’s a lock that I’m getting malted milk balls in my stocking. Truth be told, I don’t like them as much as yogurt covered raisins or good toffee, but I don’t dare to tell anyone after so many years. But I’ve never gotten a book heads-up in my stocking, so thanks. Is it bloggable?

  2. Zrim

    I don’t know what that means. But it’s sure readable.

  3. Zrim

    Richard, the only thing I’d add is how the Dobsons of the world never seem to show any hint that they understand the completed work of Christ to appease God’s judgment. If Jesus really paid it all then how could anybody come up with these theories? The only way is to think that Jesus is insufficient.

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