Growing up in a broadly secular environment I was never very political. So it was always very odd to me upon conversion and subsequent entrance into the religious world that specific political affiliation and devotion were very much assumed. At first blush I took my ambivalence to be a function of simply being new. Though I was branded this thing called a “seeker” and thereby entitled to more or less dictate to the church what ought to be important, I was never really convinced that this form of feigned hospitality was on the up-and-up; my own disposition was that, basically, I had something to learn and submit to. Even so, when it came to this affinity between religious conviction and political conclusion I still was never clear on what one thing had to do with another. But all of a sudden, amongst a host of other oddities and whatever else gave me pause, I was supposed to have a very specific opinion about abortion legislation. A proverbial protest sign was forced into my hands. If it was confusing, that was all right, because everyone was more than willing to point out just why true piety takes the cues of the pro-life movement. That was Bible-church Fundamentalism and broad Evangelicalism. And not much appreciably changed when I moved into more Reformed environs.
But I must say that the more I go on not only do I still see no direct connection generally between true religion and a certain conclusion over this legislative issue, but I also strongly question what exactly it is in orthodox Calvinism that should have sympathy to something like the pro-life movement. I can see all sorts of other Christian traditions—from Methodist and Roman Catholic ecclesiologies, to a screechy Fundamentalism or a sunny Evangelicalism—taking marching orders from this particular brand of moralistic activism. But Calvinism? Really? What stake does old-school Calvinism have in a movement that is built on the cornerstone of basic human innocence? Indeed, what stake does churchliness have in a “movement” at all? I understand how a Reformed orthodoxy squirms when it comes to the basic tenants of personal autonomy and individualism which result in one segment of the human population having complete sway over the life and death of another. (And I’ll leave alone the fact that plenty of other sacred and secular systems squirm as well over that, making the direct interests of Calvinism less exclusive.) But, conversely, what interest does a robust Augustinian-Calvinism have in the idea that one class of human beings has some supreme entitlement to circumvent, at virtually any and all costs, the pains and injuries of life that the rest don’t, up to and including death itself? And why would it be that a conservative Calvinism couldn’t sooner be able to endure whatever public policy imperfections exist and actually be more reluctant to uncritically get in line and walk lock-step with a movement that has resident within it all these problems? And, besides, aren’t Calvinists supposed to be suspect of conventicle-esque brigades that appeal to everything from the Sawdust Trail to Rome to Constantinople?
However irrelevant Calvinism might be to anything located in the pro-life movement, I wonder if Two Kingdoms doctrine might be relevant. By “relevant,” of course, I mean that which would be more counter-intuitive than intuitive. As long as Christian religionists think “something has to be said” about this issue, I wonder if one could, in good Two Kingdom fashion, make a suggestion to fellow religionists who want so desperately to be associated with what they believe to be the more biblical point of view.
An Outhouse saint once asked another one to sum up the Christian life in one word. The answer: “Submit.” If he’s right, it seems to suggest that the more controlling biblical categories are those of authority and jurisdiction. In contrast, the primary categories most Christian religionists use when it comes to this issue are morality and ethics, and perhaps secondarily those of authority and jurisdiction (e.g. “abortion is immoral; the federal magistrate must use his power to criminalize it”).
If contemporary Two Kingdom doctrine is really a project in jurisprudence, concerned with the nature of and relationship between the kingdoms of God and man, instead of ethics perhaps jurisdiction should be the category employed when it comes to this weary-worn topic called “abortion” in contemporary American legislative politics. If so, instead of asking “May she or mayn’t she?” perhaps we do better to ask “Who gets to decide?” Maybe instead of asking whether something may or mayn’t happen the biblical answer has more to do with who gets to make the decision, and why, and how.
While I am quite stupid I’m also not all that dumb. I know the risks involved here. I fully realize that this whole debate is a casualty of a moralized politics and politicized religion, and as such a conversation doomed from the beginning; so fraught, it’s fallen into the ranks of such impolite conversation that got Elaine and Jerry banned from Poppie’s eatery. And the moralists who predominate both sides of this issue aren’t about to give heed to a suggestion that would open the door for their moralities to be violated. And the “she mayn’t” lobby is going to see their plight realized well before anyone seriously entertains anything close to my suggestion; and I know that the pro-life movement has a politically-correct grip on even the most Calvinist of Presbyterians that stifles more honest thinking. And the suggestion is even to risk the charge of an inconsistent Two Kingdom view insofar as it implies that we “have something to say,” the counter-intuitive point above notwithstanding. But if the wider world of conservative religionists is as serious about what true religion has to say to this issue as they seem to be, the suggestion is worth consideration.
If not, that is all right, too. The same Two Kingdom doctrine that informs such a suggestion is the same one that tells me things don’t always go the way one thinks they should and makes for a terrible moralism and even worse activism. And if nothing else, the golden rule also seems useful: Remembering what it was like to be forced into the picket lines, it seems a bit impious to do the same here.