In the Interests of Jurisdiction: A Modest Proposal (Seriously This Time)

Jon Swift

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.

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7 Responses to In the Interests of Jurisdiction: A Modest Proposal (Seriously This Time)

  1. kazooless says:

    ZRIM,

    I understand your question, I think. And, I’m not going to slam you for this post. But I will offer my thoughts.

    It seems to me in your W2K view, that the answer to your question is simple, the magistrate gets to make the choice. Right? But then he should make the moral choice too, of course. It also seems to me that whatever you think about murder is exactly what you should think about abortion, unless you want to say that the baby isn’t a baby. But that’s a different discussion.

    Anyway, I’ll leave you with this scripture from Proverbs 31:8-9:

    8 Open your mouth for the speechless,
    In the cause of all who are appointed to die.
    9 Open your mouth, judge righteously,
    And plead the cause of the poor and needy.

    kazoo

  2. Zrim says:

    Kazoo,

    Well, I would say that, yes, the magistrate, insofar as he is the left-hand servant of the Most High, gets to make the choice. This is really the main thrust of what I am saying: the way most religionists approach this is to allow the magistrate his authority but with fingers crossed and only when he meets our particular moral standards. When he doesn’t, we minimize his legitmacy. I don’t find this to be at all biblical. Authority is the category, not how it is carried out. The weight of an institution is found in its ordination, not in how well or poorly it is fuflfilled.

    Furhermore, my argument is that the magistrate in this instance who should probably be given that power is the state, not the fed. Moralists on either side of the typical discussion–the feminist and fetus moralists–don’t like that because it might mean that a state would criminalize it, or a state might not.

    I think the “murder” language is a function of the problem, Kazoo. It’s an example of how fetus-moralists have obscured the discussion. You can quote scripture all you want, but I don’t share the moralist/ethicist system that turns the Bible into a a means for social gospel of any type. The Bible, as interpreted by Jesus, is about him. What was that about theonomists having a blind spot for fulfillment?

  3. kazooless says:

    ZRIM,

    I know you’re not used to it from me, but I was definitely trying to interact in a very positive manner with you on your post. I do think it takes courage to bring up this subject. So, take what I say as if I’m a friendly visitor that you haven’t met yet. 🙂

    I guess I am missing some of what you are asking then. I didn’t catch that you were trying to bring up the “in the U.S., who has the authority, State or Fed?” question. I think that is a totally different subject that I wasn’t speaking to. I have no problem at all saying that in our specific constitutional republic, the state is the magistrate with the authority, not the fed. Is that what you were looking for?

    Now, taking the left hand – right hand view of the two Kingdoms as Luther did, I would then go back to what I wrote above. I’d say that if the magistrate were to legislate against murder, then abortion is within the definition of what is murder. And in this case the magistrate should be the state. And, as a citizen of the secular kingdom, I would say that all 50 states ‘should’ protect the “speechless, poor & needy” baby. (Or if you want me to refer to the baby using Latin: fetus)

    Being that I reject the 2 kingdom paradigm, I obviously will go farther and say that all magistrates have a duty toward God to rule in a righteous manner, consistent with God’s law revealed both in nature and scripture (since the two don’t contradict).

    Picking up on YOUR sidetrack, are you saying that Christ fulfilled the law against murder and as a result we don’t need to bother with that or any law? Of course not! So where’s my blind spot toward Christ’s fulfillment of the law?

    Sincere Blessings,

    kazoo

  4. Zrim says:

    Kazoo,

    Re the state/fed point, I know, I was deliberately vague in the post-proper, hoping it might come out in discussion. It’s not that I have some Libertarian axe to grind (I’m not all that poli-economic). It is just as way of making the point about authority versus ethics.

    That abortion is “murder” is your opinion that others do not share. (To be honest, if my magistrate [read: state] wanted to know what its continuency in me thought, I’d say, “she mayn’t; go to state X if you want the procedure.”) Nevertheless, the question has to be settled on who gets to decide first before we get to the answer to the more direct question.

    “…all magistrates have a duty toward God to rule in a righteous manner, consistent with God’s law revealed both in nature and scripture…”

    That is a nice principle. But the rub is just how this is supposed to look in praxis. It is ironic how anyone not 2K who cheers this principle you state ends up making it look like their own particular brand of ideology. Some might use that principle to furtther the notion of autonomy (read: reproductive rights for women). Some use it to champion pacifism, big government, limited government, the paradoxical list could go on and on. So who’s right? I am saying that what matters more, from a biblical perspective, is not how authority rules but that it does and that it demands submission. Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar what is his,” not “…render, but only if he rules in a righteous manner, consistent with God’s law revealed both in nature and scripture.” And neither does Paul make such stipulations.

    If you are like most theonomists, and I take it you are, your blind spot is in not seeing that

    “Whatever is distinctly and solely Mosaic is fulfilled and expired with the death of Christ. The saturday sabbath: expired, the cultic laws: expired, the civil laws: expired and binding only insofar as the general equity (i.e. insofar as they reflect natural/creational law) thereof may require, the ceremonies: fulfilled, the temple: fulfilled, the land promises: fulfilled and expired. Whatever belonged distinctly and solely to Moses was fulfilled and expired with Christ.”

    It’s all right here.

    The Bible is not a handbook for living, Kazoo. That includes statecraft.

  5. kazooless says:

    ZRIM,

    Yeah, I read and responded a bit on the HB post. I don’t think that statement from our friend Dr. Clark is fully correct.

    But, do you really want to threadjack your own post with what you disagree with me on? 😉 I’m trying to be really really nice here on this occasion. 🙂

    I tell you what. Some of these issues wrt theonomy have been dwelling a bit in me lately that I’m about ready to blog some of it on my own. So I’ll do that and then I won’t be threadjacking your post here, okay?

    The Bible is not a handbook for living, Kazoo. That includes statecraft

    Gosh, I would swear that BIBLE stands for:

    B asic
    I nstructions
    B efore
    L eaving
    E arth

    Doesn’t it? (he he)

    kazoo

  6. Zrim says:

    Kazoo,

    Hey, if threadjacking works I don’t mind. Wait, what does the Bible say about threadjacking? Nobody move until Kazoo consults his Bible to discern how we ought to be blogging. It’s more fun to live like a W2Ker than a theonomist, isn’t it? At least it’s more efflcient, not having to open the Bible for everything.

    Seriously, if RSC can’t make it clear for you then you are wasting your valuable time trying to get this muddlehead to help.

    I’m about as wild for acrostics as I am for (biblicist) proof-texting. And that ain’t much. Case and point.

  7. kazooless says:

    I just read Calvin’s Institutes, book 4, Chapter 20 over the weekend at Dr. Clarks suggestion. Some good stuff there related to our discussion here.

    You say above:

    “Render unto Caesar what is his,” not “…render, but only if he rules in a righteous manner, consistent with God’s law revealed both in nature and scripture.”

    Calvin goes to great lengths admonishing the Christian to render honor and obedience to the magistrate, regardless of whether he’s just or unjust. I also agree with what I think Dr. Clark calls Calvin’s “theocratic” view of the magistrate. However, Calvin also says it is ludicrous to obey completely blindly. If obeying the magistrate would mean that you would be disobeying the LORD, then do not please man, but disobey him and obey the LORD instead.

    I completely agree with this. And, I almost completely agree with Calvin in all his writings in this chapter. I’m trying to find some original sources that make more clear who exactly Calvin is talking about in paragraph 14 (I think, this is from memory) when he discusses those who reject the idea that a commonwealth can be rightly formed without the laws of Moses. Dr. Clark suspects it is the AnaBaptists, but isn’t sure.

    With that small exception, which if made more clear I might still agree, I find his writings here right on point. Including the part about God judging us, His elect, with an unjust ruler. 🙂

    kazoo

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