A recent broadcast of the White Horse Inn took up the subject that warms the heart of any two-kingdom believer: religion and politics. While the gateway drug out of broad evangelicalism to Reformed theology for most seems to be matters of soteriology, mine was the doctrine of the two kingdoms. Granted, I was pleased to find that about two feet into Reformed theology I ran into that which helped solve my own soteriological conundrums (and then ecclesiology and eschatology and worship); it was two kingdoms that made sure the smoldering wick did not snuff out entirely as I stood at the trailheads of Rome. And so, when I found out this was the topic at hand I felt I had every right to bow out of my Sunday night bed-time duties and tune in. I know where they dug up Darryl. But how did they find a Dem strategist and former Republican Attorney General that conversant in the two kingdoms? I need the WHI producers to help me comb beaches for gold, and there are some haystacks of mine that need needling.
The first and second broadcasts were all good stuff to be sure. In the second Horton finally got around to trying to make things more concrete and applicable by addressing that sacred cow in the living room: abortion. How does any of this come to bear on this issue? Is there anything the church has to say? If so, what and how? If anyone thinks this issue isn’t the queen mother-sow that puts two-kingdom theology to the test it might be worth noting that it was almost as if Horton’s other example, torture, was never uttered, so to speak.
The responses were varied and interesting and involved a lot of language about “caution and slippery slopes,” etc. But part of Hart’s response was to point out the crucial matter of jurisdiction. He made reference to his own OPC’s efforts in issuing statements on abortion. The church may and should really only make certain stipulations for those over whom she is ordained. The upshot here is that if a member of the church either has or performs such a procedure the idea would be that she or he could be subject to discipline, which got me thinking in another direction not necessarily intended by the discussion but one I have wondered about before.
The point of jurisdiction is absolutely crucial to any two-kingdom theology and is thus well taken. But while there is place for the matter of jurisdiction, I still have my own set of hesitations as to the wisdom of such official statements as those against abortion. Is what is going on in these formulations really about jurisdiction or a clever way to join in the fray of cultural influence?
Bear with me. I have a prescription to medication for eczema. Part of the instructions includes exhortations not to put the stuff into my eyes. Now, I can only presume that such an odd instruction has found its way to the printed litany of warnings only because enough people out there have mistakenly put this stuff into their eyes for whatever reasons. There are no warnings to not stuff into my ears, though it is entirely possible I might since I also have hay fever which causes itching in my ears and throat, which may lead dimmer bulbs to try and relieve their irritation with it. I reveal this sort of unsavory information only to make a point. It would seem to me that any organization, sacred or secular, puts forth specific rules about conduct only insofar as it perceives that conduct to really be more probable than possible. Otherwise, there is no end to exhortations. Are there really enough members of the OPC who are contemplating either performing or having an abortion to warrant the resources it takes to issue such statements? Given what I know generally about persons of both religious conviction and access to means and resources, I bet I would be hard-pressed to find a lot of members of the OPC honestly wrestling with these behaviors.
Generally speaking, much of the anti-abortion culture relies on a good dose of caricature as to what precipitates abortion. For lack of a better term, I call it the “sorority syndrome,” because it seems to lean on the idea that most abortions are the result of a sort of morning-after whim employed to cover one’s tracks; the people having abortions are not so much those without resources and means who find themselves in a complex situation as it is the hung over sorority girl who needs to fix her mistake tooth sweet. This is convenient reasoning in order to stigmatize the counter arguments. After all, if it can be established that what precipitates most abortions is something that offends the decency of most people regardless of their particular politics instead of a more difficult and involved set of circumstances the battle is much easier. To be fair, those with femme-politics tend to do this same thing, characterizing those with fetus-politics as liable in the “oppression of women,” something that equally offends the decency of most people. But casting the debate as between those who want to kill babies/those who want to save babies or those who want to liberate women/those who want to oppress women really only serves as moralist tactics to easily locate the good guys and bad guys.
For better or worse, I would tend to believe that most situations in which termination is contemplated are the result of sexual misconduct, like fornication and adultery. And so another aspect to this issue I rarely find conservative religionists considering is that the Bible actually has a lot more to say about sexual ethics than it does about particular legislation concerning reproductive non/rights, Psalm 139 notwithstanding. Moreover, I realize the politico-sensationalism which attends this issue is much more exciting to entertain for everyone. But in the real world most inhabit a person who finds herself in the sort of situation that includes this possibility most likely isn’t proudly roaring about her individual rights but has come to the predictable end of a series of bad decisions and not a little dysfunction. And so, if the argument has something to do with discipline, which itself has a lot more to do with restoration, statements like these project about zero spiritual care and convey more a tone of moral vitriol and punishment. A concern for our own might actually result more in a silence in the midst of brouhaha than in joining the cacophony of pundits. Or do we seriously imagine that one of our own who indeed messed up would actually seek the comfort and balm of a church that carries on more like a pundit than a pastor?
Also, intermingling with more proper religious concerns, the statements against abortion co-exist with statements about women in combat and homosexuals in the military. Again, is there a plethora of homosexuals in the OPC who are demanding they be allowed to serve in the armed forces which needs to be beat back? Something tells me that there probably even less homosexuals railing for military rights in the OPC than there are religious women of means who have committed either fornication or adultery scattering left and right to obtain abortions. And if the reasoning for the abortion statement is to convey that discipline will result for those who participate, are we seriously to understand that any OPC females who fly fighter jets over Iraq will face the same sanction?
Well, at the risk of having to find a corner in the Outhouse, and while it would be nice to believe, it seems pretty plain to me that what is really going on with these sorts of statements is something more than exercising the implications of a proper jurisdiction. If we were really so concerned about the possibility that someone might do something morally questionable yet legal one has to wonder where all the statements against lending bad mortgages are. While they may be forthcoming, I suspect we won’t finally see any.
To be blunt, ecclesiastical statements against abortion seem more a way to circumvent the spirituality of the church than wisely govern one’s own. In every doctrine there is both a letter and spirit. Pastors may very well not be reading prescribed sermons from Operation Rescue or the Family Research Council, thereby innocent of not violating the letter of the law. But since the wisdom of such statements seems quite wanting, I can only conclude that these are creative ways to engage in the so-called culture wars without actually doing it. Lest it appears I am picking on the OPC I have long suspected that my own CRC is held fairly captive by the siren song of cultural progressivism. And what I have learned as I inhabit the CRC and watch encyclicals issued forth by the OPC is that across the board even Reformed and Presbyterian enclaves would rather be found standing up for one conception or another of justice than holding out the gospel, all the while murmuring something about salt and light. Like sin itself, it seems the desire to be culturally influential is an equal opportunity affliction.