You know that person, the zealous Christian in the congregation, who is amped up over the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch as Supreme Court justice. He or she wants to celebrate the victory of a majority pro-life Supreme Court among friends! Let’s hear a praise from the pulpit! But it seems especially difficult this time around to encourage these kinds of celebrations around churches these days.
I believe abortion is an evil scourge of our society. I am certainly for laws that discourage abortions. But I am left ambivalent with this most recent achievement of the Trump administration and I suggest there are reasons for Christians to withhold their celebrations.
Many evangelicals seemed to believe a pro-life Supreme Court was worth voting for a morally flawed candidate for president. As the Washington Post put it (see here), evangelicals were willing to tolerate Trump’s ‘groping’ of women if he will just get us a pro-life Supreme Court Judge.
But was voting for Trump worth getting Neil Gorsuch on the supreme court? Does a majority pro-life Supreme Court actually accomplish what we think it does: protect unborn children? Should Christians buy into a “means justifies the ends” at all costs politics? And most importantly, does all of this harm our witness for Christ and his Kingdom in the places where we live?
The “Ends Justifies The Means” Problem
I suggest the evangelical “ends justifies the means” logic dates back to a version of the Lutheran “Two Kingdoms” theology. This theology says that God works in the world via two hands, the left hand of the sword via government and coercion (the sword), and the right hand of the Word via the Spirit, who does the work of redeeming and sanctifying people into His Kingdom.
In history, this Two Kingdoms approach has fostered the tendency to separate the Christian’s personal life of faith from his or her political life in the world. We may live holy personal lives but when we enter the political world, we work to preserve society for the freedoms of individuals to find God.
This may require coercion or enacting laws. The government can use the means of the sword to do this. Christian discipleship gets sequestered into our personal lives with Jesus. As such, we need not care about Donald Trump’s personal morality if we can accomplish the saving of unborn babies. It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it?
But I think this particular evangelical version of Two Kingdoms theology is particularly problematic for two reasons.
1. It conflates God’s redemptive plan with politics.
This approach tends to ask the government to do too much with too little. In the hands of evangelicals, it confuses the preservative work of God with the redemptive work of God. In essence, it asks the government with the sword to accomplish what can only be the work of God by the Spirit.
It celebrates pro-life legislation as if it can accomplish something redemptive in the culture. It then makes Christians passive towards justice in the world (“that’s the government’s business”) while we go about policing the personal morality of others.
But the government can only preserve a morality that is already there. Moral virtue cannot be instilled in a people via coercion. Moral virtue can only be cultivated in communal ways of life. Christian virtue can only be acquired via God’s work, via the Spirit, among a people.Moral virtue can only be cultivated in communal ways of life. Click To Tweet
Telling people it’s illegal to have abortions will not prevent people from having abortions via other means. In fact, if fundamentalism has taught us anything, it is that enforced morality (by coercion) will most likely have a rebound effect in rebelliousness against that very morality.
Turning back Roe v. Wade will not accomplish what we think it will. It will eventuate a reflexive rebellion, worse than if it had not been done at all.
I think we pastors need to foster better discussions about the church’s role versus the government’s role in working for God’s justice. Voting is fine, but let’s not get caught up in the political idolatry of Trump and forget to be among those in our neighborhoods struggling with broken relationships and pregnancies.
Here we can tell the story of how all babies birthed, no matter what the tragic circumstances, are creations of God for His purposes. Here we can proclaim we will welcome all of the children in our midst joyfully as gifts from God. We will even adopt your children. Apart from this, voting for Trump and a Supreme Court judge accomplishes very little for the Kingdom.
2. Preserving values should point to redemption
The evangelical Two Kingdoms theology fails to see that the preservative must lead to the redemptive.
I contend a vote for Trump in the hopes of overturning Roe v Wade is misguided, since this preservative action undercuts the redemptive action it hopes to achieve. If the Trump administration, I would ask, creates a sexualized culture, does that not undercut the redemption of less abortions we hope to accomplish.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced a German church cooperating more and more with the Nazi government in pre World War 2 Germany. The logic of the German church was we must support Nazism because it preserves Volk society for God’s redemptive work via the church. Bonhoeffer saw this and made a corrective to the Two Kingdoms logic. He argued that the kingdom of the sword could not be disconnected from the kingdom of the Spirit. For the orders of preservation (which were Luther’s orders of creation renamed) to be valid, they had to aim in the direction of redemption.
It was not preservation for preservation sake. So when the rule of preservation worked against the redemption it was preserving society for, the church had to speak and resist.
I see a valuable insight here. If in the process of preserving society a government in fact turns the culture away from God’s redemption, this government should be challenged and resisted.
Whereas my first point might suggest we should ignore the government, for a more active role of the church in the neighborhood, Bonhoeffer suggests we should resist government whenever its preservative actions work against the redemptive work of God.
Our Witness in the Days Ahead
Based on these two points I suggest that Christians actually defeat their pro-life aims by supporting a man who sexualizes and objectifies women. In this case, not only do the ends not justify the means, they have been undermined by them. And we the church look duplicitous in the process.Not only do the ends not justify the means, they've been undermined by them. Click To Tweet
This is important because the world around us sees this blatant contradiction every time evangelicals talk about supporting Trump. This was Russell Moore’s point here. For the sake of our public witness, I contend this is the contradiction evangelicals must face in supporting this president. Pastors, lets talk about it in table conversations among our congregations.
And so this coming week, amidst the many congratulations on the passing of SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch, let’s discern carefully how we celebrate. I contend pastors should gently provoke their congregations to reject the evangelical “means justifies the ends” logic for supporting Trump. This logic undermines the community’s active witness in their community and makes our churches appear duplicitous before the watching world.
I see the culture of Trump as undermining any net positive legislation from Trump. Who he is, how he leads through his leadership, undermines any net positive laws he might make possible. If he passes a law that makes abortion illegal, while promoting a culture that encourages creating more abortions, the net effect will be negative for the unborn children of this world.
Likewise, if we seek peace and reconciliation as the redemptive work of Jesus in the world, if we seek racial reconciliation in the world, and we support a president who promotes a culture of antagonism, conflict, war, any pro-Christian legislation in the world is undermined. May we discern carefully both how to pray for this president and in what ways we are called to either support the president or oppose him.