Culture

What Gorsuch’s Nomination Means for our Witness

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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.

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9 responses to “What Gorsuch’s Nomination Means for our Witness

  1. “Moral virtue cannot be instilled in a people via coercion.”

    It was hard to read the rest of your post after I spewed the coffee all over computer monitor.

    My God man where have you been? Coercion? What in the world do you think the government and churches have been doing since the extreme left took over the societal narratives on abortion, gay marriage, and so on.

    1. Government has coerced a favorabilty to abortion and gay marriage? No, government has just followed the culture. I know a gay activist who told me some 10 years ago that people are against gay marriage because of their disgust for their sexual practices, but familiarity with gays will overcome that very quickly and people will then support gay marriage because marriage is about people’s happiness and withholding that from gays will be seen as cruel. That was their strategy, and he was right.

    1. Hi John. Our comment policy is above. Yes, if someone has violated that policy and we delete their comment we would reference the reason.

  2. So David I am wondering that since you have become the accuser of the Brethren would you please explain how the opposing nominee, meaning Hilary, was the better choice?
    Accuser because you seem to believe that the majority of those who claim to be evangelical Christian are morally wrong for their vote if one believes the polls. (Side note these are the same pollsters who claimed that she was winning.)
    So what is your evidence that she was the better choice for a believer in Jesus Christ to vote for? That is other than being female and a Democrat.
    Could it be her support for the mass murder of millions of innocent females? That’s right you seem to believe that is not a concern for us as Christians as you cannot legislate morality. Though I believe we do legislate that you cannot murder, steal, or even run a stop sign.
    Could it be her history of attacking and discrediting the women who accused her husband of sexual misconduct including rape? Not the staying with him after the Monica incident but the attacking of what she termed “bimbos.”
    Perhaps it is her ability to coin such phrases to eloquently describe those who considers to be her enemies? Such as oh maybe those “deplorables”. Of course those “deplorables” according to her are “irredeemable”.
    Perhaps it is her statement that those religious people will just have to get over it and change their religious views.

    So what are the reasons that make your choice the superior and more righteous? I am not trying to be difficult but you seem to be trying to cast any who voted other than as you saw fit as somehow against true Christianity. A little evidence, if you please, for how your position is if not the absolute true one is at least the superior one.

    1. American partisan politics would have you think that the only choice was Trump or Clinton. This is an incredible oversight and surrenders a particular christian political witness (that Fitch, I believe, is arguing for). That is, Christian witness doesn’t operate on the same parallel tracks as conservative and liberal ideologies. We Christians can cultivate a better imagination. Hauerwas just came out with an article that helps flesh this out a bit: http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2017/03/30/4645538.htm

      1. All of the imagination in the world will not make a third party candidate a viable option in the current situation that we live in. Also, from reading David’s many other posts and thoughts upon this election it is abundantly clear that that is not what he is or has thought, at least to my reading. His reaction the night of the election and in the days after disclose not one who is looking for a long term road to justice but one whose preferred candidate unexpectantly failed to win.
        Given the choices that we had Clinton, Trump or a third party candidate that had no chance who was our best choice? That sounds so noble to make a stand by voting for one you know cannot win because they are not even registered in every state but that could also be argued as an abrogation of the citizen’s responsibility to elect. Neither David (though I do not think he is) or Hauerwas make an argument that is compelling to “waste” your vote as they present nothing that suggests any other candidate had superior credentials. Hauerwas’ argument could be construed as circular with the ultimate outcome of removing the Christian from any practical effect upon the political climate as he acknowledges. Nothing within his article gives reason why Hilary other than being female and Democratic was the preferred candidate. I do not see any difference in his reasoning for a Christian to vote for any particular candidate beyond the particular political agenda that he presents as the preference.
        Seems that the basis for most of his argumentation about those who voted for Trump is to paint them as losers in the culture wars because they have foolishly tilted against abortion. But then he also states that; Christianity and democracy share the view that the possibility of losing is no reason to give up one’s commitments. So we are at a draw there if you see the stance against abortion as one of the historic stances of the church from the earliest of days.
        There were other considerations in the election. Senator Todd Young in an editorial in the Indianapolis Star talked about how at every campaign stop that he went to there was a common theme among his constituents. The theme was the appointment of the Supreme Court justice. Not as you all assume concerning abortion. There is a great concern among the citizenry about activist judges who legislate rather than rule upon the law as it is written. The ACA was approved by the justices by the redefinition of words to make it a tax, among many other examples. That was a prime mover for many to vote not for Trump but against Hilary.
        I still ask “So what are the reasons that make your choice the superior and more righteous? I am not trying to be difficult but you seem to be trying to cast any who voted other than as you saw fit as somehow against true Christianity. A little evidence, if you please, for how your position is if not the absolute true one is at least the superior one.”

    2. Uh John? why do you assume I voted for Hillary. This may be the biggest problem in all this eh? We have no choice but to vote for Trump? There were other candidates although they didn’t have the money behind them. I never voted for Hillary either. And made similar critiques of Bill Clinton back in the 90’s. This tome reflects just how much we need a bigger imagination for what God would do in the church. And celebrations about a conservative SCOTUS through Trump is not only culturally unsound, I believe is hurting our witness.

      1. Do not know who you voted for, only remember your guttural reaction when Trump won. You could not even say his name if memory serves me right.

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