Thursday, February 7, 2008

Church, State, Christ, and Culture Revisited

Yesterday, I was talking to my brother-in-law, Reid (who doesn't read this blog), about the issues I addressed in my last two blog entries. He pointed out that my two positions contradict each other, and I agree. I just don't know how I would change what I believe. In the post, "Christ and Culture," I said that I believed that God is building his kingdom through the church and that we should redeem culture. In the post, "Separation of Church and State," I was kind of critical of the American church for surrendering our influence in politics. Without political teeth, the church is powerless to make any real change.

So, Reid and I talked about a number of issues, what we think the church's approach should be, and how those approaches fit into my two models. The issues we discussed were: The International Justice Mission's work in southeast Asia freeing sex slaves, the civil rights movement in America, abortion in America, and John Calvin's Geneva.

We agreed on most issues. On the one hand, we were both kind of apalled at John Calvin's disaster in Geneva, in which he tried to establish a state that was run by God's law so that adultery was punishable by death. We both agreed that it is inappropriate to try to regulate non-Christians by kingdom ethics. On the other hand, we both applauded the work that IJM is doing and the work that Martin Luther King, Jr., et al did in America in the 1960s.

The issue that got us talking was abortion. We both agreed that abortion is wrong and that nobody should have an abortion, that churches should discourage their members from having abortions, that picketing abortion clinics was more harmful than helpful, and that agencies like Care Net were the most effective way to reduce the number of abortions in America. (Care Net is a crisis pregnancy center. They give financial, emotional, educational, and spiritual support to pregnant women who are considering their options.)

We weren't sure about the extent to which the church should engage the issue of abortion. I thought that abortion was an IJM-type issue. It's an injustice, and we have the responsibility to step in and stop it. As long as abortion in America is legal, the church should be vocal about outlawing it. Reid was not so sure. He doesn't like the way that American evangelicals push the abortion issue in politics. He thinks that this has turned a lot of people away from the church. I would have to agree.

Maybe abortion is a Calvin's Geneva issue--outlawing it would be requiring non-Christians to act like Christians. While we're at it, we might want to outlaw adultery and make tithing mandatory. I haven't given up my stance on our response to abortion, but this has at least made me rethink my justification of that stance. What is the difference between an agency that says "sex slave trafficking is wrong and should be outlawed" and one that says "adultery is wrong and should be a capitol offense"? Aren't they both legislating Christian ethics? Why do I support one of those propositions and not the other? Can I justify my position philosophically/theologically?

I don't know yet.

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