Matt Tuininga calls for the gospel politics of inclusion even while excluding some — ahem — from the Reformed camp. But let’s not go there.
Let’s go instead to an apparent confusion of categories that invariably happens when you make the gospel (Jesus Christ died for sinners, there’s not one square inch, man’s chief end is to glorify God — which is it?) the basis for society. (And if the gospel is the basis for society, where are non-Christians supposed to go? Theonomy with a smile and a hug is still a state that makes little room for non-Christians.)
A few excerpts:
Embracing the call to be conformed to the image of Christ means not that we parade around trumpeting the lordship of Christ, but that, like Christ, we take up the form of a servant, humbling ourselves if necessary even to the cross. Thus we fulfill the law not by enforcing its every jot and tittle at the point of the sword, excluding from the political community those who refuse to tow the cultural, moral or religious line, but by loving and serving those with whom God has placed us in community, paying particular attention to the needs of the poor and the weak, the marginalized and the oppressed.
So what does this say about immigration policy and undocumented aliens? Is the gospel thing to do, the inclusive policy, to include immigrants? Or might a recognition of national sovereignty, strains on certain communities, the good of the economy, cause politicians to take factors other than the gospel into account?
It is true that the Gospel does not immediately erase all distinctions of nation, gender, or economic status, but it is equally true that the unity of all things in Christ does call for the rejection of their unjust abuses. It is true that we must be realistic about what can be achieved through politics, but our realism should lead us to champion the weak rather than the strong who oppress them under the cover of law. It is true that we may not be silent about what God’s Word teaches, even when it comes to such controversial matters as human sexuality, but it is equally true that our judgment regarding how God’s will should take expression in politics is fallible, that we must learn to love, serve and work with fellow citizens who disagree with us, and that our public rhetoric is only Christian if it is infused with the grace of Christ. Finally, it is true that salvation only comes to those who place their faith in Christ, and about that we must always be clear, but it is equally true that as believers we are called to embody that salvation socially by bearing one another’s burdens, forgiving one another’s transgressions, and caring for one another’s needs.
Unjust abuses? Did Christ reject the cross, which was unjust? Did he tell Christians to turn the other cheek? Does that mean an end to capital punishment? But what about prisons? Don’t they receive persons we “exclude” from civil society?
Learn to work with fellow citizens with whom we disagree? Is bi-partisanship really a gospel imperative when practically every oped writer for the Times and the Post promotes crossing the aisle in Congress? Do we need to gussy up bi-partisanship with the gospel? Is that why Christ died?
Bearing one another’s burdens? So a Christian politician should have banks forgive all debts?
One more except from another piece on “gospel” politics:
. . . the gospel should affect social structures of nation, race, gender and class. It should call us to organize these structures, as much as possible given the constraints of the present evil age, in light of what the gospel teaches us about human dignity, about justice, and about love. That requires wrestling with the nature of each type of human relationship that involves some sort of inequality or hierarchy. . . .
There are several types of social relationships. Some of them, such as marriage and the relationship between parents and their children, are grounded in creation and ought to be protected and promoted by human beings. The key questions here revolve around how to preserve these relationships in ways that acknowledge the fundamental spiritual and moral equality between men and women, between adults and children. Obviously parents must be in authority over their children, but that doesn’t mean they should be allowed to treat their children like slaves or property. Men and women will typically perform different gender roles by virtue of their different embodied nature, but that doesn’t mean men should domineer over women.
There are other types of relationships that are not rooted in creation but that have emerged, at least in the form that we know them, due to the fall into sin. They are not evil, but their very form demonstrates that evil does exist in the world. Here I am thinking about the coercive state. Christians should support this sort of hierarchy because it is absolutely necessary for a modicum of order in this life, let alone for human flourishing. But questions remain. How do we set up political authority such that it is not tyrannically abused? How do we ensure that those who rule are held accountable to those who are ruled? How do we ensure that even where there is political inequality, all recognize a more fundamental level of moral and spiritual equality?
I’m not sure that Calvin or any of the Reformers were fans of equality. Again, a Reformed source like the Larger Catechism (but maybe the Dutch don’t consider the British Reformed) makes quite a lot of hierarchy and inequality in social stations:
Q. 127. What is the honor that inferiors owe to their superiors?
A. The honor which inferiors owe to their superiors is, all due reverence in heart, word, and behavior; prayer and thanksgiving for them; imitation of their virtues and graces; willing obedience to their lawful commands and counsels; due submission to their corrections; fidelity to, defense, and maintenance of their persons and authority, according to their several ranks, and the nature of their places; bearing with their infirmities, and covering them in love, that so they may be an honor to them and to their government.
Q. 128. What are the sins of inferiors against their superiors?
A. The sins of inferiors against their superiors are, all neglect of the duties required toward them; envying at, contempt of, and rebellion against their persons and places, in their lawful counsels, commands, and corrections; cursing, mocking, and all such refractory and scandalous carriage, as proves a shame and dishonor to them and their government.
In fact, I wonder if Matt knows how much his logic about the future reality of the new heavens and new earth breaking in to present social arrangements was one of the most used theological rationales for ordaining women in the CRC. That’s not a scare tactic. It’s only an instance of where an egalitarian stance can lead, especially one that doesn’t recognize differences among church, society, and family (sphere sovereignty anyone).
But when the gospel becomes the modifier, out goes all the differentiation that makes modern society run (and makes it secular). Matt asks, “How do we set up political authority such that it is not tyrannically abused?” Studying the framers of the U.S. Constitution might be a better place to start than the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Still not sure what gospel Matt is proclaiming in his social gospel mode.
Postscript: apologies for the image to those with weaker consciences, but sometimes it’s good to be remembered of what happens to women in combat — their dresses fall off.