Here is a rather provocative post commenting on the “bishop bans Biden” Roman Catholic controversy involving the Vice President’s political position on abortion.
What interests me here is the hopeful possibility of constructive engagement regarding the particular brand of what is known as “two kingdoms theology” (or NL2K, or R2K, or Escondido Theology), a novel construal of the relationship between Christ(ianity) and culture that has received a careful analysis and clear response in the newly released volume, Kingdoms Apart: Engaging the Two Kingdoms Perspective.
The blog post reviews the Biden controversy, along with some Roman Catholic casuistry (a good word, by the way!) for advising church members about voting for candidates who support abortion. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) offered some distinctions relating to evaluating the way in which a candidate’s toleration of abortion functioned in his political activity.
I’m fascinated by the author’s concluding praise for the Roman Catholic Church’s position:
The concern [of Ratzinger's advice] is clearly to place the church in opposition to an evil so grave that it may never be tolerated. For that, I think, the Catholic Church should be lauded. There are some principles of moral obedience binding on a disciple of Christ that simply cannot be compromised, even if (or especially if) that disciple is a civil magistrate.
If we should applaud the church that advises its members regarding political responses to candidates who favor abortion, then by this logic we should also applaud the church that encourages its members—whether citizen or magistrate—to seek effective legal means that will eliminate “an evil so grave that it may not be tolerated.”
This encouragement should be applauded as being something distinct from the church endorsing, or requiring its members to endorse, one or another such legal means to eliminate this evil. (We are not arguing that the church-as-institute should endorse, say, a particular constitutional amendment relating to defending life at conception.)
This encouragement should be applauded because eliminating this evil is also required by “the principle of moral obedience binding on a disciple of Christ that simply cannot be compromised.” We would be troubled if our applause for the church-as-institute were permitted by our NL2K friends to be one-sided—applauding the church’s opposition toward intolerable evil, but not the church’s promotion of the good over against that evil.
Historically, it is exactly this kind of encouragement by the church-as-institute for the church-as-organism that has fueled Christian, Calvinist cultural engagement that seeks to express (not “extend”) the Lordship of Jesus Christ within the field of politics.
Historically, it is exactly this kind of encouragement by the church-as-institute that has identified Christian activity (something distinct from activity by Christians) in various cultural spheres as serving the coming kingdom of God (something distinct from building the kingdom of God).
Historically, this kind of encouragement arose from biblical preaching and teaching that presented the Cosmic Christ as having royal claims upon all Christian activity, as well as all activity by Christians, within cultural life.
Historically, this kind of encouragement from the church-as-institute motivated the collaborative application by Christian believers of biblical principles and perspectives to spheres like labor and management, citizenship and justice, education and nurture, science and art, and more.
If the institutional church should be applauded for opposing the evil of legalized abortion on demand, why should it not be applauded for promoting the elimination of that evil? And if the latter is valid, then on what biblical and theological basis should the institutional church be forbidden from promoting the good—pursued by believers laboring together beyond the activity and competence of the institutional church—in other areas of cultural life?