The 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States prohibits Congress from making laws that have the effect of prohibiting the free exercise of religion. It also prohibits law that abridge the freedom of speech or of the “right of the people to peaceably to assemble….” One of the more disturbing aspects of the increasing practice of zoning boards in the US is to practice of banning private religious assemblies, in private homes, through the use of zoning regulation. The Alliance Defense Fund has sent out a publicity release announcing that they are contesting the restriction imposed in Gilbert, AZ by the zoning board ” banning churches from meeting, holding Bible studies, or having any other activities in private homes.”
The town contends that, under its zoning code, churches within its borders cannot have any home meetings of anysize, including Bible studies, three-person church leadership meetings, and potluck dinners. This ban is defended based upon traffic, parking, and building safety concerns. However, nothing in its zoning code prevents weekly Cub Scouts meetings, Monday Night Football parties with numerous attendees, or large business parties from being held on a regular basis in private homes. In fact, the zoning code explicitly allows some day cares to operate from homes. Read more from the ADF press release»
There have been similar cases in San Diego County and elsewhere. There is no question that private religious assemblies have no right to make themselves a nuisance (via noise and parking). At a certain point an assembly may not fit into a home but, in that case they must make provision for themselves. On the other hand, if parking a noise laws are to be enforced strictly then I’ve got something to say about graduation parties (where 200 kids with 2,000 beer cans show up) and Super Bowl parties and Avon Parties and Book Clubs and the like. I doubt that any private religious assembly could make as much noise as a Super Bowl party.
Yes, the Super Bowl and graduation are annual but religious gatherings are weekly so such meetings have an obligation not to be obnoxious and zoning boards have to respect the constitution of the United States.
Citizens, pay attention to whom you elect to the city council, the county board/council and whom they appoint to zoning boards. You might not like that religious assembly on your street but they might not like your Super Bowl party.
UPDATE June 20, 2015
The SCOTUS overturns the zoning regulation in favor to he congregation.
RSC: I distinctly remember a post on the HB that addressed this exact same issue, which took place in So Cal about a year ago, and a constitutional attorney wrote an informed comment about how RULPA trumped the zoning code in these matters. But I just googled it and couldn’t find it. Does this sound familiar to you?
Yes, there was a case. I’ll look.
Here’s the story:
Right, but I was looking for that thread on your blog where the constitutional attorney ended the argument by citing RULPA. In fact, now I remember that someone put you on the horns of a dilemma by asking you if you would object to having a mosque in your neighborhood, or something to that effect.
I can’t find that thread. I don’t think I deleted it. Don’t know why I would have.
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There is a PCA church in Gilbert. I can’t believe they are not involved in over-turning this. Chunck is right–there was a similar city or county ordinance in the San Diego that was reversed.
“Wanna Have 15 People in Your Home? Not So Fast! (updated)” and it’s called RLUIPA.
Christians need to follow zoning laws just like everyone. I think the mistake made by the pastor was in setting up signs advertising the church (AS A church I presume). That would be ignoring zoning ordinances.
Obviously, if it’s just an informal meeting of Christians to teach, learn, sing, praise, and worship God in a peaceful and quiet manner — and not OFFICIALLY sponsored by a church — then the regulation must ultimately be defied.
This seems like an open and shut case under the RLUIPA (which stands for Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act). Section (b)(1) of the land use provisions of the statute forbids zoning authorities from implementing “a land use regulation in a manner that treats a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms with a nonreligious assembly or institution.” As noted in Dr. Clark’s post, Gilbert’s zoning regulation clearly grants superior terms to nonreligious groups (e.g. Avon, Book Clubs).
It’s also important to note that if you believe that your local zoning authorities are violating the RLUIPA, you can complain to the U.S. Department of Justice. The statute gives DOJ attorneys to prosecute the claim on behalf of a citizen, which means it would be free for you. If you have a complaint, you should submit it IN WRITING to the following address:
Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530
The text of the statute is here on the DOJ website: http://www.justice.gov/crt/housing/housing_rluipa2.php
Chunck: It was I who posted the prior message about RLUIPA. RL’s post above covers it well. It agree this is a clear violation of statute and Constitution.
The interesting point is the Two Kingdoms point. Some notable 2K advocates among us argue that individual Christian citizens should not exercise their legal rights in a case like this by opposing the magistrate’s actions. They argue that Christians should accept “persecution,” submit peacably to the magistrate even when he is acting in opposition to the law of the land, and that to oppose persecution through resort to the courts is to engage in “activism” in a way that “confuses the two kingdoms.” The argument appears to be that we should use only spiritual weapons like prayer, not the physical weapons like legal briefs and lawyers. I respectfully disagree with this position, as a 2K advocate.
I commend the public interest law firm (composed of Christians) for filing litigation to oppose this unlawful action by the local magistrate. In my view, some of us 2K advocates over-react against transformational enthusiasts by running to the opposite extreme of becoming public square pacifists. That view fails to be true to our TWO kingdoms principles because it forgets that Christians are not only citizens of the spiritual kingdom, but are simultaneously citizens of the earthly kingdom. And U.S. Citizens have legal rights, and are entitled to protect those legal rights through lawful means. That doesn’t mean we should be cantankerous or unduly pugilistic. But when peaceful means such as pursuasion cause the magistrate to back off, we have to take appropriate legal action. If Christians don’t protect their legal rights to assemble for purposes of worship or Bible study, who will? In short, this is a plea for more thoughtful reflection on 2K theology.
With all due respect, what some of us are advocating is indeed a thoughtful reflection on 2K theology. And for some of us, it just isn’t that obvious that, when pressed by worldly powers, the first thing to reach for are worldly weapons—or even worldly weapons when spiritual weapons don’t work. Is it not also worth considering the presuppositions of American virtues known as “rights” and “entitlement”? But this from Stellman’s Dual Citizens seems helpful:
“Here is a trickier example: if your legal right to practice your faith is in danger of being compromised, what should you do? If you Google the phrase `law firms protecting Christians’ rights,’ you’ll get myriad matches, and there’s no rule that prohibits you from taking to court anyone who infringes your right to pray or read Scripture wherever you want (within reason, of course). There is something inconsistent, however, about Christians fighting for their faith by means of the sword of the U.S. justice system. Would it not be far more Christ-like to patiently endure when we are wronged, as the writer to the Hebrews makes clear:
But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. Therefore, do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward” (10:32-35).”
My question for your argument is when is there ever a time to give up rights for the sake of something better? And what does your construal of things do with calls to suffer for the gospel? In all our exchanges, I have always gotten the impression that suffering for the gospel may be something perhaps noble for those afar off without the benefits of our rule of law or political arrangement, but since we have at our disposal worldly weapons we necessarily ought to use them. If Jesus laid down his right to beckon the angels and told us to likewise take up our cross, I guess I’m not so clear on makes us think we get to play by different rules.
I think it’s also helpful to remember, as David VanDrunen points out, that “two kingdoms” is a way of analyzing a problem not necessarily prescribing a solution so that there may be more than approach to this issue taken by proponents of the two-kingdoms analysis. Remember that Calvin also gave us the doctrine of lesser magistrates and their right to resist lawfully tyrannical behavior by the magistrate. It’s not obviously contrary to nature to remind the magistrate when he strays beyond his competence or beyond his lawful authority.
…“two kingdoms” is a way of analyzing a problem not necessarily prescribing a solution so that there may be more than [one] approach to this issue taken by proponents of the two-kingdoms analysis.
This is a good point. I think what this side of the table is suggesting is, well, just that, suggesting a perfectly plausible outlook from a 2K framework. Sometimes it seems to me that this perspective is cast as outside the pale (“extreme,” “over-react” or by implication “less thoughtful”). I understand and appreciate the disagreement, but I fail to see why being slow to call a lawyer when our Bible study is broken up should be so egregious.
RSC, I agree with DVD that 2K is a framework for analysis and not a set of legal strictures. I wish most 2K advocates saw it that way. What you get from so many is not a humble suggestion of a way of looking at things, but ocacular decrees that individual Christians “shalt not” engage in public square advocacy on pain of being labeled “worldly” and “confused.”
There is much foolishness that passes for 2K advocacy from the most stout 2K advocates. It would be helpful if someone who understood the biblical doctrine of the 2K would suggest a wiser way of applying the doctrine than disabling Christians from participation in the public square.
Do you have examples of offensive 2K rhetoric?
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RSC, I don’t claim anyone is being “offensive,” just unwise and unbiblical. Dr. VanDrunen’s exposition is admirable, in my opinion. Without naming names, what I take issue with is the advocacy by some of the other well-known advocates and a host of bloggers who assert that individual Christians, in their capacity as private citizens, are wrong/unwise/unbibical/confusing two kingdoms if they exercise their legal rights as citizens to end or prevent government threats and prohibitions (such as the case you cite and the San Diego pastor from last year). The idea seems to be that any effort to resist injustice to Christians is a confusion of the two kingdoms. In the same way, they have never found any species of “activism” they can approve of as not violative of 2K.
Zrim, at the heart of your argument, and that of Rev. Stellman, is a profound confusion of the two kingdoms. You accept the two kingdoms in theory, but you take away one of them — the civil kingdom – by your public square pacifism. While all other citizens of the U.S. may hire a lawyer to force the local town council to back off an absurd prohibition on meetings at their house, Christians may not. Alone among all other citizens, we are under a 2K disability, in your scheme (and that of other extreme 2K advocates), that prohibits us from hiring a lawyer to inform the magistrate that it is violating RLUIPA and the Equal Protection Clause from banning Bible study meetings. Christians are supposed to suffer nobly the loss of constitutional rights rather than fight back. I grant you that litigation is a last resort. We should first smile sweetly and ask the town council to please let us hold our meeting, and we should be very gracious and gentle. But at the end of the day when the city threatens to send the Police to shut down our Bible study, it’s time to hire a lawyer to get them off our back.
I submit to you that your imposition of this disability upon Christian citizens, that is not suffered by non-Christian citizens, is a denial in practice of the two kingdoms doctrine you support in theory because it denies that Christians are really citizens of the kingdom of man. You see them as only citizens of the kingdom of heaven. I see nothing in 2K doctrine that imposes this disability.
Yes, there is a time and place to endure persecution. After all the sweet smiles and negotiations and lawsuits have failed, and the police order the Bible study to end or the church to close its doors, we endure persecution. But we don’t need to suffer persecution when there are perfectly valid legal remedies available. The magistrate needs to be held accoutable to the same laws the rest of us are, including the Constitution.
Moreover, you’re too quick to grab the badge of martyr and wear it. Many times government is just behaving foolishly and not with intent to persecute Christians. I represent non-Christians who battle government too, and I can assure you government is an equal-opportunity goof-up. Many times a low-level official just behaves stupidly. A well time letter to the Board of Supervisors or Mayor may do the trick. I see no reason to hunderk down in the Catocombs when a letter from a lawyer will be suffiicent to end the government oppression.
Your interpretation of 2K, and that of other extremists, gives the doctrine of the 2K a bad name that it doesn’t deserve.
I think it’s a little unfair to the postions of Zrim and Rev. Stellman to refer to them as suffering from a 2K disability and “public square pacifism.” I think they are asking that we check our reaction–which seems to be initially one of yelling for a lawyer whenever our “rights” as members of Christ’s kingdom are infringed. I am an attorney myself, and I have to say I’m dismayed at the way in which some of my Christian brothers in the faith seem more intent on using the weapons of this world to fight their battles in “culture wars” (e.g., James Dobson). Asking Christians to check their actions is not extremism in any sense of the word–although it may sounds this way because of the recent methods of those on the Religious Right.
With respect, they are doing more than asking Christians to be nice. Or to not be too quick to call the lawyer. From past exchanges with them they are sweeping in their condemnations of individual Christian activism. Enough said – I don’t want to involve personalities.
I agree completely that too many people, Christians included, are too litigious, too quick to make everything about “rights” and not enough about our own duties to neighbor. With that said, I do not want to throw the baby out with the bath water and, as many of us in the 2K camp do, be overbroad in the condemnation of all “culture war activity.” Much of what the 2Kers pejoritively and glibly dismiss as “culture wars” is important, valuable, and God honoring work in the public sphere. I do much of this work myself, often pro bono. Personally, I have enormous respect and affection for Dr. James Dobson, even while as a Reformed Christian I would take issue with some of his theology and some of his methods.
And I honor you for faithfully carrying out your vocation as an attorney and for your pro bono work. But, please don’t write off 2K thought because of the attitudes and expressions of a few of its adherents–I don’t see Jason Stellman as an extremist in this regard; his book, “Dual Citizens” is quite good.
I did not recall your name from the original thread, I just remembered that you settled the debate with one comment. My only concern on these civil issues is what you describe as “cantankerous or unduly pugilistic.” I always cringe whenever I see a Christian demand his “rights” without appropriate humility or evident concern for his neighbor.
PS: Your arguments on slavery over at Old Life were really impressive, which is one of the reasons why I adopted a rule to never argue with a constitutional lawyer.
Chunck, thanks for the kind words. I quite agree with you and also cringe when Christians do not act in a gracious, humble way out of concern for human dignity and our neighbor. We all need to do better at that, it seems to me. Even when we act as a citizen of the kingdom of man, we are still Christians. Well said.
“In the same way, they have never found any species of “activism” they can approve of as not violative of 2K”
I’ve never heard a proponet of 2K suggest what you are suggesting. Political activism is fine as long as it is individual Christians doing it and not from the pulpit. The pulpit has more important, eternal matters to deal with. And I would never suggest a member not pursue legal rights, but that that is not the only option. Where are you getting such notions of 2k proponents?
todd, I agree with you. But the contrary point of view is on display in some very well known blog exchanges hosted by 2K advocates, some of whom join this blog. It is very, very prevalent among 2K advocates. I’m not interesting in getting into personalities. It’s the principle I’m concerned with.
I think Richard says it succinctly enough. The point from some of us is to reflect on some of our motivations and presuppositions. Despite your consistent characterizations, it has nothing to do with telling others what they may or mayn’t do. I’d point you back to Stellman’s words, “…there’s no rule that prohibits you from taking to court anyone who infringes your right to pray or read Scripture wherever you want…” It isn’t clear to me how this side of the table is arguing against liberty as you seem to be implying.
Again, I appreciate your point of view, but I’m not so sure you’re taking care to understand mine, but instead placing the points made into the easily dismissable “radical” bucket and casting any who might want to make an opposing point as “sweeping in their condemnations of individual Christian activism.” Disagreement is good, but take the rhetoric down a few notches.
Zrim, you’re not facing up to the fact that you and other extremist 2K advocates are inconsistent in your rhetoric. I don’t think you hear yourselves. Stellman, for example, whatever he wrote in his book, more recently wrote in his blog that when a Christian is told by the magistrate he can’t hold a Bible study, he should suffer the persecution rather than oppose the magistrate in court. (Pretty close to a verbatim quote.) We should not seek to avoid persecution. You’ve said very similar things. You’ve made it quite clear that you oppose Christian activism and “culture war” activity. I don’t quite understand why you run from your own position and attack culture warriors, but then pretend that you don’t. It seems to an objective observer that you’re either being disingenuous or fooling yourself.
There may be some generational differences here. I don’t know everyone’s age, but post-Reaganites such as Zrim and Jason over-react to the Moral Majority hubris and thus may rush too quickly to martyrdom, but, otoh, asking the courts to protect civil liberties isn’t “culture war,” at least not as I understand the Der Kulturkampf. The latter is about “taking America back for God.” That’s a different matter altogether. As I understand the two kingdom analysis, in this case, citizens of Gilbert AZ have a just case against an intrusive policy adopted by the local zoning board. One suspects that the policy is probably driven by economic rather than theological concerns (i.e., that religious activities may make a neighborhood less desirable and property less expensive thus driving down tax revenues etc) but in any case the citizens of Gilbert have a natural, common interest in preserving their liberties against an intrusive and stupid policy that would make it impossible to host a cub scout meeting as well as a Bible study. Defending the right of the cub scouts to meet isn’t really “culture war” stuff is it?
RSC, you’re absolutely spot on. This is not culture war activity; it is holding the magistrate accountable to the law and exercising our rights as citizens.
This has been my beef with the radical 2Kers enthusiasts for years — they grossly over-react to the excesses of the Moral Majority and radical right and so run to the opposite extreme in a sophomoric way. They’re way too quick to grab the martyr badge when no “persecution” is in view. The 2K crowds brand as “culture war” activity things that are not culture war activity at all.
I see no violation of 2K principles for Christian citizens to exercise their legal rights as citizens of the U.S.. Paul appealed to Caesar. Moreover, more than half the time, government is either just acting stupidly, and the other half just trying to raise tax revenues — not intending to “persecute” Christians at all. Zoning laws are a typical example. I’ve represented churches and individual Christians in zoning controversies, and the Christians are convinved that the city council harbors some anti-Christian animus. When you get into discovery and take their deposition and get their internal memos, you find nothing of the sort. You find overezealous petty bureacrats or a city council who wants to get rid of churches because they don’t generate tax revenue.
Another example is school districts that unconstituionally deny Bible study clubs the right to meet on campus. I represent school districts. I know the administrators and school boards. Yes, they’re by and large not Christians, but their denial of rights to Christians isn’t motivated by anti-Christian animus, at least most of the time, but rather by simple ignorance and confusion. They have it in their heads that no Christian activity of any kind can take place on school property. They’ve heard the matra “separation of church and state,” and they leap to the simplistic and wrong conclusion that that wall has to be a mile high. I have to pull them back from the ledge, and counsel them that they’re wrong, and they have to allow the Bible study club on campus; the U.S. Supreme Court has said so in the Good News case. Often a Christian group can get a school board policy reversed by hiring a lawyer to write a friendly letter.
Yet, under the radical 2K proponent’s theology, it is categorically wrong to reach for the telephone to call the lawyer. We should suffer persecution. I dont’ see why Christians should be so quick to run to the Catacombs when a simple letter or a couple of calls can sometimes get the oppression removed.
And yet, the occupants of the 2K fever swamps are constantl beating he drums against the kind of activity I do for a living, branding me a “culture warrior” who “confuses the two kingdoms.” I heartily endorse 2K theology, but we have a lot of young, confused 2K wannabes that quite frankly don’t understand the doctrine and profoundly misapply it. In my opinion, a great deal of the animus against 2K theology flows from the
Sorry, I dropped a line. …. “flows from the mistaken ideas of some of the more extreme proponents of 2K. Their unfortuante ramblings gives ammunition to the John Frames of the world. More Christians need to understand this vital doctrine, but some of its advocates are its worst enemies.
I agree with your main point but I would tone down the rhetoric regarding the alleged “radical 2k” and “fever swamps” since I don’t think that’s going to help the folks about whom you’re concerned.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the effect of re-learning a whole series of classic categories, of which the two kingdoms is a good example. For a lot of us these are new categories and they are exciting because they help explain Scripture, they give us a way to navigate the world, and they overcome some long-term problems. The discovery of new categories is disorienting and thrilling at the same time. It takes a while to get ones balance. It takes a while to learn how to use the new tools properly. For my part, I’ve had a learn to use a whole range of new tools in covenant theology (e.g., the pactum salutis), in hermeneutics (law/gospel), and now in ethics. I’ve begun to use these tools for less than 15 years.
At the same time that I and others have begun to appropriate these new tools there’s been consider knee-jerk, reactionary opposition from some (sometimes many!) in the broader Reformed world. The very phrase “radical 2k” comes from the knee-jerk reactionary crowd for whom there is only one way to speak about Christ and culture questions (transformation). In some cases it seems that the opposition to the new (really classical but they’re “new” in our experience) categories was grounded in ignorance and misunderstanding. Sometimes the opposition melted but sometimes it just hardened into conflict. Now it seems difficult to get some of the critics to perform the most basic acts of Christian charity such as taking the time to read VanDrunen’s explanation of the history of the Reformed use of natural law and two kingdoms — the reactionaries don’t have to read the book because they know a priori that VanDrunen has to be wrong.
On the other side, some of the folks who seem most animated in favor of these categories learned them in a sometimes hostile environment and that has shaped their rhetoric. It has affected my rhetoric at times. Had I learned these categories in the classroom, in the natural course of study, I would have probably handled them differently. As it was, I learned them in the heat of combat (e.g., with the federal vision) and thus they became tools of war.
The discussion on this post has been helpful but since you (CVD) and my friends Zrim and Jason all agree that the two kingdoms is the analytical framework within which to interpret these issues lets see if we can talk with each other more peaceably and charitably.
And again, our vocation as attorneys is an honorable one. Unfortunately, there are some in our profession who turn their profession into a Kulturkampf–I’m thinking of someone such as Jay Sekulow, who identify Christianity with right-wing politics; hence the push-back by some 2Kers. Maybe if we attempted to understand 2K thinking–and a good place to start is Dr. van Drunen’s book, instead of listening to a select few, we would be beter off. There is a good discussion with him on the latest WHI.
Richard, I know Mr. Sekulow, and since I’m Reformed and he’s an evangelical “take-back-America” advocate, you and I would disagree with his motivations. With that said, however, Jay is a first rate lawyer, a superb Supreme Court advocate, and a very bright bulb. He does what he does to “take back America,” and mistakenly equates GOP politics with the Kingdom of God. I disagree. But that doesn’t invalidate the superb legal work and the results he obtains. I applaud his work, even while I disagree with his motivations. I could not care less what motivates him at a personal level. His legal advocacy has done enormous good in the public square to protect and advance the legal rights of Christians and non-Christians; he has held the magistrate accountable, and improved the lot of many disadvantaged persons. I find it hard to oppose that.
My plea is for us, as 2K persons, to not run to the extreme of condemning all who use the courts to do good just because they are motivated by mistaken theology. I submit that it would be more intellectually honest and more charitable to criticize the theology but applaud the actions where they are legally and morally right. And give credit where credit is due.
I absolutely agree with you, CVD. Sekulow has done some tremendous legal advocacy work, some at the SCOTUS level, and I applaud him for that. But his “take back America for Christ” rhetoric and high-profile give the watching world the impression this is the way the Christian world thinks and operates; which is why 2K people should be vocal, without being uncharitable, in opposition. I agree–we shouldn’t run to the opposite extreme of condemning litigation. But I have to say, the Religious Right doesn’t like being opposed–Cal Thomas wrote a fine book a while ago, “Blinded by MIght,” which is worth a read in this regard.
I agree that Jay can create the impression that all Christians believe America is the kingdom of God and in need of reclaiming. Very unfortunate. We need to explain to all, even to Christians, why this is a confusion of the two kingdoms.
I agree that Cal Thomas’ book, “Blinded By Might,” is a good read and a salutary mea culpa by a central figure in the Christian right.
But we have to guard against the tendency to paint with a broad brush. I am personally tarred and feathered for the work I do by well-meaning but confused 2K advocates. Years ago, the consistory of my church threatned to bring me up on charges for being on the board of a Christian lobbying group. This from a conservative Reformed church. So the 2K crowd can also be very confused, and they too have sharp elbows and play rough.
Good grief. I’m sorry to hear that. Your church needs to do a study on the Christian concept of vocation. Our men’s group went through Gene Veith’s book, “God at Work,” which cleared up any misconceptions on vocation and how God-honoring our work is before God. As an attorney in our Reformed church, my “run-in” with church members has been different–I have theonomists (Bahnsen followers) who berate me for my 2K views, and in pretty sharp terms; according to them, I’m abdicating my responsibilities as a Christian attorney in not advocating for a return of “God’s laws” for America; it’s enough to drive one to drink.
LOL. I’m sorry to hear you’re in the lion’s den with the theonomists. You must have some stimulating discussions to say the least.
RSC, your post displays a lot of wisdom. Rhetoric is interesting. As a litigator my default setting for rhetoric is considered mild in my world, but I’ll grant it’s probably a little notched up above the street level of ordinary discourse. And litigator speak has to be notched down for church speak.:)
One of the weaknesses of the folk who inhabit our Reformed world is our over-reaction, it seems to me. Your post is very perceptive about that. The typical example is the newly minted Calvinist, who, as Mike Horton says, should be locked in a room for a year until he/she cools down. The same phenomenon is found in the 2K world. I have many Reformed friends who are newly minted 2K advocates, and they glow red-hot. They see 2K as a cool tool to use to hit evangelicals on the head with for evangelicals’ take-back-America folly. Unfortunately, they run to the opposite extreme and commit logical fallacies. They sometimes assume that any attempt to correct injustice or to exercise legal rights is to be placed in the same category as “culture war” and “take-back-America.” They see anything and everythign other than public square pacifism as “transformationalism.”
There are, however, many legitimate rationales for public square activism that a stout 2K prop0nent should be able to embrace that are not motivated by a desire to “transform” the civil realm into the spiritual realm. I would hope that a Christian would desire to protect the legal rights of all persons, Christian and non-Christian; would desire to do what we can to oppose abortion-on-demand, and to oppose other ungodly pieties of our secular culture, not to “take back America” or “transform” America into a “Christian nation” (whatever that is), but because it’s right. Natural law tells all to do good to others, and Scripture tells Christians the same. The knee-jerk opposition to any public square activism, however, is very common among 2K proponents. We who endorse 2K, especially those who have a bully pulpit that gives them standing to speak on this subject, would do well to try to counsel the more extreme 2K proponents to think more critically and carefully than they do. My $0.02.
You don’t have “discussions” with theonomists, has been my experience; you have “yelling matches;” any advocacy skills I learned are wasted on this group.
That’s troubling. Just hearing about it is almost enough to make me a 2K extremist! 🙂
You’ve made it quite clear that you oppose Christian activism and “culture war” activity.
CVD, you keep using absolute categories to represent my views, as if I am saying you can’t do something. I’ve never said that. What I’ve tried to communicate is that I am not all that sold out for activism of any kind, sacred or secular, and explain why. Somehow you interpret my hesitancy to be your binding.
Yet, under the radical 2K proponent’s theology, it is categorically wrong to reach for the telephone to call the lawyer. We should suffer persecution. I dont’ see why Christians should be so quick to run to the Catacombs when a simple letter or a couple of calls can sometimes get the oppression removed.
Again, no, I am not saying it is “categorically wrong” to act according to one’s conscience. I’m trying to explain why, even as your points about taking certain advantage of our political arrangement are admirable, I think it’s worth considering giving up certain rights. I understand that more often than not it’s not about persecution but rather more down-to-earth explanations. But I do think there is something to be said about willingly laying down one’s full blown rights.
I represent school districts. I know the administrators and school boards. Yes, they’re by and large not Christians, but their denial of rights to Christians isn’t motivated by anti-Christian animus, at least most of the time, but rather by simple ignorance and confusion.
This interpretation of things makes sense to me. But from our conversation over the Alameda school district (kids forced to take certain values based curriculum), where I said it sounded like a school district stupidly trampling parental rights, you made it sound like a demonic homosexual agenda coming to gobble up our first borns.
Years ago, the consistory of my church threatned to bring me up on charges for being on the board of a Christian lobbying group. This from a conservative Reformed church. So the 2K crowd can also be very confused, and they too have sharp elbows and play rough.
I’m glad you bring this up, because I think what you may be doing is confusing the likes of me with your oppressors, which I can understand. But like I said before (about a year ago), from what you describe, it sounds like your liberties were trampled by some misguided folks, which is unfortunate to say the least. You have every right to sit on a lobbying board. And another believer has every right to be on a lobbying board that lobbies against your lobbying board. But I also have a right to not to be on either board without being cast as anyone’s oppressor. Why do you get to act according to your conscience but those who aren’t convinced the way you are get interpreted so uncharitably?
I agree with Zrim – I’m shocked that a consistory wouldn’t let you sit onsuch a board. What were their grounds?
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The argument was that by sitting on the board of this organization, I was endorsing and furthering Christian activism and efforts to make or change laws that are more to the liking of Christians, and that this activity represented a “confusion of the two kingdoms.” I was a fellow elder at the time. A number of elders thought that an elder who allegedly confused the two kingdoms lacked the qualificatioans to serve as an elder and should step down or be removed if he refused. After a lot of back and forth, they backed down and never forced me to resign since my term was close to ending. They also made clear that a lot of my pro bono litigation work protecting Christian liberties constituted improper “culture war” activity and was a “confusion of the two kingdoms.” But it was the board membership that irked them.
Granted, the well-known organization is more evangelical than I, and some of their rationales for their policy positions are not ones I would endorse as a two kingdoms person. They’re a little too “take back America.” But regardless of their motivations, I felt they did excellent work in Washington and state capitals and wanted to support their efforts.
This was an eye-opening experience for me. It became apparent that a whole lot of 2K advocates don’t really understand the doctrine of the two kingdoms and are quick to condemn anything that to them seems remotely to recall images of Jerry Falwell. I dont’ harbor any ill will toward these good men. Most remain friends, and all but two have changed their view and no longer see what I did as sinful, but they don’t believe one can be on the board of an evangelical lobbying organization and an elder in a Reformed church.
We in the 2K camp have a lot of work to do to make our position clear.
Maybe the disagreement lies in their view of office? I have argued (on the Bayly Blog and much to their dismay and even anger) that, as minister, I would not now engage in political or even civil resistance but it never occurred to me that a ruling elder could not do such things. This would especially so in a continental Reformed congregation that has term eldership where the elder is more a lay office. In Presbyterian circles, where one is elder for ife, it might be easier to argue for the view of this consistory.
Again, this strikes me as a profound misunderstanding of one’s vocation and calling as well.
I agree. And this particular consistory was not isolated in their misinterpretaion of 2K.
At classis meetings, I discussed the issue with a variety of pastors and elders, and I’d say that my informal poll of the elders present was that a majority I consulted had as their first, knee-jerk reaction that I should step down as an elder because I was “confusing the kingdoms.” My service on the board of the lobbying group evidenced that I lacked an adequate grasp of biblical doctrine and Reformed practice to serve as an elder. They cited to me Dr. Hart’s views, though I don’t believe Dr. Hart would exactly reach the same conclusion. In short, it seems to me a widespread misconception that political activism by Christians is necessarily “culture war activity” that violates the doctrine of 2K.
Zrim, we’ve discussed this before. In think you are making a category mistake and confusing Christian liberty with advocay of a biblical interpretation. When Christian liberty is not at issue in our discussions.
I’m sure you’re a good man, but your position is inherently disingenuous. You want to talk out of both sides of your mouth. You oppose Christian activism and are a “quietist” who is a public square pacifist in that you have stated that it is “wiser” for Christians to suffer persecution in most cases, to refrain from resort to legal process in most cases, etc. In short, you oppose it. But on the other hand, you want to say that the position you’ve criticized is one you don’t criticize, apparently out of fear you will be accused of trampling liberty.
Apparently you are injecting the category of Christian libery into the discussion where it’s not really at issue. I’d stipulate that we Christians all have liberty to disagree on secondary matters. Evangelicals have liberty to do culture wars and take back America, and they’re not sinning by speaking this way. They have the liberty to err, but I’m not going to pretend that I don’t think they err. And theonomists have liberty to advocate for theonony. They have the liberty to err, but I won’t pretent that I don’t think they err. And 2K folk have liberty to advocate for 2K. And public square pacifists have librty to allow the government to trample their rights. None of this is in dispute.
But you can’t pretend that you’re not advocating and exhorting for the position you favor, namely quietism and non-resistance and non-involvement in the public square. And that you criticize the contrary position. It’s ok that you hold the position you do. You’re not sinning. But it’s not fully honest to deny that you take the positions you do and criticize the contrary position. And you make clear, as does Rev. Stellman in his blog, that the more noble, higher Christian calling, the path that one would follow if he/she really undertands the doctrine of the two kingdoms, is to allow the city council to bar the Bible study and suffer persecution to be more like Jesus. Those who disagree, such as myself, are told by 2K advocates — including many on blog sites and friends and acquaintances — that any contrary view is a “confusion of the two kingsoms.” When that position is advocated and urged on others, it is an imperative, a “should.” You are urging “shoulds”. I’d suggest you simply admit you advocate that postion, that you criticize contrary positions as unwise and not biblical, and that you criticize those who take a contrary view. You might as well admit it since your own words make painfully clear that you do. I do not understand why you don’t own up to it since it’s perfectly obvious to any reader.
For the record, I don’t recognize myself in your caricature. My prior remarks about the Alameda schoo board situation never implied what you attribute to me. I think the board was wrong and that a legal challenge was appropriate, but many bloggers insisted that a legal challenge to unlawful activity by the school board was inappropriate “culture war” activity and that I was confusing the two kingdoms. I respectfully disagreed.
To the best of my admittedly frail recollection, I have never said that a contrary view, such as yours to mine, demonstrates a misunderstanding or “confusion of the two kingdoms.” You, however, make it clear that my construal demonstrates as much. But I think at least part of the point of 2K is that two believers may disagree when it comes to matters that concern the KoM without one casting aspersions on the other. After all, if two Reformed believers can oppose on another politically, even as they are united in Christ, I don’t see why your activism can’t live with my quietism.
You oppose Christian activism and are a “quietist” who is a public square pacifist in that you have stated that it is “wiser” for Christians to suffer persecution in most cases, to refrain from resort to legal process in most cases, etc. In short, you oppose it. But on the other hand, you want to say that the position you’ve criticized is one you don’t criticize, apparently out of fear you will be accused of trampling liberty.
First, what I have said is that in most instances, at least in our polity, and like you, it isn’t a case of persecution. Second, what I have suggested is that when it could be persecution I understand the Christian ethic to be a twofold response: hold fast to the gospel and suffer willingly for it, instead of hold fast and draw your sword when the suffer willingly stuff doesn’t go your way.
But if your point is that considering one thing wiser than another is the same as telling someone who isn’t so sure they are in error, I disagree. I think it is unwise to have more than one credit card, but I don’t oppose people having more than one credit card. The categories of wisdom and sin are different. Granted, sometimes folks use the category of wisdom to softly suggest another is in sin (soft legalism), but I hope you believe me when I say that isn’t my project here.
“This interpretation of things makes sense to me. But from our conversation over the Alameda school district (kids forced to take certain values based curriculum), ”
-If this is Alameda, Ca.: Was this specific conversation held in public or in private? Is there some sort of article I could read about this? I am curious because I’m originally from Alameda, Ca.
I tried to email you off list….
Please email me.
Great discussion! I think Dr. Clarks insertion of “age” in regards to the proponents of 2krs is insightful. Some of us who were birthed into the kingdom during the 60’s and the Chuck Smith age were held captive to the dispensational view held by Chuck. When I began studying church history I discovered a different picture of things. I did read somewhat extensively the theonomists view but never quite took the radical emphasis of say Gary North. I’ve now been under the teaching of an amillinialist pastor for about 16 years and have assimilated a comfortable balance for me regarding the public square. 1. It is only the Word of God and His Holy spirit that can change the hearts and minds of men. 2. In one’s vocation if they are called to the public square they should advocate righteous laws within the bounds of the magistrates laws. CVD’s argument for reminding the magistrate of those laws already in place to protect our rights is a great example of a Christian’s calling. We don’t need to wear persicution as a badge of honor, however if it comes after the arguments done by one’s such as CVD then we abide by the law and know that they,(the public square), hated Him (Christ) first.
Thanks so much for all of your insights.