Sunday, July 27, 2008

What Would You Trade for Unity?

Our discussions concerning liturgical similarity (or the lack of it) among and within Reformed denominations must necessarily give way to the discussion of unity in general. When Jesus spoke of unity in his high-priestly prayer, was it institutional and visible unity that he had in mind, or was it unity of a more spiritual, mystical kind? And what is it that grounds our unity with other believers?

The other day I found my half-finished copy of D.G. Hart's history of American Presbyterianism (Seeking a Better Country) under the passenger seat of my car. As I continued reading where I left off ten months ago -- with the pan-Presbyterian and pan-Protestant "unity" of the post-civil war churches -- I couldn't help but notice an interesting contrast between ecclesiastical and political unity (hey, two-kingdoms observations are my bread and butter, remember?).

As Darryl points out in his book, the unity that arose among post-war Protestants was one that circumvented theology and replaced it with ethics. If two doctrinally-diverse churches shared some common position with respect to the culture war (like, say, "Drinking is wrong" or "Catholics are evil"), then their respective theological differences were happily trumped by a common social vision.

By contrast, a couple books I've recently read that explore the supposed distinction between the Republican and Democratic parties (The Uprising by David Sirota and The Great Derangement by Matt Taibbi) highlight the very opposite phenomenon in the kingdom of culture. Since the Clinton-era '90s at least there has been a lessening of the gap between the left and the right when it comes to economic- and foreign policy (both parties are pro-NAFTA, pro-globalization, and pro-war). The only thing that really distinguishes the right-leaners from the left-leaners is the culture war: Interventionist foreign policy? Check. Free markets? Check. But what about gay marriage?

To summarize, then, right-wing culture warriors will set aside their economic security and beat their plowshares into swords in order to clean up the neighborhoods and fix the gays. But if that sounds like acting against one's own interests, what do we say about those who, under the guise of "kingdom work," set aside not Mammon but heaven for those same goals?