Public discourse in the United States has changed significantly in recent history. I've written on the fact-value split of Modernity before, but the current public discourse around the U.S. Supreme Court's hearings on the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 have attuned me to a significant change in the conversation. SInce this is one of the most heated conversations of our day, I have to spend some time setting the stage so I can point to this change. So bow to your partner... Allemande left... And dosado...
This Debater's Two Kingdoms Bias
Given the heated nature of the topic, I should name some of my own bias, which I must emphasize is not the point of this post, but may be helpful in understanding where I'm coming from.
First, the church body of which I am a member has been publicly iscussing homosexuality since at least 1999. As a result, I've been having discussions around issues of homosexuality through my professional education and formation, and I've led or helped to lead three congregations through the discussion of homosexuality, the church, and congregational life. I have convinced people both that my personal stand is the opposite of what it actually was, and also have presented arguments that have swayed people from either extreme. And indeed, my own opinion has changed several times.
Next, the Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms has strongly informed my thinking on homosexuality in both the secular and religious realm, which is probably a good thing as those could be a general understanding of the two kingdoms. For those of you who have no particular reason to read the Augsburg Confession, Article XVI, "Concerning Public Order and Secular Government," names marriage, among other things, as a property of public order to be handled by the secular government. Stated more directly: deciding who can legally be married to whom is a task for government, not a task for the church. Why would this be? Marriage is not limited to Christians, or even people of faith, and so it cannot be a property of the church or any particular religion but must be a property of government.
Therefore, my bias places the conversations in the Supreme Court about governmental recognition of homosexual relationships for the guaranteeing rights and responsibilities as an appropriate for that conversation. Now the important part of my bias for this post: how religious organizations respond to the decision is a different discussion. Trying to sway the secular discussion with a religious view is not helpful, and vice versa--in fact such mixing of powers might even be harmful.
The Square Dance of Public Discourse
his complex of these relationships has been expressed in the United States in a unique way. As Gustafson points out in Christ and the Moral Life, there have been two groups at work informing our public discourse. First are the deists, best thought of as those who understand God to be the great watch-maker: God created, giving creation rules and order, wound everything up and then walked away. Second are the pietists who think of God as personal and emphasize the individual's relationship with God and how that is expressed in her or his life.
In the Enlightenment and Modernity, the deists provided the general social structure of the United States, establishing a representative democracy, informed by but different from social movements and governments from the Greco-Roman empire through the French Revolution. The pietists, still within Modernity, provided the impetus for social change from the ending of slavery (which worked), to women's suffrage (which worked), to prohibition (which didn't work), to the civil rights movement (which probably worked). The motivation for each group comes from their theology. The deists created a political order with general rules and structure reflecting the ideals of the Enlightenment, and the pietists created the political desire to effect change reflecting their belief in a personal God.
At least since the election of George W. Bush for his second term as President of the United States with the political empowerment of the religious right, this dynamic has changed and the evidence is in the debates around homosexuality. Early in my awareness of the debates, the conservative end tended to make natural law arguments from science, for example the now infamous "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" argument. The liberal end tended to make relational arguments about accepting people as Jesus does, for example the equally infamous "love the sinner, hate the sin" argument.
Of late, I've noticed a shift in tactic from these positions. The conservative end is now making relational arguments based off of what God intends, which they know because they have a personal relationship with God, which is why they can say that homosexuality is a sin for which God demands repentance and amendment of life. The liberal end is now making natural law arguments based off of scientific research, which by and large have shown that homosexuality can be found in many species and is likely genetic, which is why they can say that homosexuality is okay because that's how they were made. In the homosexuality debates, conservatives are now the pietists and liberals are now the deists!
Here my bias will reveal itself: I think this is still the point of the two kingdoms doctrine. While it's fascinating to reflect on ost-Modernity entering into mainstream life as expressed in the changing role of faith in public debate, what seems more important to me is continuing the proper distinction between the secular realm and the religious realm. Debates such as those around homosexuality ought to be alive and active in both kingdoms, but probably ought not be the same debates.
he Reformation insight as that whenever the two kingdoms are confused a theocracy is the result, which will lead to abuses in both kingdoms. Secular government is about good order. Religion is about living our faith. In sixteenth century Europe, the issue was the religious order claiming secular power. In the American colonies, the concern was secular order claiming religious power. Both dangers are still true and present.
t would be helpful for the church in its various expressions and forms to have discussions about homosexuality that stayed in the realm of faith. Similarly, it would be helpful for the government to discuss homosexuality that stayed within the realm of the protection of rights and didn't become an argument about religion. I wonder how we would do this without falling into either the trap of Modernity (let the facts decide) or Post-Modernity (where we find our meaning is the answer). Respectful conversations are part of it. Being clear about which debate is up for discussion is also necessary. Treating each other as humans seems a common sense idea. Avoiding ad hominem attacks is a basic rule of debate. But beyond these, I'm just not sure.
hat are your thoughts on how we might have difficult and heated debates in a way that keeps the distinction between the two kingdoms clear?