Red State, Blue State, Law and Mission
My “law” post for this week will diverge a bit from the topic of “law” per se to discuss why I believe a missional approach to “law” is vital. The springboard for this post is an essay from “Q Ideas” by Ken Wilson, “Science and the Evangelical Mission in America.” (Now on the website.) Wilson’s essay is specifically about the relation between faith and science, but I think the missional principles he discusses apply equally to the relation between faith and law.
Wilson suggests that the mission field of North America can be characterized by two broad people groups: those with a “Red Sensibility” and those with a “Blue Sensibility” – “Red” and “Blue” being the terms the media uses to distinguish between conservative Republican-leaning and liberal Democrat-leaning states, respectively.
Is Wilson’s use of missiological categories to describe opinions about politics and science useful and appropriate? Should a “missional” approach to questions such as law, politics and science involve adapting to these cultural assumptions rather than confronting them?
Wilson offers the following as characteristics of these
Considers Earth 10,000 years old
Considers Earth 4.5 billion years old
Thinks species are fixed
Thinks species related by common ancestry
Views environmentalism skeptically
Views environmentalism positively
Regards climate change skeptically
Regards climate change as real
High church attendance
Low church attendance
People who share a “Blue Sensibility,” Wilson argues,
represent a mission field the Church should be reaching. As Wilson notes, “this is a big mission field: roughly half the population of the
United States leans blue.”
We will not reach
this people group with the heart of the Gospel, he says, unless we clear away
cultural barriers that make them feel unwelcome in our churches. Such barriers include opinions about
science and politics that are hostile to common cultural assumptions and that
are not, in themselves, vital to the heart of the Gospel. Wilson suggests that someone who is a
registered Democrat, or someone who accepts evolutionary science, should not
feel the least bit uncomfortable about these characteristics in a church that
is missional towards Blue Sensibility people.
I think Wilson articulates something very important about
how the Church in North America should understand itself. Are we truly serving the Mission of God
by issuing “declarations” and other public statements that declare war on Blue
Sensibility beliefs in the legal and political arenas? Why is it really that a registered
Democrat, or a scientist who accepts the evidence for evolution, almost
certainly would have to fear revealing those facts in many of our
churches? To what extent is our
primary concern the preservation of our own cultural privileges rather than the
extension of grace to others?
At the same time, I think Wilson sidesteps two tricky
questions: (1) how do we draw the
lines between core and non-core values? ; and (2) what happens when the “Blue
Sensibility” really conflicts with something the Christian community considers,
or ought to consider, a core value?
The response to question (1) requires a separate post (or,
more likely, a book-length response!).
In short, my response would revolve around the person of Jesus Christ
and the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
This would mean, for example, that the sanctity of life and the sanctity
of marriage are values that must remain basic for the ethical formation of the
The response to question (2), I think, is well summarized in
presentation by theologian Stanley Hauerwas about leadership. Hauerwas notes that, as a leader, “you don’t have to win all the time.” Hauerwas is speaking here about
leadership in the local church, but his observation is generalizable to the
Church’s leadership in society.
Our leadership in areas we believe are vitally important – life,
marriage, concern for the poor and oppressed – is not about “winning” in the public
square through lawsuits, lobbying, or debate, even if all those activities
might have their place. In fact,
we “win” – or better, the Mission of God is fulfilled and people are blessed –
as we follow the paradoxical way of the cross.
What would comprise a
missional approach to issues of life and marriage that doesn’t primarily
emphasize “winning” in the public square?
In what areas of law and policy, if any, is “winning” a valid goal for