The Church Year is drawing to a swift close and the final Sunday, Christ the King, is upon us. Besides being a moment to sing some glorious hymns, it is also a fitting hour to make a most essential declaration–that Christ is the ruler over the world, over time, over nations and kingdoms, but most of all over every plan and inclination of every person.
It is a most comforting certainty for Christians that, if Christ is King, while of course it matters what the governments of the world do, it also doesn’t matter. Twitter may fall to the dust, Trump may get his account back, the price of gas may go up even higher, Congress may enact any kind of law, but none of it unthrones the Lord nor nullifies the truth that the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Lest we become too comfortable, however, because Christ is King, it absolutely does matter what Christians do and say. It is the Church—not the world—whose concerns and anxieties are shaped by Christ being King. If you’re scrolling for depressing signs of dark times, look at what Christians are saying and doing.
Which makes this particular piece by David French—a person I have studiously avoided on the internet for fear of failing in winsomeness—all the more bad. It is titled, “Pluralism Has Life Left in It Yet: The Respect for Marriage Act, and the harmony between religious liberty and LGBTQ rights.” After discussing what happened before and after Obergefell and what it all means, French writes this:
The bill doesn’t give either side everything, but it still contains crucial provisions that can comfort (almost) everyone. First, it states that “no person acting under color of State law” can deny “full faith and credit to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State pertaining to a marriage between 2 individuals, on the basis of the sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin of those individuals.” In plain English, that means if your marriage was legal in the state where you’re married, then government officials from other states and localities can’t refuse to recognize the validity of that marriage on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin. And what of religious freedom? The bill does two important things. First, it declares that “[n]othing in this Act, or any amendment made by this Act, shall be construed to diminish or abrogate a religious liberty or conscience protection otherwise available to an individual or organization under the Constitution of the United States or Federal law.” This is an important provision and distinctly different from the Democratic approach to the Equality Act, which limited the reach of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In other words, the bill explicitly diminished religious-freedom protections under federal law. The Respect for Marriage Act does no such thing.
I wandered around Twitter, looking for what other people think about the new law, and found this long fact check that paints a much gloomier picture for religious people. What impresses me about the piece by French, however, isn’t so much what he says about the law, but the sort of desultory tone with which he says it. After six years of moral teaching online about the failures of Christians here is nary an indication that what we might be facing is not a petty quarrel between two morally neutral sides. It is as if, to quote almost everyone on Twitter, French doesn’t know what time it is. It is as if the tenseness with which people across the ideological divide are warily considering each other has entirely escaped his notice. Thus, amazingly, he concludes the piece this way:
The magic of the American republic is that it can create space for people who possess deeply different world views to live together, work together, and thrive together, even as they stay true to their different religious faiths and moral convictions. The Senate’s Respect for Marriage Act doesn’t solve every issue in America’s culture war (much less every issue related to marriage), but it’s a bipartisan step in the right direction. It demonstrates that compromise still works, and that pluralism has life left in it yet.
As so many people online said in various pithy ways, tell that to that cake baker, or to all the people who lost their Twitter accounts for noticing that some people pretending to be women are actually men. Or rather, look at the way that denominations are splitting apart. Open your eyes to the ways that gender ideology eats up and destroys not only individual people, but communities and families.
If I hadn’t just spent the last three months going back through the archives imbibing an immense amount of Auron MacIntyre’s content I would have maybe—minus the bit about calling the American republic “magic,” an astonishing claim, given the last six years—taken hope from French’s idea that “pluralism has life left in it yet.” What was I supposed to do? Believe my lying eyes? And, like so many, I had spent my whole adult life waffling back and forth between the two monikers ‘conservative’ and ‘classical liberal.’ It took the era of Trump and the subsequent surprise of covid to make me curious enough to investigate those categories. Finally, I have found some satisfactory answers to the conundrum of our political system which says one thing but always does another.
At the very least, I think the lines ‘create space,’ ‘doesn’t solve every issue in America’s culture war,’ and ‘pluralism has life left in it yet’ are three of the most fatuous things I’ve read online this week.
Still, if Sam Harris had written this, I wouldn’t have done anything more than rapidly scroll before returning to my real life. What the Sam Harrises of the world think about anything isn’t important largely because “pluralism” as a category has ceased to be a compelling socio-religious myth for ordinary people. Whether they can articulate it or not, most people know that there is only one acceptable view on any issue and that other opinions had better fall silent. This is the “harmony” wrought by a culture committing its way to spiritual death. Anyone could have seen it coming.
But David French is an avowed Presbyterian. And for many months he has gotten online on Sundays and told Christians what to think and feel. So let’s measure him up against the lections for today. What does Christ say in his own scriptures about the world in which we live, but more than that, about the people who profess to believe in and obey him? The prophet Jeremiah leads off:
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
The ‘righteous Branch’ is, of course, Jesus, the Shepherd King who, rather than gaslighting his people, brings them along in justice and righteousness. His sheep, his flock, his remnant are not allowed to be neutral on political questions that deal with the essential nature of being human. They cannot do other than what the Scriptures give them to do. The Law that points to and is fulfilled by their King orders and shapes their lives. His Mercy is the key that opens up their hearts to begin to love who he is.
However much we who love Jesus may want to, we don’t get to redefine the words of Scripture to make them more palatable. We don’t get to embrace various ideologies that lead to a view of the person that destroys and then throws it away. We can’t take our own ideas of goodness and impose them over what God has already said is good. We can’t do that because we will have to answer to our Sovereign on the last day when he returns again in power and great glory.
While Christians in the West may enjoy the benefits of a pluralistic society that grants them the freedom to worship without fear, they are nevertheless constrained by the True Shepherd to the painful wilderness of obedience. That obedience sets them in opposition to the worldly powers and principalities that try to claim primacy. You cannot worship God and American Politics. Nevertheless, do not fear. Though the earth gives way, though mountains fall, Christ is King. To pull in the Epistle, he has already
delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Observe how the Scriptures, this morning, build to a crescendo. Are you anxious about tomorrow? Are you driven to fear because you can’t control anything? Before there was American politics or Elon Musk, before there was “free speech,” there was the Word, the Son. He has taken you out of the domain of darkness, and put you in the kingdom of his beloved Son. Look at who the beloved Son is:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
It does always end up coming down to the cross, that neglected and painful way to eternal life. Everyone talks about it, but no one wants it. It is too counter-intuitive. It is too impossible to understand how dying could become the way of life. How, on earth or in heaven, could peace come about in a moment of brutal defeat?
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Imagine hanging there, dying because you had done wrong, and then discovering that the person next to you holds all things together, that in everything he is preeminent, that in him, the fullness of God is pleased to dwell, that he has the power to bring into harmony a world crushed by its commitment to disorder and sin.
Of course, no one wants to actually be nailed to a cross, to suffer in real time and space for any reason. No one—not even Christians. This troubling reality is every day more apparent in the discourse between Christians on every platform. For a long time, we have had the freedom to say who our King really is without fear. The exclusivity of that claim did not threaten anyone, even the Christians saying it. But that time is drawing unhappily to a close. Other kings are rising up to make their own claim for the human soul. These demand allegiance and countenance no rival. ‘Pluralism’ is only an option for those who are willing to cry peace where there is no peace, to expose the flock to destruction, to forget who is on the Throne.
Photo by Mohamad Babayan on Unsplash