Guest post from the Reverend Ken Jones, Pastor of Glendale Baptist Church (Miami, Florida) and Co-Host of White Horse Inn.
Recently Dr. Anthony Bradley—a good friend and co-author with me—(we both contributed chapters to Glory Road and he was the general editor of a book to which I contributed a chapter) offered a rather scathing indictment against the so-called “two-kingdoms” position, sparked by a statement by Carl Trueman in support of the view. Before offering my opinion, I will first offer Trueman’s statement and then Dr. Bradley’s indictment:
In short, they (Christians) will be those whose faith informs how they think and behave as they go about their daily business in this world. Christianity makes a difference through the lives of the individual Christians pursuing their civic callings as Christians, not through the political posturing and lobbying of the church.
Anthony Bradley responded on his Facebook page:
Friends, if you ever wonder why Presbyterians turned a blind eye to Black suffering during slavery and sat on the sidelines during the Civil Rights Movement, it’s the position stated above. This sounds good on paper, but if the church has no social witness, history demonstrates that ‘individual Christians’ will simply remain individualistic….
He allows for hyperbole in asserting, “Presbyterians turned a blind eye to Black suffering …”. (After all, slavery and related issues led to significant splits within the Presbyterian Church as early as 1857.) Furthermore, Presbyterians (theologically liberal though they may have been) such as William Sloan Coffin and Eugene Carson Blake were on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘60s.
But my concern is not to defend the smattering of Presbyterian voices of opposition to slavery and segregation. The issue for me is whether or not “two kingdoms” thinking necessarily results in apathy and non-involvement on these matters.
Let me offer three observations.
First, Presbyterians were not the only evangelicals that used the “spirituality of the church” as the basis for not voicing opposition to slavery or segregation. E. V. Hill once quipped, “The civil rights marches and protests of the ‘60s may not have been necessary if Billy Graham had spoken out against racial segregation in the ‘50s.” To his credit, Jerry Falwell publicly acknowledged in the ‘70s that he and other conservative Baptists were wrong in not publicly denouncing racial segregation. Most notably, in 1960 the all black National Baptist Convention president refused to make the Civil Rights Movement a part of the convention’s platform, which led to the formation of the Progressive National Baptist Convention the following year.
That brings me to a second observation. All institutional non-involvement did not lead to group apathy or individuals on the sidelines. I grew up in a National Baptist church during the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘60s. While our church did not side with the progressives, many individuals within our church (including the pastor) partnered with groups such as the NAACP, SCLC, and other local and national organizations that were fighting for change. Our church called racial segregation a sin and members were challenged as citizens to make their voices heard. Congressman John Lewis of Georgia is a good example. He was a licensed Baptist preacher from a conservative Baptist church who marched and participated in freedom rides and the March on Washington. He did so not in the name of his church but as an individual working with other individuals and organizations on the front line.
Here’s my final point. In my estimation, it is healthy and helpful to revisit some of the church’s missteps on these critical issues of social justice. Fear of being labeled with the social gospel tag caused inertia on the part of many evangelicals, both black and white. Some may have done so while claiming fidelity to “two kingdoms,” I don’t know. But it is precisely for the sake of theological integrity that I think the world can benefit from a clear and consistent “two kingdoms” perspective. In other words, consistent “two kingdoms” thinking allows one to engage the issues of the day and become co-belligerents with people without religious convictions, all for the sake of justice, without compromise and without confusion. It would be wrong to assume that Southern Presbyterian indifference or apathy toward Black suffering during slavery and the civil rights struggles was a natural and logical consequence of “two kingdoms” thinking. That would be similar to assuming that the apartheid of South Africa was a natural and logical consequence of the Kuyperian Calvinism that it professed to follow.
If one wants to debate the merits or demerits of “two kingdoms,” there’s room for that. It is a stretch, however, to blame the church’s sins of social justice on a “two kingdom” theology when there were (and are) plenty of Christians–from many different perspectives–who share the blame.