A couple people have asked about James White’s podcast regarding the Kavanaugh hearings and laws for witnesses. In an effort to describe the conflagration surrounding the Ford testimony, the discussion turned to the law of God and its application in modern times. “Kinda sounds like Theonomy,” was the thought—which would be a novel thing for someone who has criticized Theonomy. So, the question was asked. Let’s examine it a bit.
In sum, I would say that while White’s approach here does have some piecemeal theonomic features, it is beset by important failures in consistency. Examining this, however, provides us with a crucial key to understanding God’s law from which we can all learn and grow more sanctified.
Due preaching of due process
While introducing his subject of applying the Mosaic laws for witnesses and for rape to the Ford/Kavanaugh testimony, White generalizes, “We have a number of people expressing a willingness to overthrow fundamental elements of justice in our society, specifically, due process and the presumption of innocence.”
Much could be said about this, but with it all there is something very important to discuss here. This comes in addition to the theological question of, “Is this theonomic,” or whatever, which I will address further below. The far more important question will help answer that, too, but it is crucial to answer just in itself. It is this: After all these years, why this event, and why now?
White’s case here is pretty representative of conservative theologians and talking heads in general, including all those involved with the argument against Social Justice. Putting aside all the questions particular to the Kavanaugh hearings, let’s just assume the generality. Here we have a case in which a key conservative nominee is stymied by accusations of sexual assault from 35 years ago. Many in defense of Kavanaugh are arguing that we don’t have reliable testimony, and from what testimony we do have, the woman says she did not come forth to report it until now.
These two points are generally being backed by appealing to the biblical laws that require two witnesses (meaning two credible and substantial lines of evidence) and appear to require a victim of rape to cry out at the time it occurs. Again, I think these laws are being interpreted and applied in careless and unhelpful ways, but setting that aside, the bigger question for all these Christian leaders is, Why are you on about due process and the presumption of innocence only now?
Why is it that a thousand cases of real abuse in real cases of injustice in which thousands of real people are hurt, beaten, maimed, kidnapped, imprisoned, fined, tased, robbed, or killed (many disproportionately minority) can pass by for all the past decades, all right under the noses of these guys like White, and hardly a word is whispered from a pulpit, pen, or podcast about it? Decades. But suddenly when there is a spotlight on a national-level conservative and a presumed leftist or feminist attack of #MeToo, suddenly, these guys are champions of justice, “God’s law,” “due process,” and “the presumption of innocence.” Why is this all the sudden?
Did White (and others) suddenly wake up to the problem? If so, we’ll know for sure when all of this dies down and they continue to preach about the endless local and state cases of injustice in due process, presumption of innocence, racism, etc. We’ll know when people start to say of them, “I wish he’d get off political stuff and just preach the Gospel!” I hope that’s the case, but I’ll be surprised.
Just as I pointed out before with the inconsistency on public education: virtually every single minister, pundit, theologian, etc., who is now decrying the negligence of due process and presumption of innocence over Kavanaugh is playing at selective outrage.
Again, take White as a representative case. White lives and ministers in Maricopa County, Arizona. Maricopa County is one of the nation’s great offenders in the area of civil asset forfeiture. This popular police process is widely understood to be legalized robbery. There is one thing absolutely clear about it: it abandons the presumption of innocence. Victims of this police practice must prove the innocence of their seized property, and that is difficult to do. As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars are seized from people who are never even charged with a crime let alone proven guilty, and yet who never recover their funds or property from the police. Soon, the police departments usurp ownership.
White’s home state of Arizona seized $200 million last year, and Maricopa County was one of the top participants in the system, taking millions by itself alone. This is a huge problem that has gone on for a long time. There is little if any due process in it. There is no presumption of innocence in it at all. Watchdog groups, local news reports, national groups, and others have spread awareness for some time. American Vision has published multiple articles against it for years.
Where have all these other ministries, theologians, theology girls, and other conservative experts so concerned with due process and the presumption of innocence been all along? They have spent all these years silent about it, often telling us we are misguided when we do speak out about issues of justice. “Just preach the Gospel,” “The church is spiritual,” I have heard a thousand times—from these very corners.
Where has White been with his great concern for due process and presumption of innocence all these years? Millions are stolen every year, thousand-by-thousand every day, right in his own back yard, and he’s been silent. A search of his website turns up zero hits on civil asset forfeiture.
And that’s just one major topic of real abuse. It does not address police abuse in general, or other agencies. It does not address when CPS or other social agencies invade homes based on anonymous tips and take children with little or no due process. It does not address the presumption of innocence often missing in IRS actions. It does not address the war on drugs or mass incarceration, or the prison-industrial complex, or the disproportion of black lives destroyed by the system. Go ahead and list virtually every other executive agency—federal, state, and local—in the nation here, and when you realize how massive that problem is intertwined throughout each one of them, realize also that you’ve only addressed executive agencies and administrative law. Add legislatures and courts, too, and repeat the experiment.
A search of the same website for “police” in general turns up nothing relevant except a couple instances in which street preachers were harassed wrongly by police. These are not even from White himself, but at least it’s something.
There is so much injustice for us to address. It is all around us. Yet these pulpits have all largely remained silent on all of it all these years.
There are literally thousands of instances in which Bible-believing spokespersons can—and should—be speaking out against abuses of due process, presumption of innocence, equal application of law, interposition, juries, prosecution, evidence, etc. Literally thousands. And all these guys sit by silently the whole time while it takes place on their spiritual watches.
Yet now, with Kavanaugh, suddenly we have a hue and cry over these issues.
First, it is probably safe to say we have something like this problem now because we have been silent in all the other cases for so long. Shame on us.
Second, neither White nor any of the others I’ve seen, despite seeming so greatly concerned with due process and presumption of innocence suddenly, appear to have taken the time to examine Judge Kavanaugh’s record on these very issues. It turns out that the Judge has been less than friendly to liberty on these issues, regularly arguing for the expansion of police powers against Fourth and Fifth Amendment protections. (See also here, here, and here.) Yet we are focus on these liberals for allegedly violating these issues, and shout them down, while boosting Kavanaugh to a position where he can chip away at these very protections?
Third, it is more than a little conspicuous to me that the outcry in this case is not only highly selective and convenient, but safe. It is really safe for these pundits to pretend they come out with guns blazing now because their targets are hated leftists of the opposing party. A substantial base of conservative Christian supporters can easily rally behind a conservative-hope to overturn Roe while shaming and blasting the abortionists and irrational, emoting leftists on the other side. That, my friends, is a safe culture war battle to get out in front of and pretend to lead.
We have had to criticize this confusing behavior for some time now. Many people understand our message about the social aspects of God’s law, justice, and the kingdom of God, and yet some have also spent many years following leaders who reject that message, yet for whom they still hold great affinity for various reasons. Any time such leaders happen to speak up about social issues or some political event, these newer readers get excited thinking their guy may be “coming around” to a more mature understanding of the whole worldview.
Sadly, this is not often the case—at least not with those who have been more outspoken or resistant to acknowledging the theonomic issue. What they do more often is only address social issues for limited talks on abortion or homosexuality. Again, these are the safe issues. The newest safe issue seems to be “Social Justice,” which has been politically charged and propagandized enough to provide safe vocabulary and space for criticism. Never do you see such proponents go on to develop a biblical social theory of law and government, etc., and then apply it to all areas of life. Yet those are the areas in which leadership is so badly lacking and needed most.
So again I will ask, where are all these guys on due process and the presumption of innocence across the board? Be on the lookout, and hold their feet to the fire.
The “theonomic” question
There are two perspectives I normally give inquirers when an otherwise anti-theonomic speaker suddenly “sounds theonomic.” The two perspectives are 1) exegetical and 2) applicational. More on that in just a second.
In addition, among various related questions we could pursue, perhaps the most relevant is the accuracy of how one is interpreting the historical context in which they are making any given application of God’s law or criticisms based upon it. Likewise, how consistent are they being in applying that principles to all aspects of that historical context? These are fluid and complex discussions sometimes, but in all such discussions there are always both law and fact—theory and history—and it will be crucial to examine what facts are emphasized and why, versus what may be left out, etc.
As far as perspectives goes, the first one always deals with exegesis. From that limited perspective, when analyzed alone, anyone who simply exegetes and applies any relevant Old Testament law will sound like a theonomist. The reason for this is simple: they will be doing the work of Theonomy.
Theonomy, or “God’s law,” is defined as “the biblical teaching that Mosaic Law contains perpetual moral standards for living, including some civil laws, which remain obligatory for today.”
Anyone, therefore, who simply expounds on any of those abiding laws today will “sound like” a theonomist because, in that instance, they are doing theonomy. And that’s good as far as it goes. . . .
But that does not mean they are a consistent theonomist by any means, nor does it even mean they are being consistent in the applications they draw for that specific verse. And an inconsistent theonomy can be every bit as dangerous for society as a pure humanism.
Even if someone were a theonomist in confession would not mean they are necessarily a very consistent theonomist in application. They may have all sorts of naturalistic, humanistic, or otherwise culturally assumed ideas emulsified with their generalized view of applying God’s law. This is, in fact, quite common.
Theonomy must be consistently exegeted and consistently applied. Many people fall short in both categories. Many desire too much to fit into certain tribes: traditional conservatism, popular conservative, or some more narrow historical version of it. Many have too many nostalgic ideas about the good old days, or egomaniacal power trips, or romantic thoughts about some former theological tradition. These are all letting the traditions of men drive their exegesis and application.
Consistent exegesis and consistent application are going to challenge all current parties and nearly every past tradition in some way. We need to accept that mindset first, then get busy starting with the House of God first. There is a price for consistency. Usually, that price includes having fewer friends at first. The payoff is when they really do come around. If your mentors especially don’t seem to come around, you may need to make a difficult decision about how to spend large amounts of your time.