The Kuyperian Commentary

Politics, Economics, Culture, and Theology with a Biblical Viewpoint

Why Kuyperians Won’t Secede

You say you want a secession; well you know, we all want to change the world. Hopefully, your reaction to the recent post-election secession petitions included at least a little laughter—after all, asking the white house for permission to secede is pretty funny. However, considered as acts of symbolical protest, the petitions are another significant indication of the deep dissatisfaction and division within our nation. And while the authors of some of those petitions may have conceived of them as nothing more than protests, there was and is a seriousness among some of the folks involved—a “wouldn’t it be nice if we could secede” kind of sentiment. The reality of state secession in the near future is probably very slim, especially considering the responses of some governors, but the principle may still warrant some consideration.

I call this little essay—or foray, or attempt, or what-you-will—“Why Kuyperians Won’t Secede” because Kuyperian thought seems to offer one of the more obvious challenges to the remarks I’m about to make. I want to claim that secession is at odds with the religious duty of a Christian. Immediately, the notion of sphere sovereignty could be invoked in order to argue that, in fact, secession is a question for the civil/political sphere while Christian duty is a question of the religious sphere; that our civil citizenship should be considered distinct from our (religious) Kingdom citizenship. This is only a problem on the surface, though. The important (Kuyperian) distinction between those two citizenships is precisely what makes the possibility of justifiable secession so unlikely.

Only when we begin to conflate our Kingdom citizenship with our civil citizenship can we seriously conceive of guarding the former (and the privileges thereof) with the intensity we ought to reserve for guarding the latter (and the privileges thereof). The discussion gets a little awkward, however, when we realize that our own nation was conceived out of something very closely resembling that conflation. A conviction that the state ought to safeguard life, liberty, etcetera is right and good, but our particular formulation of those goods as certain “inalienable rights” is a formulation that smacks of Deism—a belief system in which the political sphere takes on a truncated importance because God is not an immanent deity interested in defending or vindicating His Church. If the privileges safeguarded by our civil citizenship come to encompass not only life, liberty, etc. but the life of the soul, the liberty of the spirit, etc. then secession—trading a government that safeguards those privileges poorly for one that safeguards them well (we’re still assuming, for the sake of argument, that any civil govt. could safeguard them at all)—is not just an option, it’s an imperative. However, keeping the sphere-distinction in mind like good Kuyperians, we realize that civil citizenship only confers the kinds of privileges we are called to hold loosely.

Our civil citizenship is the gift that allows us to serve and bless the city. We don’t see St. Paul making use of his civil citizenship to hold property or to vote, but to get to Rome with the Gospel. And it’s no good nodding in agreement and then maintaining that secession is simply there as a “last resort,” because that does as much good for fostering good statesmanship as keeping a divorce attorney on retainer does for fostering marital cooperation. God is faithful; bless the city (excellent practical guidance for doing so can be found here) and the city will become (or return to being) a place worth living.


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One thought on “Why Kuyperians Won’t Secede

  1. Continuing on discussion from facebook. I think we are in agreement with some of Blackstone and other defenders of Natural Law in regards to natural revelation over special revelation. Blackstone does argue that Man before the fall only needed reason to properly understand the world around him (light of nature). A lot of Christian Natural law writers wrote this way. However I agree with Frame and VanTil that man prefall was dependent on special revelation to help understand the world around him. I do not believe this flaw negates the idea that natural rights is a biblical concept. It could be the case that Jefferson was using the language of the day and importing new ideas, but then we must ask if Jefferson’s use of natural law different from other natural law writers said.

    Here is Jefferson on natural rights:
    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

    Here are some natural law writters:

    We hold from God the gift which includes all others. This gift is life — physical, intellectual, and moral life.

    But life cannot maintain itself alone. The Creator of life has entrusted us with the responsibility of preserving, developing, and perfecting it. In order that we may accomplish this, He has provided us with a collection of marvelous faculties. And He has put us in the midst of a variety of natural resources. By the application of our faculties to these natural resources we convert them into products, and use them. This process is necessary in order that life may run its appointed course.

    Life, faculties, production–in other words, individuality, liberty, property — this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it.

    Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”- Fredric Bastiat (1848)

    “IV. There is none but God alone, that has, in consequence of his nature and perfections, a natural, essential, and inherent right of giving laws to mankind, and of exercising an absolute sovereignty over them. The case is otherwise between man and man; they are in their own nature as independent of one another, as they are dependent on God. This liberty and in dependence is therefore a right naturally belonging to man, of which it would be unjust to deprive him against his will.

    X. When therefore we give to sovereigns the title of God’s vicegerents upon earth, this does not imply, that they derive their authority immediately from God; but it signifies only, that by means of the power lodged in their hands, and with which the people have invested them, they maintain, agreeably to the views of the Deity, both order and peace, and thus procure the felicity of mankind.

    XI. But if these magnificent titles add a considerable lustre to sovereignty, and render it more respectable, they afford likewise, at the same time, an excellent lesson to princes. For they cannot deserve the title of God’s vicegerents upon earth, but inasmuch as they make use of their authority pursuant to the views and purposes, for which they were entrusted with it, and agreeably to the intention of the Deity, that is, for the happiness of the people, by using all their endeavors to inspire them with virtuous principles.” -Jean Jacques Burlamaqui (1748)

    Notice the agreement with Jefferson and these writers on Natural Law. They all say that Life, Liberty, and Property are gifts given to us by God and that it is role of government to secure them. I do see how Jefferson was infusing these idea with deistic meanings. I have not given my reason why I think these ideas are rooted in the moral law of God [for another post ;)]. I just wanted to present that Jefferson was not saying anything different than what other Christian Legal thinkers have already been saying.

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