Matthew D. Wright: "The Natural Law and the Church as ‘Counter-Polis’"

The American Evangelical experience has in large part been defined by its uncomfortable, often openly hostile, relationship to the surrounding culture. This has yielded approaches to political engagement strongly oriented to the fundamental dissimilarities of purpose and practice between the city of God and the city of man. One influential mode seeks to “take back” political culture, reasserting a uniquely Christian national identity in the public square. Another, seeking to remain faithful to the lordship of Christ in all areas of life, proposes the church as a radical alternative—a “counter polis”—to all political systems in which the church finds itself. From these perspectives, the hope of natural law reasoning, i.e., to identify moral and political ground common to humanity, runs the grave risk of being inattentive to the transcendent end of Christian community and the difference that makes for earthly existence. The argument of this paper will specifically engage Stanley Hauerwas’s “church as counter-polis” model, asking whether or not this approach yields resources sufficient to ground a coherent political theory. Next, it juxtaposes the counter-polis with Aquinas’s natural law understanding of a basic consonance between the proximate ends of earthly happiness and the transcendent fulfillment of heavenly beatitude.