After we have just finished our sermon series on Church and State, I found two bits of news that just came out fascinating. Both relate to the Christian Right and how their internal thinking works to either align them closely to the Republican party or to buck a strong affiliation.
The first was a New York Times article (“Disowning Conservative Politics, Evangelical Pastor Rattles Flock“) about a pastor of a Minnesota megachurch who, after eschewing a close connection between the church and republican politics, lost a fifth of his 5000 member congregation.
More on the continuation side…
From the times article:
Mr. Boyd said he had cleared his sermons with the church’s board, but his words left some in his congregation stunned. Some said that he was disrespecting President Bush and the military, that he was soft on abortion or telling them not to vote.
“When we joined years ago, Greg was a conservative speaker,” said William Berggren, a lawyer who joined the church with his wife six years ago. “But we totally disagreed with him on this. You can’t be a Christian and ignore actions that you feel are wrong. A case in point is the abortion issue. If the church were awake when abortion was passed in the 70’s, it wouldn’t have happened. But the church was asleep.”
Mr. Boyd, 49, who preaches in blue jeans and rumpled plaid shirts, leads a church that occupies a squat block-long building that was once a home improvement chain store.
Mr. Boyd said he never intended his sermons to be taken as merely a critique of the Republican Party or the religious right. He refuses to share his party affiliation, or whether he has one, for that reason. He said there were Christians on both the left and the right who had turned politics and patriotism into “idolatry.”
He said he first became alarmed while visiting another megachurch’s worship service on a Fourth of July years ago. The service finished with the chorus singing “God Bless America” and a video of fighter jets flying over a hill silhouetted with crosses.
“I thought to myself, ‘What just happened? Fighter jets mixed up with the cross?’ ” he said in an interview.
Patriotic displays are still a mainstay in some evangelical churches. Across town from Mr. Boyd’s church, the sanctuary of North Heights Lutheran Church was draped in bunting on the Sunday before the Fourth of July this year for a “freedom celebration.” Military veterans and flag twirlers paraded into the sanctuary, an enormous American flag rose slowly behind the stage, and a Marine major who had served in Afghanistan preached that the military was spending “your hard-earned money” on good causes.
In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.
“America wasn’t founded as a theocracy,” he said. “America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state.
“I am sorry to tell you,” he continued, “that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.”
Mr. Boyd lambasted the “hypocrisy and pettiness” of Christians who focus on “sexual issues” like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson’s breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl halftime show. He said Christians these days were constantly outraged about sex and perceived
violations of their rights to display their faith in public.
Mary Van Sickle, the family pastor at Woodland Hills, said she lost 20 volunteers who had been the backbone of the church’s Sunday school.
“They said, ‘You’re not doing what the church is supposed to be doing, which is supporting the Republican way,’ ” she said. “It was some of my best volunteers.” (Emphasis Added)
I think there is an important role for faithful believers to play in the public civil discourse, but it can only be a humble way and must try to resist hegemonic impulses. I wrote about that a few weeks ago. And it is never faithful to confuse fidelity to Christ with fidelity to a political party, or to nation. We’re called to honor our nation, and reserve our faith for God alone.
The second was a Christianity Today interview (“How Then Shall we Politick?”) with former Bush chief-speech-writer Mike Gerson. Here are a couple of excerpts:
What challenges do you see for evangelicals who want to broaden the movement’s social agenda? It’s probably a long-term mistake for evangelicals to be too closely associated with any ideology or political party. The Christian teaching on social justice stands in judgment of every party and every movement. It has to be an authentic and independent witness….
Where specifically do you think the Religious Right has gone off track? Some of it is what I would call baptizing policy recommendations, as if there were a Christian view on tax policy or missile defense. These are questions of prudence and judgment on which reasonable people disagree.
I find it refreshing to see some clear public discourse about this over amongst my brothers and sisters on the right, in part because I remember wanting to see more of this from the religious left when the democrats were in charge of things several years ago.