Monday, July 31, 2006

Church & Politics

I know - these are two things dangerous to mix, but let's be honest - we all do it all the time. The U.S. separation of church and state works on a governmental level (i.e. we are not a theocracy) but not on a personal one - we all have our beliefs and morals affected by our faith, and those in turn affect how we vote.

I was watching a news show on PBS the other day and they had a segment about the growth of evangelical megachurches around the country. I'm not a fan of the megachurch model, but I understand how some people are drawn to them. The story showed several congregations around the country who were very proud to show people what they had to offer - including snippets of conservative preachers blasting same-sex marriage and abortion. I don't understand why these are the big issues to preach on, but they are the stereotypical positions for these evangelical churches. So what? These churches are growing - the numbers of them and the numbers of members they have. I'll be honest - that scares me. Not just because they tend to be conservative and I'm not - I don't think they preach sound theology. And I didn't think there was an alternative until I read
this story in the July 30th NY Times.

The story talks with Rev. Gregory A Boyd, a pastor at one of these evangelical megachurches outside Minneapolis/St. Paul who did a preaching series putting down the churches who get too politically involved.

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. [snip]

“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.

This pastor is by no means a liberal (he admittedly doesn't approve of abortion or homosexuality) but he might really have something with this. I don't know though - maybe I'm just as bad as the conservative, evangelical stereotype but going to other way. I like when my pastor gives a sermon that talks about the reasons a Christian shouldn't be pro-war or why we should vote for certain people who have committed to working against poverty. Those are political choices based on faith values that fall on the liberal end of the spectrum. My faith also tells me that my sexual orientation isn't an issue for God (or Jesus) and I honestly don't know what to do with abortion (I'm fairly anti-abortion but also condemn bombing the clinics and men sticking women with the babies they helped create - it would be a whole different world if men got pregnant).

So, what do you think?? Is there a place for churches to get active in politics? Is this pastor correct in thinking the cross must remain separate to be true?? Is that possible in this day and age?? I recommend reading the whole news story - food for thought if nothing else.


Big Unit said...

Good post. I like your post in that you see that you are the same just at the opposite end. A lot of people think that they can do whatever they want but others can't do anything to oppose them.

Short answer: churches shouldn't be telling people how to vote or who to vote for. They should educate people on the beliefs of their religion (keeping it pc), then people can excercise the freedom of choice that God has given them.

mandyc said...

Ok, Unit. Let's talk practically - how do churches convey what they believe without it getting political?? For example, this abortion issue always raises people's blood pressure one way or the other - and the foundation of the debate is what the churches teach. Spouting off the ten commandments doesn't necessarily teach how to apply faith to modern everyday life - this is where it gets traicky and usually political.

Big Unit said...

The church has to teach on Biblical issues and can't skirt around it because it is a political hot button or not politically correct. Going political is saying vote for this person or not for that person because they don't believe the way we want them too.

There are many topics in the Bible; any church that is stuck on one probably isn't a very good church. For example: all fire and brimstone or all health and wealth. A lot of people are turned off of religion because they think it is just a bunch of don't's; religion should be about do's and freedom, it's just that your love of God changes what you want to do.

Trouble said...

doesn't this basically stem from whether we are going to church to be told what to believe or to find others who believe like we do?

i don't expect my church, my government, or anyone else to tell me what i believe.

i don't like our governmental model. i don't think that "representation" is representative. the electoral college doesn't make sense in this day and age.

Big Unit said...

"what to believe or to find others who believe like we do?" - both I think. I want to be taught more about the Bible and to be with people who believe like me.

Big Unit said...

Read the article, interesting. Lots of comments, for the most part agreeing with, but no time now.

Can you do away with the word verification?

Trouble said...

unit, that is a required vision test :)

mandyc said...

Okay, okay, okay already! There is no more word verification to post a comment, but if/when spam comments start popping up, I'm putting it back on. We'll see how this goes. If it allows for more posted comments, bring it on!

Unit, I'm surious as to what it is that you're looking for from a church - learning more about the bible is very generic. Do you want to know it's history? what it says? what it means? each of those things is very different and allows it to be understood differently. Do you expect your church leaders to tell you what you're supposed to believe or just to help you figure out for yourself what you believe??

Andy B. said...

"How do churches convey what they believe without it getting political??"

Define political.

a) government and stuff like that.
b) group dynamics and how people relate to one another.
c) something else?

mandyc said...

andy, good question, and i think the answer is all of the above. i think maybe this is what i was trying to get at with the post originally. At first it seems like this pastor only has problems linking church to the government (endorsing political candidates, 4th of July, etc.) but it goes beyond that when you start talking about the "moral issues" (i.e. homosexuality and abortion) because that starts affecting how people relate to one another AS WELL AS who they vote for and what kinds of govt policies they endorse. Everything is much more fluid than the neat boxes and categories we try to put things into.

If a church says they believe in the Gospel, what does that mean? it could be very different things in different congregations, and the way they express those beliefs will be different as well. Just looking in the UMC, we all have the same Book of Discipline which sort of outlines what we believe as a church, and yet every congregation interprets and lives that out in very different ways.

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Big Unit said...

That's a loaded question? I like Andy's question. What would you say the church should preach on? If the church preaches that homosexuality is all right that is just as political as saying it isn't.

mandyc said...

Unit, exactly! What do YOU think a church should preach on?? If a church should tell you what they believe (or they think you should believe) is there any way they can NOT be political? Jesus was a political figure as well as a religious figure - he spoke out on religious laws as well as treatment of people cast out from society - and if we continue in that tradition, we are also going to get into trouble with the govt.

Big Unit said...

How about this church? Now that's a church that isn't going to let the govm't tell him what to do. Is this man's religion all right? If not, why????

Big Unit said...

Here's some excerpts from the article: "his apartment was a religious sanctuary where smoking marijuana and having sex with children are sacred rituals protected by civil rights laws."

"I'm a pedophile. I've been a pedophile for 20 years. The only reason I'm charged with rape is that no one believes a child can consent to sex. The role of my ministry is to get these cases out of the courtrooms."

"Distasio, a self-professed pagan friar, ............. He said he's the leader of a church called Arcadian Fields Ministries, and that some of his congregants are among the victims in his case."

"Not all pedophilia is bad, and sex [with boys] can be healthy," Distasio told the court.

So I assume you are going to say that this is bad. But why should you impose your morals on this man's religion?

Or do you want freedom right up to your line in the sand? What I do is all right but pedophiles, murderers, adulterers, people who didn't serve in the TX national guard - that's all evil. Why can what ever you (meaning me, you, whoever is reading this) do be all right and justified but you draw the line on somebody else? You don't want someone to say that homosexuality or abortion is wrong but you still have a whole list of other things that it is all right to say is wrong.

What right does the govm't have to impose it's laws on his religion? Separation of church and state.

Big Unit said...

What no responses yet? Got y'all stumped??

mandyc said...

No, Unit. We were out of town this weekend (more in my next post). I didn't go to the link you posted yet, but judging from your excerpts I think I get the idea.

A couple of things -
(1) separation of church and state isn't about legal intrusion in religion - it's about not having one religion sanctioned by the govt (i.e. no theocracy like there was in England at the time this country was established)
(2) if this man is having sex with children as part of his religious practices, there has to be someone to stand up for the children. That's the point of pedophilia laws - not to impose religious morals! For whatever reason, it has been determined that children under 18 are in no position to make decisions about consent about all kinds of things, including signing contracts, medical consent, and having sex. I'm not saying that morals aren't involved and that religion doesn't impact our morals, but there are LEGAL protections for the children in this case. You don't want to go down this path with me - speaking from personal experience with sexual abuse, the children are not consenting!!!

Big Unit said...

(1) separation of church and state isn't about legal intrusion in religion - it's about not having one religion sanctioned by the govt (i.e. no theocracy like there was in England at the time this country was established)

I am not so much against a theocracy but I wouldn't want the govt telling me I have to go to church or where to.

The example I posted was extreme but where do we/you draw the line? Right below the things I do? Let's see it is all right for me to steal from my job by posting on blogs but not to take $100 cash??

I think over the days we have lost track of the orginal topic....

Regardless, just like my wife I don't agree with everything she believes or does but I still love her; so it is with you and I hope you love me too : )

Big Unit said...

Hope y'all had a good weekend trip!

Trouble said...

unit, i think that my line in the sand is pretty objecctively drawn. i love that the aclu will fight the same fight for other people (that i think are complete idiots and completely wrong)as for me.

i understand that when i choose an extreme view, we have to accept the the other end of the spectrum believes i am just as wrong as i believe they are. that is part of objectivity.

i believe that this person, your example, is exploiting civil liberty to do something which is concidered by our culture and by me personally as wrong and immoral. he has the same rights as do you and i to appeal to the law to justify his behavior. i expect the law to impose a standard which is acceptable to the society at large.

the Church [intentional capital letter] serves a different society and should impose a different standard.

this points to the elevated question which is raised by deaconessgrrl: is it the responsibility of the Church to lobby to have its standard become that of the general society?

Big Unit said...

is it the responsibility of the Church to lobby to have its standard become that of the general society?

I don't know if lobby is the right word but yes the Church has a mission to preach the gospel to the world. There are good and bad ways to do it.

mandyc said...

Unit, the question isn't about spreading the gospel - it's about how much the Church should affect govt policy. It's one thing to have VBS and advertise it to the kids in your neighborhood, but it's another thing altogether to endorse a political candidate or a particular stand on a particular issue. This is what I'm getting at. How much does/should the church affect the governing of our nation? W. makes no apologies for being a "man of faith" and allowing that personal faith to affect his decisions about govt policies. I'm suggesting that we all do that to a degree, but asking how much should we?

Big Unit said...

I don't think a church should endorse a candidate but there are issues that are clear in the Bible that should be preached on that will probably be political.

As for W being a "man of faith", there aren't many politicans out there who don't claim to be - at least at election time. I don't have a problem with an elected officials personal faith affecting govt policies.

Clinton went to church, JFK was catholic; if you don't think their personal faith (personality, thoughts, etc) affected govt you're crazy.

I like OK county commish Jim Roth, he's gay - but he is doing a great job for the county. The other commish is a homophob and just the other day was involved in some kind of scandal.