I'm not sure exactly what this post is. It may be rambling and it may be topically all over the lot. Read it at your own risk!
Politicians and churches truly do make strange bedfellows. Frankly, venturing into the realm of sexual ethics, there are some trysts that ought not happen. This truly seems to be one of them. It doesn’t mean that church people and clergy can’t have their own beliefs as to who they want to govern. It does mean, however, that preaching should not be political and churches need to be careful not to put their arms around too many political leaders.
Churches do need to speak to power. They do need to be prophetic witnesses to societal ills. They need to stand outside the buildings filled with power and be, as was John, a voice in the wilderness crying out for change. They can’t be surprised, however, when, like John, they lose their heads for their convictions.
Churches have not always been very consistent in their preaching to power.
In the years leading up to the Civil War there was a tale of two cities, different churches, with different agendas.
The first city was Boston. The Congregational Churches (now part of the United Church of Christ) of Boston were preaching in strong, strong opposition to slavery and were constant in their charge that slavery needed to be stopped. Their message was strongly preached through much of New England and the Amistad case became a landmark case ultimately determining that a group of Black Africans were not slaves and were entitled to overpower the crew which had captured them, and earned the right to go home. Congregational Churches paid their legal bills and John Quincy Adams, a Congregationalist, defended them out of his religious convictions. The Boston pulpits made people increasingly uncomfortable that slavery was alive and well in the nation.
The second city was Atlanta. In mostly Southern Methodist congregations (NOT to be confused with contemporary Methodism which has a marvelous human rights record) the exact opposed message was being preached. Like their Northern counterparts, they quoted Scripture and made strong arguments that slavery was not only tolerable, but a good thing sanctioned, even commanded, by God. The Atlanta pulpits made people increasingly convinced that they had to do whatever needed to be done to assure that their way of life prevailed.
A couple of years ago I heard Dr. Peter Gomes, an African American clergy-person who is the Dean of the Chapel at Harvard University, preach about this very topic at the magnificent Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Buckhead. (This was not a church involved in the controversial era pre-Civil War.) A Black preaching was preaching about this to a full house in suburban Atlanta and marveling on how that debate had concluded and recognizing that it is now a universal belief that slavery was evil.
This was an example of churches speaking to power. They weren’t part of it, however.
Mainline Protestant Churches, in recent years, make political statements in preaching to power, but, for the most part, stay out of getting to cozy with political leaders.
The Roman Catholic Church had a series of Bishops highly critical and even condemned John Kerry’s positions on abortion. They did not cozy up to President Bush, however, as they have consistently condemned his enthusiastic support of the death penalty and American Bishops recently strong condemned the war in Iraq as an unjust war. Roman Catholic ethics strong abides by the Just War Theory and this war never qualified.
Lots has been written about Evangelicals in America.
It’s important not to have too many stereotypes about Evangelicals. Evangelicals tend to be a pretty diverse group and they are speaking less and less in one unified voice.
Often strict Fundamentalists are lumped in with the Evangelicals. There is some validity to this as they do tend to come from similar places, but there are some major differences. All believe in God’s creation, but many have a similar viewpoint to the Mainline Protestant Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. In synch with science, they believe that God created that which evolved. Evolution and creation are not contrary. It’s from this theory that the often misused and misapplied phrase, ‘intelligent design’ originates. The people who began speaking in terms of intelligent design saw it as a rational theological to science. They didn’t view it as science, but as a religious teaching.
Strict Fundamentalists, however reject this and say that God created everything 6000 years ago. The Creation Museum is a result of this kind of teaching. It strikes many as an outright rejection of science (or revisionist science), and frankly has made a mockery of the Creation Story which is a very beautiful story with great theological truths being taught by its various authors.
Many Evangelicals will not be visiting the Creation Museum and do not view the world in such a manner.
Everyone in the Evangelical community, and everyone in Christianity, views ethics and morality as important and vital.
In past elections ‘values voting’ has become popular. The values of many of the Evangelical always ended up boiling down to gay marriage, abortion, and lower taxes.
It was an interesting agenda, to say the least. Jesus never spoke of gay marriage or homosexuality at all, he never mentioned abortion, and he was amazing indifferent to taxes and was downright hostile towards money and those who had money. How these values popped up as central pieces still amazes me.
And this is where the strange bedfellows came to be. Many/some of the Evangelical community adopted political issues and made them religious issues instead of speaking the truth to power and confronting some major ethical issues.
Having said this, however, there is a growing number within the Evangelical led by people such as Jim Wallis and Brian McLaren, who are very much Evangelicals, who are beginning to say that Evangelicals need to leave the halls of power and stand outside, preaching the truth to power.
I have a strong belief that Christianity needs to be a voice and needs to be a voice outside the walls of power enabling the church to confront a culture rather than being beholden to the culture.
I’ve been thinking of my own values of late and have come to some conclusions. I’m not saying I’m right, but these are some of my thoughts.
The first value issue that comes from my faith is dealing with poverty. The divide between rich and power is growing. The poor are getting hungrier and the quality of they food they are able to get is getting worse. It is increasingly more difficult for them to find food in depleted food banks. If our Clothes Closet is any reflection of our society at all, the need for clothing and BLANKETS is staggering. Many of us have more blankets than we’d ever use----there are many families where blankets are shared. My hope is that Christianity challenges leaders on the issue of poverty.
The second value issue is not just about abortion but about life. Many people in the alleged pro-life organizations are not really pro-life, they are merely against abortion. If people are going to be held accountable for their pro-life issues, make them be serious about it.
Thirdly, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that the way our society deals with the gay community is a civil rights issue more than anything else. Being prejudiced against gay people seems to be, for many, a socially acceptable bigotry. The euphemism ‘gay lifestyle’ is used more and more to mean that sexual orientation is a choice as opposed to an orientation. If one makes it a lifestyle ‘choice’ it enables that person to be prejudiced against those who have made that choice.
This really stands on stark opposition to research. Research indicates that sexual orientation is as much a choice as race or gender are. I am a white, male, heterosexual. I made none of those choices. I would think that if I am going to be excluded because I am male, I’d be angry. I’d be hostile if I was excluded because of my race and mystified as to why I’m being excluded on my sexual orientation. None were my choice.
With the coming of Christmas, I think it’s notable to realize that Jesus was born in a stable into a peasant family. He spoke to a small number of people in a rather remote portion of the world.
He preached against poverty and challenged the rich to care for the poor.
He associated with those classified as sinners by society and loved them and was loved by them.
He healed lepers when society was teaching that the lepers received their disease because of sin and were society’s worst sinners.
Jesus consistently preached to power often making them rather uncomfortable. He was a voice, often in the wilderness, challenging people to change. He had no political ambitions, no money, no status in the villages he preached in. Ultimately his lack of political ambition, his poverty, and his lack of status led him to his death.
As Christians, his life and example are our guide and need to be our guide. We Christians have become too disjointed and too eager to status that we are missing that.