It has been an awesome time to be a Minister. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have had their 'clergy problems' and have distanced themselves from clergy. Delightful. Sadly, both Obama and McCain were right to do so....
This 'trend' does point out the continued dilemma of Christianity of America. Christianity has been more interested in perpetuating Christendom than it has in growing Christianity. There is a huge difference.
Christianity, at its core, is not an institution but a movement. If you read the Gospels, Jesus did not articulate a 'plan' for the growth of a church. Matthew's Gospel refers to his movement as 'church' but that's about it. Instead, if you read the Gospels, Jesus was preaching a reform of his own faith, Judaism, in attempting to have people move in different directions. He actually wasn't the only one doing this. That era had several rabbis, such as Gamaliel who were preaching very similar themes.
The early Christians were not about building churches, but growing a 'church,' a movement. They articulated who they were and what they believed and went out and shared the Good News. It took them almost a century to even begin the process of writing the New Testament. (Many people seem to miss the fact that the Bible is a product of the early church, not visa versa. the church existed before the Bible and it was the church that chose what was in the Bible.)
In the 4th Century, after a long period of persecution and theological chaos, the Christian movement encountered Constantine, Caesar, who united the movement within the empire. This was a mixed blessing. It provided the movement with a freedom to teach and preach without fear of reprisal. It also began an era of Christendom.
Christendom is not a movement or even a faith. It is an attempt to make society live according to the principles of Christianity. It's not that the principles are bad----it's that the principles are choices people make about faith----they are not about imposing laws on a society.
Christendom perpetuated itself. For many years, much of Europe was ruled from the Pope in Rome. Some of the Popes were great but some were corrupt and awful.
England established a state church to benefit Henry VIII's proclivities----and spent years after his death battling back and forth between London and Rome. A Separatist movement came to the American colonies to gain freedom from that----and established its own form of Christendom.
We see that now when we see clergy and politicians standing together and clergy making public proclamations on how the government ought to be run and what laws ought to be made.
Many are saying that they are beginning to see the demise of Christendom. The influence of the Christian Church on modern society is being challenge and, interestingly enough, Christianity is in a major numerical decline. A large swath of baby boomers have long since left churches and following generations have often not been church goers. Christendom is in decline to the dismay of many.
However, something interesting is beginning to take shape. Christianity, recognizing that its political influence may be waning is beginning to see itself less as an institution and more as a movement. Many churches are often smaller than they used to be, are less influential in the public forum, and are more valuable to the neighborhoods in which they live in because they are serving the community instead of trying to change laws. Churches are actively feeding people, building things for people, and interestingly enough, rediscovering themselves not as an institution, but as a movement.
Clergy can and ought to vote. Clergy can and should speak of issues that they see as important. Clergy also should not be seen on stages with politicians or be preaching a particular political position in their congregations.
Christendom may indeed be in decline....but the decline of Christendom may be seeing a rebirth of Christianity as a movement, and ultimately be more faithful to the mission of Jesus.