The NY Times article on Greg Boyd’s church in Minneapolis is catching attention. Why? (Below.)
I’d like to give some reflections, and I’m keen on your response, especially as it is timed with our series on Randall Balmer’s book, Thy Kingdom Come, who happens to be quoted in the NY Times piece. I’m keen on what you think local churches should do.
Here are two central paragraphs in the article:
The requests came from church members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary?
After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.
Make that a third paragraph: “When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”
Here’s the core issue, and most in the Religious Right don’t get it.
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.
So, what do we do? How do we as followers of Jesus relate to politics? Frankly, I’m embarrassed at the Church: I’m embarrassed how liberal mainliners kowtow to the Democrats, equating the US Constitution on rights and freedoms as somehow equivalent to the gospel. And I’m embarrassed with the Religious Right’s whorish behavior of aligning itself with the Republicans. Jesus would say to each, “I never knew you.” Now that you know how I feel, let me offer some observations about how Christians and churches can participate in the political process.
First, I think churches should educate Christians on what the Bible says and about how the Church — the broad, orthodox tradition, not just “your/my church” — has thought about particular political issues. My jaw dropped (in a good way) a few years ago when the USA went to war in the Middle East and Bill Hybels gave a sermon with this theme: Christians differ on how to participate; here are the views; here’s why each believes what it does; you make up your mind; but know that Christians differ. I wrote him a letter and told him thanks. Why? Because he didn’t raise the American flag and say good Christians drop bombs, and he didn’t stand up and say good Christians are conscientious objectors, but he stood up and said what should be said by leaders: here’s what the issues are, here’s how different Christians think, you make up your own mind.
Second, Christians need to remain independent enough to provide a prophetic stance. If you are in bed with the Republicans, you can’t announce they are wrong; if you are in bed with the Democrats, you can’t do that either. But, we must: Jesus critiqued the establishment and the Gentiles and the followers. He burned the path of justice and grace and love, and it didn’t matter who got in the way: the story had to be told. Until we can get enough distance from the party, until we can say “here’s what the Bible says and that’s not what the establishment is doing,” until we can do that we will not perform the role we have in this world: to speak the word of Christ and embody it in a peformance of the gospel.
Third, the idea that we can remain apolitical is hogwash and irresponsible. There was a day when evangelicals were decidedly non-political and uncommitted. That was withdrawal. As I lay out in Embracing Grace, the gospel is for all of us and for the whole of each of us. We can’t withdraw because that denies the gospel; we can’t just preach soul-redemption because that denies the incarnation; we have to preach the whole gospel to the whole culture.
Which means, we will have to address political issues. If we have established our independence, our word can be both prophetic and admonishment and encouragement.
Fourth, each person is responsible to decide where he or she stands. If we educate, we permit others to make up their minds; if we indoctrinate, we don’t. Churches that align themselves with one party indoctrinate; churches that follow Jesus remain politically independent and gain a hearing for a prophetic stance. But, if we educate, we permit folks to make up their minds — and that means within local churches some will find abortion important and others war and yet others the poor and still others the economy. If your church cares about only one, there is indoctrination. If it has a variety of folks, there is education and there is responsibility being left on the shoulders of local Christians to make up their own minds.
Tomorrow I post my three-line theory of political wisdom.
I’ve posted this at RedBlueChristian.com as well.