Saturday, July 29, 2006

God and Politics in Minnesota

At first I was embarrassed to read the words "megachurch" and "Minnesota" in the same line in today's New York Times. But reading further, I was pleased to discover the most reasonable megachurch pastor I'd ever heard of. The article, "Conservative Pastor Steers Clear of Politics, and Pays" describes the Reverend Gregory Boyd's risky move to resist Republican politics and flag-waving nationalism at his Woodland Hills Church in Maplewood:
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.
That's refreshing. Boyd says he isn't a liberal, but his refusal to preach politics sounded suspicously liberal to a fifth of his congragation -- 1,000 members left, some during his sermons. Boyd wrote a book based on these sermons called “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church".

Brian D. McLaren, a pastor in Maryland, is a part of the "emerging church" movement of evangelical Christianity. He's quoted saying:
“More and more people are saying this has gone too far — the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right. You cannot say the word ‘Jesus’ in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can’t say the word ‘Christian,’ and you certainly can’t say the word ‘evangelical’ without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people. Because people think, ‘Oh no, what is going to come next is homosexual bashing, or pro-war rhetoric, or complaining about ‘activist judges.’"
Now, I'm not a Christian, but looking at the internal logic of Christianity as we know it today, I find myself wondering whether or not it makes sense to lay off the moralizing political talk in church. If this is what you believe, don't you have a duty, a Christian duty to spread this word? It reminds me of the academic freedom issue. Obviously academia isn't the place for professors to indoctrinate students. But isn't church the place for politics? Wouldn't a Christian say that God has jurisdiction over everything? I understand why government would say the church should be separate, but I'm not sure I understand why the church would agree.

In the article, a former member of Boyd's congregation says, "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.” That's the way a lot of the world's Muslims see it -- religion is not a weekly duty, it's a way of life, and politics is absorbed into that.

But maybe Boyd's on to something. He warns against turning 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.
Say what you want about fighting for justice and the American way, but don't confuse it with Christianity. Jesus wouldn't do that. We forget in the all talk about doing God's will, one crucial thing, a thing that is summed up in the droll motto: "What would Jesus do?" He wouldn't sing a patriotic song and cheer fighter jets for fuck's sake. Boyd again:
“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.”
It isn't about convictions, it's about power and method. Jesus didn't seek control, he sought peace. Jesus didn't beat people to get his way, he persuaded. And he sacrificed. This is why the church is not the place for politics and patriotism. And as Mr. Boyd proves, you don't have to be a liberal to figure that out.

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