Religion and Politics…

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These excerpts are from this morning’s edition of the Dallas Morning News…

"Can a Baptist
gathering whose speakers include Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Al Gore
avoid looking like a Democratic Party pep rally?     

That’s
one challenge for the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, an event
organized by Mr. Carter to bring together predominantly white and
predominantly black Baptist groups that have little history of
cooperation.

               

               

Mr. Carter said Wednesday that the idea is not to create another
Baptist organization but to have members from more than 30 existing
Baptist groups get to know one another, share ideas and make "permanent
commitments" for collaborating on spreading the Gospel and doing good
works…

Mr. Carter said Wednesday that the Atlanta meeting is aimed at bringing        unity among Baptists.         


"There will be no political elements or character of this assembly – if
all of us leaders can prevent it," he said.

To their credit, the event organizers did invite a few Republicans to the event…nevertheless, it’s difficult not to view this event–coincidentally placed in the middle election year hoopla–as some sort of political initiative. Otherwise, it seems that there might be more church leaders than politicians on the card.

Here’s the question… assuming that such an event has some sort of political agenda…how should churches handle the upcoming election?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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Share Your Thoughts

7 thoughts on “Religion and Politics…

  1. Without having read all the other comments, my thought is that church is no place for politics (the country’s or internal!). However, if Christians cannot discuss important current events in their own midst, then we lose a great deal of community at its best. Should candidates or ammendments be supported from the pulpit? I don’t think so, but church leaders should be inclined to have good political wisdom to share. In Jesus’ own words, “give unto Caesar…” which to me means part of being a follower of Christ means being a good and wise citizen.
    Interesting that there were token Republicans invited to the Baptist pre-convention…

  2. I think that asking theological questions about the Church’s moral voice in our current context is important. I think that it will be an anemic dialogue,however, if we don’t also ask simply secular philosophical questions about the proper role of the state and government using vocabulary and categories that are befitting of a pluralist society. I don’t just care about my fellow Christian citizens; I care about my secular, Muslim, Jewish [etc. etc.] citizens as well–and their corresponding political voice. The church can view its political presence (or absence) as a combatitive counter to other blocks of society or it can face the reality that those outside the church are essential components of this democracy. Yoder and Lipscomb can tell me how to be Church. Michael Walzer (‘Thick and Thin’, ‘Sphere’s of Justice’), Michael Sandell, John Rawls and others are better fit to answer questions about the proper scope of the State, and its ability to structure society around a sectarian brand of morality, or a communitarian one that allows the Church to be the Church while still affirming the worth of unborn and born, rich and poor, humans and earth. Until there are ‘universal moral values’ to be agreed upon, our ecclesial body will become, either, tribalistic or Constantinian.
    “For right-wing intellectuals and activists, values seem to be about sex and almost nothing else; vast areas of social life are left to the radically amoral play of market forces.” Michael Walzer

  3. I mentioned sex and politics because they are two of the church’s “taboo conversations.” Because many churches have passed on the chance to develop a theology of sex through communal conversation, we have given the culture an opportunity to caricature us as prudes who are against any sexuality. In the same way, theologically centered churches must not remain silent on issues of politics. If we do, our reputations will precede ourselves and we will not be able to define our own Christian responses.
    Your Yoderian response to politics fits my Lipscombian leanings. At times, I just wonder why our Restoration roots from Lipscomb are unknown in our churches. I grew up without a nuanced understanding of politics, and had I not been challenged by my education and historical research at school, I would have continued to follow the Christian’s Right’s crusade.
    Where else can these conversations be salted with the ethics of the cross?
    However, I do agree that churches need to help people think theologically before we enter these conversations.
    Perhaps Revelation would be a great place to start.

  4. One other thought, Collin–it seems to me that the comparison of sex and politics is apples and oranges.
    What in particular led you to use that example?

  5. I don’t disagree with you, Collin. What I would steer clear of in any circumstance is the blessing of a particular type of government or party by a particular religion or sect.
    The reason I would steer clear in general is because I don’t think we (in this case, Christians living in the U.S.) are prepared to truly have productive conversations in our churches about where faith and government intersect. Before we can have these potentially fruitful conversations, we must learn other things first: We must learn to reflect theologically. We must learn why history teaches us the value of a healthy distance between church and the state. We must be able to bring to bear more than what James Dobson or Jimmy Carter have to say about who is the more “Christian” party.
    We would be wiser to disengage and gain perspective, learning how to think critically, rather that thinking what we’re told to think. What would happen if Christians took a year off from voting? Rather than trying to decide who is best suited to bring Christian values to the nation, what if we sat back and attempted to gain a more objective perspective? To stop, if only for a moment, and pay attention to how the media, the candidates, and even our own brothers and sisters in Christ are trying to influence us to think one way or another.
    But you’re right, Collin. There is a strain of separationist cynicism in me that says this isn’t a topic worth much time or reflection. Stay informed of what’s happening if you choose. Appreciate what each potential leader in our government brings to the table. But let the world choose its leaders, and let us be about the business of joining God in bringing in His kingdom. His kingdom can break in regardless of who sits in power of our local, state, and national governments.
    In the meantime, let us bring peace and justice and mercy to those who need it most. Let others argue over who should be in power or whose agenda is most moral or “Christ-like.”
    Perhaps I’ve been reading too much Yoder and pre-Holocaust Bonhoeffer. 🙂

  6. Trey, I agree that fighting one bad mix of religion and politics with another is far from the correct answer.
    But if politics remains on the list of taboo conversations at church, how will Christians ever be able to allow their poltiical ethics to be formed into the image of Jesus Christ? The church has handed sex over to that list and the results have been devastating. Unfortunately, certain segments of the church have chosen to use politics in order to push their agendas in the world. This mix of religion and politics has been lethal to the gospel.
    As people who are being formed into the image of Jesus Christ, we must have a place for formative conversations that will inform our political beliefs. This conversation is difficult because politics tends to polarize. But we must allow all of our lives to be conformed into Christ’s image. No amount of silence will change that.
    With my political biases, I have to wonder if our anemic theology of baptism has left us without a strong theology of allegiance. As people who have transferred our allegiance from the kingdoms of this world to the kingdom of God in our baptisms, that has to change the way we see our political and national allegiances. We no longer live for one party or one nation. Instead, we are ambassadors of the kingdom of God.
    Some people have held these beliefs and remained distant from the world. They have taken their new allegiance as an excuse to remain at a distance from the world’s hurt, poverty, abuse, and injustice. On the other hand, I believe that our allegiance to the kingdom of God beckons us to make a real difference in the world through acts of mercy and justice.
    But with justice as our end, we are not able to use any means necessary in seeking justice. Just as Christ refused to use power over others and lay down his life in order to transform the world, we must also refuse to use powerful means in order to seek out justice in the world.
    The church must be a place of gracious conversation where these matters can be discussed and even disagreed about. But it seems that currently the church has no place for theological reflection about politics. This is sorely needed.
    Is there a place for this kind of conversation?

  7. First of all, it’s never a good idea to fight one bad mix of religion and politics (SBC) with another bad mix of religion and politics.
    As for dealing with the election, most importantly it should be kept out of the official teaching positions in the church–preaching, Adult Ed, small groups, etc. No one in an official leadership role should presuppose to tell their church who they should vote for or not vote for.
    What’s more, it’s hard for me to imagine any well-intentioned effort to encourage potential voters to think critically that wouldn’t devolve into some sort of forum for why Christians should vote a particular way.
    If it were me, I’d just steer clear. There are too many warnings from our history about the mix of religion and politics.