Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Politics, Church and Jesus

"It is important that our churches
be courageous and creative, not
sanctuaries  for frightened Americans which is to say recruiting ground for authoritarian
figures and movements that bear the earmarks of emerging fascism."
   --William Sloane Coffin, Credo 

A pastor-friend of mine said he had a strange discussion with one of his members. Against his advice the church erected two large flagpoles outside their sanctuary. The American flag stood taller than the Christian flag. My friend asked: “Haven’t you got that reversed? Shouldn’t the Christian flag be higher than the American flag outside a Church?” “Don’t you know the law,” his friend replied, “ the American flag always comes first.”

I thought about that story when I read about the hundreds of Pastors who are backing political candidates from the pulpit. There is an organization called Alliance Defending Freedom that has staged “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” since 2008. Over 1500 Pastors this year say they will endorse candidates from their pulpits. This is in clear violation of the tax code which states that any religious organization that specifically endorses candidates for political office and could lose their tax-exempt status. The funny thing is that the IRS has followed through on this violation of this law in only one case in 2008, which they lost.

Violating this law one preacher said, “I am speaking as a pastor and as a citizen of the United States where we have that freedom of speech.” He went on tell his large congregation that, “issues such as sanctity of life, marriage, religious freedom and the national debt matter.” Before he went on to endorse a Republican candidate for the state Supreme Court he added, “As a follower of Jesus Christ, I will not vote for a candidate that violates the principles of God on the issues I have discussed.”

Of course we have freedom of speech but the church is not the place to wave political (or national) flags. Weldon Gaddy, President of the Interfaith Alliance wisely remarked: “When the church divides the country, where’s the win in that?” Blurring the lines between politics and church gets us into serious trouble. Remember the old wag: When the lion gets in bed with the lamb—the lion always wins. The church should know when it is a pawn from any particular political party it will lose. People who come to church to have their political alliances coddled might go away feeling good about their choices—but they will go away empty.

The purpose of church is to lift our eyes beyond the TV screens and the competing voices all around us and point us a vision of wholeness and goodness that includes us all. And the church should always challenge the axioms of the crowd whether it be war, gay rights, women’s rights, global warming, or narrow nationalism. In the church of Jesus Christ no one should feel left out if they subscribe to one particular party or none at all. It is scary when God’s will is wrapped around any candidate for political office.

We should never leave the church unsure of what age we live in.  We are to be engaged in the issues of our time. But unless, like Isaiah we see the Lord high and lifted up, with his train filling the temple...touching the deep places in our hearts...we will not have been to church. Let the folk in the pews make up their own minds about who or what cause to vote for. Whoever wins or whoever loses—the next Sunday those who sit on our pews ought to feel like the church is their place and they are part in what goes on.

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