Friday, October 27, 2006

Should the Church Be Involved in Politics?

Bishop Woodie H. White at Candler says:

Of course the Church should be engaged in politics! Christians and those who profess other beliefs should certainly be office holders as well as candidates for office. There should not be, however, a religious test for office. We are a democracy, not a theocracy.

In the last six months, I have been involved in major conferences that focused on the church, politics and public policy. As a variety of public-policy issues were addressed, the basic assumption was that there was and is a place for the expression of faith in the public square. The key question is how the Church and people of faith should be engaged in the public arena.

I'm not quite as enthused about dragging the Church into the political arena. As I've mentioned before, the Church is supposed to be a prophetic witness against evil, but taking any political stand entails dividing the Church. And it had better be something worth dividing the Church over, like slavery or racial segregation, not a Federal budget. The Church should be very, very careful before proceeding with political agenda. Bishop White acknowledges this:

People of faith do not agree unanimously on political leadership or public policy. Equally faithful people can reach different conclusions. It is both perplexing and frustrating. It would be a simpler world if we all saw "truth" similarly, but we don't.

When in doubt about the essentialness of an issue, I'd prefer that Christians be involved in politics, instead of the Church; that is, denominational bodies should avoid political stances unless major, incontrovertible evils are being committed in complete contrast to Christian ethics.

The hard part is reaching a consensus on what those evils are.

12 comments:

Michael said...

Just recently there were a couple of letters to the editor in the statewide paper, one from a Methodist pastor, the other from someone parroting his comments. In my humble opinion, they are both wrong in insisting that Jesus' statement, "to whom much is given, much will be required", applies to the federal budget and compelling weathly people to finance social programs. This is to me a dangerous by-product of too much church involvement with politics. Besides, there is also a thin legal line that cannot be crossed lest a church jeopardize it's tax-exempt status.

John Meunier said...

I'm intrigued by the desire to have Christians active but the church silent.

Doesn't this run counter to all our talk of Christianity being fundamentally a communal or social religion? We talk about how tough it is to have a genuine Christianity that is private. Why does that stop when Christian conviction impinges on the political realm?

The Bible is drenched with prophetic voices calling Israel to count for neglect and oppression of the poor, the oppressed, the widowed, the orphaned, and the stranger. These prophets were not isolated individuals in a sea of other individuals. They were the appointed voice of God's judgment.

Would God have accepted a response from Israel that said taking care of the poor is something for individual Jews to do, but not something for the rulers to be pestered about?

Anonymous said...

What I hate to see is Christian groups stomping around, speaking in anger and/or committing acts of hatred and violence in the name of "Christian morality." That really turns off marginal- or non-believers. They tend to reject God right along with shouting Christian extremists. I know because I've been married to one for 35 years!

I believe we should be concerned with showing love, feeding the hungry (of whom there are plenty), and upholding justice and mercy--and we could go a long way toward fixing up poverty, if we were of a mind to do it. That would be a better way to spend millions and billions than on bullets and bombs and 700-mile fences.

I like your title--locusts and honey are appropriate for John.

John said...

Doesn't this run counter to all our talk of Christianity being fundamentally a communal or social religion? We talk about how tough it is to have a genuine Christianity that is private. Why does that stop when Christian conviction impinges on the political realm?

Great in principle, but incredibly hard to apply on specific policy issues. Or rather, Christians will agree on the principle, but come with with wildly different applications. And if "the Church" attempts to move on one particular application, it will divide.

Richard said...

I don't want us becoming the RCC, but I think that a minimal presence is necessary, especially in the face of injustice.

John said...

One other thing that John Meunier wrote:

Would God have accepted a response from Israel that said taking care of the poor is something for individual Jews to do, but not something for the rulers to be pestered about?

Yes.

If you can find a place where Jesus advocated a political solution to poverty, or called for government to reallocate national wealth to alleviate poverty, please point it out.

Michael said...

The balance is difficult but if one has a calling to feed the hungry and clothe the poor, why must there be a government program in place to get it done? What is stopping Christians from doing exactly this? It might be easy to say that the government has all the money and must therefore spend in justly, but that demand removes our own responsibility to give of self.

It is much easier to carry picket signs and impose demands on others.
It is akin to very wealthy celebrities who own 3-4 homes around the nation and the world and demand that the government "solve" homelessness.

the reverend mommy said...

What stikes me about Bishop White is his passion. He is a truly humble man, treating all from the janitors to the dean with tremendous respect. His involvement with politics started with the Civil Rights Movement -- and with the injustices that he and others endured.

If we are to be prophets in our own society, how much better would voices united be rather than each singing his or her own song?

John said...

It would be great for us to be prophets -- if God first annoints us toward that ministry.

We cannot be prophets simply because we would like to.

BruceA said...

If you can find a place where Jesus advocated a political solution to poverty, or called for government to reallocate national wealth to alleviate poverty, please point it out.

The obvious example would be the tithe, sanctioned in the Torah, the whole of which Jesus spoke very approvingly.

John said...

The tithe was paid to the Temple. Was the Temple the state?

BruceA said...

I could be wrong, but my understanding is that the Torah was the law of the land, a combination of religious and secular authority wrapped up in one document.