Thursday, August 31, 2006

the apolitical church

I have just read a fascinating and thought-provoking article from the New York Times about the Rev. Gregory Boyd and his decidedly apolitical approach to the gospel.
In an era when the gospel has been co-opted by political and social conservatives, where the word evangelical conjures no thoughts pertaining to evangelism and where Christianity is equated throughout the United States with the Religious Right and the the Republican Party, Boyd appears to be one of a minority of evangelical leaders actually to be letting some light into the smoke-filled back room.
What has Boyd done? Nothing too unreasonable, I suppose, when you consider the gospel. He's just pushed hard to keep Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn., from getting entangled in any of the political discussions that increasingvly have mired down and distracted the American Church for the last twenty years.
Some of the stuff Boyd did is obvious, like refusing to introduce politicians from the pulpit, something one megachurch in New Jersey actually did last year during the gubernatorial primaries there. Other things only seem obvious once I've seen them in print, like telling pro-life groups that they may not put their literature in the church lobby. (Such displays have been a fixture at many evangelical churches ever since the Summer of Mercy in the late 1980s.)
The usual justification for the politicking is that Christians have a duty before God to be salt and light and spread Christ's influence in all areas and all spheres, including the political arena. Still, as Boyd points out and as I've said at times myself, it's not like there's anything essentially Christian about Christian involvement in politics. People of all faiths (and even of no faiths) desire justice and a better society; what advantage is there is tacking the Christian label onto a political effort or even a specific politician's platform? It identifies Christ with one platform with one party, and with one dogma, when he is someone who embraces everyone.
And that doesn't even touch on some of the more egregious infusions of nationalism into the religious world. I'm not just talking about American flags in the church sanctuary -- although, like the pro-life displays, that (wrongly) is another fixture at many U.S. churches -- but a tacit endorsement of the war in Iraq in some churches, including once cited in the story where the church showed a video that mixed images of the Cross with fighter jets. (News flash: "Onward, Christian Soldiers" is a hymn -- not a military strategy.)
So thumbs up to Boyd, and a big wet turkey to all those on the Right (and Left) who are pushing the lie that America is a Christian nation and arguing that everyone therefore has to listen to them. Boyd preached a six-week sermon series called "The Cross and the Sword" that drove away about twenty percent of his congregation, including a number of church leaders.
I wish more pastors shared not only his perspective, but his conviction and willingness to preach the gospel, and not side issues.


bluesbaby said...

But aren't all the Democrats are going to hell?

marauder said...

Well, most of them admittedly, but a few will be able to come in through the back door. They just have to do the dishes, and they get the room next to the noisy ice machine.