Power Players And The Plays
As you read this document you
may identify certain actions and traits of other Far Right Extremists Groups
which have begun to replace the Christian Coalition - Here is where they got
So much harm has been
caused by Robertson and the Christian Coalition that alarmed clergymen have
begun to raise their voices against the hijacking of their churches by the
Religious Right. More than eight prominent Protestant, evangelical,
Orthodox and Roman Catholic leaders, including six Catholic bishops, signed
a paper in which they set out their views on church and state. The
core statement in their proclamation, "The Cry For Renewal: Let Other Voices
Be Heard," is as follows:
caught in a spiritual crisis, worsened by overtly politicized churches.
Christian faith must not become another casualty of the cultural wars.
Inflamed rhetoric and name-calling is no substitute for real and
prayerful dialogue between different constituencies with legitimate
concerns and a gospel of love, which can bring people together. The
almost total identification of the Religious Right with the new
Republican majority in Washington is a dangerous liaison with political
Jim Wallis, the pastor
of Sojourners Community church in Washington, says,
Right has been such a strong and singular media voice on matters of
politics and morality that even the word 'Christian' has become
associated with a particular brand of very conservative Republican
politics. But the public perception of a right-wing evangelical
juggernaut is a false impression that we would like to correct."
Anthony Compolo, president of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion
of Education concurs,
"That one point of
view does not even represent the evangelical community, let alone the
The group proclamation
condemns all the belligerent rhetoric, from Christians at both ends of the
spectrum, which attempts to divide Christians into the political left or
right. Anthony Compolo speaks to the heart of the issue, "We are called by
Jesus to be agents of reconciliation, to bring people together, to solve the
problems of the community. That's the only kind of politics we are into, the
politics of reconciliation, not the politics of polarization."
proclamation's signatories there are several moderates and even a few
theological conservatives whose names are not often seen on documents of
this kind. For example, Steven Hayner, president of Inter-Varsity Christian
Fellowship, an evangelical youth organization; Millard Fuller, president of
Habitat for Humanity; and J.I.Parker, a theology professor at Regent College
in Vancouver and a senior editor of the magazine "Christianity Today'.
Another senior editor
of the same magazine, the Reverend Edward G. Dobson (no relation to Dr.
James Dobson), who is also the pastor of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids,
energy should be spent in redeeming the lost, not in rallying against
published in 'Christianity Today' on May 20, 1996, speaks for a growing
number of pastors who feel the time has come to take a stand against the
encroachments of the Christian Coalition. Although he writes from a
Christian point of view, his thoughts are relevant to everyone, believers as
well as nonbelievers, who share a concern about the role of politics in
religion. These are Reverend Dobson's words:
week I receive letters and telephone calls from Christians soliciting
our church's involvement in a political issue in our community. The
requests range from pressuring public-school board members to fire a
homosexual teacher to protesting in front of an abortion clinic.
who call me are passionate, and they want something done. They want me
as a pastor to be a cheerleader for their cause, and they want access to
the thousands of people who attend our church. If I decline their
request (which I do), they are often upset with me, and in subtle ways
they call into question my Christian convictions. Nearly every pastor I
know faces this same pressure on a regular basis.
individual believers we can and should exercise our privilege as
citizens in a democracy. Christian citizens have the opportunity to
inform themselves on the issues, vote their conscience, run for office,
and lobby for legislation.
church - as the church - cannot allow itself to be co-opted by political
action; and pastors and others who speak for the church cannot allow
themselves to be distracted from the gospel by partisan engagement. As a
former board member for the Moral Majority, I know the potential dangers
of this kind of political activity - the possible jettisoning of the
gospel for a political agenda.
"The acid test
came several years ago when the Grand Rapids City Council passed a Gay
Rights Ordinance to protect homosexuals from discrimination. The
reaction was immediate and volatile. A group of pastors formed a
coalition to collect signatures to force the issue to a public vote,
believing that the public would repeal the Ordinance. Petitions and
signatures were collected primarily through churches, but our church
refused to cooperate.
publicly that gays were discriminated against in our community, but that
a special ordinance was not the most appropriate way to deal with it. I
have also stated publicly that homosexual activity is sinful.
we did not permit anyone to pass out petitions in our church, and
because none of the church's resources were involved in the campaign, we
were called "weak" on the gay issue, seen as duped by the gay community
and as promoting gay rights in our community.
"We held firm.
While individual Christians within our church were free to work toward
passing the petition, we as a corporate body did not participate. The
petition drive fell several thousand signatures short, a number our
church could have easily generated, and so we were blamed by some for
the petition drive's failure. I discovered that refusing to involve the
church in political activity is not popular among some Christians.
to be an increasing hostile group among evangelical Christians. Their
anger is fueled by fund-raising letters, newsletters, tapes, and videos
from national ministries. These ministries are sometimes alarmist,
trading on the fears of Christians who clearly see the moral decline of
the surrounding culture. They not only advocate the "right" moral
positions (die declaration of truth), they advocate the "right" moral
action (the application of truth). Their moral action often includes
political action, lobbying, and association with the "right" political
party. The unfortunate implication is that it is not enough to believe
right, you must also act right according to their definition.
"To deal with
these pressures for political action, our church has developed these
perspectives to guide us:
"We should not
expect or demand that the political system be Bible-friendly. Some
American Christians expect their government to reflect their own
biblical views. Few Christians in other countries expect the same of
their governments. We should not expect people and the political systems
they create to reflect our values when they do not share our Christ.
public institutions to defend or promote Christian values is to expect
more of these institutions than the Bible does. The Bible teaches that
the primary function of government is to promote an ordered and
structured society where wrongdoing is punished and right is commended.
Of course, some believe this is a Christian nation and ask, 'Should we
not return to the faith of our founding fathers?' In my opinion, this is
not an option because the faith of our founding fathers consisted
largely of expecting rational men to do the right thing, failing to take
human sinfulness with full seriousness. And it failed (despite its
rhetoric) to treat all people equally, favoring as it did white
landowners while permitting and promoting slavery and the second-class
existence of women.
"We have clear
responsibilities to the political system, even when it is hostile to us.
First, we are to pray for those in authority (I Timothy 2:1-4).
Remember, this instruction was written when Nero was emperor, and he was
decidedly anti-Christian. We need to pray for President Clinton just as
we did for Presidents Reagan and Bush.
tells us, we are to live "peaceful and quiet lives." In an atmosphere of
divisiveness and partisan hostility, this counsel of civility can guide
us both as Christian citizens and as a church body. Even when the
government is hostile to us as a Christian body, Paul counsels, we are
to walk softly, speak quietly. This instruction is in stark contrast to
the angry rhetoric of many Christians today.
concludes, we are to live godly and holy lives. Our lives should do the
speaking for us. And we are to keep the main thing the main thing,
pleasing God who "desires everyone to be saved." Our focus is to preach
the gospel and live in relationship with the public order so as to make
the gospel attractive.
keep the church out of partisan politics and political action. We have
chosen as a church to be politics-free. We do not pass out petitions or
voting records. We do not march for or against anything. We do not
promote letter-writing campaigns. While some members of our church may
do some or all of the above - exercising their freedoms and obligations
as citizens in a democratic system - we do not believe that the church,
as a church, should be engaged in any of these activities.
however, not to say that the church should ignore injustice and remain
silent in the public square about grievous wrongs. The preaching of
biblical truth will often be counter cultural. A prophetic voice
speaking against the tide of public opinion is sometimes precisely what
is needed from the church. But the accent must always be on what can be
done to meet the needs of suffering people; it must be an invitation to
those with the political power to work with us to solve problems and
help people lift themselves above circumstances. Attacks on leaders in
either party are not the church's business.
demonstrate the authenticity of the gospel where we live. Christians are
concerned about the social and moral issues of today, but what are we
doing in our own communities to deal with these issues? We are against
abortion, but what alternatives are we providing? What kind of love and
concern do we demonstrate for the mothers who walk into abortion
clinics, and the people who work in them? We are concerned about the
failure of welfare, but what are we doing to empower marginalized people
with Christ and through job training and opportunity? If we are going to
demand better from the government, should we not first live out the
social implications of the gospel in our own communities?
church is on a journey of discovering the social implications of the
gospel. A group of people takes meals every night to homeless people
living under bridges in Grand Rapids. We have a ministry that works with
dependent people and families that offers financial and spiritual
counseling and other means to help them out of dependence. We are
working together with eleven key African-American churches in our
community to combat racism and provide job training. Living out the
gospel by dealing with injustice and sharing our resources with
marginalized people is the appropriate strategy for the church.
expect politics to offer permanent solutions. Politics cannot offer
permanent solutions because it is based on a flawed view of sin and
society. One of its premises is that if you elect the "right"
representatives who will pass the "right" legislation, you will have the
"right" society. But we know this is not true. You don't change society
from the outside by legislation, you change it from the inside - one
person at a time. Ultimately, the Great Society and the Contract with
America will fail. The only permanent solution is the gospel of Christ,
which changes people from the inside out. Some Christians have lost this
debate over the Gay Rights Ordinance, a person asked me two troubling
questions: "Ed, if you are not going to take a stand now, when are you
going to take the stand?" and "If you don't take a stand now, won't it
be too late further down the road?" Reflecting on these questions, I
have identified three simple principles.
"First, I will
make it my first priority to share the good news. My consuming
commitment is to the gospel. I fear that overt political involvement
will lead to polarization and alienation from the people who need to
hear the gospel.
"Second, I must
continue to develop a biblical, social conscience. The poor, the
homeless, the abused, the imprisoned, and the sick (including
HIV-positive people) must be within the circle of my love and touch.
"Finally, as a
pastor, I will approach the area of political involvement with
extreme caution. When will I stand up? Whenever I am told by
political authority to disregard God's truth, or asked to worship
other gods, or told to deny the gospel. Short of these
circumstances, I will continue to preach the whole gospel to the
whole person, and in so doing will resist the temptation and
pressure toward politicizing the church."
These thoughtful words
suggest a reasonable response - for all concerned citizens, regardless of
religious or spiritual inclination - to the bullying forces of the Religious
Right who want to play on peoples' fears, and divide them and turn them
against each other for their own gain.
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