This is a good, short article on evangelical activism for the coming election. Although I am passionate and informed in my political beliefs, I am starting to become convinced that backing politicians, movements, or political ideologies is a very bad move for churches.
The article headlines: formerly apolitical preachers in states like Iowa, backed by astute organizers and big donors, are mobilizing congregations for the election.
Here are a few interesting snippets:
“The Christian activist right is the largest, best-organized and, I believe, the most powerful force in American politics today,” said Rob Stein, a Democratic strategist who recently provided briefings on the constituency to wealthy donors on the left. “No other political group comes even close.”….
Tim Wildmon, who runs the American Family Assn., one of the most generous underwriters of Christian conservative activism, predicted that evangelicals in 2012 will match the fervency of the Ronald Reagan era — in large part because so many pastors are prodding their flocks to the polls.
It’s not that religion is not political. It is. All of life is and should be political. We can’t avoid that, and I don’t think we want to avoid it. I would even go so far as to say that the church could be an arena for respectful debate of political issues. Even further still, the church might be used as an important vessel to bring about political change and social justice. Look no further than the black churches who have been a voice for the oppressed and a center for organization through the long and brutal African American struggle for equal rights.
Here’s what I see as the problem. When churches hitch their wagons to a particular politician or political ideology, then they become entwined in a matrix of power relations. When this happens, the church becomes involved in an us vs. them mindset that will considerably dampen the church’s ability to be a sacred and holy space. For myself, creating sacred spaces for worship and spiritual development is the primary mission and objective of the church. This requires ultimate inclusivity: come just as you are to experience the fullness of grace and acceptance. Being caught up in the matrix of power relations, however, necessarily requires the church to become “Republican,” “socially conservative,” “liberal,” “Democrat,” etc. So, anyone who doesn’t fit the label won’t fit into the church. For some, however, the church is primarily a center for creating this “us versus them” mindset. One example is to think, “We are the chosen people going to heaven and it is our job to convert everyone else so that they don’t go to hell.” This creates a dichotomy between “us” (the believers, God’s chosen, etc.) and “them” (the unbelievers, infidels, the damned, sinners, etc.). So, with this mindset, I think it might feel natural to gravitate into politics. To do so, however, will require sacrificing the church’s calling to be a place for sacred space and unconditional acceptance, the keys to spiritual and social transformation.
There are other dangers when a church links itself with politics. One historical truth is that churches often can get burned.Politics is a dirty game, and just because you voted for a politician does not mean that they are going to do what they say. Jerry Falwell and other conservatives learned this lesson the hard way. They were a major force behind Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, but after Reagan left office, they realized that nothing substantial had actually been done by way of public policy. After Reagan, Falwell left politics and focused his energy on his church.
Being connected to the power matrix also forces the church to surrender her calling as a prophetic voice. It is tempting to think that being political is the prophetic voice. However, reading their own Bible, Christians should be able to readily see that the true prophets stood outside of the power structure and spoke truth. These prophets spoke on behalf of the people left behind by society, the exploited.
Lastly, I really think that deep down people don’t want political churches. I’ve read studies that seem to indicate this. People are political, but they want their churches to stay out of the mess. This is true, I think, for both those on the right and those of us on the left, for conservatives, liberals, or however else you define yourself. It is easy to get caught up in the media hype and to think that the world is going to end if certain politicians are elected or re-elected, but this is the kind of panic that has been around for centuries. Mass media has always played on our anxieties to mobilize us as reactionaries. The calling of the church is more pure, and her leaders must be wise.