Should the Church Steer Clear of Politics?
- 2006 9 Aug
There has been quite a bit of conversation recently about a New York Times article concerning the Rev. Gregory Boyd who, in a series of sermons titled "The Cross and the Sword," advised his mega-church congregation to "steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a 'Christian nation' and stop glorifying American military campaigns."
"When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses," Mr. Boyd preached, according to the Times. "When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross."
Boyd's message contains some food for thought. Even so, 1,000 of his 5,000 members in Maplewood, Minnesota, took a walk. He has raised even more eyebrows with his new book, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, based on some of his messages.
The Church must become very wary of power plays because power, as Lord Acton has reminded, has a corrupting influence. But, in truth, so does powerlessness insomuch that it can make us complacent. And that complacency, on all issues of import, is dangerous to the Church as well.
The "emerging church" movement promotes a term we could learn from -- sacralization. It is, in the words of authors Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger (Emerging Churches), "the process of making all of life sacred" and "represents the interaction of kingdom and culture." Christians should indeed have the goal of making all of life His, and that would include the issues facing contemporary culture and political solutions.
The problem occurs when people start equating the acts of voting, writing to congressmen, and saying "Amen" to the anti-homosexuality sermon the epitome of Christian living. "Sacralization" demands that a whole life be laid upon God's altar and that a life of political involvement and hard-edged holy pronunciation be accompanied by hands-on compassion on the front lines and in the desperate places of a community.
David Augsburger''s volume Dissident Discipleship contains an insight relevant to this discussion. He offers the German "gelassenheit." Not an easy word to translate, it has over 15 acceptable definitions. In medieval devotion, according to Augsburger, this word for self-surrender was invariably passive. But in the Radical Reformation of Anabaptism it came to mean both "passive yieldedness and active unyieldedness." Passive yieldedness as in self-surrender demonstrated by the spirit of Jesus: "yet not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26:39). Active unyieldedness as in radical obedience demonstrated by our Lord when He said, for instance, "Enough! ... Up, let us go forward!" (Mark 14:41-42)
The evangelical life is one of both self-surrender and radical, hands-on, demonstrated obedience. To give up participation in politics is simply unacceptable for the Church. So is a Church that becomes absorbed by politicians and political viewpoints. Let us embrace "sacralization" and "gelassenheit," immersed in the humble pursuit of biblical truth and a life of prayer.
Matt Friedeman is a professor at Wesley Biblical Seminary. He invites responses here.
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