Author’s note: I used to blog at jaceonline.com, and in an effort to introduce myself to new readers and hopefully wring a little more entertainment value out of those old posts, I’m going to be dipping into the old site and re-posting some of my favorite entries. Hey, if Leo Sayer can have a “best of” collection, so can I.
My brother-in-law and spiritual advisor Jeremy weighs in with his response to my question: Is political activism changing the complexion of the church? Essentially, I wondered if people who wanted to see themselves as morally superior were getting their pious freak on through political activism rather than through religion, now that political activism is taking a much more prominent role in everyday life.
I think one of the main things we have to take into consideration, is the separation of church and state. This is a dichotomy that we have created in the US that we find hardly anywhere else (especially in places that are huge political powers such as Britain, Germany, etc.). What this means is that up until a few hundred years ago, if someone were to make a political move, especially to assert some sort of moral superiority, the move would most certainly have to do with the church and/or the religion of the day.
An interesting point that escaped me completely: until very recently in human history, the church was political activism, and vise versa. Any political movement had to have a religious component to have any hope of success.
Let me give you two examples. In ancient Israel, especially during the intertestimental time, many of the Jews were attempting to regain their religious heritage while drowning in the seas of hellinism and the Roman Empire. A small group of Jews took a political stand against the Romans, and rebelled. This group, known as the Hasidaeans later became known as the Pharisees of Israel. The Pharisees expressed their separation (ultimately moral superiority) by the creation of voluntary societies which came to be known as synagogues.
Other examples of people taking stands or declaring their own moral superiority over another are all throughout history, and many have to do with religious beliefs: There is the formation of various monasteries and even entire orders of Monks because one man thought the rest of society wasnÂ?t getting it correct, the formation of the church of England, the Protestant Reformation, etc.
For most of history, politics and religion have gone hand in hand, and in some cases, were one and the same.
The second thing that we have to take into consideration is our worldview. Throughout history, mankind has moved from one view to another. Today, we have very haphazardly (at times) and naively (at other times) labeled these worldviews. Depending on the sociologist you speak with, there are really about 3 major worldviews that are discussed. A Premodern worldview which most scholars would argue is the only legitimate Christian world view, A Modern worldview, and finally, a postmodern worldview each have dominated at various times. Even now, it is difficult for sociologists to define postmodernism, because we live in the midst of it, however, some characteristics of the time in which we live are that it is highly individualistic, which can lead to an “Even though we contradict each other our views are both correct,” highly tolerant (of everything except Christianity it seems), and highly compartmentalized, meaning that people can separate their political views from their religious views. As Christians, we must realize that our views cannot be separated as such, and that our political views must be governed by what the Bible says…
My basic understanding of postmodernism is that it holds as an absolute truth that there is no such thing as absolute truth. For a philisophy that starts off by painting itself into a logical corner, it has had remarkable staying power. It’s also done a lot of damage to our civilizational institutions. It’s certainly undercut the church, the foremost distributor of absolute truth. If everybody can pick their own truth, there’s no reason to connect any part of your life (including politics) to religious doctrine.
We no longer live in a Christian society (I would debate that we never lived in a Christian society, merely a more moral one). There are many people who believe that they have a personal relationship with Christ, who do not. They are merely deceiving themselves (see 1 John, it’s only 5 chapters, you’ll figure it out). Therefore, if we can avoid people who aren’t really followers of Christ using the church as a political tool, then I’m all for it. This is a struggle that the church faces in other countries. Take Germany for example. In Germany, many politicians started out as pastors of churches, because as a pastor, they had a platform from which to speak and they commanded the authority of the people because of their position. God loves these people, and I love these people, but I don’t want the church being used in some sort of way to gain a political following. Therefore, if the platform for gay-left-handed baseball players from the Dominican Republic is one that is found apart from the church, then I’m all for that.
In short, to answer your question, to a large degree, YES, it is changing the complection of the church, and I’m all for it. As believers we need to not bicker over disputable matters like drilling for oil in the Alaskan Wilderness, or like eating only broccoli on the 3rd Wed of every month starting with the letter J. (See Romans 14, 1 Cor. 9-11; and Colossians 2). We need to share our faith with the vegetarians, but we donÂ?t need to provide them a place to look down their noses at other people.
I agree that it is good, good, good for religion to be able to untangle itself from political considerations. As much as liberals decry the “Fundamentalist Christian” voting block, I think that Evangelicals are remarkably free of political concerns, at least as far as their spiritual lives are concerned (nobody thinks he’s going to hell if he doesn’t support the progressive income tax).
But in a way, it’s a shame that our society has dug such a chasm between people who think that religion is important and people who think politics are important. Because people who pursue politics so often have nothing else — no greater purpose, no other calling. Which is part of the reason politics is becoming such a brutal, elbow-throwing, win-or-die business.
But there is an exception, and this example doesn’t make me feel optimistic about closing the politics-religion gap:
The answer to your question in a smaller degree is NO, especially in black communities. As long as we have individuals like the Rev. Jessie Jackson, and the Rev. Al Sharpton who blur the lines and use their Rev status as a trump card that somehow they have a direct line to God and he says that we should be liberal democratic panseys then the complection of the church hasn’t changed a lot in the last 2000 years. For these individuals, I would like to point out Matthew 7:21-23. The church has been viewed for too long as an organization that looks down their noses at people with paperback Bibles, and as an organization that bickers over meaningless things. I think in this regard as a church we have failed. John 13:35 tells us “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, by the way that you love one another,” but when most people look at the church, or even come to a church, they don’t see much love.