Monday, September 29, 2008

The Separation of Church and Sense

Let me begin with this disclaimer:
I love the church. By that I mean, not just the African-American church, but the church at large. I believe across the broad spectrum of faith and religious tradition, there is so much to learn from one another, and too often we allow our petty dogmas to get in the way.

That being said, I can't agree with every position of every church. I just believe we can have profound disagreements, regarding the interpretation of scripture, tradition and how we are to fulfill our mandate and still be brothers and sisters.

There are churches that are pushing this to the edge, however. They are churches that are deciding to take on the IRS on the issue of candidate endorsements.

Check out the CNN report:

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/politics/2008/09/29/carroll.pulpit.politics.cnn

Now I certainly understand the temptation to do this. And I also understand what may be best intentioned motivation. But the slippery slope the church begins to tread when it states a preference in a political candidacy of any kind is something that cannot begin without considerable prayer and...thought!

Do we really want different factions of the church at war with one another around the candidacy of politicians? Oh, don't get me wrong, I know it happens already, but once you blatantly begin going in this direction, your doing more than violating the law regarding 'separation of church and state'.

One Baptist pastor actually says, "...there's no way in the world a Christian can vote for Barak Hussein Obama." Really?! Do we really want to make that the determiner of whether or not one is 'Christian'? And what about non-Christians? Does a vote for the candidate this church endorses constitutes 'salvation'? You see what I mean?

And what about other churches for whom essential values, go beyond abortion, gay marriage, etc. What of those churches that believe social justice, racism, poverty and the environment are more pressing public issues?

Here's another thing: what if, one day, the president doesn't deliver on the issues that a church, or a pastor which served as the basis on which he or she received the endorsement? Oh, yeah... that's already happened a few times, to a number of us, Democratic and Republican! The problem is, we lose moral authority and we risk the capacity for prophetic witness, when the church is too closely aligned with empire - be it political, or commercial. And this is hardly a racial issue - I've heard black and white preachers cross this line.

The fact is, we are a pluralistic society. We compete politically in the public square with the interests of other groups, civic, religious, commercial and otherwise. You don't win, by declaring a holy war on everyone who doesn't believe the way you do. Nor is it wise, in a country founded on 'Judeo-Christian' principles, to declare that the only true 'believers' are the ones who vote the way you do.

Churches, whatever they teach, have the right to provide education on any issue that they feel impacts their community or the nation. Preachers have the responsibility to share their perspective on issues based on their interpretation of the scriptures. Responsible scholarship will should make sure that such interpretation is as accurate as possible. Responsible citizenship requires an informed electorate and that information should be in consonance with the values of the voter - including the values taught by his or her faith tradition. But beyond that, all pastors, ministers and church bodies, should be careful of entanglements that can come with endorsements.

We have recently seen a faction of our church entertain the world as theological contortionists - because in order to softly endorse a candidate, they have to deal with some issues that represent true doctrinal problems. But this is what happens when religion becomes hungry for secular power. Its hardly a new problem, but it is a real problem.

Those of us in the church who aren't spiritual enough to recognize the problem, ought to at least be too smart to keep falling into the same trap.

16 comments:

b. said...

What do you think of a prayer that "Thank you God for giving us a Godly man like George W. Bush for a president?"

Gerald Britt said...

I suppose it has everything to do with why you consider President Bush godly.

Gerald Britt said...

I do need to add, by the way, that whether or not we agree with a president, we as Christians have a responsibility to pray for our leaders.

Kai Stansberry said...

The disheartening thing about your post is the fact that this craziness is in fact effective. That there are SO MANY who will follow the words of a Christian “leader” without critically thinking it through...

It reminds me of 2004, when so many were somehow "duped" into the same type of character based, sheepish voting.

It was a sad thing to watch.

I just hope history doesn’t repeat itself...

Anonymous said...

Gerald, aren'r you a big proponent of black liberation theology?

Gerald Britt said...

I understand the aims of black liberation theology. The aims are to serve as a corrective to a corrupt eurocentric theology that taught slaves a place of subjugation through the intentional misapplication of scripture and sought (or seeks), to dehumanize those who are oppressed and deify the image of the oppressor.

Black liberation theology, to the degree that it is in anyway compatible with Biblically based theology, does not teach the superiority of the black race or any other race.

What it does teach is a Christianity that emphasizes the humanity of African-Americans and their relationship to God.

I believe that a true Biblically based theology however, is essentially acultural, seeking to 1) teach the true nature of God in Christ and
2) to get all who adhere to that nature as taught in the Bible to conform to that image.

There is obviously much more to it than that, but that's essentially how I view it and what I believe.

Anonymous said...

So Gerald, if I'm hearing you correctly, you are both a Marxist and a racist?

Gerald Britt said...

Only if by Marxism you mean that I believe that God's Heart for the poor is plainly spoken of in Scripture; that the use of religion to subjugate, dehumanize and oppress the poor is patently unjust and that God wants us to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth according to His Word.

I am racist, if by that you mean that I believe that it is ungodly to consider any race superior to another. And that true Christian faith means concern with the value and quality of every human life.

Any other assertion is so ridiculous that it doesn't deserve further comment.

Anonymous said...

Gerald, does this help to define your belief?
Black Liberation theologians James Cone and Cornel West have worked diligently to embed Marxist thought into the black church since the 1970s. For Cone, Marxism best addressed remedies to the condition of blacks as victims of white oppression. In For My People, Cone explains that "the Christian faith does not possess in its nature the means for analyzing the structure of capitalism. Marxism as a tool of social analysis can disclose the gap between appearance and reality, and thereby help Christians to see how things really are."
In God of the Oppressed, Cone said that Marx's chief contribution is "his disclosure of the ideological character of bourgeois thought, indicating the connections between the 'ruling material force of society' and the 'ruling intellectual' force." Marx's thought is useful and attractive to Cone because it allows black theologians to critique racism in America on the basis of power and revolution.

Gerald Britt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gerald Britt said...

Let me restate my position, I'm afraid the original comment was a little intemperate.

To Anonymous, (last one), thanks for clearing up the Black Liberation Theology stance. I really wasn't trying to give the previous Anonymous a definition of Marxist element in this discipline.

I think the problem is that there are those who believe that they have something to fear because of some preachers and some churches whose fundamental engagement has more to do with the affirmation of human personality that a strict adherence to the disciplines of such theological tenets.

The problem with trying to point out the intricacies of black theology and the black church, is that most churches do not preach or teach a 'pure strain' of it.

What happens at those churches is church. And people go to those churches for the same reason most people go to church. They tend to take in what they need for their daily existence and are not there for an esoteric argument on the fine points of Liberation Theology as practiced in Latin America vs. how it is practiced in Black America.

What they know is that they have been deeply hurt in their inability to live with dignity and self worth. Some of their wounds are self inflicted, some of their hurt is systemic and they need to know that God loves them and there is a community that accepts them.

What I weary of are people who have heard a 30 second clip of Jeremiah Wright, googled black liberation theology and think that they know Wright, Trinity or the black church in general.

courtney said...

Anon 7:01
It might be helpful if you define what you mean by "racist" and "Marxist". I haven't read anything in Gerald's post or subsequent comments that indicate to me that either of those terms fit his ideas.

Maybe we are not using these words to mean the same things?

(I'm going to be generous and assume that you're using them to mean something in particular, rather than throwing them out mindlessly as dismissive labels.)

Anonymous said...

Well my concern is that BLT as defined and practiced is
1. A perversion of basic Christian tenants
2. A representation of that which you criticize - that is the use of the Christian belief system as a vehicle for political objectives.
3. The use of "class warfare" to manipulate the middle class.
4. I cannot accept that the end justify's the means.

Gerald Britt said...

Anonymous,

Black Liberation Theology is a perversion of basic Christian Tenets, as taught by whom?

What has given rise to 'BLT' is the perversion of the Christianity that has become much more 'American Nationalistic Theology' that puts the U.S. at the center of Christian thought - and has found ways of extolling the virtues of capitalism and oppression over the value of human dignity

And why is it 'class warfare' when those of the lower class (and some of the middle classes as well), recognize the injustice of their treatment? When, for instance, people who feel themselves the subject of unfairness does it have to be dismissed as 'class warfare'. Aren't the ones who declare warfare the ones who visit the unfairness upon them? Or is it only 'class warfare' when those who recognize their situation say something about it?

One of the great sleight of hands of a dominant culture is to make those who are dominated feel as if what their going through is their own fault or something that is all in their heads.

The problem you have with BLT, is that it doesn't fit what has always been taught to your own advantage.

I hope you can take this the right way: no slave owner said 'Amen' when told that 'slaves obey your maasters' didn't mean what they thought it meant!

Believe it or not, there is an entire world out there which doesn't not accept whole hog, Christianity the way it has been taught in our country - and especially in the past several decades.

Anonymous said...

There are no slaves. The struggle and the oppression are products of the leftist intelligentsia to control the race. Racism and BLT Sir!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous,

That has got to be the most ridiculous, literalist apologetic I've ever heard