Secular Politics and the Church

September 18, 2007 by · 7 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

I’m a bit concerned.

I have said in some places, but perhaps not this blog, something about my feelings on secular politics and the church.  The short version is that I feel that the church should teach its members how to make moral judgments, but that the church should NOT be involved in advocating a position on current secular political events.  In other words – the church should be for peace, but not for peace in the Middle East by creating a Palestinian state (to give one example).  The church is in the field of giving us moral toolkits, but should not be instructing us on exactly how to apply them to specific situations.  Otherwise, at some point we stop asking people to make proper personal decisions on secular matters and start dictating those decisions – we create essential tenets that have little to do with God but much to do with the country or world.  I know that my opinion is in the minority among church leaders, though I’m not so sure about the pew sitters in general.

My pastor said something in his sermon this past Sunday about the church and politics.

I want to ask us to consider a kind of variation on that Peter Drucker question [mentioned earlier].  To ask whether the business we’re also in as a community of faith is about changing our Common Life … our life together as a people … our participation in the body politic.  Does this message have something to say about how we participate in the political realm and in the social realm?

Also, the church has scheduled an event for the church to give their feedback on this issue to our pastor before he delivers a sermon series on the topic.

People to Preacher Symposium on Faith & Politics –

Convener: Jeff Vamos. Two Sections (choose one)

Tuesday, October 30, 6:30-9:00 pm (dinner); or Saturday,
November 3, 9-11:00 am.
What does the Bible say about the relationship between faith and politics? How have Presbyterians dealt with that issue? Is it appropriate to speak of politics from the pulpit? What did Jesus have to say on this? These are questions we will discuss in this symposium. Each one-time conversation is designed to provide Jeff with “grist for the sermon mill” before a twopart sermon series on Faith & Politics in early November.

Please call the church office, 896-1212 or email to register for one of the sessions. Preparatory reading material from the Book of Confessions will be expected.

I don’t think I’m alone – after he made this statement (and a few others) in the sermon the couple sitting next to me got fidgety and wrote a few notes to each other on their bulletin.  I got the idea that the pastor’s words made them uncomfortable.

This concerns me because I sense a desire for our church to make more political pronouncements and to become involved in political causes.  Other churches do this – some on the left and some on the right.

When I came to Lawrenceville, one of my concerns was the political strife in the church and beyond and the degree to which it would affect me as a member.  The church and society as a whole has been polarized into two sides:  The Right – evangelical, conservative, fundamentalist, Republican and the Left – progressive, less religious, tolerant, diverse, Democrat.  The leaders of government – particularly Republicans – have co-opted the Christian religious establishment as a voting block.  I was assured by the Interim Associates for Pastoral Ministry (temporarily filling the Associate Pastor role) that the culture of the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville intentionally chose to embrace members from all parts and ends of the political/religious spectrum.  That the congregation was willing to discuss controversial issues openly (as opposed to some congregations that avoid them) but in a manner where all points of view are respected.  Discussions, not fights.  Very even tempered.

What concerns me is that I based my decision to join this church on many factors, and chief among them was this “Big Tent” philosophy.  I know that Jeff Vamos (and apparently Mary Alice Lyman as well) falls on the left end of the political/theological spectrum.  The church in general tips towards the left end as well.  But there is still a respect for those who disagree, and an unwritten agreement that the congregation as a whole (and the Session too) will not take a corporate position on secular political issues.  It is probably impossible to impose a similar moratorium on theological positions, though the church does try to be inclusive of all in at least membership.

So I’m worried.  Is the church trying to change in a way that goes against one of the bigger reasons that I chose it?  Do we stop being the church where all are welcome and become the Church of the Left?  Do I need to leave if that happens?

I have signed up for the “symposium” described above.  We’ll have to see where it goes.