A "Non-Political" Approach to Politics

Discussion in 'Politics' started by ACADEMIC, Aug 24, 2006.

  1. ACADEMIC

    ACADEMIC
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    Congregational Letter – February 2006
    by Rich Nathan, pastor
    Vineyard Church, Columbus OH

    The news recently reported that a group of 31 pastors chose to file a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against the Rev. Rod Parsley’s World Harvest Church and two affiliated entities along with the Rev. Russell Johnson’s church, Fairfield Christian, and his Ohio Restoration Project. These 31 pastors seek to get the IRS to investigate whether the entities headed by Parsley and Johnson should lose their tax-exempt status. Further, they want the IRS to obtain a court injunction to stop “the churches’ flagrant political campaign activities.”

    As a Christian pastor, I was deeply troubled that a group of pastors would choose to sue other pastors. What, I wondered, is their view of the Body of Christ? What is their understanding of 1 Corinthians 6.1 in which the apostle Paul says:

    If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?

    As a Christian pastor, I have also been troubled by the continued over-identification of the challenged churches (in this case) with far right Republican politics. Where, I have wondered, is there a place for a thoughtful Christian Democrat in these churches? How does a non-Christian who has contrary political leanings hear the gospel without being thoroughly turned off? Do these churches really want to align themselves with politicians who may have mixed motives or unbiblical perspectives on various issues? Do we really have only two options – the option offered by the political left or the option offered by the political right?

    As a Christian pastor, it is my responsibility to explain to our church why we at Vineyard have not been “political” in the traditional sense and why we have chosen to not align ourselves in any way – either with the Republican or Democratic parties.

    There are several problems with a church’s active participation in politics as traditionally understood. Among them, the following could be mentioned:

    1. Dividing The Body And Obscuring The Gospel

    Many political issues offer no obvious biblical solution. In other words, thoughtful, committed Christians may (and do) legitimately disagree about the proper role of the government with respect to healthcare, school vouchers, taxation, foreign policy, domestic spying, the current administration, etc. When a church takes a stand upon such issues, it may unnecessarily divide the body and violate the scriptural value of church unity. Moreover, the church may tragically put a stumbling block in the way of the gospel. The unconverted may feel, as they listen to a politicized message, “I must go through two conversions: one to the political agenda of this church, and the second, to Christ.” We should always be extremely vigilant to guard against the “two conversions are necessary to be saved” temptation.

    2. The Problem Of Compromise

    The way politics is conducted regularly requires the compromise of values that we cherish. Indeed, politics is often called “the art of compromise.” While it may be absolutely legitimate for a Christian individual or politician to engage in political compromise on the principle that “a half of a loaf is better than none,” when the church compromises, it erodes its moral authority. People will say, “So, it’s OK to abort the unborn in the first trimester but you want it to be illegal in the last two trimesters. Where do you get that from?” While politicians may opt for this solution, churches cease to speak God’s Word when they compromise fundamental values. And, of course, political compromise often requires working together with politicians of dubious morals or working with those who hold positions contrary to the church’s perspectives. Does the church really want to align itself with politicians with whom it disagrees on a host of issues?

    3. Overly Legalistic Discussions

    The way that political issues are framed often leads to an overly legalistic and hair-splitting discussion of moral issues that is foreign to the way the church approaches these matters. For example, politics asks the question: Is a fetus a “person” deserving of legal protection? This then involves a complex discussion of legal precedents and congressional intention regarding the word “person” in the Constitution’s due process clause.

    As Richard B. Hays notes in his Moral Vision of the New Testament, when we ask, “Is the fetus a person?” we are asking the same kind of limiting, self-justifying question that the lawyer [in the story of the Good Samaritan] asked Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus, by answering the lawyer’s question with the parable, rejects legalistic attempts to limit our moral concern to “people like us.” In other words, to define an unborn child as a non-person narrows the scope of our love, whereas Jesus calls us to expand it by showing mercy to the helpless. Churches exist, in part, to teach people to create “neighborly relations” where none existed before (with the homeless, the prisoner, the AIDS sufferer, the fatherless, the poor, the immigrant, folks living in other countries, and the unborn). We are not in the business of narrowing our obligations through legalistic hair-splitting as politics often requires. Churches are in the business of always expanding our obligations by teaching the demands of mercy. Simply put, we in the church approach issues in a very different way than the world of politics does.

    Given these strong reservations, should a church engage in politics?

    1. It is impossible for a church to be non-political. The gospel that we preach is inherently political. We preach Jesus as King and the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom through him. This means that we preach ultimate allegiance to Jesus, which threatens and challenges all other allegiances: to family, to country, to job, and to political parties.

    2. The church can and does lift its voice and must speak plainly when we believe that a violation of biblical values is occurring. Thus, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. appropriately led the church to protest Jim Crow Laws as violations of the biblical doctrines of human dignity and equality. Likewise, the church must speak plainly and clearly whenever we see human life, freedom, or dignity threatened by the state or by our culture.

    3. Churches (and pastors) should serve as spiritual and moral advisors to Christian individuals who will lead political fights. It is Christian individuals, not the church or pastors that should engage in political fights. In this way, the church avoids dividing the body, we avoid compromising our value systems, we avoid implying that another conversion is necessary beyond coming to Christ, and we avoid hair-splitting discussion that are foreign to our approach to life. Christian individuals may have a calling to the world of politics. Churches (and pastors) generally do not.

    4. The place for the church to proactively engage the world is by redefining the public square. Nothing that I’ve said should be read to imply that the best course for a church is to withdraw from the larger society and simply offer a privatized or merely “spiritual” gospel. Rather, the Vineyard has chosen to change the terms of the discussion altogether. This is what our Community Center is all about. We want to completely redefine engagement with the public square. It is not necessary to debate the proper role of government in order for a church to set up a job training program. We need not get every Christian to agree on government provided healthcare for us to set up a free medical clinic. The church need not be divided or endlessly debate the wording of legislation to do justice by tutoring kids, offering free legal services, helping people to get their GEDs, or serving unwed moms in crisis pregnancies. And we need not be aligned with any political party or be beholden to any politician to practice racial reconciliation or assist families struggling with mental illness, poverty, or domestic violence.

    My hope is that the broader Christian church will impact the world in a thousand ways by carving out an approach to politics very different than the two Christian factions currently at war in the city of Columbus.

    NOT COPYRIGHTED
     
  2. ACADEMIC

    ACADEMIC
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    Any thoughts?
     
  3. Revmitchell

    Revmitchell
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    Sure I have some thoughts. My thoughts are this guy refuses to call murder, murder. We have these same debates on this board and the only ones wiling to split hairs over when life begins is those tring to justify murder.

    Everything else he said was drowned out by his nonesense.
     
  4. billwald

    billwald
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    ripping off taxpayers

    Doesn't it bother anyone else that these TV preachers are living like kings by running businesses under the guise of being a "church?"
     

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