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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Very Important Sign of the Times

I don't know if you saw this in the New York Times, but it gave me cause to feel encouraged.

There seems to be a rather frightening "lemming" effect in the present viral manifestation of evangelicalism which is currently sweeping Western Christianity.

This gives me hope that the term "Thinking Evangelical" is not an oxymoron.

You can click on the link at the end and read the entire article.

Disowning Conservative Politics, Evangelical Pastor Rattles Flock

Published: July 30, 2006

MAPLEWOOD, Minn. — Like most pastors who lead thriving evangelical megachurches, the Rev. Gregory A. Boyd was asked frequently to give his blessing — and the church’s — to conservative political candidates and causes.

The Rev. Gregory A. Boyd leads a congregation outside St. Paul.

The requests came from church members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary?

After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should 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. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”

Mr. Boyd says he is no liberal. He is opposed to abortion and thinks homosexuality is not God’s ideal. The response from his congregation at Woodland Hills Church here in suburban St. Paul — packed mostly with politically and theologically conservative, middle-class evangelicals — was passionate. Some members walked out of a sermon and never returned. By the time the dust had settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members.

But there were also congregants who thanked Mr. Boyd, telling him they were moved to tears to hear him voice concerns they had been too afraid to share.

“Most of my friends are believers,” said Shannon Staiger, a psychotherapist and church member, “and they think if you’re a believer, you’ll vote for Bush. And it’s scary to go against that.”

Sermons like Mr. Boyd’s are hardly typical in today’s evangelical churches. But the upheaval at Woodland Hills is an example of the internal debates now going on in some evangelical colleges, magazines and churches. A common concern is that the Christian message is being compromised by the tendency to tie evangelical Christianity to the Republican Party and American nationalism, especially through the war in Iraq.

At least six books on this theme have been published recently, some by Christian publishing houses. Randall Balmer, a religion professor at Barnard College and an evangelical, has written “Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America — an Evangelical’s Lament.”

And Mr. Boyd has a new book out, “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church,” which is based on his sermons.

“There is a lot of discontent brewing,” said Brian D. McLaren, the founding pastor at Cedar Ridge Community Church in Gaithersburg, Md., and a leader in the evangelical movement known as the “emerging church,” which is at the forefront of challenging the more politicized evangelical establishment.

“More and more people are saying this has gone too far — the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right,” Mr. McLaren said. “You cannot say the word ‘Jesus’ in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can’t say the word ‘Christian,’ and you certainly can’t say the word ‘evangelical’ without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people.

“Because people think, ‘Oh no, what is going to come next is homosexual bashing, or pro-war rhetoric, or complaining about ‘activist judges.’ ”

Mr. Boyd said he had cleared his sermons with the church’s board, but his words left some in his congregation stunned. Some said that he was disrespecting President Bush and the military, that he was soft on abortion or telling them not to vote.

“When we joined years ago, Greg was a conservative speaker,” said William Berggren, a lawyer who joined the church with his wife six years ago. “But we totally disagreed with him on this. You can’t be a Christian and ignore actions that you feel are wrong. A case in point is the abortion issue. If the church were awake when abortion was passed in the 70’s, it wouldn’t have happened. But the church was asleep.”

Mr. Boyd, 49, who preaches in blue jeans and rumpled plaid shirts, leads a church that occupies a squat block-long building that was once a home improvement chain store.

The church grew from 40 members in 12 years, based in no small part on Mr. Boyd’s draw as an electrifying preacher who stuck closely to Scripture. He has degrees from Yale Divinity School and Princeton Theological Seminary, and he taught theology at Bethel College in St. Paul, where he created a controversy a few years ago by questioning whether God fully knew the future. Some pastors in his own denomination, the Baptist General Conference, mounted an effort to evict Mr. Boyd from the denomination and his teaching post, but he won that battle.

read entire article at.....



DaveGolub said...

An interesting post, Elizabeth, but what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander. The pastor may be right that the church should keep its nose out of political battles. But that goes for "progressives" as well. Abortion, same-sex marriage, etc. Postions on these issues are taken by and preached about as much by progressives as by evangelicals. My question for you is this: When does speaking out about public issues become a matter of "justice" and when is it sticky politics? Is it a justice issue when it impacts me (or you) but impermissible politicking when it affects the other? I heard all the time from progressive Episcopalians how no "real Christian" should consider voting for GW. How is that any different?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

An intersting question. What say you?

DaveGolub said...

So, not a single response! Pehaps I am on to something.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Or, maybe it's summer.

Or, maybe there's not enough in this topic to bash someone with, which I fear is the not-so-hidden agenda of many who read these blogs.

BTW, Dave, I've never heard a progressive or liberal Christian say that "no Christian" should consider voting for GW.

I wouldn't. I didn't. But, that has nothing to do with my Christianity.

It has everything to do with my politics, which has everything to do with my intellect, meaning, the way I think.

My thinking is decidely influenced by my Christianity, of course, as well as my Christology, but I do try to adhere to the foundational principle of the seperation of religion and state.

I think everyone has an understanding about where that seperating line is.

For this pastor, it was Iraq.

For another pastor or person, it will be another issue.

Hope that's helpful to you.

DaveGolub said...

Stay in Rehobeth on vacation, Elizabeth. You really didn't address the core issue - how do we differentiate between issues of justice and politics. Or better said - can we ever really separate church and state when it comes to issues like abortion and same sex union/marriages? You see an issue like aboriton in terms of justice for women. Others see it as justice for the unborn. If you preach on the issue, is it politicking or is it the Gospel as you see it? Or both? Just like it is for the Evangelicals in the Times article.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You're right, Dave. I think I will stay on vacation - at least for as long as I can.

That was a "vacation" answer, but it was an answer.

It's all about where we draw the line in the seperation between church and state.

And, Dave, I say this with all respect and in kindness not easily communicated in cyberspace, perhaps a little time off would do you some good, too.

I don't want to fight with you.

I really did try to respond to your serious question with a serious answer.

DaveGolub said...

Elizabeth -
We cannot fight over this - I don't have a preconceived answer to the question I asked. I respect your intellect and talents (even though we don't necessarily agree on underlying issues), so I asked the question of you because you posted an article suggestive of the proposition that "conservatives/evangelicals" are "guilty" of mixing politics with religion.
I think every Christian's politics is informed and shaped by his/her faith. Yours and mine. You very clearly addressed the fact that your faith shapes your principles. What we have not discussed is when the line between politics and religion gets blurred.
No one could (or should) separate MLK's faith from his struggle for civil rights. He used his position, as a pastor and religious figure, to promote a political agenda and he used the language of faith to make his case. You employ the same technique/passion in advocating for justice issues - things you believe to be impelled by your faith. Is there a difference between what you do, what MLK did and what the evangelicals described in the article also do? Assuming the good faith and bona fides of each. That is the question I really am trying to find an answer to. I did't mean my vacation comment to either be dismissive of your answer or you - I meant merely that vacation time should be for rest and relaxation and not necessarily to address my question. If it sounded otherwise, I am sorry. It was not meant that way.