God in the Machine

Literally "God in the machine", Deus Ex Machina originally referred to Greek plays, where the "gods" would be lowered onto the stage with ropes in order to provide a quick resolution to the story. Today, Deus Ex Machina refers to any improbably and/or overly convenient character or mechanism that comes out of nowhere and saves the character(s).


"I don't get it, Big Dan..." -George Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Church and State???

I had a sudden realization at church (gasp, yes! It happens!) Sunday. I'm in favor of separation of state and church, but not church and state.

What do I mean? Well, I want the state to keep its hands off churches. I don't mind if other people search for God in ways that vary from the way I do. That's fine. Let them sprinkle if they want, wear robes, handle snakes, speak in tongues, whatever it takes. I just don't want the government to tell me where and how I can worship. Great, we're there now.

The flip side of this is that we have somehow gotten the idea that churches shouldn't bring up politics, or otherwise be involved in the political life of the community. THIS I don't agree with. While I rarely preach on devisive issues, there are certain political issues that should require the church to speak up.

Jesus wasn't killed for being in the wrong religion, and neither was St. Paul. They were killed for being politically dangerous, for seeing the evils of the government/empire and pointing them out and calling them to accountability. I have no problem doing this in a church setting when the time arises.

While my sermons are rarely political, I have no problem doing day sessions on topics such as, say, the death penalty or housing or racism in the community or whatever hits the community where our church sits. I think the church should speak for what it sees as truth, while respecting that others might see truth differently. The church should call the authorities to accountability where there is injustice, just as its leader did, even at the cost of his life.

Whenever I bring up a political topic in church, my congregation gets nervous. I wouldn't be surprised, this being a Baptist church, if one day I didn't get voted out for making waves. But that is just exactly my point. The church HAS to make waves when injustice is accepted practice. Who else will do it?

Now, I don't do sermons on issues like abortion or gun control. Both sides make valid arguments and ultimately it comes down to a matter of opinion. I don't want to lose the hearts of those in pews by making them pick sides in a political fight to stay a member. However, some things are no-brainers. Policies of local government that discriminate against the poor, against minorities, that fatten the coffers of an elite group at the expense of the working class, etc. NEED to be called on the carpet. I would say even beyond that that walking as Jesus walked REQUIRES the church to be a force for social justice, especially if it is controversial.

Separation of state and church, yes. On the other side, however, the church, in my mind, should be intimately involved with the government. Yes, the danger is that extremist groups like Pat Robertson's will gain power, but I never really saw them as anything to worry about. Robertson's groupies, ultimately, are a distinct minority, and we still live in a democratic nation. For all the drums we pound warning of the "religious right," the hyper-conservatives are ultimately few. I know, as a moderate/liberal pastor who left the Southern Baptist Church after the hyper-conservatives took over in the late 80s.

(Many on the Left use "religious right" to mean anyone who ever voted in favor of guns, or against abortion, or who serves in the military, or who goes to church anywhere at any time. In this case, maybe the religious right is a majority, but more likely it is a group that doesn't exist used to scare folks into voting with the Left)

That's all I have to say about that.


Blogger Jay Bullock said...

I wonder, then, how you feel about tax-exempt status for churches that actively engage in politicking? What you're up to, in my opinion, doesn't sound bad--it even sounds laudable. Yet there are other cases, like the infamous "Moral Majority"/ "Christian Coalition" voter guides set into the pews at many churches Sundays before election days, that, to me, cross a line.

If your (well, not your; one's) church wants to play at politics, that's fine by me. But then asking for tax-exemption goes a little far.

I guess another recent example would be the handful of Catholic bishops and other clergy taking to task only Democrats for their stances on abortion and gay rights.

I applaud churches looking to be a force for good; I dislike churches looking to be a force for partisanship.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Big Dan said...

Oh, that's an easy one. When churches go LOOKING for folks to persuade politically, that makes them political organizations and they should forfeit their right to tax-exempt status.

Also, churches that become more about politics than nuture of souls need to be accountable. I only use politics when it concerns the needs and responsibilities of the souls of those I have been given charge over.

Voter guides cross over the line. They try to list Christian responses to EVERY issue. Worse, they are often mailed out to people's homes. The simple truth is that there are often issues wherein two very committed, very loving Christians reach different opinions on the same topic. Until Pat Roberson starts getting text directly from God, instead of INTERPRETING on his own, I say ixnay on the otervay uidesgay.

2:22 PM  

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