Today is July the 3rd. Tomorrow, most Americans will celebrate the birth of our nation. The day after that, most Churches will echo those celebrations with services bursting with national pride including patriotic music, tales of freedom bought at a high price, and special recognition of the brave men and women who keep us safe at night.
Sadly, most people reading this will not see anything wrong with the series of events I’ve outlined above.
I’m not sure if this is because we have been brought up with such an unashamed blending of nationalism and Christianity or whether we really do believe that the sacrifice and freedom bought by American soldiers holds a candle to the sacrifice and freedom bought by God’s only Son. I’m also not sure we really understand how our brethren around the world view this unashamed blending of the political and the Holy. And finally, I am not really sure most Americans really care that these events rival only Christmas in their display of the Church’s captivity by the American culture.
One of the best examples of this unholy blending is from the resolutions made during the recent Southern Baptist Conference 2009, the denomination I am a member of.
Join with the American Family Association in “calling on the Pepsi-Cola Company to remain neutral in the culture war in our country by refraining from promoting the gay/lesbian lifestyle and agenda.”
This may seem innocuous at first, but the AFA is a.) not the Church and b.) a VERY political organization.
The Order of Business Committee received a motion stipulating that the convention post the American flag, accompanied by an honor guard, at the convention’s annual meetings.
This motion was made in a denomination whose unifying goal is to reach the nations with the Gospel.
Produce only American-made Vacation Bible School resources.
It’s hard to tell whether this motion was made more out of misplaced national pride or a poor understanding of economics.
Declare a “Sanctity of Life Year” in the near future.
This, and many other motions, were intended as direct responses to actions of the current Presidential administration. While they may be good ideas in general, the fact that they are reactionary and politically motivated speaks poorly of our supposedly Christ-centered worldview.
Start a petition to “end abortion in America and the funding of Planned Parenthood, along with all other abortion-providing entities.”
Motions like make me raise the question “Why only America?” almost instinctively.
Condemning President Obama for declaring June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Month.
Who are we to condemn anyone? Additionally, what good does such a motion do other than reinforce a negative image in the GLBT movement’s mind?
Adopt the U.S. Christian Flag “as a tangible symbol to unify the American believers under one flag to fulfill the Great Commission.”
This last one is my favorite because it truly sums up the whoring we’ve done when it comes to fusing our Christianity with our national pride.
Greg Boyd, author of “The myth of a Christian nation“, produced an excellent sermon series entitled “The Cross and the Sword” where he outlines the unbiblical and often antithetical attitude fusing the kingdom of God (identified by the Cross) and the kingdom of the world (identified by the sword).
Shane Claiborne, author of “Jesus for President“, has also frequently addressed the problem of fusing the two kingdoms and he makes an interesting observation in one of his sermons. Specifically, fusing the two kingdoms has the unfortunate consequence of creating an unnatural tension within soldiers who are tasked with killing people in the name of Caesar. Because of this fusing of kingdoms, are also told that what they are doing is somehow “God’s will” so that, while they know killing is wrong and evil, we (that is, the Church) don’t even acknowledge the artifacts of a fallen world they are wrestling with because of our nationalistic blinders.
Now, to be fair, Aristotle once said “Man is by nature a political animal” and I believe this issue is more complex than simply advocating for some sort of Kantean wall to be built between our religious and political convictions. One of the best debates I’ve heard on the extent of involvement a Christian should have with the government was held between Shane Claiborne, Greg Boyd, and Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, at the National Pastor’s Convention. The subject of a Christian’s relationship and responsibility to the government under which they find themselves is complex and very nuanced1.
Even with all the complexity and nuances surrounding this issue of church and state and how we are to live as a whole being in both realms, we still know some things are just plain wrong.
For example, when we start producing themed Bibles like “The American Patriot’s Bible”2 we give fuel to those who stand back and equate Christianity with the Republican party and with America as a whole.
When politicians run for office using their “Christianity” as a selling point, why don’t we (as the Church) call them to the carpet and ask them to just stop? Or, as an atheist friend of mine3 once commented regarding the recent debacle with South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford
…like the Sanford guy, he’s quoting the bible and stuff, but if he REALLY believed at his core the bible type stuff then he would be more afraid of God than the media.
He would not have done that stuff at all.
He’s only upset he got caught.
This type of political posturing on the Bible is even worse when we consider that the majority of the founding fathers, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, etc. were deists, cutting out large portions of their Bibles they found untenable, or very liberal in their beliefs and interpretation of Scripture (also known as Episcopalian) at best. The common chord among the founding fathers was their belief and upholding of virtue as necessary for the forming of the republic. Since most of them were raised in a predominantly Christian culture, their sense of virtue was largely shaped by the Bible. We shouldn’t, however, draw from this correlation any inference that the founding fathers were any more or less devout in their following of Christ than the political leaders we see today.
The fact remains, however, that Jesus himself is the chief proponent of the separation of Church and state4 who avoided political issues5, taught that the sword was not a part of the kingdom he was ushering in6, told us to love our enemies7, did not advocate political rebellion8, and who willingly suffered the judgements of a corrupt government9.
Politics, national politics that is, has no place in the Church. One can easily make a case that the first time the Church was fused with a nation it severely damaged the Church. In fact, I would point out that every time in history where the Church has been wed to the state we have seen some of the worst atrocities and misrepresentations of Christ there have ever been.
Francis Schaeffer said it best in his book, “The Great Evengelical Disaster” pg. 118,
…we must stand against those who would naively baptize all in the past and that would wrap Christianity in the country’s flag.
We should also keep in mind 2Ti 2:4,
No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.
National politics are temporal, a trap to sap our time and energy in an otherwise good intention of changing the world and culture around us for good.
However the reality is that laws don’t change people, only Christ does. Let’s keep our eyes focused on Him Sunday and resist the urge to wrap our Christianity in our nation’s flag.
UPDATE (7/17): Since posting this blog I found a deconversion testimony from a former pastor that sums up much of the dangers I mention in this post with the following statement:
A precursor to my religious views changing was a seismic shift in my political views. My political views were so entangled with Fundamentalist beliefs that when my political views began to shift, my Fundamentalist beliefs began to unravel.
I can better describe my political and social views than I can my religious ones.
I hope that you are as grieved when you read those words as I am. The blending of politics and religion we have become infatuated with in this country has to stop.
- A great book on this subject is Francis Schaeffer’s ‘A Christian Manifesto‘ [↩]
- Here is an excellent commentary on this Bible by Boyd. [↩]
- The author of LegalizeThought.com [↩]
- Luk 20:25 [↩]
- Act 1:6 [↩]
- Mat 26:52 [↩]
- Mat 5:44 [↩]
- Joh 18:36 [↩]
- Which harmonizes with what Paul tells persecuted Christians in Rom 13:3-4 [↩]