Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Presbyterians Taking a Stand

One of the problems with organized religion is that it is often times neither very organized nor religious.

The Presbyterian Church USA has for quite some time supported as a part of our National Ministries Division, a Washington Office. Over the years, this office has served as a lobbying arm, purportedly to advance the official stances of the denomination. However, in practice, the Washington office appears to have become somewhat of an entity unto itself, creating programs and taking stances beyond the mandates of the General Assembly.

I'm sure that the people in the Washington office are sincere people who are honestly trying to do a good job -- I believe that they are truly trying to make a difference in this sin-sick world the best way they know how. I'll even bet that were I able to sit down with the people in the office over a beer or two, I'd have a grand time hearing their stories and getting to know them.

However, I must confess that the idea of a denominational Washington Office offends me. Not that I don't think that Christians have something to say to politicians. I believe that Christians should be deeply involved in politics -- in the politics of both parties. This is after all what being "salt and light" is all about. And I consider muzzling of faith in the public arena to be complete rubbish -- all moral statements find their basis in some religious belief -- all the hot political questions find their ultimate roots in the questions of "what does it mean to be human" "What is justice" "What are our human responsibilities to each other" -- all of these are religious questions. No, Christians must speak the Christian worldview into the political arena.

My problem is that when the institutional church gets involved in politics it does several things 1) it creates unhealthy alliances between worldly polticial parties and churches - Niccolo Machiavelli, in his Discourses on Livy, writes three chapters to the idea that republics must use religion as a tool to maintain social order. Otto Von Bismarck called politics the art of compromise -- and I suggest that it is dangerous for religous institutions to play this game of compromise. 2) it tempts us to place our trust in places other than God. Joel Belz in this month's World magazine has a terrific article demonstrating the subtle idolatry of large institutional structures -- we begin to consider the institution as savior rather than looking to the Living God as our savior. 3) It invariably assaults the conscience of many members of the church by repeatedly choosing one political party over another -- thus creating divisiveness within the body 4) It distracts us from the main mission of the church which is proclaiming the gospel for the salvation of mankind and the building up of the saints for ministry.

Are there times and seasons when the church must with a unified voice speak to social issues? Certainly. However, it appears that the Washington Office has not been in step with the voice of the denomination on certain key issues -- the definition of marraige being one. I encourage you to read this thoughtful post by Michael Walker regarding recent actions of the Washington Office, and prayerfully consider signing the petition he mentions. This is a simple and effective way to communicate your feelings to denominational leadership.

Thanks for your time and consideration on this rant -- a bit off my usual subject matter, but important to me.

Soli Deo Gloria