Midterm elections are heating up across the country, and many analysts expect evangelical voters to remain a potent political force. But not everyone is encouraged by the church's ascent in recent years to political power. Gregory Boyd, senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, has written a new book addressing the dangers of intermingling the gospel and the GOP. The Myth of a Christian Nation (Zondervan, 2006), outlines Boyd's concerns and chronicles his pastoral attempts to extricate the cross from the flag. Below is an excerpt.
Like many evangelical pastors in the months before the 2004 election, I felt pressure from a number of right-wing political and religious sources, as well as from some people in my own congregation, to "shepherd my flock" into voting for "the right candidate" and "the right position." Among other things, I was asked to hand out leaflets, to draw attention to various political events, and to have our church members sign petitions, make pledges, and so on. Increasingly, some in our church grew irate because of my refusal (supported by the church board) to have the church participate in these activities.
In April of 2004, as the religious buzz was escalating, I felt it necessary to preach a series of sermons that would provide a biblical explanation for why our church should not join the rising chorus of right-wing political activity. I also decided this would be a good opportunity to expose the danger of associating the Christian faith too closely with any political point of view, whether conservative or liberal. The series was entitled, "The Cross and the Sword."
The response surprised me.
For one thing, I had never received so much positive feedback. Some people literally wept with gratitude, saying that they had always felt like outsiders in the evangelical community for not "toeing the conservative party line." Others reported that their eyes had been opened to how they had unwittingly allowed political and national agendas to cloud their vision of the uniquely beautiful kingdom of God.
But neither had I ever received so much intensely negative feedback. I felt as though I'd stuck a stick in a hornet's nest! About 20 percent of my congregation (roughly a thousand people) left the church.
Many who left sincerely believe there is little ambiguity in how true Christian faith translates into politics. Since God is against abortion, Christians should vote for the pro-life candidate, they believe - and the preacher should say so. Since God is against homosexuality, Christians should vote for the candidate who supports the marriage amendment act - and a Bible-believing pastor should proclaim this. Since God is for personal freedom, Christians should vote for the candidate who will fulfill "America's mission" to bring freedom to the world - and any American pastor, like myself, should use his "God-given authority and responsibility" to make this known. "It's that simple," I was told. To insist that it's not, some suggested, is to be (as I was variously described) a liberal, a compromiser, wishy-washy, unpatriotic, afraid to take a stand, or simply on the side of Satan.
My thesis, which caused such an uproar, is this: I believe a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry. To a frightful degree, I think, evangelicals fuse the kingdom of God with a preferred version of the kingdom of the world (whether it's our national interests, a particular form of government, a particular political program, or so on). Rather than focusing our understanding of God's kingdom on the person of Jesus - who, incidentally, never allowed himself to get pulled into the political disputes of his day - I believe many of us American evangelicals have allowed our understanding of the kingdom of God to be polluted with political ideals, agendas, and issues.