Is the church distracted from its mission by seeking to influence politics? Or has it not been engaged enough? Three leaders, from three generations, debate the role church leaders should play.
Homespun wisdom says that neither religion nor politics should be discussed in polite company. But what about religion and politics? This incendiary mix was the focus of a three-way discussion at the most recent National Pastors Convention in San Diego. While the conversation was polite, the panelist's divergent perspectives made for an at times tense engagement.
Seeing Charles Colson, Greg Boyd, and Shane Claiborne together (p. 21) illustrates their differing positions on faith and politics. Colson, in coat and tie, is a model of establishment propriety. Boyd, in blue jeans and a blazer, is informally relevant. Claiborne, in frayed dungarees and dreadlocks, places himself on the social margins.
Here are excerpts from their conversation, moderated by Krista Tippett, host of "Speaking of Faith," a program produced by American Public Media and broadcast on National Public Radio.
Chuck Colson: The cover of Newsweek called 1976 "The Year of the Evangelical." The evangelical vote was actually decisive for Jimmy Carter in that election. Christians had been in the fundamentalist hinterlands through most of the twentieth century. They stayed out of the political limelight. They didn't want to contaminate themselves, which was wrong. I don't think you can leave your moral convictions behind when you enter the voting booth. It was the abortion issue among other things that suddenly riveted the attention of Christians onto the public arena.
But things dramatically changed from '76 through the mid-eighties. I think now we're maturing. I think we've gotten out of that adolescent stage of being a power bloc or a special interest group. We're taking a much more sophisticated look at what it means to be a Christian in public life today.
Greg Boyd: In the early nineties, I went to a megachurch celebration on the Fourth of July. They sang patriotic songs. They displayed a cross and a flag together, and then they showed a video with patriotic music and a military general describing how God had given the U.S. the victory in the first Gulf War. At the end, four fighter jets in formation flew over three crosses. It freeze framed there and "God Bless America" appeared. The crowd stood up and cheered. I started crying. Then before the 2004 election, I was getting an unprecedented amount of pressure, as I think most pastors of large churches were, to steer the flock in a certain way politically. So I did a six-part sermon series called "The Cross and the Sword."
I explained that Christians are not here to rally around America or any other country; we're to rally around the kingdom of God. I told them why we're not to jump on a political bandwagon. Good, honest, and Bible believing people can have the same values but translate them into politics in different ways. Our job is to focus on living out the kingdom. That's our one bull's eye, our one duty to God. And we should let the politics take care of itself. Some people were absolutely aghast. About a thousand people left the church, about 20 percent.