Kingdom Confusion: Is the quest for political power destroying the church?

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.

March 29, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 35 comments

Daniel Fisher

June 05, 2006  8:06am

Is it truly that hard to understand what he is saying? If you have an opinion go vote that opinion and Say "Bob/Julie" voted for this item. Stop saying "God/Christianity" voted for this item. We are passing through, this is a preperation for what will come to pass, we are baptized and have since died to worldly things. Who truly thinks that creating laws to govern will change anything? Do you believe that if crusifixion was against the law Christ would not have been crusified, I think not. Making laws about abortion and such may help to achieve a view that things look Christ-like but it doesn't truly change that folks deep in thier heart will still want that. Only by power under and Christ-like love will anyone turn away from worldly ways. If all Christians must go into hidding as a result of the Government and societys laws, views and beliefs does it make them less Christian? They rose the Sword to defend Christ and he asked them to lay it down. Today nothing has changed lay down the sword. It is hard for the brain to grasp the idea as we have been taught by this world to fight for what is right, we need not fight we need to follow, Christianity does not need political leadership we have a leader, Christ. To put it simply, making laws to force non-believers to act Christ-like does not make them Christian, stop adding extra criteria to Christ, it turns away people who are in need of him. The fight is on the spiritual level against powers and pricipalitys, not people. Vote if you must, but remember Prayer is the only true campaign we have with the Lord. The world hated Him first, why would it look any differantly at us? Hmm let's go to the cross and ask. Great Book

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Doug

April 22, 2006  7:02pm

I agree with Mr. Boyd's position that the church has a principle responsibility to spread the good news of God's Kingdom, and the gift of salvation. The next life is certainly the more important one to plan for. That said, one can make an argument similar to the relationship of faith and works. (I believe the correct version to be that if your faith in the Lord is strong, the appropriate works will follow.) If one has moral values as a product of their christianity, they will wish to live by them. When it comes time to vote they will seek a representative that reflects their values. The political spectrum can be a double edged sword in this respect. We can insist that our values be enforced right up to the extremes of the dark ages, and start burning people at the stake for heresy. We can sit in our little hovels of apathy and watch the world go by (as it slides into ever greater depravity). Or, with the Holy Spirit leading us we can go out into our communities and persuade others that our lives whith Christ and our prospects for the future are in fact better than any others offered. The purpose of the church is to gather God's people for mutual support, edification, and to spread the good news of salvation. To use it as a branch office for politics dilutes it's primary purpose, and invites the insidious possibility of it becoming oppressive to matters of personal conviction.

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chris

April 07, 2006  12:43am

This is an interesting discussion. As an Australian looking at the American political scene and Christian involvement I can tell you I cringe. I'm afraid that I have to agree that the evangelical church has "sold its soul for a mess of potage." Christians are not to try and establish God's kingdom on earth, however we need as a group of people with views as valid as anyone else to express those views. One only has to look at history to see what happens when the church becomes entangled with the power structures of the day. The church becomes the whore of the state and forgets what their original purpose was - to preach the gospel. As an outsider looking in on the American scene it distresses me to see exactly that happening amongst the evangelical church in your country. You are known for what you are against, not what you are for. You seem to be fixated on a few moral issues and have forgotten about the gospel in its entirety. What about poverty, what about justice, what about a Christian response to war? What about rapacious capitalism, what about the vaunting of individual "rights" over everthing else! Not to mention the shaming statistic that morality amongst evangelicals is no better than non-christians. Thankfully, we haven't gone down the political power road here, although some people would like to, we just have to look at America to see how not to do it. Sorry for the negativity but you need to know how you are seen from a different point of view.

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Matt

April 04, 2006  1:52pm

Boyd is not advocating a "hands-off" political position for the individual. What he's saying is stop entangling the Gospel with the political, because it is adding a worldly element to the Gospel. You want to be a citizen and vote your conscience? Go for it. As a fellow brother or sister in Christ, however, I suggest if there were as much fervor for continuing the ministry of Jesus as there was in electing a representative body, the impact would be much greater (to an infinite degree). Israel had the one true God as their king, the all-knowing, all-seeing Jehovah. What happened when they asked for an earthly king? This is the message I see in the Bible: As believers, we are first citizens of the Kingdom of God. Our citizen responsibilities to America come secondary because the Kingdom of God is the only true power, and any authority given to America is first imbued by God, the ruler of all nations. As long as we all have that perspective, the politics fall into place. God holds the power, not a voting bloc. God can renew and redeem, not our politicians our even our Constitution. If we are working to advance the Kingdom of God, we are serving the only real authority, and we shall not fear hell or its attempt to open the gates to the Kingdom we defend.

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dlm

April 03, 2006  5:57am

When Christians push a position, what they are saying is that 'God hates that. He hates it so much that we are willing to do something about it.' Of course Christians could also say, 'God hates that. We will tell that to you if you come to our church or read our newsletter. However we will do nothing about it. If you don't come to us to hear what a grievous evil homosexuality is, please go ahead and stew in your own soup. And while you are at it please cook us in it too.'

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dcypl

April 02, 2006  3:48pm

Well! Canadians not militant! I'm married to one! Here in Australia we're just starting to feel the re-flewxing of Christian political muscles after almost 30-40 years of having a secular parliament. Its scary to see Christians pushing a policy on the non-regenerate. Abortion, homosexual marriage, all hot topics, but legislation will just get Christians offside against the rest of society.

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Ian

April 01, 2006  11:48am

Politically we Canadians are not as vocal, or militant, as our brothers and sisters to the south. The fact is that biblically as Christians we are described as being 'not of this world'. We must always speak and act in a way that identifies us with the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom, or agenda propagated by any political organization. Americans must repent of their political idolatry as much as Canadians need to repent of their political apathy. The sin is that believers in both countries have become so very comfortable in their conformity to their respective worlds that they have become hardened to its vices. By doing such, in both countries, we are giving the populace a cause to blaspheme the name of Christ.

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dlm

April 01, 2006  1:14am

‘Righteousness exalts a nation…' I am afraid the pun is enjoyable – ‘Right' – but the issue is important. ‘When the righteous prosper the city (nation) rejoices…' I cannot see how we encourage Christians to prosper, and then ask them to prosper in every area of life other than politics! How do we tell a Christian ‘be an excellent surgeon' or professor or accountant, then tell him ‘don't touch city management' or the national budget or military preparedness. Is there a blind spot here? Why is America a great nation? Is it because Christians left the management of public affairs to non-believers?

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Tim

March 31, 2006  7:26pm

josmith says "Our nice neighbors in Canada faced this very problem. They chose to do nothing about it. Their live and let live attitude is why they suffer so much today. They are mired so deeply in problems that they now must hope for a miracle." I am Canadian. What on Earth are you talking about? What problems are Canadians facing as a result of gay marriage? Will you provide examples of such 'problems' and explain how they are the result of gay marriage. Heterosexuals have been doing a fine job of ruining the 'institution' of marriage for decades. Maybe we should consider banning all marriages, period?

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Pastor Scott

March 31, 2006  5:44pm

The issue for most Christians is not whether to be Democratic or Republican. I think most believers could care less about the political parties. The real issue is whether the candidates are liberal or conservative. To be real honest there's probably not a nickels difference between the politicians in the different parties. The real differences come in how they view the issues. The stands they take and have taken. It would be foolish to vote for someone that we knew was not going to stand for our viewpoint on the issues or for someone who has traditionally in the past voted or stood for things that we disagree with. If we are wrong for wanting the politicians that stand for and hold our views to win elections then I guess we will be wrong. The truth is that many times this attitude, that I think is somewhat reflected in the article and in several of the comments, of –we shouldn't be doing what we're doing– is a ploy to get the conservatives to back down from their political views. Those who hold liberal views could care less what anyone says about what's right or what's wrong because quite simply at the end of the day their viewpoint is the only one that matters to them. With many conservatives they will beat themselves to death trying to decide if they are truly dishonoring God or not. In the end many of them will back down because they will feel their is some kind of inconsistency in being involved in politics. Then the liberals win. The reason the political parties are brought into it is to cloud the issue. Most conservatives will agree that we shouldn't blindly follow a particular political party, but you better believe that we should vote our conscience because those liberal minded people who are saying that conservative Christians shouldn't be involved in politics will turn right around and vote for the candidates that they want to win. Without a twinge of guilt. Because they don't believe in guilt. The comment was made that Satan is probably a Democrat (tongue in cheek), I don't really know about that but I would say that many a liberal better be careful about the views that they hold because Satan was really the first to question the meaning of God's Word: "Did God really say...?" Sounds like a liberal mind at work to me.

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