Politics and the Church – Where’s the Church? [Part 3]

In the movie The Patriot the fictional Benjamin Martin and his family take a stand to secure freedom.  In one scene Benjamin’s son Gabriel interrupts a worship service in a small country church to make a plea for volunteers to help fight the British.  Hesitant at first, the passionate call by a young lady encouraged many to volunteer as they gathered in the front yard of the church.  The last to volunteer was the parson…complete with musket.  While this is a fictionalized story, there are many parallels to reality.  In truth the fight for our freedom was birthed in church houses from Boston to Charleston.  No one stopped to ask the question…since this is politics should we get involved?

The Reverend Oliver Hart, the pastor of what is now known as the First Baptist Church of Charleston, was dispatched by the Provincial Congress of South Carolina to help recruit volunteers to fight the British.  He traveled across the upstate and delivered messages about the need to “enforce the necessity of a general union in order to preserve themselves and their children from slavery.” [“Oliver Hart Collection: Biography”, James B. Duke Library, accessed December 17, 2016].  He preached politics from the pulpit back in 1775.  When the Founding Fathers needed to round up an army to fight for our freedom, they called on the Baptists.

We are reminded of the story of the Muhlenberg brothers…both pastors, one in Virginia and one in New York City.  After preaching a sermon to his congregation from Ecclesiastes 3, the Virginia brother declared:”There is a time to fight, and that time has now come!”.  He removed his clerical robes to reveal the uniform of a Continental Army military officer and that day recruited 300 men from the congregation.  His New York City brother thought that was disgraceful…right up to the time that the British marched into New York City and burned down his church.  With that he  joined the Continental Army.  Why does it seem to require a political tragedy to open the eyes of some Christians as to the interface of politics and the church?

When the Founding Fathers needed to round up an army to fight for our freedom, they frequently called on the Baptists.  In “From Dissenters to Patriots: Baptists and the American Revolution” explains why Baptists grabbed their guns.  They were convinced that the American Revolution heralded liberty from Britain, but more importantly, liberty for their religion, the true faith of the gospel.  They accepted the war as a Godly cause as they began to see the new American nation as a place uniquely favored by God. [Thomas S. Kidd,”From Dissenters to Patriots: Baptists and the American Revolution”, Georgetown College, accessed December 17, 2016].  Books have been written about how the pulpit was used as an instrument to bring about the Revolution that gave us the United States.

Then just a couple of years ago our president…you guess who…said America is no longer just a Christian nation.  Our Founding Fathers must have been rolling over in their graves in anger.  There is no dispute that many of our Founding Fathers were devout Christians who favored our founding documents with truths gleaned from almighty God and His Word.  Yet so many Christians and Christian leaders have disengaged.  They’ve avoided discussing or debating the culture war…fearing they might offend someone.  Many evangelical Christian voices have been silenced…by their own hand.  Many have bought into the wrong-headed notion that we should practice our faith only inside the walls of a building…the church.  There is now a prevailing belief…among Democrats and some Republicans…that Christianity should be erased from the public market place.  Can you imagine what a world would look like without Christianity’s influence?

For starters, we wouldn’t have volunteers working in prisons to rehabilitate the incarcerated, there would be fewer free clinics and hospitals because it has been Baptist, Methodist, Catholic and other Christian organizations that have been leaders in building medical facilities, not Buddhists, Muslims, or atheists.  The same goes for ‘soup kitchens’, rescue missions, adoption agencies, and disaster relief organizations.  And once religious organizations shut their doors, good luck in getting a moral education in public schools.  When Christians keep to themselves, everybody loses. [John Stonestreet,”You Really Want Us To Keep Our Faith To Ourselves?”, BreakPoint, April 8, 2015].

John Inazu, an associate professor of law and political science at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri, warned that Christians who have avoided the culture wars may no longer have that choice.  Next week we will look at some of those cracks in the foundation.  It’s time for the church and the Church to step up to the plate.  This is ‘hard ball’ not ‘wiffle ball’!

– Bob Munsey

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