This week I will start a new series. I realize that in some cases I may be ‘walking on egg shells’. Sometimes that is necessary to get a point across. I started this blog nearly four years ago when a pastor removed Christian published voter guides from the church’s Narthex and informed me that politics did not belong in the church. Having studied the history of this nation, I knew that it was with the encouragement of the Christian churches and Christian leaders, many of whom had seminary degrees or where ordained pastors, that the people decided to take a stand against tyranny and establish a nation based on Judeo/Christian principles. At worse, among the founders, were those who were ‘borderline’ Christians. That day at church I made two decisions. One, I decided to terminate my 23 year membership in that church…I will probably never join another church, and I decided to research and write about the involvement, or lack of involvement, of the church in politics. Let me make it clear…I am not in favor of a theocracy. God gave us a format for government in His Word…and we can see the failure of theocracies around the world. I believe that it is the responsibility of the ‘Church’ to be the conscience of our government. Certain subjects are left up to man as long as man does not violate the will of God. (It’s OK for man to be in charge of stop lights.) When man starts to step over the line…such as in the policies concerning life…it is the responsibility of the Church to remind the government as to the will of God. When this does not happen, government ‘goes wild’ and does what is right in its own eyes. When I started gathering information on this series I had no idea that I would find so much on the Churches’ involvement in politics. Finding over 200 years of church involvement in politics, I could not figure out what the basis of this minister’s declaration of ‘politics doesn’t belong in the church’ was founded. This series, which will take several weeks, is not meant to condemn any one denomination…I’m sure that other denominations are just as much in fear of politics…but to show how one denomination has evolved from its civic duties to one of ‘hiding’ within the walls of a building. I began to wonder at what point did the Church become fearful of responding to its responsibilities and obligations to society? How did one get ordained in a denomination without being aware of the denomination’s history? Did the simple word ‘offensive’ put fear into the heart of the Church? What about threats from secular lawyers? Hopefully as we go through this series we can find out what it is that the Church fears.
Before we get started let me once again go over a couple of definitions. “Politics” is the methodology by which humans relate to each other. We all have a part to play in this methodology, either as leaders or as followers with the followers actually being the people in charge of policy through exercising their right to vote. The leaders are the employees and the followers are the employers. Some politicians can’t seem to grasp that position. Next is “Church”. The “Church” is the people, be they of whatever religion. The “church” is the meeting place they occupy when they come together. I will have to be careful as I write to try to delineate the two. As it is, the people set the tone for the “church”. As I write I will try as best I can to not focus in on any one denomination, as I believe most established Christian denominations have fallen down in their obligations to society. As I was reminded one day, the ‘fight is against powers and principalities’. What we are missing is the ‘fight’. ‘Powers and principalities’ are exercising fearlessness in the battle and many Christians are sitting back waiting for someone to take up the battle. Sometimes, as it has been throughout the ages, the answer to prayer is to take the strength God gives us and charge into battle. I so respect those organizations that are Christian in nature and take a stand for Christians who are being attacked for their Godly principles. Another area we will touch on is “love” and “hate”…two very misunderstood terms in today’s world. We are told to hate evil and do good to our enemies. That’s not easy to do…after all, we are human. But what is love? Is it that everything goes and we choose to accept any and all evil? What kind of love lets our fellow man continue to live in poverty, especially the ‘comfort of poverty’? In our love do we relieve some of their obligations of responsibility? And when we remind some of the sin they are living in, are we expressing hate? Is it love to let someone living in blatant, unrepentant sin go into eternity with hell as their destination? Hating evil is good, loving sin is bad. We each owe each other a true and honest evaluation when fault is found. Christian brothers and sisters can do that without animosity because we know it is done in love…iron sharpens iron.
Once again, I write this not to condemn any denomination but to inform. I will stay factual and the writing is meant to inform. It is up to each individual to decide what value it has. May it help others who struggle in the future to determine the right social witness their Church should present to the nation and the world. I hope it will inspire, as my experience nearly four years ago, did me.
I had at an early age heard my parents and grandparents refer to the ‘Old Time Methodists’. They were right in there with the Baptists and Pentecostals. I was impressed with the Methodists and their devotion to the Word of God. Methodists led the great revivals of the early nineteenth century…that’s 1800’s…and deeply shaped America’s nineteenth century moral and cultural ethos, focused not only on personal morality but also reforming civic righteousness. That’s politics. Wesley and Asbury were, with rare exception, studiously non-political and hoped their clergy would be likewise. But they vigorously affirmed Methodists’ culture-shaping responsibilities , and Methodist lay people, sometimes with encouragement from the clergy, early on became political and community leaders, advocates for political reform, and enthusiasts for America as the chosen nation. An American flag in the church represented God’s gift to a blessed nation.
Methodists would lead the antislavery cause and the early women’s rights movement. They were also moralists who sought to suppress gambling, lewd public entertainments, salacious literature, prostitution and all sorts of social vices. Advocating temperance and opposing the liquor trade predictably became a passionate cause for Methodists. While Methodists were always divided over slavery and racial relations (Methodism split in 1844 between the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South, not reuniting until 1939), they were always united over liquor and the accompanying social vices. In the early twentieth century, Methodists would become chief champions of national Prohibition, a fourteen year experiment whose initial enactment represented the zenith of Methodist political influence. Prohibition’s eventual failure left the church confused and, for most of the following 80 years, divided over its proper political role.
Next week we will look at the period of time when the Methodists labored extensively in opposition to the liquor industry. A Church involvement in politics is not always bad…and at times is called for.
– Bob Munsey
Note: Are you offended by the word “murder”? Does changing it to the words “women’s health” make it less offensive? Words mean something and the context in which they are used does not change the truth of the basic meaning.