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Dante’s Hottest Spots in Hell

16 November 2007

The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.
Dante Alighieri

This morning’s Oregonian had an article that should have warmed my soul…but it didn’t. It was an article entitled, “Evangelical Pastors Steer Clear of Politics.” The gist of the article was that the traditional evangelical voices are split on who to support for president in 2008 and “a new generation of pastors turns away from politics altogether.”

The article (LA Times-Washington Post syndicate) is by-lined in Colorado Springs, in recent years a hot-bed of right-wing evangelical activity. Let me quote just a couple of paragraphs:

“‘As far as me standing in the pulpit holding a voter guide, that’s not going to happen,’ said Brady Boyd, 40, who leads a congregation of 10,000 at New Life Church. [This is Ted Haggard’s former church]. He will use his position to teach the Bile to worshipers. ‘I won’t use it to influence their vote,’ he said.

“That suits many in his congregation just fine. ‘If he starts talking politics, that makes me very uneasy,’ said Wolfgang Friesinger, 56, a political independent.

“‘It’s not his place to tell us who to vote for,’ said Marsha Thorson, 54, a Republican who is leaning toward Guiliani.

“One third of born-again Christians younger than 30 told [pollster George] Barna that they are embarrassed to call themselves believers.

“‘They’re tired of the hard-edged politics that th Christian right has practiced in the last couple of generations,” said John Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, ‘They see all this division, all this anger, without a lot to show for it.’

“Mega-church pastors have capitalized on that frustration by offering a different brand of Christianity. With sunny, affirming services, they cast a broad welcome net–and fill arena-sized sanctuaries each Sunday.

“They might promote a cause, such as AIDS relief in Africa. But endorse a candidate? BPush a partisan agenda? That could empty half their pews. Few up and coming pastors want to risk such a backlash.”

cph: There is so much to react to in just that brief quote (maybe 1/8 of the article) . But the biggest disappointment is to hear that younger pastors are more interested in building personal mega-church kingdoms than preaching the news of the kingdom. To say that John the Baptist did not meddle in the politics of his day is not to know your Bible. To say that Jeremiah, Elijah, Isaiah, and on and on through the list of prophets, did not speak politically is to be ignorant of the content and context of those books of the Bible.

As someone who is no admirer of Pres. Bush and his failed policies, (and hasn’t been for a long time) it should make me glad to see that churches are more and more ashamed of being associated with him. But the answer is not to retreat into silence. The answer is to preach the Bible. The above excerpts promote an error that most pastors know…we cannot legally endorse ANY candidate as a church. Individual pastors can do so, as long as it is outside of the context of their church and it is clear that they are not speaking on behalf of their church. But if a church endorses a specific candidate, it endangers its 502(c)(3) status. (Although I don’t see John the Baptist worrying about that). But issues (just not specific candidates) can and must be addressed.

Simply to recognize that the right-wing politicians (including James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, etc.) have been terribly wrong-headed and done tremendous damage to the church of Christ is NOT to say that preachers should self-silence themselves politically. But perhaps it is to say that they should read their Bible’s more AND THEN preach sermons that reflect the Bible’s concern with issues like justice, peace, mercy and concern for the poor.

For a secular newspaper reporter to recognize young evangelicals are shutting their mouths about speaking how the Bible addresses the political issues of the day because it threatens their popularity and financial base is truly a sad day for America…and for the church.

Mega-churches, Politics

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