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 Disowning Conservative Politics Is Costly for Evangelical Pastor

(http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/30/us/30pastor.html?ei=5070&en=66046c9d043af045&ex=1154836800&pagewanted=all)


By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
MAPLEWOOD, Minn. — Like most pastors who lead thriving evangelical megachurches, the Rev. Gregory A. Boyd was asked frequently to give his blessing — and the church’s — to conservative political candidates and causes.

The requests came from church members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary?

After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.

“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”

Mr. Boyd says he is no liberal. He is opposed to abortion and thinks homosexuality is not God’s ideal. The response from his congregation at Woodland Hills Church here in suburban St. Paul — packed mostly with politically and theologically conservative, middle-class evangelicals — was passionate. Some members walked out of a sermon and never returned. By the time the dust had settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members.

But there were also congregants who thanked Mr. Boyd, telling him they were moved to tears to hear him voice concerns they had been too afraid to share.

“Most of my friends are believers,” said Shannon Staiger, a psychotherapist and church member, “and they think if you’re a believer, you’ll vote for Bush. And it’s scary to go against that.”

Sermons like Mr. Boyd’s are hardly typical in today’s evangelical churches. But the upheaval at Woodland Hills is an example of the internal debates now going on in some evangelical colleges, magazines and churches. A common concern is that the Christian message is being compromised by the tendency to tie evangelical Christianity to the Republican Party and American nationalism, especially through the war in Iraq.

At least six books on this theme have been published recently, some by Christian publishing houses. Randall Balmer, a religion professor at Barnard College and an evangelical, has written “Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America — an Evangelical’s Lament.”

And Mr. Boyd has a new book out, “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church,” which is based on his sermons.

“There is a lot of discontent brewing,” said Brian D. McLaren, the founding pastor at Cedar Ridge Community Church in Gaithersburg, Md., and a leader in the evangelical movement known as the “emerging church,” which is at the forefront of challenging the more politicized evangelical establishment.

“More and more people are saying this has gone too far — the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right,” Mr. McLaren said. “You cannot say the word ‘Jesus’ in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can’t say the word ‘Christian,’ and you certainly can’t say the word ‘evangelical’ without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people.

“Because people think, ‘Oh no, what is going to come next is homosexual bashing, or pro-war rhetoric, or complaining about ‘activist judges.’ ”

Mr. Boyd said he had cleared his sermons with the church’s board, but his words left some in his congregation stunned. Some said that he was disrespecting President Bush and the military, that he was soft on abortion or telling them not to vote.

“When we joined years ago, Greg was a conservative speaker,” said William Berggren, a lawyer who joined the church with his wife six years ago. “But we totally disagreed with him on this. You can’t be a Christian and ignore actions that you feel are wrong. A case in point is the abortion issue. If the church were awake when abortion was passed in the 70’s, it wouldn’t have happened. But the church was asleep.”

Mr. Boyd, 49, who preaches in blue jeans and rumpled plaid shirts, leads a church that occupies a squat block-long building that was once a home improvement chain store.

The church grew from 40 members in 12 years, based in no small part on Mr. Boyd’s draw as an electrifying preacher who stuck closely to Scripture. He has degrees from Yale Divinity School and Princeton Theological Seminary, and he taught theology at Bethel College in St. Paul, where he created a controversy a few years ago by questioning whether God fully knew the future. Some pastors in his own denomination, the Baptist General Conference, mounted an effort to evict Mr. Boyd from the denomination and his teaching post, but he won that battle.

He is known among evangelicals for a bestselling book, “Letters From a Skeptic,” based on correspondence with his father, a leftist union organizer and a lifelong agnostic — an exchange that eventually persuaded his father to embrace Christianity.

Mr. Boyd said he never intended his sermons to be taken as merely a critique of the Republican Party or the religious right. He refuses to share his party affiliation, or whether he has one, for that reason. He said there were Christians on both the left and the right who had turned politics and patriotism into “idolatry.”

He said he first became alarmed while visiting another megachurch’s worship service on a Fourth of July years ago. The service finished with the chorus singing “God Bless America” and a video of fighter jets flying over a hill silhouetted with crosses.

“I thought to myself, ‘What just happened? Fighter jets mixed up with the cross?’ ” he said in an interview.

Patriotic displays are still a mainstay in some evangelical churches. Across town from Mr. Boyd’s church, the sanctuary of North Heights Lutheran Church was draped in bunting on the Sunday before the Fourth of July this year for a “freedom celebration.” Military veterans and flag twirlers paraded into the sanctuary, an enormous American flag rose slowly behind the stage, and a Marine major who had served in Afghanistan preached that the military was spending “your hard-earned money” on good causes.

In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.

“America wasn’t founded as a theocracy,” he said. “America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state.

“I am sorry to tell you,” he continued, “that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.”

Mr. Boyd lambasted the “hypocrisy and pettiness” of Christians who focus on “sexual issues” like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson’s breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl halftime show. He said Christians these days were constantly outraged about sex and perceived violations of their rights to display their faith in public.

“Those are the two buttons to push if you want to get Christians to act,” he said. “And those are the two buttons Jesus never pushed.”

Some Woodland Hills members said they applauded the sermons because they had resolved their conflicted feelings. David Churchill, a truck driver for U.P.S. and a Teamster for 26 years, said he had been “raised in a religious-right home” but was torn between the Republican expectations of faith and family and the Democratic expectations of his union.

When Mr. Boyd preached his sermons, “it was liberating to me,” Mr. Churchill said.

Mr. Boyd gave his sermons while his church was in the midst of a $7 million fund-raising campaign. But only $4 million came in, and 7 of the more than 50 staff members were laid off, he said.

Mary Van Sickle, the family pastor at Woodland Hills, said she lost 20 volunteers who had been the backbone of the church’s Sunday school.

“They said, ‘You’re not doing what the church is supposed to be doing, which is supporting the Republican way,’ ” she said. “It was some of my best volunteers.”

The Rev. Paul Eddy, a theology professor at Bethel College and the teaching pastor at Woodland Hills, said: “Greg is an anomaly in the megachurch world. He didn’t give a whit about church leadership, never read a book about church growth. His biggest fear is that people will think that all church is is a weekend carnival, with people liking the worship, the music, his speaking, and that’s it.”

In the end, those who left tended to be white, middle-class suburbanites, church staff members said. In their place, the church has added more members who live in the surrounding community — African-Americans, Hispanics and Hmong immigrants from Laos.

This suits Mr. Boyd. His vision for his church is an ethnically and economically diverse congregation that exemplifies Jesus’ teachings by its members’ actions. He, his wife and three other families from the church moved from the suburbs three years ago to a predominantly black neighborhood in St. Paul.

Mr. Boyd now says of the upheaval: “I don’t regret any aspect of it at all. It was a defining moment for us. We let go of something we were never called to be. We just didn’t know the price we were going to pay for doing it.”

His congregation of about 4,000 is still digesting his message. Mr. Boyd arranged a forum on a recent Wednesday night to allow members to sound off on his new book. The reception was warm, but many of the 56 questions submitted in writing were pointed: Isn’t abortion an evil that Christians should prevent? Are you saying Christians should not join the military? How can Christians possibly have “power under” Osama bin Laden? Didn’t the church play an enormously positive role in the civil rights movement?

One woman asked: “So why NOT us? If we contain the wisdom and grace and love and creativity of Jesus, why shouldn’t we be the ones involved in politics and setting laws?”

Mr. Boyd responded: “I don’t think there’s a particular angle we have on society that others lack. All good, decent people want good and order and justice. Just don’t slap the label ‘Christian’ on it.”

 2006/7/29 17:14
PaulWest
Member



Joined: 2006/6/28
Posts: 3405
Dallas, Texas

 Re: Disowning Conservative Politics Is Costly for Evangelical Pastor

Very good article, brother Bartle. Thanks for posting it.


_________________
Paul Frederick West

 2006/7/29 18:01Profile
Compton
Member



Joined: 2005/2/24
Posts: 2732


 Re:

Quote:
Disowning Conservative Politics Is Costly for Evangelical Pastor



Perhaps what this article is describing is not a move out of politics, but a shift in politics for some American churches.

MC


_________________
Mike Compton

 2006/7/29 18:17Profile
JoeA
Member



Joined: 2004/11/29
Posts: 364
Decatur, Illinois

 Re: Disowning Conservative Politics Is Costly for Evangelical Pastor

While i disagree with some of Mr. Boyd's beliefs, i wish more pastors across the nation would stand up and do the same.

Quote:
“I am sorry to tell you,” he continued, “that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.”



AMEN.


_________________
Joe Auvil

 2006/7/29 18:24Profile
ChrisJD
Member



Joined: 2006/2/11
Posts: 2895
Philadelphia PA

 Re: Disowning Conservative Politics Is Costly for Evangelical Pastor

Hi everyone.

Bartle, this is definitely a controversial topic?

Quote:
“America wasn’t founded as a theocracy,” he said. “America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state.



I suppose if America was founded as a theocracy we might have been exiled long ago?

That said, I thought I'd take this opportunity to present more information on the [i]seperation of Chruch and State[/i] that was mentioned.

According to a paper called [i]Fast Facts America's Christian Heritatge[/i] which I recieved from Coral Ridge Ministires

On Spetember 25, 1789

"- After months of discussion and debate, the Congress of the United States approved the language of the first ten ammendments to the Constitution, the "Bill of Rights," including the First Amendment: 'Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free excercise thereof.'

[i]Perhaps this is what this pastor was reffering to?[/i]

The paper goes on to say, that [b]on that same day[/b] spetember 25, 1789(after passing the First Amendment)

"-Congress unanimously voted to ask President Washigton to declare a national 'day of public thanksgiving and prayer.'"

It also says that just 11 years before on September 11, 1777

"-The continental Congress recommended and approved that the Committee of Commerce 'import 20,000 Bibles from Holland, scotland, or elsewhere, "becuase of the great shortage of Bibles created by the Revolutionary War's interruption of trade with England."

I have a quote which is attributed to Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation, the one which Congress asked him to make, which I found in the book [i]Christianity and the American Commonwealth[/i] by Charles B. Galloway. I decided to check and see if I could find a copy of this somewhere to be more certain of the accuracy and I will include a link to what I found. Here is the qoute:

'Whereas it is the [b]duty[/b] of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to
[b]obey his will[/b], to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and
favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested
me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving and
prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of
Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form
of government for their safety and happiness."'{emphasis added)

What I found at the Library of Congress website is more lengthy. You can view it here at

[url=http://memory.loc.gov/learn/community/EA_toolkit/washington_public.pdf]The writtings of George Washington from the original manuscript[/url]

Hmmm, some things are not lining up here?

I wonder if Washington would get elected today?


_________________
Christopher Joel Dandrow

 2006/7/29 19:02Profile









 Re: Chris JD

Did you get a chance to listen any of the series of sermon's that Greg preached?, they are actually linked to the Times article, which I've never seen before happen in the NY Times.


what do you view as the things that are "not lining up?"

What I see that doesn't line up, is that's great rhetoric that's penned by President Washington, great rhetoric penned by the founding fathers of this nation, but the reality was that while these documents were being crafted, millions of Africans were crated, traded, sold, raped and tortured in this nation.

What Greg is saying is that which kingdom do we belong to...the Kingdom of God? or the kingdom here? which one?

 2006/7/29 19:46
roadsign
Member



Joined: 2005/5/2
Posts: 3777


 Re:It's all in what you cast

Quote:
if America was founded as a theocracy



In a theocracy you cast lots.
In a democracy you cast ballots.


Diane


_________________
Diane

 2006/7/29 21:43Profile
ChrisJD
Member



Joined: 2006/2/11
Posts: 2895
Philadelphia PA

 Re:

Hi brother Bartle and good evening.

I have not heard the series of sermons you mentioned, not that I'm aware of.

As to what I do not see as lining up: I wonder if there is not a serious discrepancy between the so-called 'wall of seperation' between religion and goverment that is presented today and how the founders believed such should be, if they indeed did, according to their own words and actions. I think the qoutes I shared speak clearly enough about that but I'd be willing to talk more about it if you'd like.

That said, I would like to ask you some things concerning these statements following, at least to consider some things about how we approach this subject...

Quote:
What I see that doesn't line up, is that's great rhetoric that's penned by President Washington, great rhetoric penned by the founding fathers of this nation, but the reality was that while these documents were being crafted, millions of Africans were crated, traded, sold, raped and tortured in this nation.



Brother Bartle, are you that certain that their words were only rhetoric? What if you are wrong? I realise brother, that the practice and treatment of slaves and slavery seems very barbaric to us, and indeed it may be hard to imagine such practices going on amongst a 'Christian peoples'. But I would urge you brother to remember the commandment in the Law firstly,

Quote:
Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.



And also to remember that it may not be wise to isolate a people's actions and beliefs from the culture of their day; what may seem barbaric in one day might have been progressive in another.

What if brother, God was pleased by the hands of these men to erect a goverment where such practices would eventually be thrown away - that, within the time and space alloted to our peoples within His providence, He was willing to suffer the imperfections, even the gross ones, these glaring ones in our eyes, of their own day, in order to bring along His purpose in history and for man. Is it wise to bring an accusation against these 'dignities?' esecially so far removed from the hour in which they lived? Besides this, what if we were to awake on Judgement Day and find that these men were true brothers? What if God would demand of us an accounting of our words then?

As to this question that was put forth

Quote:
which kingdom do we belong to...the Kingdom of God? or the kingdom here? which one?



I'm not sure this question has the same application if asked in this context. However, if it was asked in this context, then it seems as though it presents a false dichotomy; as though it suggests you must either serve the Kingdom of Heaven [b]or[/b] the kingdoms of men.

To explain, I would like to present some verses for our consideration and I will grant ahead that the application of them in this context could be questioned, yet I think at least a principle applies. Here they are

Quote:
Thus saith the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, [b]Kings shall see and arise, [u]princes[/u] also shall worship[/b], because of the Lord that is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he shall choose thee.



Quote:
Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders. [b][u]And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers[/b][/u]: [u]they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet[/u]; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.



Quote:
So shall he sprinkle many nations; the [b]kings shall shut their mouths at him[/b]: [u]for that which had not been told them shall they see[/u]; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.



Quote:
And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and [u]kings to the brightness of thy rising[/u].



Quote:
And the sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, [b]and their kings shall minister unto thee[/b]: for in my wrath I smote thee, but in my favour have I had mercy on thee.Therefore thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; [u]that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought[/u].



Quote:
Thou shalt also suck the milk of the Gentiles, and [b]shalt suck the breast of kings[/b]: and thou shalt know that I the Lord am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob.



Quote:
[u]And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory[/u]: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name.



Now, could it not be said that many of these things have indeed been fulfilled, at least in part, if not expecting a greater fulfillment, in the course of the history of the Church?

And so that we may not think some of our 'heros' have not been partakers of these same things, I'll share a qoute from an article concerning a famous Methodist, which a brother shared in another thread

Quote:
Historian Nathan Hatch asserts: "Between 1840 and 1860, the Methodists founded at least 35 institutions of higher education. Between the Civil War and 1900, they founded more than one college or university per year. . . . [b]By 1852, eleven of thirteen congressmen from Indiana were Methodists[/b]. [b]In 1880, no denomination could claim the affiliation of [u]more governors[/u] than the Methodists.[/b]"



I noticed this the other day and will include it also. It's a copy of a letter by James Garfield, the 20th president of the United States, in which he recounts the conversion of people to Christ in a meeting he held. This was however, before he was President.

http://www.wallbuilders.com/resources/search/detail.php?ResourceID=74

Well, it gives us something to consider anyway?

Peace be with you all in Messiah Jesus.


_________________
Christopher Joel Dandrow

 2006/7/29 21:46Profile
Compton
Member



Joined: 2005/2/24
Posts: 2732


 Re:

Quote:
... a false dichotomy; as though it suggests you must either serve the Kingdom of Heaven or the kingdoms of men.



Interesting Chris. I think you are right...serving the Lord and mankind even through government can be part of serving 'The Kingdom of Heaven'.

I think where we cross the line is when we elevate one nation above others to the exclusive status of 'God's Kingdom.' Then, in making such a claim, and killing men to uphold that claim, we are no longer serving God's Kingdom but in a very real way opposing his message to forsake this world.

I'm not saying a Christian shouldn't be a patriot. I'm saying a Christian shouldn't be a zealot.

This reminds me of something Abe Lincoln said when a Christian lady wanted to pray with him at the White House. She said "Let's ask God to be on our side during this great war."

Lincoln replied, "No, rather let's pray that we are on God's side!"

MC


_________________
Mike Compton

 2006/7/30 0:47Profile
ChrisJD
Member



Joined: 2006/2/11
Posts: 2895
Philadelphia PA

 Re: zealots

Hi Compton and good morning.

Quote:
I think where we cross the line is when we elevate one nation above others to the exclusive status of 'God's Kingdom.' Then, in making such a claim, and killing men to uphold that claim, we are no longer serving God's Kingdom but in a very real way opposing his message to forsake this world.



Yes indeed and to this also..

Quote:
I'm not saying a Christian shouldn't be a patriot. I'm saying a Christian shouldn't be a zealot.



Think that is very well put!


Peace be with you all in Jesus.


_________________
Christopher Joel Dandrow

 2006/7/30 9:01Profile





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