Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Pastor, Politics and Money

This should not be all that complicated but evidently Fairview Baptist Church of Edmund, OK, doesn't understand Baptist distinctives --- or the law --- very well.

On Sunday, September 26, 2010, Pastor Paul Blair brazenly violated the law and endorsed an OK candidate for governor while in the pulpit

We all know Blair was trying to make a point and challenge the IRS. After all, the Alliance Defense Fund has been encouraging that for a while now.

And he managed to do just that. The endorsement was on video and aired on TV. Just to make sure, Blair mailed a copy to the IRS, along with his endorsement of John McCain in 2008.

The problem is that if churches want to endorse candidates, there is an influence. That influence translates into votes. If someone doesn't think a church and it's pastor can deliver votes, that someone hasn't noticed how politicians have begun courting the Religious Right. There is a reason politicians want a pastor's endorsement: it works.

Second, a pastor has always been able to endorse candidates privately. In fact, the pastor can speak out on moral or spiritual issues. There has never been a problem with that. The issue is the direct involvement of the church into the process with money or influence, or the pastor engaging in partisanship while in his official capacity. This is not all that complicated: if a church wants to act like a political action committee, then let it come under the same rules, pay taxes, disclose the contributors and contributions and move on.

Third, I wonder if Pastor Blair realizes if he can endorse candidates and involve the church in the political process, then he must also advocate the same allowances for the mosque down the street. Hmmmm. Treat others the way you want to be treated, Pastor Blair.

Lastly, I wonder when the last time Pastor Blair read his Baptist history? Baptists have always been in support of the clear separation of church and state, until sometime in the late 1970s when the church was no longer seen as the Body of Christ but a Prize Voting Bloc. Hmmm. Pastor Blair has allowed himself to be played by the political machine --- or maybe Pastor Blair is letting his politics drive his theology. Either way, I would ask Pastor Blair to show in the NT where Jesus or Paul or Peter or any NT writer said a word about using the secular government (and non-Christian tax dollars) to advance the Message of Hope. Jesus said to build the church; he didn't say anything about a political process.

Oooops. Wait a minute. Hold on. I see on the Fairview Baptist Church's website where it has been duped into believing that whole "Christian Nation" historical revisionism. Intentionally misrepresenting history, the law and the Word of God is three-for-three on the Strike Out Meter.

When the church becomes just another voice for the politician, the church will follow whatever politician courts it the most. And Pastor Blair trusts the earthly, carnal, corruptible political process over the things of the Spirit?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Man That Sneaked into Auschwitz

I had never heard of Witold Pilecki until I saw this report from NPR. After reading it, I began to search further into the story of the man and his sacrifice for liberty. What an amazing story! Pilecki left everything for the good of all free people everywhere. We owe this man more than we could ever give. 

From what I can gather, there is a movement in Poland to commemorate the life of this extraordinary man in some way, possibly a movie.

Thank you, Mr. Pilecki.

Monday, September 20, 2010

When Baptists Supported Separation of Church and State

I don't know when it happened. I think it happened when Baptists realized they were no longer the persecuted minority but were the the pious majority. Something happened after WWII when the Baptists were the Boom in Baby Boomers and took over as the largest Protestant denomination.

We Baptists became the very thing we used to preach against.

We Baptists were the initiators of Church-State Separation. It was our motto. It was in our DNA. It was who we were, what we were about (e.g., soul freedom and each person answerable to God alone) and the basis of our identity.

Not any more.

Starting in the 1970s and the rise of the Moral Majority, we Baptists became not the voice of Hope but the voice of a voting bloc that could be delivered by a group of pastors bent on a political agenda. We were not the Voice but the Vice. We stopped being the Compassionate Hand and became the Calloused Agenda. No longer did we serve the Master but the Mammon, the Power and the wishes of whatever political issue would sway us with pious words.

Shame on those Southern Baptist pastors that sold our Baptist soul for 30 pieces of silver ... and the ear of the politicians'.

We got played. We were used. We were to be delivered on the altar of November 4 each year and every other year for the Congressional elections. Forget the social implications of the Gospel; Baptists were now the voting bloc to be herded by the voice of Another Shepherd. And we listened. And we went to other pastures. And we grazed on our secular delights, thinking we were making a difference because God had to be blessing us if we were the largest and the most prolific vote getters and givers.

Now we realize that we have left our identity, our passion, our mission.

When we confuse politics with the Will of God, we remake God in our image. Worst of all, we build a new wall --- a wall that separates not church from state, but people from hearing the Message of Peace.

Bruce Gourley has a wonderful artice on Baptist identity in this month's Baptist Studies Bulleting (September 2010). I am honored to have him as my invited guest to speak at the September meeting of GA's combined chapters meeting of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, September 24, 6PM at Moe's Southwest Grill. Bruce is a voice of reason, scholarship and practicality.

We need to learn our own history.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Christian Nation Nonsense

I keep hearing all this "America was founded as a Christian Nation" nonsense and I've got a few questions for those proponents.

First, please point out for me the parts of the US Constitution that detail those "Judeo-Christian Values" you folks keep talking about. I have read the Constitution over and over but there are no uniquely Christian principles in that document anywhere, save one: the Separation of Church and State.

Second, if the Founding Fathers wanted to create a Christian Nation, they certainly did a poor job of it, since they never mentioned God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit, nor even a Bible verse as is so common when annotating an idea. In fact, most of the Founding Fathers would be considered heretical by today's evangelical standards, while a tiny minority would be classified as true theocrats and would scare the Bar-Jesus out of even Glenn Beck, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

Thirdly, the Bible itself never discusses those ideas of freedom we hold so dear. The Bible discusses soul freedom and freedom in Christ but those are theological concepts, not political ideas. Never once do the Christian Scriptures mention democracy, a republic or anything related to American values, nor even freedom of speech or freedom of religion; separation of powers and limitations on the power of the executive; nor an independent judicial branch, elections or voting. The Bible provides no model for "good" government or for personal freedoms. It is a purely religious/theological document.

Fourth, I find it puzzling that the Religious Right uses the term "Judeo-Christian Values" today in a not-so-subtle attempt to link themselves to the Jewish population. It is a rather odd attempt since the Jewish people of Colonial America were treated with contempt and persecuted in most places. But yesterdays persecuted minority is today's needed voting bloc ...

Fifth, I find the people who want to claim we are a Christian Nation to be completely ignorant (or intentionally ignorant) of US history. Never mind the Treaty of Tripoli explicitly declares we were in no wise founded as a Christian Nation. (I actually had one theocrat try to explain that as America's early attempt at foreign policy to appease the Arab World. Think about it: he said we intentionally lied about our founding to keep the Muslims from attacking our merchant ships. Imagine that. He is saying we denied Christ at the very beginning, something that would make every one of the "Founders" apostates in the eyes of God. Amazing.)

Then there were the responses from the Colonial churches who knew we were not founded as a Christian Nation since they proclaimed the Constitution "Godless" and urged people to vote against its ratification. I would add that the clergy of the day understood exactly what the Framers were saying, and understood explicitly that the Constitution was a secular document. Of course the Baptists of the day, e.g., John Leland, Isaac Backus, et.al., applauded the Constitution's lack of Christian character since Baptists understood what it meant to be on the minority side of religious persecution when the Crown or Colonial government weighed in on theological matters. That also explains why the Baptists convinced Madison to make sure there was not even be the hint of government showing any faith that Most Favored Status. Baptists argued that theological matters are too lofty for the state to involve itself and that nowhere in the NT are we told to utilize the secular government to advance the Message of Hope.

Our current Constitution was noteworthy in its absence of religious recognition, and this formed the basis for much intense debate and opposition to its ratification. Rev. Doctor Wilson, in an 1831 sermon protested that it almost seemed as though God had been deliberately excluded from the origins of the new government:

"... the Constitution was framed and God was neglected. He was not merely forgotten. He was absolutely voted out of the Constitution. The proceedings, as published by Thompson, the secretary, and the history of the day, show that the question was gravely debated whether God should be in the Constitution or not, and after a solemn debate he was deliberately voted out of it ... There is not only in the theory of our government no recognition of God's laws and sovereignty, but its practical operation, its administration, has been conformable to its theory."

While there is certainly some legitimate debate over the person who preached this sermon, the sermon is accurate.  The sermon in question was titled, PRINCE MESSIAH’S CLAIMS TO DOMINION OVER ALL GOVERNMENTS: AND THE DISREGARD OF HIS AUTHORITY BY THE UNITED STATES, IN THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION, and as one site says, because of the way in which he criticized the Presidents, he was denounced.

The whole thing makes for an interesting read.

Finally, the only thing that makes sense to me is that the Religious Right has a vested interest in this. They want to manipulate the faithful for their own desires of avarice and power. When faith becomes a tool for political gain, faith is always corrupted and the faithful end up the hapless victims of their own religious leaders.

We still have much work to do. Let there be no breaks whatsoever in the wall of separation.