Saturday, August 26, 2006

Thoughts on the Church In (Not Of) the World

There was some great stuff in the KC Star Faith section today. (Which I cannot actually find at the KC Star website, by the way.)

First, I want to share the text of an advertisement run by First Family Church in Overland Park. They have invited a woman named Shelley Lubben to speak at an upcoming worship service. Mrs. Lubben is a former porn star who has become a Christian and is now sharing her testimony here and there. The ad says, “The 5 truths about pornography … Shelly Luben, having starred in twenty adult movies, was a rising porn star who knows the ugly side of pornography.”

I encourage you to read that quote again before proceeding. Notice anything … odd? Doesn’t reference to the “ugly side” of porn imply the existence of a “non-ugly side?” It is almost as if the church is saying, “Hey, porn is fine and dandy, but you should know - there is an ugly side, too.” This phrase is usually reserved for things that most people think are good, and so the illumination of the “ugly side” helps people see the rest of the story. Pornography is just ugly. There are no “non-ugly” sides of pornography.

(This is not an observation about what Mrs. Lubben is doing, it is an observation about the choice of words of the church’s advertisers.)

Second thing from the Star today was an article about Rev. Gregory Boyd of Woodland Hills Church in the suburbs of St. Paul. The congregation there went from 5,000 people down to 4,000 people when he preached a series of sermons that said, essentially, that the church should not espouse a conservative Republican political agenda. He doesn’t have an American flag in the sanctuary, he doesn’t let people distribute so-called “voter guides” that in reality endorse specific candidates, he doesn’t think we ought to claim the United States is a Christian nation, and so forth. His book is called The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church.

What a great case study to consider. Here is a pastor who took a stand for something he had discerned to be right, and it directly resulted in a 20% decrease in his church’s membership. One thousand people walked out when Rev. Boyd said the church should keep its nose out of politics. That’s enough for a-whole-nother church! Can we say that this pastor’s ministry is bearing fruit? Or perhaps the metaphor of “pruning” would be for appropriate here?

Second question: Rev. Boyd holds some pretty conservative opinions, according to the article. Why is it big news when a person holding conservative opinions takes a stand like this, but people holding liberal opinions have been saying exactly this for years and years, and it doesn’t make a ripple? I know that I am generalizing and may be accused of using labels unfairly, especially by Larry B. or Tim Sisk. :) But I’m sticking with the question, anyway. Is this case study in the news simply because it is another example of the backlash to the polarization of America, or is something else going on?

Third question: Is the church being compromised by American nationalism, or is it the other way around (in a sense)? The article today is clearly stating the former; that the Christian message is at risk. But is anyone concerned that the system of government established to be democratic and free from the influence of the church may be at risk, here, too? Boyd hints at it in the article, saying, “America wasn’t founded as a theocracy. America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies.” Shouldn’t the church and the state each be free from the influence of the other?

Lots of questions, and I know that readers will take them in the spirit they are offered – honest questions intended to evoke conversation. This story kind of provides a nice case study to consider some of the questions, and I hope that everyone will feel free to respond respectfully and honestly.


Anonymous said...

The writer of the ad might have said "the ugly side of pornography" because porn has become mainstream. Many (most?) think porn is OK. He is referring to the other side of OK.

Tim Sisk said...

Nah. I don't have a problem with the generalization you use here, especially as it is a pretty good question, if you mean that the thing liberals have been espousing for years is a good separation of politics and the church. Because without having read the article, I think this is what the pastor is rejecting, not Republicanism but politics--he's just recognizing that most of his congregation is aligned with the Republican party.

On this point, I think liberals have been right for years. It is strange and upsetting that there is a countermovement within "liberalism" to change that (Jim Wallis, et al).

Big mistake when conservative evangelicals do it and big mistake when "liberals" do it.

Larry B said...

My thoughts -

First question: I think pornstudents observations is probably true in that it has become far more mainstreamed and the language used by the church in the ad does provide them a more culturally relevant statement to potentially reach someone sitting on the outside. (just for clarity, I don't think porn has an OK side either but I'm probably not the target of Mrs. Lubben's ministry).

Your second question - Personally, I think issue specific political positions should be taken out of the church. The GBCS in the Methodist Church is, in my opinion, an awful organization and an example of mixing the church and politics with the liberal political spectrum.

So I wouldn't agree that "many liberal opinion church members" have been talking for years about getting the politics out of church. On the contrary, most peoples political liberalism has lead them to transfer that into their church lives and the same is true for conservative political people as well.

What the article clearly illustrates is that a lot of people seek associations with churches primarily to affirm their personal and political views. Clearly when they find that these views aren't being supported, they leave. So, their relationship with Jesus really isn't rooted any further than some baseline political convictions. The reason this conservative pastor got so much attention is probably because it was such an easily identifiable effect in this case because of who he originally attracted to his church. Not because he was a particular brand of political persuasion.

To illustrate perhpas a "liberal" counter example,imagine if a pastor walked into a reconciling ministries associated church in the UMC and said I will not allow any material (pro/con) regarding a state constitutional marriage amendment proposal to be distributed in the church and there will be no more mention of the issue in my sermons. Furthermore, if you speak about this issue outside of the church, you cannot refer to your church affiliation in any manner when speaking about the issue. The Pastor would most likely be asked to transfer out of the local church, and in the current internal UMC political environment, the pastor would probably have charges brought against him/her.

Yet clearly if we are to separate the church from politics, the Pastor would be doing the proper thing.

Third question: Too much wrapped up in that queston for me to try to formulate a short response. However my views are summed up pretty well by Friedrich Von Hayek's book "The Fatal Conceit: The errors of socialism". While I don't totally agree with his idea's about evolutionary morality, I came away with the opinion that he makes an excellent argument as to how religion is a key institution critical to carrying morality forward and is central to creating a succesful society which functions with a free market as opposed to a planned economy (dictatorship, socialism etc). Thus completely separating religion from the sense of nationality might actually be detrimental to a free market economy and a free society where individuals have rights and freedoms.

I do think one has to also consider that while many atrocities have been committed in the name of religion through "theocracies", their has been far more bloodshed at the hands of ideologies that espoused Godlessness. I don't say this to justify a theocracies bloodshed, but I think there is a point of distinction that can be made here. I think that the bloodshed from a theocracy isn't the logical outworking of a faith view of the world, but a misguided distortion of the faith view. Yet the bloodshed from philosophical views such as Nietzsche and Sartre (ie Hitler, Stalin etc), really can be considered to be the logical outworkings of those particular philosophies and not a distortion. Thus the philosophy itself is a form of pure evil. The theocracy only becomes evil when it is made impure through a distortion.

So yes we should guard against allowing the faith to be distorted to serve a state, yet, religion can and should guard the state against those philosophies that do lead to the horrible consequences that we have seen so vividly illustrated just in this past century.

Kansas Bob said...

Kind of interesting how pastors like Boyd change the rules one day and don't understand why so many people leave. Words like 'taking a stand' often indicate a leaders inability to come to a middle ground with his congregation.

Pastors all over seem to be oblivious of the fact that they serve a community of believers and many times 'take a stand' instead of doing the hard work of peacemaking and unity.A pastor of a large church in Tulsa changed his view on hell and lost the church building because so many people left the fellowship. It is sad when a large part of a church feels the need to leave their faith community just because their pastor feels a need to flip out ... errr ... take a stand.

codepoke said...

On the subject of politics in the church, and the church in politics.

I hate to see politics brought into the church. I'm for removing American flags from her buildings, etc. I'm for an end to sermons about political issues. We have bigger fish to fry. Leave those things at the door.

But blocking the church from politics is just senseless to me. No one has a better chance at fair judgement than someone who sees the world from its Creator's perspective. Someone who knows he answers to God is much more likely to make the right decision than someone who answers to a constituency.

The current obsession of 1/2 of Americans with removing anyone who holds Christian belief's from power will not end well. Rev 22:2. "The leaves of the Tree were for the healing of the nations."

Anonymous said...

Great thread!

I have wrestled being a conservative in what I perceive to be a liberal church. I had given thought - many times - to leaving our church. I was amused when our Associate Pastor told me that in the span of a few weeks, families had left because some thought our church was too liberal and others had left because it was too conservative. In the end, worship is not about me, but about Him. I've decided to stay, but it's awfully lonely where I sit.


Andy, I may not usually agree with you, but I enjoy reading your blog. However, lately I am starting to feel guilty that I am using you to read the offerings of Larry B. Larry B. we are not worthy!

Dark Gable

Andy B. said...

Dear Dark,
I've said it before and I'll say it again, Larry B. needs his own blog! Your reputation is widening, Larry B!
For me, reading well-written and articulate perspectives that disagree with mine is one of my favorite things to do. I have learned so much from you, Larry B., Tim Sisk, Locusts & Honey John, and others since I have started blogging, it is amazing.
(*tongue in cheek* - Of course, you all couldn't be more wrong about practically everything we discuss, but if you can live with yourselves in spite of that, I suppose I must also. ;)
Seriously though, if we who call ourselves Christian can't even love one another enough to worship together, what hope is there?
Andy B.

Adam Caldwell said...

Frankly...I quesiton if I should ever leave comments anymore. Often you guys are way over my head, but I am man enough to admit that.

Larry B said...

Dark Gable,

I can sympathize with your situation. I feel the same about my own church and have decided to stay too. I have to give Andy's blog a good bit of credit for helping with that too. It's helped to know that those "other people" have some pretty good reasons for what they think too and aren't afraid to talk about it in a well thought out manner.

Thanks again to Andy for providing thought provoking posts and getting people here to read and comment. And thanks for the compliments on the comments. I'm afraid I just don't have the creativity to come up with enough to keep up a readable blog, so I'll just keep being a leech for now :)