Spreading Scriptural Holiness Over the Land
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Fri Mar 17, 2006 at 02:48:21 AM EST
Christianity Today published yesterday on its website a provocative article written by Jason Byassee, an editor at the more liberal magazine, The Christian Century. Even though Christianity Today is not directly associated with the Dobson/Perkins political wing of the evangelical movement, it is good to see conservative evangelicals take a more critical and broader historical look at themselves.
Comparing the mainline protestant involvement in politics earlier in the 20th century with the current Christian involvement, Byassee writes:

We mainliners had our day in the sun. Remember Prohibition? It was more than an opportunity for cool gangster outfits and Kevin Costner's best movie. The national banning of alcohol by constitutional amendment was a result of Methodist efforts to "spread Scriptural holiness over the land." Oddly familiar, isn't it? Groups like the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, led by the great Methodist social prophet Frances Willard, prayed, raised money, and badgered politicians to get their way. The Temperance Union was the forerunner of the cute old ladies of the United Methodist Women (UMW) who, in a church I pastored, often gathered to bake and gossip and pray.

We did then what you do now: We imposed our way on a divided populace by sheer force of electoral muscle and religious rhetoric. Our effort to take America for Christ is now a peculiar cultural artifact, a curiosity gathering dust on the shelf of early 20th-century history.

We built triumphant monuments to our importance. At the Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., a prime, front-pew seat features a plaque marking where the President of the United States should sit when he attends--not unlike churches in Constantinople that once featured imperial boxes for the emperor to ride his chariot into without having to dismount. But Caesar's seat goes empty these days, even with a Methodist President.

This is not to denigrate monuments from a more triumphant age of mainline Protestantism--many such places still do fine ministry. But church influence on politics is fickle. "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's," our Lord says. The last people in the world who want to be caught dead pledging allegiance to the wrong Lord ought to be evangelicals. [     ]

I know you are used to being a persecuted minority, but isn't it time to drop the inferiority complex, rule graciously, and love your enemies, even if they are liberal? I know politics makes strange bedfellows, but do you really want to be allied with foul-mouthed know-it-alls on AM radio or with politicians who don't care a lick about Jesus? [   ]

We mainliners were once offered the deal you have now--social action in exchange for faithfulness--and we bit hard. We're so far out of political power now that we're remembering the first task of the church is to be the church, not to play chaplain to a political party or nation. It's tempting to trade fidelity for influence, but it's hard to get fidelity back, and influence doesn't satisfy.

Well known church historian, Martin Marty, responding to Byassee's article, asks:

Could it be that, disencumbered of the imperial-dominion burdens that some Protestant conservatives now seek, mainline members are more free to remember that "the first task of the church is to be the church," while many in the religious right coalition that now owns the religious rights to the three branches of government and a good deal of the market are less free?



Display:
I think that the current crop of righteous would-be rulers ought to examine what history ultimately does to attempts to 'spread Scriptural holiness over the land', and realize that they'll be swept away to the historical dustbin, too.

I just hope that we can sweep them out before they get too hard a foothold.

by Lorie Johnson on Fri Mar 17, 2006 at 10:19:46 AM EST


Christianity Today has an interview with John Wolffe, editor of "Evangelical Faith and Public Zeal: Evangelicals and Society in Britain, 1780-1980" that gives a British perspective.

by Carlos on Fri Mar 17, 2006 at 01:00:43 PM EST

Using an article data base.  They seem to be trying to find a way to negotiate between the radical right and the moderate center (or what is left of it) of the mainline churches.  I have to leave but I'll post some of what I found when I get back.  

Given what we know here, the articles seemed more than a little naive.  Christian Century writers, however, are a very sophisticated group of religious writers, so it can't be naivete.  Be back later.

by tikkun on Fri Mar 17, 2006 at 06:32:29 PM EST

yes it can be naivete, tikkun. (Although there may be better explanations.)

Christian Century has soft peddled the matter of the Christian Right for a long time.  

It is not a matter of education and sophistication. It is a matter of whether one has ears to hear and eyes to see what is going on.  

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Mar 19, 2006 at 12:08:54 AM EST
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