Friday, May 06, 2005

Politics In The Pulpit

I take back everything I've ever said about my church being too political.
The minister of a Haywood County Baptist church is telling members of his congregation that if they're Democrats, they either need to find another place of worship or support President Bush.

Already, the Reverend Chan Chandler has ex-communicated nine members of East Waynesville Baptist Church. Another 40 members have left in protest.
Rev. Chandler apparently believes that God has directly endorsed the Republican ticket; astoundingly, he offered the defense that his actions were "not political." Well, okay, actually, there's nothing astounding about that defense. The Christian Right has worked very hard to define Christianity as a Republican religion, its tenets primarily expressed as a set of hard-core social conservative positions. They've convinced themselves, the media, and unfortunately, many liberals - who should know better, if they've been reading Slacktivist or Body and Soul.

Here's something I wrote a while back about the intersection of politics with my own religion:
One of the things that bothers [my Significant Otter and I] about our church is the tendency some members have to blur the distinction between a Unitarian-Universalist church and a Green Party convention. The strongest example of this is the reflexive assumption that everyone in our church opposed the war in Iraq, but there's a whole spectrum of other political stances (disapproval of Israel, for example, and support of gay marriage) that almost assume the role of tenets of our faith. It's a strange position for a non-creedal religion to be in.

I have no problem with the idea that religion informs people's political judgments. Most of my political beliefs are founded upon principles that I consider to be part of my religion: the UU first principle of respect for the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings, for example, and the Christian obligation to protect the weak and provide for the needy. Religions provide people with principles for how they should behave in the world, and as such, they affect political opinions.

The problem, to me, comes when you assume that there is a unitary relationship between a set of religious values and a set of political positions. My personal interpretation of affirming "the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings" leads me to be pro-choice, but it may equally lead another UU to be pro-life. The second principle's call for "justice, equity, and compassion in human relations" may lead some to be pacifists, and others to see the necessity for certain just wars.
Okay, so obviously, when you put the politics/religion failings of the Unitarian-Universalists up against the politics/religion failings of Rev. Chandler of East Waynesboro Baptist Church, you have a case of me worrying about the speck in my own eye instead of the big ol' beam in my neighbor's eye. But the same argument definitely applies to Christianity, whatever Rev. Chandler and the Christian Coalition would like to think.

There is nothing intrinsic to Christianity which demands, for example, that a Christian privilege the three or four verses condemning homosexuality over the more than three hundred verses expressing God's special concern for the poor and condemning those who fail to aid them. (That hasn't escaped the National Council of Churches - no wonder they're a perennial favorite target of the right.) Christians who pay heed to those three hundred verses might very well find that their religious faith leads them to vote Democratic. And even the standard hot-button issues of the Religious Right are open to more than one Christian interpretation - take a look at Ampersand's compelling argument for why a pro-life person might in good conscience vote for pro-choice candidates. The Bible dictates religious principles; it's up to the individual believer to decide how those translate into political stances.

This shouldn't be news to anyone calling themselves a Baptist, as my Significant Otter - a recovering Baptist - points out. At the foundation of the Baptist faith is belief in the "priesthood of all believers" - the idea that no one has a more direct line to God than anyone else:
One person or group simply cannot claim more spiritual privilege than another. There are no spiritual classes when relating to God. All believers are children of God. Of course, churches will have ministers or officials to perform certain duties, but they are not the masters of the life and faith of other believers. [...] The autonomy of the believer is an intrinsic part of grace.
Sounds like Rev. Chandler needs to head back to seminary. Hopefully he'll have plenty of time to do so after his church loses its tax-exempt status.