Saturday, June 18, 2011

Red Churches and Blue Churches?

The Baptist Standard has published an edited version of an essay that I wrote about keeping the gospel inclusionary at a time when society is being divided between red churches and blue churches as well as between red states and blue states.  Below is the complete question that I addressed along with the complete response:

Not only do we have “red states” and “blue states,” but also “red churches” and “blue churches.”  This exclusionary theme seems to be taking hold in our own church.  How can Christians help maintain an inclusionary gospel that provides the driving energy for our congregation?

For several decades, a variety of forces within society, the church and the American political system have fueled the development of factions within our communities. 

Not all factions are exclusionary.  Some factions are inclusive.  Inclusive factions distinguish themselves by minimizing differences while magnifying what we have in common.  Inclusive factions seek to unite the community – usually around a common purpose.

Exclusionary factions distinguish themselves by minimizing what we have in common while magnifying how we differ.   Exclusionary factions tend to polarize and divide the community – usually over differences in belief.

The question betrays a preference for the inclusionary faction as does this response.

Exclusionary factionalism cannot be ignored, it must be faced.   Turning a blind eye to those who vilify, exclude, and scapegoat others effectively empowers them.  It is a form of collusion.  Leaders who ignore differences or stifle conscientious dialogue, create a vacuum that exclusionary factions will fill. 

Polarized churches and communities can only be reconciled by an exercise of humility.  Special attention and more than lip service needs to be given to Paul’s teaching in Philippians 2:1-11.  Both sides need to look at themselves – with humility -- through the eyes of the other.   It would be helpful for everyone to consider the wisdom expressed in the title of Rabbi Brad Hirschfield’s book,  You don’t have to be wrong, for me to be right.”  Both factions also need to honestly entertain the possibility that they could be wrong.   Conscientiously opposed factions cannot be united without a willingness from both sides to exercise humility and forbearance in Christian love.

Reconciliation takes place best in face-to-face forums for open dialogue where people respect conscientious differences.   If Christians cannot discuss sincere political differences with humility within the church, there is no hope that discourse within society will be conducted with civility.

The Baptist distinctive emphasizing separation of church and state does not mean that discussion of politics and public policy has no place within the church.   Endorsing political candidates and political parties is out-of-place, but discussions of public policy issues are relevant.

The Baptist distinctive of religious liberty is based on the conviction that because we are all personally accountable to God, every conscience must be free to relate to God personally.  Our consciences are formed through prayer, bible study, and dialogue with other Christians.  The gospel is relevant to discussions of politics and public policy.

At times, consciences within the church will be collectively convicted about injustices within society.   Those are times when the church has a prophetic role to fulfill within society.  At the same time, dissenting consciences within the church must not be censored and excluded.  There are times when God’s prophets must stand against the consensus within their own communities.

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