Since I have identified myself as a liberal, though I have to say a very moderate and even conservative liberal, I figure I should go ahead and continue to dig my grave with my conservative brethren, as well as those to the left of me. Since I am a liberal conservative or conservative liberal I am in the uncomfortable middle in a society that has become deeply polarized. I think that I am a passionate moderate, though to the extreme right I might be a raving liberal, and the far left a intolerant conservative. I think that the former is more likely. My goal in life is to get along, find common ground among disparate groups and care for God’s people. Despite the rancor on the extremes I think that there are more people out there like me than not. My belief is that voices like ours are drowned out by drumbeat of competing demagogues on the far right and the far left. Since I am a priest my focus will be on the dangers that I see in the current climate and the captivity that churches have unwittingly placed themselves in making political alliances.
Early in his “Reforming” days the young Martin Luther wrote a book entitled “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.” It was a severe critique of abuses in the Roman Catholic Church of his era. I think churches today have become captive to to various political parties, social and economic theories, movements and ideas. These are not necessarily Christian even though any churches have “baptized” them so to speak.
On the left a lot of churches have embraced social reform, the civil rights movement, women’s liberation as well as left leaning and even socialistic economic models and a demonstrated preference for the Democratic Party. On the right conservative churches beginning in the 1970s in reaction to the social revolutions of the 1960s moved almost lock, stock and barrel to the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan was the primary reason for this move as he enunciated a philosophy of limited government, military preparedness and the sanctity of life in at least in what he said. Other conservative politicians solidified that relationship in the 1990s during the presidency of Bill Clinton. Those on the left did the same during the presidency of George W. Bush.
I am not going to cast dispersion on the motives of wither liberal and conservative churches as they made these political alliances. Far be it, the activity of churches has been an important part of American life and has contributed to many advances in our society including the civil rights movement, which could not have succeeded without the efforts of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and many other clergymen and women, from across the denominational and racial spectrum.
At the same time I am noticing a trend by by many clergy and laity of both liberal and conservative churches to be uncritical in their relationships with political parties. In my view this has emasculated the witness of the church. I have experienced this on both the left and the right. When I was a kid my dad, a career Navy Chief Petty Officer was serving in Vietnam. New to the area we went to a church of the denomination that my parents had grown up in and in which I had been baptized. This was a mainline Protestant Church, the name I will not mention because it is irrelevant to the discussion. The minister constantly preached against the war and I had a Sunday School teacher tell me that my dad was a “baby killer.” If it had not been for the Roman Catholic chaplain at the little Navy base in town who showed my family the love of God when that happened, caring for our Protestant family without trying to make us Catholic I would have probably never reconciled with the church. I trace my vocation as a priest and chaplain to that man. Since I have spent more of my life in conservative churches in the days since I have seen a growing and ever more strident move to the political right in conservative churches. I think this has less to do with the actual churches but the influence of conservative talk radio, I often hear my fellow Christians on the right talk more vociferously about free markets capitalism, the war on terror and justifying the other conservative causes which are general less than central to the faith. When I have challenged conservative Christian friends on what I think are inconsistencies I have in some cases been attacked and pretty nastily if I might add.
My view is that Christians on both the right have lost any prophetic voice in their respective political parties. They have become special interest groups who compete with other special interest groups, which politicians of both parties treat as their loyal servants. This is what I mean by captivity. I think that the church has to be able to speak her mind and be a witness of the redemption and reconciliation message of the Gospel and hold politicians, political parties and other power structures accountable for their treatment of the least, the lost and the lonely; caring for those that to those who seek to maintain political and economic control, merely numbers. The church has to maintain her independence or lose submit to slavery. There are many examples we can look to in this, William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoller to name just a few. These men were not apolitical, but they were both prophetic and redemptive. May we as Christians and other people of faith seek to embody this witness in our divided and dangerous world. Peace to all God’s people. Steve+