As I write this I am flying over Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes. After spending three days in Minneapolis I have been reminded that the people of Minnesota are polite, reserved, and kind. So I was a bit surprised to pick up a New York Times story and read that a divisive controversy has been raging at the Woodland Hills Church in Maplewood, Minnesota. The controversy has caused the church to lose 20% of it’s membership. Since Woodland Hills is a body of 5,000 members that is a stunning loss of 1,000 folks. Must be pretty serious stuff, huh? Must be heresy or moral sin that is involved, right? But the controversy in Minnesota is about how the church should embrace patriotism and politics into the sanctuary.
Dr.Gregory Boyd founded the Woodland Hills Church in 1992. He wrote a book that I loved called “Letters to a Skeptic” so I knew his name before this story came to my attention. Before the last presidential election he preached a series called “The Cross and the Sword”. In those messages Boyd proclaimed that the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns. “When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross,” Boyd preached. That apparently riled up enough people to generate an exodus of 20% of the congregation.
The argument about whether America is a “Christian nation“ is a difficult one. Clearly America was founded on Judeo-Christian values and as a place of religious freedom. I don’t believe that is the argument Dr.Boyd is making.
Dr.Boyd defends himself by saying he is not a liberal. He opposes abortion and believes that homosexuality is not God’s ideal. Boyd is not a stranger to controversy. He withstood an effort by his own denomination to oust him a few years ago when he wondered if God fully knew the future. Dr.Boyd and I part company on that issue. But on the issue of politics in the church I think we are kindred spirits. Boyd states that his sermons were not an attack on Republicans or the religious right. He notes that Christians on both sides have turned politics and patriotism into idolatry.
To that I have to say amen! I have been roundly criticised for supporting George Bush in my first book, When Bad Christians Happen to Good People. I regret the political references I made in that book. I wish I could remove them because I found out that political remarks polarize and deflect the message of the Cross. I tried to make it clear that Christians were making a mistake by trying to change our culture through politics instead of by changing hearts for Jesus. That book was written during 9/11 and after I had been personally convicted of my sin toward President Bill Clinton. I did not pray for Bill Clinton. I did not respect him as the authority my sovereign God allowed to be in power. I regret the impression that I gave to some readers that I believed the Republican party was the official party of Christianity. I do not believe that at all. And yes…I expect to see Democrats in heaven. And Libertarians. A few Republicans will be there too. But the common link will not be politcal ideology. The link that will bring us there will be Jesus.
Boyd tells the story of being alarmed while visiting a megachurch worship service on the Fourth of July. New York Times writer Laurie Goodstein writes that Boyd watched as the choir sang “God Bless America” as a video showed fighter jets flying over a hill silhouetted with crosses.
“I thought to myself, ‘What just happened? Fighter jets mixed up with the cross?” he said during an interview. I have to admit that I have shared Boyd’s concern in recent years. I do not believe that the hope of the world is democracy, although I believe there is no better system of government. The hope of the world is Jesus. Boyd makes a couple of points that are indeed thought provoking.
“Christians are not to seek “power over” others – by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should seek to have “power under” others – winning others hearts by sacrificing for those in need.”
And that is indeed what Jesus did. I have a hard time finding a point of disagreement with Dr. Boyd on that point. That is EXACTLY how a group of men and women in the first century with NO political power turned the world upside down.
Dr.Boyd also noted that “America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.”
Hard to argue with that. American has been blessed beyond measure. But I fear we are in danger of forfeiting the blessings God has bestowed by becoming self-absorbed and not generous. I have written often about the lack of giving in the evangelical community. We (protestants) give a paltry 2% on average. Evangelicals are only slightly better at 4%. If we simply tithed we would have enough resources to feed evey hungry person AND have enough left over to fund outreaches to tell the world about Jesus. But we choose to buy a better car, a bigger screen TV, and demand that politics make a difference. The fact is that laws and government can only restrain. Jesus can change the heart and change behavior from the inside out.
I am not smart enough to decide what God has called people to do. If He has placed a desire for people to impact the culture through political action I am not about to question their motives. But I do agree that His house should be a house of worship and not a house of political promotion. Political outreaches should, in my opinion, find venues outside of the sacred space that is God’s sanctuary.
I am active politically. I study issues and candidates and I always vote. I give to causes that I believe in and I would be willing to work for a candidate that shared my goals for our country. But Sunday should be about Jesus. I agree with Dr.Gregory Boyd. I might argue with him about some of his views (I know a Yale Divinity and Princeton Seminary grad would be terrified of me). But I believe his heart is right on this one.
His series on the Cross and Sword resonates with me. I think the church (on Sundays) should steer clear of politics. God’s Word taught effectively will mold followers of Jesus that will view social issues wisely. Moralizing on sexual issues has produced guilt but not real results. Jesus forgave the woman caught in sin and THEN said go and sin no more. My goal is to introduce people to Jesus, disciple them into a real relationship with Him, and then watch as the Holy Spirit changes what my sermonizing cannot.
The body of Christ is about Jesus. About being a good citizen that respects authority. And about demonstrating His amazing grace to a desparately needy world. The message should be grace, redemption, and the forgiveness available to everyone. All parties are welcome at the foot of the cross. We need to spend more time there…for the good of America.