Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Republican Church

A few years ago I was at a church retreat with some of our board members, looking ahead to develop a vision and plan for our church. Over lunch, one of the members was telling us about her visit to a local mega-church, one pretty well known in our neck of the woods.

"What kind of a church is it?" someone asked her.

"It's a Republican church," she replied.

Interesting. She didn't say Baptist, or Methodist, or Episcopalian, or Presbyterian. She said Republican. In doing so, she touched on a trend developing in many churches lately, and, in my book, a troubling one.

As a young adult, nothing insulted my intelligence more than for a pastor or a church to tell me how to vote. I remember being very clear that I knew that was NOT their job; I could figure out very well on my own, thank you, where my faith values were leading me politically. And the denomination I grew up in, and eventually came back to, has conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. The idea was that it was our faith that united us, our common trust in Jesus, not our politics.

Now, in some ways, it feels that has been turned around. More than Lutheran or Methodist, it matters whether we are Conservative or Liberal. Never mind that those words can have many meanings. And it's not just what we believe in our hearts, but who we choose to associate with, how we organize ourselves, and the pre-conceptions that we bring to the scriptures.

I am always surprised, for example, when I am reading the Passion Narrative for a Bible study, and we read the story of the woman with the alabaster jar, the woman who anointed Jesus. This is one of my favorite stories, especially Mark's version, where Jesus praises the woman and says of her, "What she has done will be told in memory of her." Of course, nobody remembers her name, so the comment is somewhat bittersweet. But I love her wasteful gesture, her pouring out of expensive perfume, because to me it is a sign and a foretaste of what Jesus will do when he pours out his life for the world. And it is a woman who serves as the type of Christ's sacrifice.

Invariably, one of the Bible study participants will say something like this about this story. "Those who are on the left wouldn't like it."

And why would that be?

Because of Jesus' retort to the disciples, who critiqued the woman, "The poor you have with you always, but you will not always have me."

Obviously, Jesus' statement was meant to be a tacit endorsement of conservative Republican values, and a repudiation of liberal Democratic ones.


The problem with going through scripture looking for the statements you agree with is that you miss the larger picture: the picture of the wasteful God who breaks open the jar of his own life for all of sinful humanity.

The problem with going to churches of the like-minded (whether conservative or liberal) is that they might miss the larger picture: a scandalous God whose mission is larger than any political agenda, and who will call any willing sinner to follow.


steve said...

Oh, I KNOW! It's frustrating. In part, I think it's a reflection of the success political advertising has had in demonizing people of different political perspectives. It also reflects a desire for sameness that is reassuring but not challenging.

Church, IMHO, should be the opposite of these things. It should be about understanding, about compassion, about challenging whatever preconceptions interfere with these things.

Just like Jesus did.

Jan said...

Diane, you wrote beautifully about an issue I've observed, but haven't quite realized. I just figured it was what was happening at the Methodist Church I left here in south TX, so it was indicative of this location, not the general climate of the nation. Interesting and thought provoking.

Wyldth1ng said...

You know, all of you are my church. I haven't really been since being back. So I have missed out on what you are talking about.

more cows than people said...

well said, diane. very well said.

and i'm touched by wyld's thought that we're his church.

btw, thanks for sharing my joy.

zorra said...

So true. I was amazed/appalled the first time I heard that passage applied that way.

Happy Birthday!

FranIAm said...

Oh my! I am sitting here after reading one of the very best posts you have put up, my mouth open, my heart blown wide open.

This is extraordinary and a statement about who you are and how you work for the Kingdom.

It is brilliant.

Thank you.

(and Happy Birthday you amazing woman you!!!)

Diane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chorus said...

Have you seen the CNN special feature on God's Warriors? The episode on Christians talks extensively about the intersection of church and politics, and it is a most interesting and jarring and, dare I say, frightening view.

Diane said...

Chorus -- no, I have not seen God's Warriors. How can I get ahold of it?

dguzman said...

Here from Fran's place. Great post! Wow, those people are weird.

Mary Ellen said...

Wishing you a Blessed and Happy Birthday, Diane.

Great post, I know what you mean about the politics in some Churches. It's a sad commentary for those who have missed the point that the one thing Jesus did not want, government involved in religion. Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and all that....

Grandmère Mimi said...

Lovely post, Diane. The story of the woman who "wasted" the expensive perfume is one of my favorites, too. It's hard for me to see how Jesus' words can be twisted to justify neglect of the poor, when we remember how often he reminded us that when we see the faces of the poor we see Jesus himself.

A Blessed and Happy Birthday, Diane!

Marsha said...


Missy said...

Oh, very well said. And so timely for me, as I am going to a presentation on faithful citizenship tonight. Thank you for your sharing this.

And Happy Birthday!

Diane said...

in all fairness, I believe the people who point to the statement mean that we can't eradicate poverty, not that we shouldn't help the poor (at least I think that's correct).

but focussing on that, we lose the main point of the story.

Chorus said...

I'm not sure where one could get a copy of the God's Warriors series, other than by contacting CNN. There were three episodes, one each on Muslims, Jews, and Christians... all fascinating.

Wyldth1ng said...

The God's Warriors Series in my opinion was one sided.


The Future Was Yesterday said...

I'm here from FranIam.
I'd like to wish you a very Happy Birthday (yell at her, not me:P).

This is my first time here. I must warn you, your blog and mine are, well, day and night, and mine has the far worse wording as well.

"The problem with going through scripture looking for the statements you agree with is that you miss the larger picture"
A bit of background.... I'm uh..."old", and the first 18 years of my life were spent in forced Fundamentalism, with a heavy emphasis on Fundamental. Your statement I quoted made me laugh out loud with joy! There's at least two of us in this world that understand that.:)

A Republican Church
That observation was spot on, as was your observation were it Democrat it would be no different. The purpose of mega churches are not to "go to church" as we typically think of it. Anything but. They're about money, power, politics, getting bigger - but NEVER about God!

May you have a wonderful Birthday!:)

Dr. Zaius said...

Happy birthday! You share the same birthday as a famous simian presidential candidate from the future!

Dean Wormer said...

Wondefully written and terrific sentiment.

It's not particulary profound on my part to repeat the oft mentioned line that Jesus was the original hippy.

I personally like the Jesus in Godspell a lot better than the Jesus in The Passion of the Christ.

BAC said...

First, Happy Birthday ... this is a special day, as not only do you share it with Dr. Zaius, but with me, too! How exciting for all of us!

Diane, your post is excellent, and truly touches on the work I do at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Too often, when people here the phrase "separation of church and state" they think of it as anti-religious. In reality, it is certainly NOT that.

Unfortunately about 30 years ago (maybe longer) the religious right and the Corporate right decided to merge within the Republican party. We've had a "religous right" in this country for decades, but it's only recently that their political power has really grown.

I will admit to my bias, but I think their vision is short sighted. As you have mentioned, it's not healthy for religion and government to mix -- mostly for religion! Do houses of worship really want the government interferring in how they operate? I would hope not.

And it's dangerous for government, because of the plurality of religious belief we have in this country. We cannot meet the spiritual needs of all, if we elevate the religious belief of only one.

Government must remain neutral.

The organization I work with recently produced a video on this subject, and I would encourage everyone who visits to watch. Go to www.firstfreedomfirst.org and click on the "watch" video link.

Thanks, and Happy Birthday!

Diane said...

-I didn't mean to make any blanket condemnation of mega-churches. I don't have enough experience of all of them.
-I think a "democratic church" would be as troublesome as a republican church.

Crimson Rambler said...

somewhere in one of his sermons, the Abp. of Canterbury talks about the situation where one Christian's Jesus is the deadly enemy of every other Christian's Jesus...yup.

grace said...

osesTrue, so true...

TomCat said...

Here a day late from Fran's.

Happy belated birthday!

Ghost Dansing said...

the modern Republican Party in America is now a totally authoritarian, rightist, corporatist and theocratic phenomenon.

Republican Church indeed..... the major error is allowing those Pharisees to claim exclusive rights to the term "Christian".

Diane said...

Ghost-dancing, I having Republicans in my church. I don't think Republicans are bad. I just thinkk the idea of a Republican OR a Democratic church is bad.

Mauigirl said...

I have never actually heard someone refer to a church as being Republican or Democratic but it isn't surprising to me. Great post. I remember when I was young and going to church with my family, we had a very liberal minister but most of the congregation tended to be on the conservative side so he had to keep it under wraps somewhat. He and my dad always had great conversations after the service talking politics together since my family's political leanings were the same as his!

I am also here at Fran's behest to wish you a (belated) happy birthday!

Grendel said...

Happy Birthday to you,
and Lots of Gravy too
This dog sends you greetings
Snouterrific Day for you!

I missed it I'm sorry but I still mean it.

Anonymous said...

Happy belated birthday!

Thank you for stopping by my blog. One reason why I left my baptist congregation in NYC was that it became increasingly "like-minded" as you were describing. That was some years ago.

Today I am worshiping in a wonderful Episcopalian parish with a healthy dose of diversity of many points of view ... evangelicals, those committed to social justice in Christ's name, and even a small seeker/agnostic contingent who worship with us but don't know why.

Thank you again for posting. I will make it a point to stop by again!