Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hanson Statement Highlights Problem with Churches of the Left...and the Right

One of the biggest problems in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), of which I am a part, is its leadership's insistence on speaking out on a variety of political issues, pretending, it seems to me, that their positions are unambiguously "Christian," when in fact, Scripture gives no such authority.

It matters little to me that the agenda pushed by our denominational leadership is "liberal," which it mostly is. I was complaining about the Religious Right's equation of Christian faith with conservatism a long time ago, and for the same reasons I am so critical of my own denomination's leadership today. Both the ELCA's leaders with their liberalism and those of denominations pursuing conservative political agendas are, I believe, equally heedless of the Gospel, equally prone to an "idolatry of ideology," and equally likely to confuse people about what it means to be a follower of Christ while alienating the very people with whom we're called and commanded to share our "good news.

I returned from a few vacation days in New York to find an email and press release announcing that the ELCA's presiding bishop, Mark Hanson, is pressing the U.S. Congress for immigration reform.

Immigration reform along the lines proposed by Bishop Hanson may very well be a fine idea. And there can be no doubt that we Christians are commanded to treat the strangers in our midst with hospitality and love.

But Bishop Hanson can hardly argue that he has a warrant for saying that two of the "principles" he endorses ("helping new neighbors come out of the shadows...and seeking a path to permanence for new neighbors") have Biblical or confessional authority. They are merely his political preferences, nothing more and nothing less, even if he feels a churchwide assembly vote gave him the right to issue such a statement in the Name of Christ and the Church.

Except in cases where the witness of Scripture is unambiguous in its message for civil authority and a pluralistic society, the Church needs to stay out of politics. Our mission is to share the Good News--the Gospel--of Jesus, not win legislative votes, elections, or coercive power.

Here are some other places where I've written on this subject:
No Politics from the Pulpit...or From Preachers
A Pledge I Wish Every Christian Leader Would Make
Jesus is Not a Republican. Jesus is Also Not a Democrat.
Who is the 'Values Voter'?
"Do religious ideas undermine democratic discourse?"
Dr. Dobson, Stop Playing This Dangerous Game!
Politics Endorsed by a Church? I Don't Think So!
Why Separation of Church and State is Best for the Church and Its Cause
Iraq, the Church, and 'Christian' Political Commentary

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