Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More on Emergent and Left Turns

I can remember the date very clearly: January 19, 2001. I was sitting in a church attending the monthly Lutherans Concerned worship service (I have a lot of friends that are Lutheran-this being Minnesota should not surprise anyone-so I went to these meetings for enrichment and solidarity). The preacher for the service started to "preach." I use scare quotes because it was hard to distinguish this sermon from a political speech. This was just after the fiasco that was the 2000 Presidential election concluded . The pastor was an unabashed liberal (no problem there) and he used the time for the sermon to basically denounce then President-elect Bush and lift up the outgoing President Clinton. I sat there somewhat flabbergasted. I came expecting a sermon-what I got was political rally.

Being a Republican, I wasn't much pleased with this, but then I wouldn't be pleased had the sermon gone the other way, either. I have a big problem with pastors using their pulpits for political gain and don't tolerate it from either side.

Now, when I shared my concerns with a friend, he gave me a look that said he basically didn't understand my frustrations. I didn't find it welcoming to me as a Republican and I just basically destested infusing politics in pulpit. My friend, who does is liberal, didn't see a problem with it. I suspect had been a right wing preacher talking of the virtues of George W. Bush, he would have been upset.

Church and politics is a big issue these days. There are scads of stories about how the joining of Evangelical Christianity and the Republican Party and many of my liberal friends denounce the partnership. On that point, I totally agree with them. The alliance between the two is not good. I was disturbed when the GOP leadership got involved in the Terry Schiavo case because some right-wing Christians refused to support her going off life-support. Likewise, I really did not like how the party has got behind "defending marriage" again because some on the religious right think it goes against the Bible.

In 2006, then majority leader Bill Frist, a Republican senator from Tennessee, took part in "Justice Sunday" an event that included several religious right leaders urging Congress to pass several conservative judicial nominees. Again, this melding of the GOP with such a narrow brand of Chirstianity was something I wholeheartedly condemned.

The Emergent conversation, which has some of its roots in conservative evangelicalism, has pushed away from such partisan politics. I am totally in agreement with that.

What's bothering me is that as I read more and more Emergent books and blogs, I've started noticing that as many Emergents have left the GOP-Religious Right mind meld behind, they have either unwittingly or intentionally fallen headlong into progressive or leftward politics. It seems as if the Church has left one master, only to become the slave to a new, progressive master.

I am not saying that Christians should not have conservative or liberal views. I think we are free to believe whatever we want to believe when it comes to how our society should be run. What I do have a problem with is that Jesus stops become Lord, the one we seek to follow and more of a cheerleader for whatever political philosophy we adhere to. When being a good Christian starts to coincide with being a good conservative or liberal, then we need to start taking a good look at ourselves.

The Emergent conversation gets points for seek to really live as Jesus lived. Where it falls down at times is that at times, some of its leaders seem to stress that to live as Jesus did means being a political liberal.

I am sorry, but the Bible I read doesn't say Jesus was a liberal any more than he was a card carrying Republican.

I'm not about to give up totally on the Emergent discussion, but I feel like the odd man out. What I had hoped was that the Emergent conversation would get beyond the whole liberal-conservative divide that has been a part of the modern church. Sadly, it doesn't look that way.

Too often, Jesus has become a cheerleader for whatever ideology that is out there. We all know that the religious right has made Jesus the perfect Republican, but liberals have done something similar. Part of me would like to see a movement of those that are really interested in putting Jesus above politics instead of making Jesus a mascot.

Listen, I do believe in social justice, but not always in the same way that some emergent people do. I believe in trying to do things nonviolently, but then there are times when you might have to use violence to overcome a greater evil. I believe in helping the poor and lifting up their cause, but I don't always think government is the best or only way to do it.

I have to believe, or at least want to believe that there is room for me at the Emergent table. I guess time will prove me right or wrong.

1 comment:

Feral Pastor said...

Hi Dennis -

I'm with you on not wanting the Church to simply swing from one ideological wing to the other. For what it's worth, I've heard Brian McLaren and others in the Emergent conversation acknowlege that risk as they attempt to find a third way that's not just a middle way between the two, but rather a different way "above the line" of the political dichotomy. So we have political/left, political/right, and suprapolitical. You may also want to look at a fourth option which is championed by Greg Boyd. I don't know if it's quite accurate, but his position might be described as apolitical. He's written about it in his book; The Myth of A Christian Nation. And you can find a Charlie Rose interview with him here.

As for a seat at the table, I think the best way to ensure you get that is to claim it outright, and then work to make sure that the "emerging" itself keeps going in helpful directions! I'll always be glad to sit next to you.