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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Politics and the Pulpit


The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides for free speech here in the United States, and religious freedom by which the government can neither sponsor nor interfere with the practice of religion.  They call this separation of church and state, but as my history professor liked to point out, it is called separation, not divorce.  Or, as is stated by the website called Anglican Mainstream, “This is the ‘wall of separation’ Jefferson talked about: protecting churches from the government (not the other way around).”

I remember borrowing a very old book he had, called “The Pulpit of the American Revolution,” which was a collection of sermons preached from the pulpits during the days surrounding the revolution.  Frequently those sermons addressed the issues surrounding the political ferment of the time, and my professor used to say that what often happened was that the topics addressed in church on Sunday would become the topics of discussion in the Continental Congress in subsequent days.  The church in America has always addressed moral, social and political issues of the day, just as the prophets of Israel did throughout the Hebrew Bible.  In fact, it was church leaders who helped foment the push of the abolition of slavery (although there were certainly some who were clearly on the opposite side of that debate).

But in Houston, Texas, the mayor is apparently rewriting the constitution, demanding through subpoena that local pastors send her copies of their “speeches” (she altered the wording from sermons...that makes it all okay, right?) as well as text messages, photographs, electronic files, calendars, and emails.  I don’t know all the particulars of the concern, but understand that it has to do with the pastors speaking against a gay/lesbian issue that she holds dear.  Apparently she has an issue with open and free debate or expression of a differing point of view.  In addition to her actions, I also know that in other arenas there has also been a push to threaten churches with revocation of their non-profit status if political issues are addressed from the pulpit, although it is unclear who gets to decide what issues are political!  

Last Sunday I had the privilege of hearing a couple from Romania tell the story of changing times after the downfall of communism in the country.  One thing that struck me was their description of days gone by.  In those times, whenever the local church obtained a new pastor, the pastor first had to register with the local police to be approved.  When the pastor was going to baptize parishioners, he first had to present the list to the police for registration.  Within the church individuals had to be careful about who they talked with and what they said, because present in every church on any given Sunday were government informers.  Church members were refused the opportunity for good jobs.  

It would seem there are those in the United States today who would desire similar restrictions be placed upon churches here…or at least that steps in that direction would be taken.  The Houston episode with an over-reaching mayor has placed in the spotlight the reality of such an agenda by those opposed to the stands various congregations choose to take, and some are saying this is a wakeup call for the American churches.  The website mentioned above is one of several that has a link to an online petition to address the issue with the mayor, and I encourage you to sign one.  That address is:  http://anglicanmainstream.org/global-petition-stand-with-houstons-pastors/   (The link they provide is to a petition by the Family Research Council, but I also like the Anglican article on the page given above.)  

It is bad enough that ISIS seeks to silence Christians in Syria and Iraq by torture and murder, intimidation and coercive control on pastors have no place in a free country like the United States.  I signed the petition today, and offered up a prayer for the pastors as well as for the misguided mayor.  Let’s not allow the separation of church and state to turn into a nasty custody fight in divorce!  

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