Saw this article posted and, given the political leanings and the sub header was initially repelled. Luckily I took the time to read it anyway as I think the call to practice our theology is on target even if I disagree with the political ramifications. I have a particular take on separation of church and state as it pertains to our personal life, I’ll get back to that later.
Let me start by praising the church that I attend, some of the people around me, and unfortunately probably crow for myself a little. My church seems very much to live out it’s theology, being able to answer the headline question with a resounding NO. I attend an old downtown church founded before there was such a thing as a “Southern Baptist” Our sanctuary was started shortly before the civil war and relied somewhat on the charity of other churches to be able to finish it after that conflict. When we started attending late in the last millennium you could walk in to a service on Sunday morning and very much accuse it of being a “majestic, ornamental tomb[s] of your church[es]” where God could be buried. Even then, before one of the services changed to a more contemporary style if you dug even a little deeper you would have found that the people within that tomb of a church were very much alive in their theology and involved in their community.
We had a pastor that had a close relationship with diverse pastors and rabbis from around the city working toward common causes. We had a youth group and separate activity campus which was the back porch of the church, welcoming any who would come, many though sports or even just seeking meeting space with little to no connection to religion. We had vibrant Sunday school classes which took seriously their call to service, either though various outside groups such as the local food bank to simply taking care of each other. We had an associate pastor who was known around town as the contact if anyone needed help, a meal to tide them over, a contact with a support agency or a ride across town. In an example of being church where you are, we had a significant ministry within the county jail which was on the same downtown block, where groups of members regularly went in to lead bible studies etc.
In the years that we’ve been there I seen changes and enhancements to that. The most obvious being a new contemporary service intended to be more inviting to the unchurched though music, dress, and general style. Also hard to ignore has been the purchase of the adjacent property (the old jail and sheriff’s complex) and it’s development as a community assistance mall of sorts. Numerous non-governmental agencies are housed there including secular agencies and those based in other denominations. Starting as a one time thought of a teen boys bible study group a whole feeding ministry has grown with dozens of meals being served every Tuesday night both at our church and at local shelters. More subtly has been the welcoming of people within our congregation who have been reached through these ministries. We have a whole subchurch within our ranks of refugees from Burma, many also attending our main services but having a separate service in their own language during our Sunday school hour. The children are more or less integrated in our children’s and especially youth ministries. While I would in no way call our congregation diverse there is definitely a sprinkling of peoples which would not be expected in what for many years was a “Southern Baptist” church and our members have much contact with and care for those who do not seem to fit our demographics.
All that said, and as much as I agree with the call that our theology should not be dead I disagree with much of the political slant of the article. First and foremost in that is my interpretation of a separation of church and state and more importantly how that effects my personal actions. In order of importance I believe in freedom of religion not freedom from religion. I believe that individual agents within government should be free to act within the tenets of their religion as long as it doesn’t explicitly restrict someone else’s adherence to their religion. However I believe that, as a matter of rule and/or law, the government should be religion blind. That’s where it gets complicated. I think that the majority of our traditional morals are religion based. Without a higher power what is good/right and what is evil/wrong depends on who you are ‘asking.’ To the individual it’s what is best for them in their understanding. To any size group it is what is best for the group as a whole, in it’s group understanding, irrespective of how it effects the individuals within that group and especially how it effects individuals outside of that group.
Secondly is my theological interpretation of this world. I believe that we live in a fallen, flawed world. There will always be sickness, death, poverty, injustice, etc. I believe the purpose of this world is simply to prepare our souls for the next. Our call to fight those ills is a call to obedience, to help ourselves and the specific individuals we impact, not with any expectation of actually making mass change. What happens here, ultimately, matters little, it is learning that matters.
Combining those thoughts I believe that, at least as far as rule and law are concerned not individual situations, we elect governmental representatives to govern the level elected for in the best interests of the population that elected them. Thus the city mayor is elected by the population of the city and elected to govern the city therefore they should govern the city, in color and religion blind manner, in the best interests of the mass of the population of the city. They should not bankrupt the city to save one neighborhood from development. They should not govern our city by the thoughts of some city half a state away and definitely not to those individuals benefit. Higher, representative government is slightly more complicated. I elect a congressman to run the national government to the best of their ability not simply for my (or the whole districts) benefit, that said he should be giving the greatest weight to the benefit/interests of his district not the nation as a whole.
So how does all that effect my interpretation of the political slant of the article? I voted for Donald Trump to run the country, for it’s citizens benefit. The charges of misogyny and racism as it relates to the citizenry is something to be concerned over but, as relates to direct legal action and his words (as opposed to his supporters), is not that compelling to me. Does he talk and act the way I want to talk and act, no, but that is a personal flaw in my opinion except when it effects actual policy, which I haven’t seen. The charge of racism when it comes to foreign nationals is a more compelling charge but much less concerning to me. He was not elected to represent them. In any decision relating to foreign nationals I believe it is his duty, regardless of christian calls of charity, to look at a strict cost/benefit as related to the citizens of this nation. Do illegal immigrants bring more benefit to our country than the harm they cause. Does accepting refugees from an area help to pacify it to the point that it helps our interests there more than it hurts our interests at home. Note that the question of national prestige works in opposite directions in those two questions. A nation that cannot control it’s border is not going to be respected. A nation that accepts the refugees of the world will be respected more.