Unless you have lived through a church fight it’s hard to understand just how painful they can be. The wounds inflicted in the course of a nasty faith feud can take years to heal.
I’ve seen entire communities divided because of what happened in one church. And I have seen families divided—children against parents, brother against sister, with years passing before the distance is bridged.
The folks in the East Waynesville Baptist Church in Waynesville, N.C., probably know exactly what I am talking about.
The trouble began when their pastor of three years, Chan Chandler, boldly proclaimed from the pulpit that anyone who voted for John Kerry should repent or resign. Rev. Chandler would later say that his comments were not political. The pastor found Kerry’s stance on abortion reprehensible and made the argument that voting for Kerry was the same as voting for abortion.
There were a good many folks in the Waynesville church who agreed with their young pastor, but there some who did not. There were those who said they were opposed to abortion, but were also opposed to some of the policies of the president. Either way, they did not feel that church membership should be determined by what was done or not done in the voting booth.
The conflict came to a head in the past two weeks. Nine members left or were asked to leave—depending on who you talk to. Just as it is in real warfare often the first casualty in church conflict is truth. Finally the pastor resigned and about 30 members left with him. They will no doubt form a new church somewhere in the community.
Get ready to see more and more of this. The last two presidential elections demonstrated just how deeply we are divided as a nation. The brief unity that appeared after 9/11 has evaporated in the heat of political rhetoric.
Recent campaigns have not only played to this division, but helped to make it even more contentious. Politicians have learned how to manipulate the faithful to get out the vote.
The downside to using faith in this way, however, is that now we are divided between those who think they are right versus those who know they are right.
Not that faith should be absent from the political process, it just doesn’t need to take sides.
It is an immature and ill-informed faith that believes either political party is going to bring in the kingdom of God. Jesus seemed to think that all political entities stand under the judgment of God. Or to coin a phrase, there are no sinless politicians—no, not one.
Obviously we will never achieve perfect unity as people of faith. But we can at least fight over something more substantial than where we stood in the last election. It should matter little to people of faith which party is in power.
Whether Democrats or Republicans dominate the scene, our message should be the same to both. As recipients of some of God’s greatest material blessings we as the community of the United States have a responsibility to make sure Jesus’ “least of these” are cared for.
Jesus said we should care for poor, the sick, the disadvantaged and the dispossessed. He said that our failure to do so demonstrates that we never knew him. He also said our failure to care for these least ones will result in our separation from the presence of God forever.
Talk about being asked to leave!
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.
A retired Baptist preacher living in Alabama. Over 35 years, he served churches in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia. In support of his pastoral work, Evans published five books including “First and Second Corinthians: Immersion Bible Studies” (Abingdon Press (2011).