A Baptist Press news story validated the need for BCE’s forthcoming DVD on faith and politics.
Since EthicsDaily.com editorials often challenge the fundamentalist-controlled Southern Baptist Convention, an editorial thanking the SBC news service for support is now in order.
A BP reporter covered the Baptist Center for Ethics’ preview screening at the general assembly meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, as we expected.
The reporter skipped the first screening of a global poverty DVD but sat in a packed room with some 140 other participants during the viewing of “Golden Rule Politics: Reclaiming the Rightful Role of Faith in Politics.”
The 35-minute DVD challenges the prevailing 25-year myth that GOP stands for God’s Only Party–a myth created by the Christian Right, a divisive myth that has done great harm to authentic faith and the common good.
BCE’s new DVD is grounded in the theological conviction stated clearly and repetitively that God is neither a Democratic nor a Republican and that political parties are neither thoroughly moral nor completely immoral. The DVD emphasizes that faith transcends political affiliation, that preachers should provide a prophetic witness and that the pursuit of justice is primary.
The DVD begins with Republican and Democratic campaign ads talking about faith. From over 20 hours of interviews, the DVD focuses on four Democratic officeholders of different Christian expressions in three different states and six ministers from four different denominations.
BP’s validation for our project appears with this sentence: “The film featured interviews with state and national legislators who are members of the Democrat Party and identify themselves as Christians” [italics added].
The reporter could have identified the politicians as two Baptists, one Lutheran and one Methodist. Or the reporter could have said the documentary-style film interviews Christian Democrats.
Instead, he wrote in a way to question the authenticity of their Christianity. They “identify themselves as Christians,” meaning that calling oneself a Christian doesn’t mean one is a real Christian. They claim to be Christians, in other words.
The reporter simply couldn’t accept that these Democrats are really Christians.
And that’s the rub in our culture and churches.
Too many conservative evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians believe that voting for Democrats is voting against God. Too many Christian Right leaders have pronounced that too often. Too many conservatives of faith think Christians should only vote for the Republican agenda, no matter how foreign that agenda is to the biblical witness.
The BP reporter’s worldview is what our DVD challenges.
A few of his other comments deserve correction. The DVD doesn’t depict Christian Right leaders as “co-opting Christianity for the Republican Party.” We quote one Southern Baptist agency head as wanting that to happen, asking to consummate the marriage between the Christian Right and the Republican Party. That isn’t depicting. That’s laying out the facts.
And yes, we never asked the interviewed clergy their political affiliation. It never dawned on us to do that. We chose them for their insight into politics from a faith perspective.
One of the treasured things about being a goodwill Baptist is the room for both the prophetic voice and the voice of dissent from the majority. A few viewers certainly felt free to raise questions about the DVD, even after the overwhelming number of participants applauded at the end of our documentary.
BCE has always seen its role as either offering a prophetic challenge or advancing social reformation, not engaging in cultural affirmation of the majority opinion among Baptists. We were one of the earliest and lone voices against the Iraq war. We have been one of the loudest voices for public education and one of the consistent voices that preacher predators are a real problem in churches. On these and other issues, our positions have been at odds with a lot of moderate Baptists in leadership.
If reformation Christians had backed down from the prevailing Christian perspective, then the abolition of slavery, the civil-rights movement, the end of apartheid, the acceptance of human rights as an international standard and the push for smoke-free environments in communities where tobacco is king would never have advanced.
BCE is challenging with the best of technology the widely held view that one political party is God’s party. We are challenging those moderate Christians who have enjoyed the banquet table of this relationship between faith and politics, even though they claim it is not their position.
In Accra, Ghana, last week at the Baptist World Alliance gathering, an African woman said Baptists once saw restrooms in churches as an abomination when it really was a basic human need.
As strange as that may sound to some of us, we all know that Christianity has a history of codifying belief and practices that the majority wrongly holds and that the minority first challenges.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.