The television show “The West Wing” moved to Sunday nights this season as the show’s presidential election heated up. While such a move—from a more lucrative Wednesday night slot—unfortunately suggests that NBC is phasing out the show, it seems to be a quite appropriate new time. Sunday night appears to be the preferred night for politics, especially among Christians.
Just a generation ago one would be hard pressed to find many churches in the South (especially among conservative Southern Baptists) that did not have Sunday night services. Slowly, churches began to cut back or even eliminate their Sunday evening activities. While some have resisted this change, it seems a new trend in Sunday evenings is coming to churches—political rallies.
The third installment of a religious campaign to impact the courts—Justice Sunday III—was held this past Sunday evening. Each of the rallies has been held at a Baptist mega-church on a Sunday evening, with other churches watching live via satellite. These rallies have included prayers and inspirational music mixed in with political exhortations.
At the events, religious leaders such as James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Al Mohler, Chuck Colson and Jerry Sutton have joined ethically challenged politicians like Bill Frist and Tom DeLay to urge Christians to lobby legislators on behalf of President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees. I guess I missed the commandment about “Thou shall fight to controlleth the courts.”
On the stage at Justice Sunday II, there was a huge monument of the Ten Commandments featured prominently behind the speakers (kind of ironic since DeLay spoke at that rally). Some of the speakers at these events have argued that the Ten Commandments should also be posted in every school, courthouse and government building. Yet despite the fourth commandment, they gathered on a Sunday to preach politics. Maybe instead of trying to post the Decalogue everywhere, we should focus on living by them.
So last Sunday I decided to do something revolutionary as I went to church to worship God. I sang praises to God, not of Bush and Judge Samuel Alito. I listened to the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus, not the (false) gospel of Republicanism. I celebrated communion to remember the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, not to attack liberals and the media for supposedly persecuting me. I learned how to better live out the teachings of God, not how to have them codified. After all, Jesus came to build a heavenly kingdom, not an earthly shack.
At the first Justice Sunday, Dobson proclaimed: “My goodness, I just cannot imagine anything more significant than what we’re about to do.”
Nothing more significant than fighting to stop the filibustering of a few judicial nominees? What about sharing the love of Jesus? What about witnessing to the lost and feeding the hungry? What about counseling families?
In the March 23, 2005, episode of “The West Wing,” one of the presidential candidates, Arnold Vinick, was repeatedly questioned about why he does not attend church. At one point he was asked whether he would accept an invitation from the Rev. Don Butler, who had run against Vinick in the presidential primaries, to attend Butler’s church on the upcoming Sunday.
Vinick, played by Alan Alda, responded: “I respect Reverend Butler. And I respect his church too much to use it for my own political purposes. And that’s exactly what I’d be doing if I went down there this Sunday. Because the truth is that it would just be an act of political phonyism. I may be wrong, but I suspect our churches already have enough political phonyism.”
It seems that in the real world the problem is not just that politicians like Frist, DeLay and Rick Santorum often take the opposite position as Vinick, but that the church leaders gladly welcome them in.
Jesus could once again proclaim, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.”
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.