Old Testament King Saul imposed himself upon the office of the priesthood in violation of his calling to be a secular king. His attempt to blend the offices and override distinctly different administrations brought about the judgment of God.
Historians now tell us of peculiar church services in pre-war Germany where Nazi flags were draped over church altars. Such appalling scenes raise up unified responses from the world like “What were they thinking?”
Recently there has arisen in the nation stories unheard of years ago in the country. It is the strange way in which secular politics entered into church structures, most significantly, church worship services.
Traditionally worship services are designed to get in touch with the Holy Other. Services are structured to come into an audience with God who observes participants as Kierkegaard used to say. In days gone by the late activist W. A. Criswell of First Baptist Dallas used to go outside on the church steps to call a press conference announcing who he was backing for national office.
Perhaps to save the church problems with the IRS, but probably in order to not make a secular choice part of a sacred hour of worship, Criswell chose to do his bidding outside the church auditorium.
Times, they are a changin’, and what was once taboo is now becoming standard procedure. What was considered forbidden ground, the merger of secular politics with the church is changing. It is even to the point that now some church worship services have become focused on secular political agendas. One church in Austin, Texas, took up an offering for candidates–much to the shock of its treasurer.
In my own region I received an endorsement of a political candidate for office in the U.S. Congress on the letterhead of a Baptist church signed by the pastor. The pastor went even further, bringing the candidate down in front of his congregation and laying hands on him as a type of ordination for his candidacy. I have heard first hand accounts of this by witnesses in the congregation who felt this had gone way beyond the limits of blending the sacred hour with a secular intent. Nationally elected senators have even shown up in the region in churches asking for an audience.
Baptists have a tradition of an altar call. Usually at the end of the church service saints are given a chance to repent or unbelievers are coaxed to come forward to join the faith. One regional religious right leader now leads Baptist church worship services offering an invitation to register in a political party during the invitation hymn. He goes even further, admonishing pastors to stand behind pulpits and proclaim who they are going to vote for during the sermon. This is supposed to entice other faithful followers to follow suit. What is a radical departure from Baptist protocol is now becoming more and more common.
The Baptist church in North Carolina who kicked out its Democrats is another case in point. The pastor had stood behind a pulpit where men or women usually proclaim, “Thus said the Lord,” to denounce anyone in the church who did not vote GOP. Democrats were told to repent. When the pastor had done all he could by proclamation, he went one step further and led a charge to excommunicate those who still refused to see the error of their ways and embrace Republicans as voting Christian values.
Fundamentalist Baptists in Texas have jumped onto the political bandwagon. Their leader spoke recently at the Texas Restoration Project, which was an attempt to enlist churches in the political process. Their newsletters also endorsed in a backhanded way national candidates as well as openly advocating a bill before the U.S. Congress which would allow churches to directly participate in electioneering.
Southern Baptist Richard Land’s driving his Vote Values bus around the nation was an under-the-table way to accomplish similar results. Could you imagine the Girl Scouts selling you cookies and then taking the profits to pay for some political candidacy? Does it not seem to be a more serious offense to blend the sacred hour of worship with such a prospect?
From Rick Warren on the West Coast to Ronnie Floyd in Arkansas to James Kennedy in Florida, pastors have gotten on the airwaves in the name of the gospel and advised listeners on which candidate to vote for.
The taking of federal money by churches is increasing. Some see this as a payback for political support. The entangling of faith based charities with government treasuries is on the increase and gaining acceptance.
Most parishioners would have expected a slant on the news from an anchorman, a statesman or even a journalist. Most of them didn’t think they would be getting a spin on national affairs from their minister.
A former lieutenant governor of Texas warned that some Christian campaign ads are political pornography. Holding to such feelings is not going to excite people in the pews to greater heights of reverence at the viewing of such items in a church setting.
A regional city hosted one of these city-wide rallies inviting a religious right leader to speak. His obvious partisan outbursts cooled the spirit of the meeting and as a result the city sent out a letter of apology to area churches.
To the question of what would Jesus Drive, I suppose a guess is forthcoming. To those ministers who suggest it would be a Ford, they risk alienating the Chevy dealer from their congregation. Most congregations would suggest it best to leave the solution to that question up to the local believer.
This approach would probably work best for who Jesus would vote for. Moses warned against graven images that brought replicas of secular and worldly items to be worshipped. The blending of sacred and secular was forbidden.
Don Wilkey is pastor of First Baptist Church in Onalaska, Texas.