Monday, July 24, 2006

Integration of church and state?

Occasionally, there are times when I really enjoy being at church. Sometimes we have those days where things at our church fall into place. The music is uplifting, the sermon is strong, my pastor doesn’t gripe so much, and the members behave themselves. Everything feels right.

Let’s just say that yesterday wasn’t one of those days.

The day started off on a pretty OK note. But things took a pretty interesting and, well, stupid turn as my pastor opened the floor for a number of visiting politicians to speak. After they each presented their little pony and card shows, my pastor only devoted about 15 minutes or so for his sermon (not a very good one, by the way. I nodded off a couple of times. But, I digress…). I admit that I was pretty disappointed after this spectacle. What should have been an uplifting and inspirational way to start the week quickly turned into a political infomercial.

Interestingly, though this experience bothered me immensely, there was nothing politcally wrong with it. My pastor doesn’t seem to be endorsing any one particular candidate, nor was he using the church as a campaign outpost. Though in many instances, pastors have gone as far as to tell their congregation who to vote for (precisely how Bush was able to lure so much of the black vote), my pastor didn’t appear to have an hidden biases toward any candidate. For the most part, he didn’t show any signs of shadiness. Nevertheless, it has always been my contention that many of the larger evils in this world start off with tiny little concessions that appear to be harmless. That said, even the insignificant, once-in-a-blue moon visits from politicians during our sacred worship time made me feel a little annoyed and concerned.

Now, on the one hand, I completely understand how significant the church is (or at least should be) to the black community. Historically, the black church was the backbone of the community. Education, information, activism, and outreach efforts were all created in within the four walls of the church. But, back in the day, the church was the media for exchanging ideas, having discussions, and raising awareness. Today, all you have to do is pick up a book ever now and then, listen to discussions, and click on a few websites to get information about anything. There are more ways to collect information about politicians and their views than through Sunday morning visits.

Sadly, though, I’ll also admit: that many people at my church (or the rest of the community for that matter); especially youth probably care more about the BET Music Awards or the next American idol more than they do their city council members or state representatives. So, to that end, this type of political infiltration into our service was necessary to put a face on the people for whom we would be voting. Furthermore, maybe…just maybe…this would be enticing enough to get people out to vote and to make their voices heard.

I guess that’s why I’m so conflicted by politicians visiting churches. I think that my main problem is two fold:

One, I hate how politicians try to lure our (Black people’s) votes. Democrats say a few cheery things about helping blacks to progress in the society and they effortlessly earn our support. Republicans toss out the ‘religious’ card, and many of them receive our support (Hello? Anybody remember the 2004 presidential election?!).

Secondly, I feel like my spiritual time has been intruded upon when I have to share it with some politician who couldn't give a rat's a*$ about any of us.

Let the record show, however, that I have NO PROBLEM with the church being involved in community activism. To me, that’s a part of our calling in the ministry. For instance, a collection of our pastors have created a (to my knowledge) non-profit coalition devoted to reducing the rampant violence in our city. We need a collection of positive energy in our communities.

But politicizing our worship service is not the way to go. At least, I don’t think it is…

Your thoughts?

18 "Insiders" spoke their mind. Join in...:

monique said...

I understand your frustration, Andre, but I do understand why they would come to your church. Think about this. How can a political figure inform a mass of people of their views? You say the internet. How many people, especially the elderly, have access, let alone know how to work their computer. My grandmother refuses to learn anything about the internet. I have to be the one to look things up for her. I think it's a good idea for politicians to visit various churches. The people in the community need to know what's going on. Sure, there are various townhall meetings, but how many people attend them? I don't think the church should be subjected to religious topics only. Maybe your pastor should have chosen a better time frame to preach or better time to allow the politicans to speak, but I definitely think that visiting your church was a good idea. The public needs to be informed when they go to vote and the politicians believe they can reach a wide variety of people that way.

Sorry for the novel :)

j. alex said...

I think I disagree with that one Monique. The way I see it, Sunday morning service should be designed for worship. God has given us the entire week to devote to "outside" matters (social, political, and otherwise). To mix in something as corrupt and fallable as politics is a slap in the face to God.

KC said...

Since the beginning, the separation of church and state has been a foundational piece of this so-called democracy. But, many people believe that religion and faith-based communities influenced the politics of this nation. Too often, they get intertwined.

But, if you think about it, the only safeguards that are in place are the IRS laws that disallow any non-profit organizations (including churches) from endorsing or opposing political candidates.

thehc said...

Hey Andre,
I agree with Monique. In our effort to separate church from state, we have to be careful that we don't silence a valuable segment of our society. If only the views of secularists are allowed in schools, government, and public arenas, it will be a one-sided conversation. Churches need an avenue to reach government officials and get their voices heard. For the record, the words "separation of church and state" do not appear in the U.S. Constitution anywhere, and every one of the Founding Fathers owned a pew in a church. Ben Franklin owned several in several different churches. I firmly believe they only wanted to prevent one religion from dominating, not the removal of God from government.

monique said...

@J. Alex,

I wouldn't call allowing political officials to speak to a congregation "a slap in the face to God". The public NEEDS to be made aware of what is happening in the community. Having them speak to a congregation is a perfect outlet to reach a mass amount of people. The timing issue may have been a problem, but I don't think it's wrong for them to speak. You are right, Sunday is the day for worship, but are we to ignore what's going on in our community, let alone our world just because it's sunday. Like it or not, political matters occur and we need to be informed on what is happening in the community. Parents needs to know what's happening in their child's school district, besides, worshiping God is NOT only subjected to sundays.

Andre said...

@ Monique: Thanks for the novel! It was a good read. :)

I agree, to an extent. I agree that there isn't enough political mobility in the community to make church visits unnecessary. People DON'T go to town meetings. They DON'T participate in community activities. Hell, most of them DON'T vote. But, there has to be SOME way to raise awareness aside from exploiting 'church folk' during a time where their hearts and minds should be squared on God.

@ J. Alex: My point, exactly. It's especially unnerving to me that we allow politicians to come into God's house during our time of WORSHIP and parade themselves. Accepting crooks and liars who are seeking God is one thing. Accepting crooks and liars who are seeking votes is another...

@ KC: I understand where you're going with your comments. But, I think you missed the point of my post.

My issue is not necessarily with the separation of church and state (although, I holistically support such separation). My issue is that they invaded our WORSHIP time. Essentially, the Holy Spirit had to take a back seat to candidates from the State Senate. I wonder how God must've felt about being upstaged by a politician.

@ HC: The problem with your argument is that it's too difficult to inject religion into the secular world because ALL religions are not taken into consideration. When's the last time you heard about Bush visiting a Mosque? Christian churches and their equivalents are the ones that given the most validation. The Ten Commandments posted outside of court houses; Nativity scenes in the middle of the town square. "God Bless America". All examples of Christianity. What about American Muslims? American Buddhists? American Atheists?

By the way, I bet you didn't know that the most of the "Founding Fathers" weren't even Christians. They were Deists...

Andre said...

@ Monique: I don't think that you completely got the gist of J. Alex's argument. (Correct me if I'm wrong, J. Alex), but I think that he was referring to the campaign push that politicians are known for. How many times have we heard politicians promise to "fix" something or "change" something or "improve" something; but once they got into office, things remained at a stand still?

The fact is: politicians lie. They say whatever they need to; to whomever they need to; in order to get elected. Once they're aboard, they either trample their supporters or ignore them altogether. Why, then, would we allow them to infiltrate our worship services?

The black baptist church is known for opening up it worship service for ANY politician, regardless of their position. That's pretty unnerving to me.

karen said...

Personally, I don't see any problem with anybody presenting their views and positions at a church, especially if they are not exclusive to only one group.

thehc said...

Hey Andre,
I have heard the argument that the Founding Fathers were not Christians before, but I don't remember hearing the reference to them being "Deist". It was however, educational. The trashing of Christians by Secularists is nothing new to me though, while researching your claim I came upon several sites more than happy to inform me about the selective statements by our Founding Fathers that were pro-secularism or anti-religion. I've researched the crap out of the life of Ben Franklin in particular, and I can tell you, for every negative thing he's quoted as saying about religion, I can give you 10 that he said promoting it. It's hard to put stock in these claims when applied to a time in history when being anything other than God-Fearing would have gotten you burned at the stake. Much less elected to anything. I really feel this is all part of a larger effort by the left to make Christians abandon or at least question their religion, and it's working. Every year, the percentage of people who claim to be Christian in the U.S. goes down by percent, and they couldn't be happier. You have to ask yourself one question, if there are only two sides, good or evil, God or Godless, who are these people working for? As far as us not promoting these other religions, the U.S. is still 76% Christian, I doubt you would have any luck getting as much voice as you get here as a minority religion in any other country on Earth.

Diane said...

Andre, for my part, I agree with you. If the politicians had been scheduled to speak at any time at your church other than your regular preaching and prayer service times, I would have no problem with it.

By allowing them to speak during the time set aside for preaching of the Word, it took the focus away from worshipping God, and gave the politicians a captive audience, especially if it wasn't announced ahead of time and you only found out about it after you got to church that morning. By scheduling it on, say, a Friday night, that would allow only the ones who were truly interested to choose to be there, and leave God's worship and preaching times intact.

I for one wouldn't like a politician taking up time I needed to hear the Word, and most politicians have flyers with information on their platforms available for those who are really interested. I see no real need for them to speak at a church, especially during time set aside for preaching and worship.

Okay, I'm done now. Thanks for giving me something to think about, as usual, Andre. :-)

j. alex said...

Hear, hear!

Andre said...

@ Karen: I think that's one of the problems. Politicians these days only focus on the appeasing one religious group, when we KNOW that this country has so many others.

@ HC: I don't think that Liberals are doing as much to effectively turn people off to Christianity as Conservatives are. I mean, when you hear people like Pat Robertson say that Katrina happened because God was punishing New Orleans for homosexuality or you have "Rev." (and I use the term with apprehension) Phelps say that God is killing soliders because of homosexuality in America; it's very easy to get turned off by religion...especially Christianity.

As my best friend once put it, people aren't rejecting God; they're rejecting the package that we put Him in...

By the way, I heard you stopped by my office. Sorry I missed you.

@ Diane: Hey Lady Di! You've hammered home my point. I'm just simply NOT a fan of politicians coming into our church during our worship time to lie about what they're gonna do for us. Jesus got pissed when He came to the temple and saw vendors desecrating the place. I wonder how He feels about politicians doing the same...

Thanks for your comments!

@ J. Alex: Hear, hear!

thehc said...

An excellent point! Pat has probably done more to hurt Christianity than any Liberal I can name.

JD said...

AWWWWWW MANNNNN! I missed another GREAT service at Mt. Cally!

Here's what I think: There's nothing wrong with our Pastor allowing celebritie...I mean, politicians, to speak at our Church. Like you said, Pastor has never shown favortism unless a member of our church is running and even then, he may not show it. (Think back to Rev. Gold Tooth). Also, like someone else said, a lot of members would NEVER know what was going on in our community had it not been for them showing up. You KNOW that in our community people are barely aware of themselves (GM is going bankrupt? So THAT's why I lost my job!) Much less aware of political actions in our community.

The problem with it is this:

ON THE AIR

Had the political officers said their piece AFTER this sign was turned off, the sermon wouldn't have needed to be trimed, and maybe someones life couldn've been changed through it. I suggest getting rid of the "sign" altogether, but I'll leave that up to you to discuss in another post. :)

The Church (not just "the Pastor") ALLOWED these people to come in and disrupt our service. So what's "Mt. Cally's" priority? Looking good "ON THE AIR" or changing lives?????

Andre said...

@ JD: Well put.

On the one hand, I still don't buy the argument that the church is the center of the activism community. It was at one point. But now, if you're REALLY interested, all you have to do is visit the library or click on a website. Does a politician's presence at church really enlighten the masses (especially, if the only thing they're saying is "Vote for me")?

But, on the other hand, I completely agree that there is something fundamentally wrong with using politicians (in some cases, FAMOUS politicians. Hello! Remember when Jesse Jackson came to our church?!) to flaunt ourselves. I mean, if you want to flaunt your church, why don't you just build a multi-million dollar life center, and buy new carpet and pews?! Of course, that never happens ANYWHERE, right...?

JD said...

Hey, I said that we should get rid of the sign a long time ago......in'94

Andre said...

You wrote that comment a long time ago. A real long ti-i-i-i-me ago. Ya feeeeel me?

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