Monday, July 23, 2007

Politics of church, politics in church

When one discusses Just War Theory in any decent philosophy class, a distinction emerges between jus in bello (justice in war) and jus ad bello (justice of war). "In bello" implies questions about whether the war is fought justly: do soldiers murder civilians without cause, are the wounded treated ethically and without cruelty? "Ad bello" raises questions about the justifications for the war: was it entered for a just reason? In the politics of the church a similar divide emerges.

More and more, the national news covers politics "ad christo" (of God), but only very rarely does a newspaper run a story of the politics "in christo" (in God). Politics of God includes questions of whether evolution should be taught in schools, whether abortion is ethical or whether stem-cell research should be encouraged. It's the political church that we're all familiar with, and debates are mostly peopled with bible-waving fundamentalists on one side, and athiests on the other.

Today's USA Today religious feature, however, focused more on the politics "in christo". It pointed out that members of the church community are often ostracized for political stances that they take on church/state separation. The article doesn't go far enough, in my opinion. Hot-button political issues are far from the only thing for which members of a church can be ostracized. I've seen churches divided and families expelled over questions of whether to hold an earlier Sunday service with contemporary music. I've known people ostracized from a church because their children are on the wrong soccer team in the town rec league.

The point that the articles tries to make, but misses, is that the church body itself is a highly political thing. Hypocritically, people jockey for power and for position within the church just as they do in town council elections, or in Senate debates. I think that there is the pervasive idea that the church body should be above politics, that because church members are called to love everyone, there should be none (or at least less) of the petty power struggles that mark other organizations in our lives, but this is certainly not the case. Every church, no matter how small, has its politics. People get hurt, people lose friends, jobs are even lost over power struggles within the town church to see who gets to be deacon for a year. Should it surprise us? No. The church is an organization made up of humans, and a wise philosophy professor once told me that any human social gathering is a political gathering, because there are no groups without politics.

Beyond individual congregational power plays, there is a massive political game being played at denominational levels. In the Southern Baptist Convention several years ago, a resolution was passed to forbid women pastors in SBC churches. This resolution did not really reflect an interpretation of scripture (the scriptural arguments in favor were specious at best), but instead represented the attempt by one faction of the Convention to prove to another faction that they had enough power to get a candidate elected in the vote for Convention President that took place later that same night. The decision that the rest of the country saw as a statement of backward, women-bashing doctrine was actually just a power struggle played out by proxy.

Christ calls for Christians to love all, forgive all, and harm none. It's too bad that the most basic tenets of the faith get so often lost in the human tendency to play politician instead of empathizer.

1 comment:

sully18 said...

Of course the USA Today didn`t go far enough with their story because it isn`t a real newspaper.
The people who run this country today were the same people that Christ threw out of the temple;the same ones who were referred to as the "Scribes and Pharisees," actually the ones who had him crucified.
The new Scribes and Pharisees,sometimes referred to as the religious right,are now crucifying this country.