06 October 2012

“Pulpit Freedom”: More civic idolatry.

Tomorrow is “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” an event in which pastors are encouraged to ignore the laws forbidding non-profit organizations (namely churches) from endorsing specific political candidates or parties. Instead, they’re gonna engage in civil disobedience, endorse whoever they want—on the grounds that their chosen candidates or parties reflect the Kingdom best—and let the chips fall where they may. If they lose their non-profit status, so be it; we have freedom of speech in the United States, and we should particularly be able to practice freedom of speech in our churches, in the name of standing up for godly things.

Well, I agree about standing up for godly things. But churches are outposts of the Kingdom of God. And the Kingdom is not a democracy. It’s a Kingdom. It has a king: Jesus of Nazareth, Messiah of Israel, Lord of lords. Stumping for some other leader in Jesus’s pulpit, particularly one who doesn’t answer to Jesus—either Mitt Romney, who follows a heretic interpretation of Jesus, or Barack Obama, who only follows Jesus when it’s politically convenient—is, bluntly, treason.

If, as a result of this foolhardy behavior, a church gets its lampstand taken out (i.e. Rv 2.5) what’s to say our government isn’t acting entirely within Jesus’s will?

This foolhardy effort is promoted by the Alliance Defending Freedom, formerly the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian Right organization founded in 1994 by Bill Bright, Larry Burkett, James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, and Marlin Maddoux. It was founded for the purpose of promoting and defending civic idolatry. I define civic idolatry, not as the worship of the United States (or your particular homeland, or the “traditional values” of your region, or the U.S. Constitution) per se. Although certainly there are people who do that. But civic idolatry, as it’s practiced in the U.S., is far more insidious: It’s the attempt to redefine the United States as God’s chosen nation, and Americans as God’s chosen people. These folks claim God founded the U.S. as a Christian nation, and that we’re obligated to make sure it stays a Christian nation. How we do that is by staying in God’s good graces through outward expressions of religion: Prayer invocations before government meetings; publicly posted displays of the Ten Commandments, crosses, Jesus statues, and other indications of our Christian heritage; regular reminders, in politicians’ speeches, of that Christian heritage, of God blessing the United States, and all that; and whenever possible, incorporating the Old Testament Law into our nation’s and states’ laws.

…Well, okay, not all the Old Testament Law, such as the commands against charging interest to fellow citizens; or the commands returning all private property, regardless of liens against it, to its original owners every 50 years; or permitting the poor to glean your fields; or tithing, or food laws, or uncleanliness laws, or Sabbath laws. Largely all they care about are the commands defining sexual activity and gender roles. Financial activity… well, in that, they’re under New Testament grace; and that grace permits them to be laissez-faire capitalists and social Darwinists. As I’ve ranted about so many other times, and you’re probably tired of all the skipping on that scratchy LP.

In saying the U.S. is God’s chosen nation, it pretty much permits them to do as the ancient Hebrews did: Because they were God’s chosen nation, they presumed, wrongly, that their gracious God would permit them any sort of outrageous atrocity, so long that they turned to God at the end of the day, apologized, sacrificed a few animals to him, and engaged in a few public acts of worship. Isaiah 1 describes God’s response to that: Their public worship made him sick, and he wanted them to cut it out and stop sinning, dammit.

The Christian Right regularly makes the mistake of concentrating on outward appearances instead of inward transformation. To be fair, the Christian Left does so too; work at all the soup kitchens you like, but it doesn’t bring you any closer to Jesus unless the charity work reflects your inward commitment to him, rather than replacing it. I will say, though, that the hypocrites among the Christian Left, as opposed to the hypocrites among the Christian Right, are the lesser of two evils: At least the Christian Left’s hypocrites are doing good deeds. For the wrong reasons, but still. Whereas the Christian Right’s hypocrites are just praying into the air, “This is a Christian nation… a Christian nation… a Christian nation!” It’s precisely the same as the Hebrews who insisted, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” (Jr 7.4 NIV) They assumed God would never, ever let their enemies smite his holy temple, regardless of the many secret sins they harbored; they assumed his grace had them covered.

So Pulpit Freedom Sunday is all about pushing for that worldview. However, some of the rumors I’ve heard indicate that it won’t just be members of the Christian Right taking to the pulpits. The organizers were hoping every participant would stump for Romney—whom they consider the clear and obvious choice—but several pastors, from the sound of it, plan to promote Obama. Romney still rubs a lot of Christians, like me, the wrong way. Not just ’cause he’s a Mormon; I personally don’t care that he’s a heretic, and we’ve had heretic presidents before, starting with John Adams (and arguably George Washington, whose own pastor believed he was a Deist). Romney’s contempt for the poor bugs me far more than any of the many, many things Obama has done that I disagree with. Bugs a lot of pastors too. So they’ll be risking their tax-exempt status for different reasons.

But they’re not right to do so either. Neither presidential candidate is our savior. Neither presidential candidate will bring about the end of the world if elected over the other, “more righteous” guy. Neither candidate is righteous. And extolling the virtues of an unrighteous man, instead of the teachings of the Righteous One, in Jesus’s own pulpit, is simply more heresy.

I’m not saying we should sit out the system. Of course we should vote; it’s our government, and we need to pick people to run it. The fact that the election has come down to these two yahoos, instead of more solid Christians, reflects another symptom of civic idolatry, which I’ll rant about another time. Still, the misuse of the pulpit pushes the wrong worldview altogether. I hope, for these churches’ sake, that those pastors who engage in this civil disobedience do lose their churches’ non-profit status—and that, in order to get that status back, every single one of their churches will be obligated to fire them. We need to purge the idolaters from church leadership, and get them to repent.