Sunday, October 10, 2004

Single issue senselessness

The minister made his case against abortion this morning in a suburban Detroit church attended by my best friend. At the conclusion, he summarized the significance of the issue and then told the congregation that they must vote on the abortion issue. God will hold them accountable for their vote based on that issue. Sound like something coming from the Vatican? No, it was from a “nondenominational” independent church.

It seems to me that at some point, God may very well ask us what we did in the face of the abortion debacle. Yet, I am concerned that the preacher may have fallen into a trap from which logic will not allow escape. Even a high school civics teacher knows that elections do not measure public on opinion on single issues. A vote for a pro-life candidate may feel to voter to be a vote for life, but in today's party structure, the vote speaks to more issues—among them war and peace, human rights, and healthcare for starters.

Obviously, the minister meant that his congregation should vote Republican. Did anyone else observe two pro-choice figures dominating their convention? When Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell was asked why he was not featured, his reply indicated that he did not attract folks like the other speakers, and what really mattered was winning the election. If some moral purity is effected by the election of the Republicans, is the message then that the ends justifies the means? Parading pro-choice people to draw the crowd looks more like bait and switch than furthering the will of God.

The preacher rightly has a passion about abortion, but does he have the moral, spiritual, or any other authority to say that abortion trumps all other moral concerns? Much to the chagrin of some fellow believers, hundreds of Christians, including dozens of evangelical leaders, signed on before the invasion of Iraq to a statement saying that the invasion of Iraq did not meet the “scripture test” including a widely accepted standard for just war.

As important as the protection of the unborn is, what about the thousands of Iraqi dead from American fire in this war? What message of the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is being communicated to the Arab world through our public policies? Justification of the Iraq War is open to passionate moral, political, even scriptural debate. So my question is: how can the minister justify lording his interpretation of political priorities on his congregation? What text does he use to back up such proposition?

For all the well meaning folks out there who desire to please God, honor His Word, and proclaim His Truth, my thought is this: honor His Word by proclaiming what is clearly revealed.

I recall that in Matthew's narrative Jesus spoke of accountability, but among the issues crucial to him-the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and the stranger, I never remember the verse about voting Republican--or Democratic. If there were only one moral issue, then the preacher may have had a case, but the complexities of today's politics go far beyond a single issue, although there are many highly paid consultants who want church going folks to think otherwise.

17 comments:

Ken Dowdy said...

Ok! I’m going to make one of my rare appearances here and just make an observation. I agree with your writing, as I do most often.

Many politicians and even ministers truly like their congregations academically barefoot and pregnant with single-mindedness. Thus, you will easily find both politicians and preachers replicate the same rhetoric day-in and day-out, week-“end” and week-out.

B. S. Denton said...

How do you top Ken's comment? I fully agree.

I get a little (a lot, actually) fidgety whenever I hear political rhetoric in a church service . . . that whole "Render unto Caesar" thing makes me wonder if we aren't missing the point.

And yes, I think that the words of the Christ are pretty dang clearly revealed.

Excellent post, Bev.

JAW said...

Bev-

You make very excellent points. When my wife is asked if she is a republican or a democrat (a frequent question for a political scientist, particularly from church folks in the South), she simply evades the question by saying "I prefer a multi-party approach...but if pressed, I'd be German Christian Socialist")

Your post (and your friend's story) makes me make a slightly off-subject and potentially heretical observation. Having no denominational structure is a strength in many ways for the churches of Christ and for other independent non-denom churches; however, the biggest pitfall therein relates to the clergy. In nearly every other profession there are acceptable standards of professionalism and training needed for practice. As a teacher, you must be credentialed. As a librarian, I must possess an ALA-accredited masters degree. But what about ministers? Most mainline denominations require MDiv's, apprenticeships, mentoring, and even psychological testing for ordination. At times I wish we did, too. Too often I've sat through sermons delivered by irresponsible ideologues who basically "hung out their shingle" and through one-on-one schmoozing/coddling continue in their positions.

I'm not for monolithic denominational structure, but I do think we have a lot of folks becoming (preaching) ministers who have no business in the pulpit. God bless those who do serve in that capacity - they are far braver than I - but we'd all be better served (I think) with more rigorous training methods for the men and women who can/should occupy such an influencing position in religious life.

I see this, actually, as helping those in the ministry. Currently, ministers in churches of Christ can and are fired on a whim and are not treated as the professionals they are. I'd like it if ministers were given contractual terms...and if church or minister chose to not renew said contract, no one's feelings would be hurt. Not to mention I think ministers need better retirement benefits/planning and insurance options. But now I'm really digressing and being a weirdo...:)

God bless.

Bev Blair said...

Bev, I appreciate your comments and was moved by Ken's commentary. I am, however, still jealous of your writing ability. In Sister Bradshaw's Bible class, when we reported on Jacob's wives, I always thought that your report was more interesting because you chose to talk about Rachel and I got stuck with Leah. I must now concede that it actually was your superior writing and speaking skills that were the reasons for your outstanding report that Sunday.
Signed, The Less Eloquent Bev

James Hooten said...

Hey!

I'm another one of the lonely West Texas liberal types. I am in classes with the prof who emailed you. And (you guessed it) I know and have classes with your son, Chris, the prof's erstwhile Grad Assistant.

I don't talk about politics over at my blog too much. Mostly theology and ethics (you know, irrelevant gibberish). I'll be reading your blog. I keep seeing your comments over at the Malibu Librarian (my good friend with whom I will be visiting next weekend!).

Blog on!

Beverly Choate Dowdy said...

In response to James Wiser's weirdo remarks:
First, I must add my own. That is to say that I am frustrated that weirdo defies the rule I learned in elementary school that "i" comes before "e" except after "c".

Next, imagine growing up female in this movement and seeing that ANY man--regardlesss of his preparation, giftedness, and ethics--may call himself a minister. On the other hand--there are some in church leadership who recoil from a woman hired to minister, a minister.

This state of independence for those in ministry, though possessing some privileges, results in a lack of accountablity. This leaves ministers vulnerable to their own blind spots. Many with great talent and heart blunder through long passages in their careers without the coaching and mentoring needed to grow. Local elderships may grow into this sheperding role, but many do not possess the vision for it.

There is hope:
When my son Chris enrolled in ACU's College of Biblical Studies, I appreciated David Wray's remarks to the effect that at least there, the deparment does not consider a BA in their department a "professional degree." Although they apparently do not have a formal "ordination" process, they do encourage a great deal of training development.Plus, David Wray is casting vision for elderships through his Elderlink ministry.

JAW said...

Bev-

Your comments about Chris and ACU are encouraging. I am very impressed with the GST at ACU - I think they are doing a wonderful job and from what I can tell are preparing their graduates to be great at what they do. In fact, I'd argue that the GST @ ACU is the best game in town today for those who want theological education in the COC. (I'm hopefully not betraying Pepperdine - Pepp is far more interested in bolstering its undergrad offerings at Seaver College and developing its professional schools - which I'm biased in thinking are getting better every day). My only fear, however, is twofold:

1. Many congregations who could benefit from their service will never consider hiring an MDiv from ACU because they might be too "liberal." Most COC's in urban areas (I think) are past this, but they comprise the minority in our fellowship.

2. Many graduates may find it difficult, after spending two/three years in an environment of open, progressive dialogue, to work in congregations where their patience and training would be under constant inflammation.

My second point is also true in other aspects of higher education in the COC. Most young COC PhD's (depending on where they went) want to be able to explore/dialogue with a great measure of academic freedom...like the universities where they earned their PhD's...but realize that many of the COC schools will fire them for expressing unorthodox religious views...even if religion isn't their specialty! Thankfully (shameless Pepperdine plug here) we are not a university like that.

From its' beginnings in 1937, Pepperdine has always been aware of the needed divide between church and university. (In fact, George Pepperdine had non-institutional leanings.) To his credit, that's why I think Pepperdine has been able to climb the ladder of US News rankings year after year (we're tied with Syracuse and George Washington this year)

But that's why I've always thought GACS was a great school, as well - in many ways I see Pepperdine and GACS as similar in mode and operation. You would know better than I the strengths and weaknesses of GACS, but I've always thought GACS was a truly awesome place and a great example of what members of the COC can do when they drop their sectarian baggage. (Can you tell how much I like David Fincher?)

Sheesh, I'm a rambler. This has nothing to do with your comments. :)

James Hooten said...

Do you think he likes Pepperdine?

john alan turner said...

Wow! Having gone to both schools, my esteem rose in my own eyes.

I agree with the overall line of thought here. One issue should never decide the election -- whether that one issue is abortion or education or social security (Al Gore still has that locked box, doesn't he?).

We should vote our conscience, and our conscience should be biblically formed and shaped by the whole counsel of God. We ought to have a heart of compassion for the poor. We ought to be concerned with the sanctity of life for all people, those who are born and those who are unborn. We ought to be involved - not just at the level of legislation - but also to change the attitude and the conscience of a nation.

Anonymous said...

Bev,

Long time reader. First time commenter.

I really enjoyed this post mainly because I find most Christians to be Republicans. On top of that, they vote for Dubya mainly because he's pro-life and a "Christian". I was raised as a white middle-class Christian Republican, but somewhere along the way I learned to think for myself.

I was thinking for myself one day, when I realized that it might be a good idea to maybe vote for a candidate not just because he's pro-life or shares the same (probably distorted) belief in God that I do. I continued thinking for myself and realized that out Great Republican Man of God is also for the Death Penalty.

Pro-life and for the Death Penalty. That sounds like a contradiciton.

I don't understand how these views can be so different.

Especially in a world where crime investigations are fallible and women get raped at a disgusting rate.

Just a thought.


Still not a Democrat,

John Carroll

Clarissa said...

Is the government responsible for taking the message of Jesus' love to the Arab world?

Beverly Choate Dowdy said...

Good question, Clarissa. I need to take a long look at that statement.
Bev

mark said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Beverly Choate Dowdy said...

Thanks Clarissa and Mark for making me look at this question I wrote about "What message is being sent about...Jesus in foreign policy"

I was reacting to the theme that Christians should VOTE their religious convictions by voting on single domestic issue--abortion rights—therefore voting Republican. In that case, voting a certain way is a Christian act. So, then voting for our foreign policy would be a Christian act as well. I believe the way I worded the question, and taken out of that context of thought, leaves the impression that I think the government has a role in the message of the Kingdom—which I do not. God doesn’t need the government to spread his good news.

Meanwhile, the invasion of Iraq raises questions of legitimacy for many Christians. For some Christians, pro-life means anti-abortion, anti-death penalty, and pacifism. I don’t think either major political party offers that option. With only two parties embracing such wide coalitions, picking one issue and claiming that a vote for that party signals a Christian act is not reasonable.

However, reason does not seem to be a big premium in the rhetoric around this election anyway.

Beverly Choate Dowdy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Beverly Choate Dowdy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Beverly Choate Dowdy said...

Mark
If you ever look at this blog again, I did not mean to remove your comment! I was trying to remove my comment which I posted twice. I appreciated your question.
Bev