We’ve seen example after example of the downward spiral of civil political discourse in this country. And no matter how much one side is responsible for it more or less than the other, that side is more likely than not to put all of the blame at their adversaries.
Now, finally, churches are working to do something about that.
More than 100 Christian leaders representing churches classified as everything from conservative evangelicals to liberal mainline Protestants say it’s time to create “safe and sacred spaces for common prayer and community discussion” within their churches.
I’m fortunate to go to a church that is very diverse politically. There are staunch conservatives and staunch liberals, and everyone seems to get along just fine, even when they disagree sharply. Just the other night, I had a discussion with a fellow church member I like a lot who tends to be at opposite ends of the spectrum with me on certain issues. And lo and behold, as we discussed, of all things, the health care reform bill, we seemed to have more generally in common in our concerns about what’s going on in Washington.
But my church isn’t exactly the norm, unfortunately.
Too many times in the past, I’ve seen churches where political feeling almost eclipses spiritual concerns. When I started looking for a church here in Charleston, I listened to a few podcasts online before choosing one to visit for the first time. And one of them featured a pastor who seemed to be actively campaigning against then-Democratic frontrunner Hilary Clinton. He actually said from the pulpit that he didn’t know what God would do to America if this country made her president.
Clinton wouldn’t have been my first choice, either, but had I been in physical attendance at that church on that particular morning, I’d have gotten up and walked out in the middle of that sermon.
That is not why I go to church.
I think it’s a good thing that these churches are committing themselves to provide safe spaces within to allow people to discuss things for the betterment of their communities, and I think there’s no question that being able to actually have a civil discussion on the subject of politics can only be good for the community.
I would expect the church, more than any other kind of organization, to seek healthy relationships that operate for the good rather than for power. I’m pleasantly surprised when I see signs that some are actually living up to such a goal.
Still, I feel a certain amount of uneasiness about such things. Unless you can have a rational, friendly discussion about politics, and everyone is willing to stick to that, it can be a good thing. But a lot of churches don’t seem very good at this.
Consider that midwestern church that pickets anything that will get them national attention. (Yes, I know their name, but they’ll not get press here.) These church members fervently believe that they are communicating a genuine, scripturally-accurate platform, despite the fact that they present a picture of a god that isn’t remotely familiar when compared to the God of the bible.
It’s awfully easy to say you’ll create an atmosphere where people can express themselves freely while still trying to manipulate them into a specific way of thinking. It’s one thing if that way of thinking is biblical. But who’s watching the watchers in such a setting to make sure that it is?