Christian Converser

Race Relations In America: Nation And Church Divided [2]

Since we wrote last week, these matters have been the subject of ongoing debate within church and other communities. The biggest issue remains the widespread support that evangelical churches have traditionally given to conservative politics around the world. As we noted previously, there is still a standout element which continues to blindly champion these causes, often in ways that alienate and divide those who have challenged this divisive adherence. At the same time, we’re aware that this alignment is viewed from within parts of the evangelical Christian community as being one that they want to separate and difference themselves from to the greatest possible extent. That’s the position we are taking here. Broadly speaking, politics is a force unto itself, and even Christian politicians are forced to toe a party line that may be contradictory at times to Christian values. Where a politician is not a Christian, they are going to embarrass voters and supporters at times with some of their actions, as those in support of the current US president are fast discovering.

Does this mean Christians shouldn’t participate in politics, or vote? We are not saying anything like that at all. We are all in society as believers to have influence, and that influence should be everywhere, in every level of the community. However a problem arises when churches and individual believers have made it a goal to seek after political power. This can create issues such as arise in any type of situation where anything other than Jesus becomes an important and overriding goal or achievement. The compromises that churches and people have had to make to campaign for particular politicians are obvious problems, such as with the US President’s Evangelical Support Committee, some of whose members have backed Trump to the hilt, presumably with wider support from their church communities. But the bigger problem for churches and ministries becoming entangled with political campaigns is that they run a strong risk of offending their own supporters, who have a right to choose their own political allegiance. Some of the statements in the US by Christian politicians is so strongly polarised that Democrats have been almost accused of being satanic. It’s not much different here in NZ, where we are well aware that so many evangelicals are good National-voting folk, and few Pentecostal churches are accommodating to other political beliefs; but there is a lot more divergence in evangelical leaning mainline congregations.

Pentecostals do need to take a long hard look at the basis of their beliefs and theology. It’s important to note that Pentecostalism was founded in 1906 and the church in which it first appeared was headed by a black minister. At a time when the separationalist “Jim Crow” laws in the US were at their height, he scandalised society by allowing white and black congregationalists to mix freely in the meetings held at Azuza Street, LA. But after his own ministry folded, the work was spearheaded by others who conformed to the racial norms of the day. The Southern Baptists, who have been influential in the development of evangelicalism in the US, was originally formed as a split in the wider Baptist movement there because the Southerners wanted to be able to keep their slaves, and has had to address those problems along the way. In the first post we mentioned that the pastor of Church of the Highlands had to apologise for following and liking posts by a Trump campaigner on social media and this has had further ramifications this week because some social organisations that worked with COFH in Alabama have decided to end their partnerships with the church. Billy Graham in his generation was very wise when he chose not to be politically affiliated, and it seems the next generation after him are having to learn the same lessons.