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April 19, 2005

Church and State

My colleague Jim, in a post below, has already demonstrated his concern that local, invidual churches become too involved in the national political process. I echo his concerns. I think there is a definite place for the local church to speak on community and even state issues; national politics is another matter. That said, I believe pastors and church leadership should speak out against the evils of abortion, pornography and other sins that are dangerous to both the soul and to society.

I disagree with our reader who commented "Some are conservative and some are liberal and I wish that they all would just shut up because I am sure that they do not represent God." Certainly God is not Rush Limbaugh, nor is He Howard Dean. But it is naivete at best, bad theology at worst to suggest that God does not have a position on some, though by no means all, political matters. As another reader commented, abortion has become a political issue and yet it would be foolish to suggest that this is an issue where God is silent.

Having said that, I want to offer some examination of the upcoming Family Research Council event.

To begin, I watched Senator Schumer make a royal imbecile of himself on This Week yesterday morning. His rhetoric was juvenile and embarrassing. Serious Democrats should reject his thinking, and it is to their political detriment if they do not. Hugh Hewitt has had much to say about Schumer's Orwellian contention that it is somehow unAmerican for the Family Research Council to hold this weekend's event.

While it may not be un-American, I would suggest that it is not the wisest course of action. Do not misunderstand me. I believe that what the Democrats are doing is unconstitutional. I defy any reader who opposes the FRC to defend the Democrat's unprecedented obstruction. I believe these cynical actions on the part of Harry Reid and his cohorts are a legitimate danger to the Republic. Yet I also believe that increased involvement of identifiable local churches, acting outside the political parameters found in parachurch organizations, are running a very legitimate risk of watering down the Gospel and turning away those who would seek to find Christ within the walls of the Church.

Hugh Hewitt
has joined with other bloggers (see Powerline and Althouse) in defending both the right and rhetoric of the FRC. While I fully believe in the constitutionality of the FRC's action, and I would not go as far as the Washington Post and call its action slander, I would remind readers of the Jurassic Park maxim: Just because we can doesn't mean we should.

Hugh Hewitt is correct when he asserts - see the bottom of this post - that the leaders of the Religious Right have not overplayed their hand. Politically, this is true, but I wonder about the local communities. What does the local agnostic think when he sees a church that is, in his view, more concerned with judicial appointments, however important they are, than with the destitute of body, heart and, above all, spirit within his own community.

Ramesh Ponurru is an ardent defender of social conservatives. A staunch Catholic, Ponurru does not shy away from following his Church's teachings in his political involvement. Yet he gently rebukes the views of Hewitt and others in a post this evening. Here is the money quote:

I'm with the Post on this one. I think it is true that many Democrats are enforcing a viewpoint test for judicial office that has the effect of screening out Catholics and many evangelical Protestants who are faithful to their churches' teaching about abortion. And I think Republicans have every right to hold Democrats to account for it. But opposition to Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism is not the same thing as opposition to religion in general, and opposition to pro-life views is not the same thing as opposition to moral conviction, either. The FRC's line that Democrats are filibustering "people of faith" is an overreach. The claim it is making is untrue, and it is untrue in a way that makes the Democrats look worse--which makes it a slander in my book.

I said before that I won't go so far as to use the word slander. I will say that this is a political miscalculation made worse by the fact that this broadcast will not be in homes or community centers; it will be in the local church. As a conservative and an evangelical, I can't support this with a clear conscience.

Posted by Matt at April 19, 2005 12:00 AM

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I think the difference is that this event is about politics, not faith or a faith issue. If this were a rally for church leaders to speak out on a specifically defined church matter, such as abortion, then it would be fine. It appears to be solely about a political topic (or at least has the appearance of having that appearance), that is troubling.

Posted by: Mark Sides at April 19, 2005 02:03 AM


I understand that you are not against the church using it's voice to express political dissent when the case calls for it.

In addition I understand you also found Charles Schumer's inarticulate hard bigotry of high trepidation to be as abhorrent as I.

So, I think I understand what you're NOT saying.

Nonetheless, I still think you're flat-out wrong here.

The obstructionist efforts by the Democrats in regard to the judiciary is something that should outrage ALL Americans. of us.

As such, Evangelical Christians have just as much a right as anyone else to make their case before the American public.

And, as evangelicals, they not only are allowed to, but ought to present their concern from their unique perspective.

It's just that simple.

To suggest they do anything less smacks of the "go back and hide behind the four walls of your church" mentality that still has resonance amongst huge swaths of secular society as evidenced by the comment from a reader you cited in this entry.

Big Daddy

PS To directly answer your question, my response to Mr.Local Agnostic (or any other non-believer) regarding this debate (or any other political debate the church involves itself in) is that born again Christians, while certainly most concerned with man changing his nature, are also concerned with man changing his society. And thank God we still (kinda) live in a country whose political system affords us the opportunity.

The two are not mutually exclusive and in fact, in this precise case, the end results, far from 'watering down the Gospel' would help effectuate it's spread.

Posted by: Big Daddy at April 19, 2005 08:27 AM

I went to great lengths to say that what the Dems are doing is dead wrong. I also stated very plainly, as did Jim, that parachurch organizations have been doing very effective work in the politilcal arena. All I said was that I have trouble with LOCAL churches getting this involved with a Senate issue. I'm not saying they can't do some political work, but I think this is one issue where the message gets muddled.

Jim and I and the rest of us here have been very very clear in defining our terms. Please try to understand that.

Posted by: Matt at April 19, 2005 08:31 AM

"All I said was that I have trouble with LOCAL churches getting this involved with a Senate issue. ... I think this is one issue where the message gets muddled."


And I still could not agree less.

This is a transcedent issue that encompasses all the societal challenges the local church must confront daily.

As such, what is happening on Sunday should be a harbinger of more things to come.

It's a healthy precedent and one that will ultimately strengthen, not just the church, but the country as a whole.

Who could possibly be against that?

It seems to me...and this is just a guess... that your challenge is not with the intrusion of the local church here, but a lack of understanding of just how passionate Christians must be about this hijacking of the judiciary.

It DOES matter.

By the way, it's not like we are trying to take the lead here. To the contrary, we've suffered for at least a generation under a (largely) wacked out judiciary.

And, finally, after years of struggle, we finally have a chance to bring balance to the courts. A chance for the judiciary to assume their constitutional role once again.

And who knows how long this window will be open?

This is a time to be bold - not fall back in

Quite frankly, there are probably as many agnostics applauding this heroic effort as are befuddled by it.

And well they should...

...Well they should.

Big Daddy

Posted by: Big Daddy at April 19, 2005 09:07 AM

I agree completely with Big Daddy. There are many government issues in which the local churches do not need to get involved, but the problem with the judiciary is not one of them.

I liken it to the problems that Europe faced prior to WWII. Certain countries were taking actions that were aimed at taking control of land and people by force. Other countries chose to ignore the problem until it was too late. In the same way ALL churches need to deal with the judiciary problem now, while they still can, or else they will find themselves "ruled" in a way they never thought possible. This problem is one that needs to have everyone involved, not just a few parachurch organizations.

Posted by: Big Bob at April 19, 2005 10:00 AM

Ok fine; we'll agree to disagree. I'm not getting into an argument over this, even though I completely disagree with you.

Thanks for posting, but if you're going to continue to do so, please make your posts shorter. Not in terms of actual words, but the spacing and line breaks make the post too long. Otherwise just make your own blog posts and leave a link in the comments section. That's perfectly fine. Thanks.

Posted by: Matt at April 19, 2005 10:01 AM

Democrats should disavow and distance themselves from Schumer's scurrilous remarks.

But they won't. They'll just remain quiet and go hide until the press can divert attention away from it all.

Posted by: TheAnchoress at April 19, 2005 10:41 AM

When the issue is that Senate Democrats are refusing to confirm judicial nominees because of said nominees' religious beliefs, that's an issue the church *should* get involved in. That's an issue that should concern even the local church.

Senate Democrats are refusing to confirm judicial nominees precisely because those nominees are practicing Catholics or evangelicals who are trying to be faithful (and, as a consequence, hold a view of abortion the aformentioned Democrats think is "fanatical".) Senate Democrats are essentially disqualifying the majority of serious Catholics and Evangelicals from the judiciary by refusing to allow a confirmation vote for those who have been nominated. They're not exactly filibustering "people of faith", but they are filibustering a large percentage of "people of faith" precisely because they disagree with those people's religious convictions.

If you want to vote people down because they won't uphold the constitution, do it. But if you want to deny them a vote because they're serious about their religious beliefs, I have a problem with that, and the whole church and every other religion should have a problem with that too.

Posted by: LotharBot at April 19, 2005 01:57 PM

"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

U.S. Constitution, Article 6, Clause 3.

Those members of the Senate who are obstructing nominees because of their religious beliefs, in spite of their own oaths to uphold the Constitution, have foresworn themselves.

Sadly, there is no practical way to enforce the letter of the clause, and ample precedent for violating its spirit.

Posted by: Kent at April 19, 2005 04:00 PM

Matt writes: What does the local agnostic think when he sees a church that is, in his view, more concerned with judicial appointments, however important they are, than with the destitute of body, heart and, above all, spirit within his own community[?]

I'm your local agnostic (at least, I am today, since I came over from another blog that linked to you). I'll tell you what I think.

I think that churches like that are nothing more than death cults. I am completely serious, and I say that without a moment's reservation— knowing that it's terribly incendiary thing to say. I'm sorry. There is just no polite way to say it.

It works like this: these churches are more interested in the seizure of secular power of the state than they are in the spiritual development of their members; the secular power of the state is the monopoly on the authorization to use deadly force; ergo, these churches are more interested in the seizure of the monopoly on the authorization to use deadly force than they are in the spiritual development of their members.

To continue the argument: it looks to this agnostic that these churches believe that further spiritual development is wholly dependent on their ability to de-secularize the monopoly on the authorization of the use of deadly force. Or to be blunt, they want to make killing people a holy act. Death cults, I say— death cults.

That's how this agnostic thinks. You asked. I'll shut up now.

Posted by: s9 at April 19, 2005 07:24 PM

Thanks for posting. You proved my theory. Please continue to read this site and search for the Truth.

Posted by: Matt at April 19, 2005 07:29 PM

Dear Mr. Local Agnostic,

Thanks for your insightful and revealing post.

Based on your (apparently well chewed on) sentiments, I'm sure you were **this** close to getting saved before that 80 year old grandma at the local Baptist church...oh, I'm sorry that brain-dead follower of a 'death cult'... decided to take a stand against religious bigotry in the public square.

Darn! I wish we'd never stuck our neck outside of the four walls of the church.

Will you forgive us and perhaps consider going to our Spaghetti sale potluck car wash fundraiser if we promise to never do it again???

To be seious for a second, your argument, while appreciated, is so fundamentally flawed, one doesn't know where to begin it's deconstruction.

You write: "...These churches are more interested in the seizure of secular power of the state than they are in the spiritual development of their members."

A) The state's power is not secular per se. It's granted by the people - a mix of religious and non-religious ones. While no particular religion is given constitutional preeminence, it's false to suggest thatall of the state's power is entirely secular.

B) I feel like a good laugh. Tell me what you think is a good example of the "spiritual development of their members"?

You go on - "the secular power of the state is the monopoly on the authorization to use deadly force;"

I honestly have no idea what he's talking about here. Does anybody at this blog speak 'bong-ese'?

And finally - your coupe de grace' -- "these churches want to make killing people a holy act. "

You got us there pal. Trying to stop an unconstitutional filibuster is really just a cover.

What we really want, and it's so transparently obvious now, is to make killing people a holy act.

And I believe we also want to use the blood of Jewish young men in our pancake recipes too.

Damn! I hates being busted like that...



Ps Matt, so far it looks like it's you and Mr. 'death cult' agnostic vs most of the other Christians on this one. If I were you, I'm not sure I'd be so happy to be on this dude's team.

Posted by: Big Daddy at April 19, 2005 08:23 PM

Big Dadddy - learn to respond with some class, please. I am not alone on this; Jim and Mark have shared similar, though not identical sentiments. I have already cited Ramesh Ponurru and the fact that no one at National Review is ardently defending or promoting the FRC should say something. There is more to being a Christian than just a right-wing echo chamber.

Posted by: Matt at April 19, 2005 09:02 PM

I'm not looking to have a flamewar here. My apologies if the incendiary tone of my post was too much for some to take. I honestly couldn't think of a way to communicate what I think without using it. I don't think most people who identify as Christians, or even evangelical Christians, belong to churches I am calling "death cults" here— just the adherents of Dominion Theology.

For the record, I was raised from birth in a family with three prior generations of American agnostic tradition on my father's side. I mention that because my experience has been that many evangelicals mistakenly assume that agnostics are like "undecided voters" who just need some persuasion before we will make up our minds. We're not, and it's a mistake to think we are.

Posted by: s9 at April 19, 2005 10:40 PM

As to Big Daddy, I must agree with Matt--your tone is not helpful, and I tend to agree, too, with Matt and Jim on this particular issue. It is too much about politics and not much about faith.

Posted by: Mark Sides at April 19, 2005 10:47 PM

S9 - It's cool. Keep reading and posting. We appreciate the input.

Posted by: Matt at April 19, 2005 10:54 PM

Matt writes:

"There is more to being a Christian than just a right-wing echo chamber.

That, my friend, says more about you than a thousand posts on the topic.

Big Daddy

Ps Check it out... A poster characterizes Christians who object to judicial tryanny members of a 'death cult' who want to murder people and call it holy, and when I call him on it, Matt accuses me of not having class.


Pss To Mr.Agnostic re: your multi-generational skeptics background. I hear you dude. The reason the others are being nice is that they hope to convert you.

To me, that's a longshot of miraculous proportions.

So, know that, at least when I post, you're gonna get the unvarnished truth of how I feel and not some sophmoric 'church lady' equivocation excerpted from an outdated copy of 'Friendship Evangelism.' BD - The Straight Shooter

Posted by: Big Daddy at April 20, 2005 12:55 AM


It's not my tone that troubles church-lady types.

It's my strength...and my passion.

Makes 'em look bad by comparison.

Big Daddy

Posted by: Big Daddy at April 20, 2005 01:05 AM

Big Daddy,

Since you feel like being so direct, I shall reply in kind (and in a language you can understand): You are a jackass and every additional comment you make simply supports that conclusion. Your comments are not particularly Chrstlike either.

Or was that too church ladylike for you?

Posted by: Mark Sides at April 20, 2005 01:14 AM

We need to put this in perspective. The last time the Democrats used the filibuster on a large scale to block congressional action they disliked was a half-century ago. Then black people were being denied their rights and lynched, now it is unborn babies. And then as now, judicial appointments were critical to bringing justice to those denied their God-given rights.

In the mid-1950s, the Southern Baptist Convention went on record supporting, yes supporting, school integration. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor. But when they went home, these committed layman sat peacefully in their pews, listening to pastors who wanted nothing to do with "judicial nominations" and the like. They were, in the context of this article, more concerned with the "destitute" in "spirit" in some fuzzy and meaningless sense, than with all the black children whose spirits were being crushed by racism. Asked for bread by the starving, they offered a stone.

I for one am quite glad the FRC is speaking out and saying some rather impolite things about the Democratic party. If Jesus could take a whip to mere crooked money changers, it's certainly not wrong to direct stinging words at the party of slavery, lynching and now baby killing.

Doing good requires intelligent, carefully thought out deeds that change the world. All to many modern believers in both pew and pulpit, seem to think God is a fussy old nanny, content to see us merely upset by evil and voicing empty words about it within the safety of our churches.

Deeds not words is what God require of us. And as with Jesus and the prophets, that means we have to sweat and labor in the political arena. Like the poor woman in Jesus' story, we have to give judges no peace until they deliver the justice God expects of them.

--Mike Perry, Inkling Books, Seattle

Editor: Dachau Liberated &: Eugenics and Other Evils

Author: Untangling Tolkien

Posted by: Mike Perry at April 20, 2005 01:22 AM

I need to apologize for my above comment to Big Daddy. It, obviously, was not Christlike in any sense. It was wrong and I am sorry Big Daddy.


Posted by: Mark Sides at April 20, 2005 01:30 AM


Big Daddy forgives you.


Big Daddy

Posted by: Big Daddy at April 20, 2005 03:53 AM

Thank you. (Do you ever sleep?)

Posted by: Mark Sides at April 20, 2005 06:47 AM

Big Daddy writes: ...A poster characterizes Christians who object to judicial tryanny members of a 'death cult' who want to murder people and call it holy...

Actually, I did try to clarify my remarks.

Yes, I'm interpreting this FRC stunt with Senator Frist as the work of people who are basically theonomists— and yes, I really do regard theonomists as a death cult. That's what I showed up here to try to explain. I thought it would be helpful to know what at least one actual agnostic thinks— seeing as how that appears to be "on topic" for this thread.

I completely reject the notion that the FRC is objecting to anything like "judicial tyranny" and I think the connections between the FRC and the supporters of the Constitution Restoration Act of 2004 are too deep and numerous to ignore. I'll need a lot more than simple emphatic denials of the obvious truth before I'll accept any argument that we are not talking about the political activity of theonomists.

Look, I don't think you guys should get all wrapped around the axle because of my incendiary tone. It's not like agnostics are a huge majority in America. We're a tiny, tiny minority. And when— not if, when— the neo-evangelical Christians do finally succeed in packing the federal bench with hard dominionists and outright reconstructionists, they'll have the power to roll the table in Congress and the Electoral College. There's some reason to think from looking at the discrepancies between the 2004 exit polls and the official vote tabulations that they already do have such power.

If you're in that group, it won't matter that a few agnostics think you're acting like a death cult. You'll be able to forcibly convert them or expatriate them at will. Or just ignore them. Your choice. It certainly won't be mine. I'm just trying to figure out how I'm going to live under the new regime, and trying to help some of you folks understand what I think about what you're doing while you're in the process of doing it. While it seems to be on topic.

Posted by: s9 at April 20, 2005 01:17 PM

I don't want to debate s9's contentions, as I think he's pretty much wrong on all he says above (I find myself in this odd position of being to the left of many evangelicals and to the right of everybody else on this particular issue). I would ask s9, though, to hold his thoughts on the exit polls for 2004 until he's read everything there is to read about them. Let's just say that Rick has already made a pretty good case publicly (at Daily Kos I believe) that there is more and less to the exit poll issue than meets the eye.

Posted by: Mark Sides at April 20, 2005 03:51 PM

I guess I'll add a bit more here, just for clarity. I don't think s9 makes any kind of case for what he states above. However, just for the record, I am, by definition as a Christian, a theonomist. However, I don't want to forcibly convert anybody. I am not a member of a death cult; indeed, I seem to care more about life, all human life, more than most Americans, if polls are anything like correct. If my party, whatever that is, were to gain power, nobody would be forcibly converted or evicted from anywhere. s9's strange/silly asservations to the contrary notwithstanding. What's more, no Christian I know resembles anything like what s9 has described above.

Posted by: Mark Sides at April 20, 2005 03:55 PM

Okay, then I'm guessing the Wikipedia page on theonomy needs updating.

Theonomy is the idea that God's laws (as interpreted by a specific religious outlook) must be applied to all spheres of public and private everyday life: not only religious mandates – but also political, social, and cultural rules. In this sense, theonomy is generally considered an expansive version of theocracy, which involves conforming civil law to a specific religious group's idea of what is mandated by God's laws.

That's the definition of theonomy that I was using. I can't bring myself to argue that all Christians are theonomists by the definition above. If you can, then I would contend you are leaving out a lot of people who self-identify as Christians while they totally reject theonomy.

Mark Sides writes: no Christian I know resembles anything like what s9 has described.

Then you don't know them. Okay, that helps establish what you know and don't know. I have met Christian Reconstructionists who really do fit the description I am using. Thankfully, they are a tiny minority of Christians, and— of course— they don't see themselves as members of a death cult. All I'm saying: it's how I see them.

And I think they're behind this stunt with the FRC and Senator Frist.

Posted by: s9 at April 20, 2005 10:45 PM

Matt: I wasn't suggesting that God doesn't have feelings about issues like abortion, euthanasia, or capital punishment. God cares intensely and passionately about what happens to us. We are, after all, children created in His image.

What I was trying to say is that God cannot be constrained or claimed by any earthly ideology.

This is why I often pray, "This is what I'd like God and I know that You can do anything. But, Your will be done!" For this approach to prayer, I have a pretty good model, Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane.

Blessings in Christ,

Posted by: Mark at April 20, 2005 11:00 PM

Arrgh, I just took the literal meaning ("law of God") and did not explore its various meanings withing movements. As to some theonomists, s9 is right, and I am not in that camp. As to others, though, a quick check of the term in Google shows that not all want to supplant secular law with a theocracy. So, s9 could have indicated it a bit more subtly, but my mistake for not checking into it more.

s9, with all due respect, I know a great many more Christians than you do. You are misrepresenting the vast majority of Christians in this country. You are wrong. There is no organized movement in this country to replace what we have with a theocracy. If you believe there is, you are either (i) extremely misinformed or (ii) in need of real medical assistance.

Posted by: Mark Sides at April 20, 2005 11:01 PM

Mark Sides writes: You are wrong. There is no organized movement in this country to replace what we have with a theocracy.

Consider the following excerpt from George Grant's Changing of the Guard, a former Executive Director of Coral Ridge Ministries:

Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ – to have dominion in the civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness. But it is dominion that we are after. Not just a voice. It is dominion we are afier. Not just influence. It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time. It is dominion we are after.
World conquest. That's what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less. If Jesus Christ is indeed Lord, as the Bible says, and if our commission is to bring the land into subjection to His Lordship, as the Bible says, then all our activities, all our witnessing, all our preaching, all our craftsmanship, all our stewardship, and all our political action will aim at nothing short of that sacred purpose. Thus, Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land — of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ. It is to reinstitute the authority of God’s Word as supreme over all judgments, over all legislation, over all declarations, constitutions, and confederations. True Christian political action seeks to rein the passions of men and curb the pattern of digression under God’s rule. Fortunately, because of the theocratic orientation of our founding fathers, our nation has virtually all the apparatus extant to implement such a reclamation. Unfortunately, the enemies of the Gospel have hand-in-hand eroded the strength of those godly foundations. Thus, we stand at the crossroads.

This book has a copyright dated 1987. Coral Ridge has been around for a long time, and they are every bit as much the :hard dominionists" today that they were back when this book was published.

There absolutely is an "organized movement in this country to replace what we have with a theocracy." It is not my fault that others refuse to acknowledge its existence.

And for the record, I am not "misrepresenting the vast majority of Christians in this country" when I say that the vast majority of them are not hard dominionists.

Posted by: s9 at April 21, 2005 04:17 PM

1. That concept behind that excerpt you quoted is bad and I disagree with it, just like you. That kind of blurring between Church and State is as bad for the Church as it is for the State.

2. We appear to agree that most Christians are not "hard dominionists."

I think your last comment helped very much in clarifying things. Thanks for doing that.


Posted by: Mark Sides at April 21, 2005 04:28 PM