Sunday, August 06, 2006

Megachurch Pastor Throws the Repub party out of his Temple!: the New Awakening?

Without any context or clarification, the words of this sermon are both wise and heartening:

When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses," Mr. Boyd preached. "When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross."

But when you pull the camera back a bit and find out who, why, and when this story becomes stunning and even possibly seismic.

The speaker is the Rev. Gregory A. Boyd, the Pastor of a 5000-person Evangelical mega-church called Woodland Hills in St Paul Minn.  And the why is even more interesting :

Rev. Boyd was asked frequently to give his blessing -- and the church's -- to conservative political candidates and causes.

After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called "The Cross and the Sword" in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a "Christian nation" and stop glorifying American military campaigns.

And it gets even better from there:

Now before we go any further, I think it's important to establish bona fides here.  The Rev. Boyd is not a Lefty-progressive Pastor, nor even a recent convert to our side, No he's a real-deal social and political conservative:

Mr. Boyd says he is no liberal. He is opposed to abortion and thinks homosexuality is not God's ideal.

Nor was his sermon an especially popular one with his flock and speaking cost him dearly:  

The response from his congregation at Woodland Hills Church here in suburban St. Paul -- packed mostly with politically and theologically conservative, middle-class evangelicals -- was passionate. Some members walked out of a sermon and never returned...By the time the dust had settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members.Mr. Boyd gave his sermons while his church was in the midst of a $7 million fund-raising campaign. But only $4 million came in, and 7 of the more than 50 staff members were laid off, he said.

Mary Van Sickle, the family pastor at Woodland Hills, said she lost 20 volunteers who had been the backbone of the church's Sunday school.

And the reason these last gave for leaving is especially chilling given that they were the ones charged with teaching impressionable children:

"They said, `You're not doing what the church is supposed to be doing, which is supporting the Republican way,' " she said. "It was some of my best volunteers."

But the Right Rev. Boyd let fly anyway, and spoke some powerful truths:

In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek "power over" others -- by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have "power under" others -- "winning people's hearts" by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.

Radical notion no?  Christians acting like Jesus did in the Bible?   It's just so crazy it Might work!  But wait, there's more: (you might just want to sit down before reading this next bit)

America wasn't founded as a theocracy," he said. "America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn't bloody and barbaric. That's why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state.

"I am sorry to tell you," he continued, "that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ."

If you are still with me and Haven't passed out from shock, share my amazement instead.  An Evangelical who has actually read his history  and is willing to be totally honest about the role of religion in government both in this country and historically!  

That's GOT to be some kind of Heresy right?   I mean the arguments of nearly every speaker at " Justice" Sunday were based on that very premise!  It just too truthy  to be wrong!  He's just damn lucky that Protestants can't make use of the Spanish Inquisition or I suspect there'd already be unexpected visitors in red robes knocking on his door.

Now, Now Steady on, mate or you'll never make it through this, especially the next part  Where Boyd unloads Both Barrels on Right-wing Scare- and outrage- mongers:

Mr. Boyd lambasted the "hypocrisy and pettiness" of Christians who focus on "sexual issues" like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson's breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl halftime show. He said Christians these days were constantly outraged about sex and perceived violations of their rights to display their faith in public.

""Those are the two buttons to push if you want to get Christians to act,"

 he said. And those are the two buttons Jesus never pushed."

OH yes. he Did.  I b'lieve he just called out The entire religious Right. everyone from Tommy "the hammer Slammer" DeLay  to Jimmy "the Creep" Dobson,   and called them sinning punks, who manipulate believers for their own nefarious and un-Christian ends.

Yes, I know,  WE already knew that,  but unlike us the Rev Boyd wasn't just preaching to the Choir and some of what he said came as news to his flock:

Some Woodland Hills members said they applauded the sermons because they had resolved their conflicted feelings. David Churchill, a truck driver for U.P.S. and a Teamster for 26 years, said he had been "raised in a religious-right home" but was torn between the Republican expectations of faith and family and the Democratic expectations of his union.

When Mr. Boyd preached his sermons, "it was liberating to me," Mr. Churchill said.


"Most of my friends are believers," said Shannon Staiger, a psychotherapist and church member, d they think if you're a believer, you'll vote for Bush. it's scary to go against that."

Now , let be clear  the Rev isn't signing himself up for a Move On memebership, or audtioning for a new version of Crossfire,:

Mr. Boyd said he never intended his sermons to be taken as merely a critique of the Republican Party or the religious right. He refuses to share his party affiliation, or whether he has one, for that reason. He said there were Christians on both the left and the right who had turned politics and patriotism into "idolatry."

But he's also honest enough to admit its more a sin of the right than left,  by a wide margin:

He said he first became alarmed while visiting another mega-church's worship service on a Fourth of July years ago. The service finished with the chorus singing "God Bless America" and a video of fighter jets flying over a hill silhouetted with crosses.

"I thought to myself, `What just happened? Fighter jets mixed up with the cross?' " he said in an interview.

Because nothing says "all praise be to the Prince of Peace" like a Video of the latest and most lethal military technology  (and apparently the display Mr. Boyd witnessed was subtle by Mega-church standards:)

Patriotic displays are still a mainstay in some evangelical churches. Across town from Mr. Boyd's church, the sanctuary of North Heights Lutheran Church was draped in bunting on the Sunday before the Fourth of July this year for a "freedom celebration." Military veterans and flag twirlers paraded into the sanctuary, an enormous American flag rose slowly behind the stage, and a Marine major who had served in Afghanistan preached that the military was spending "your hard-earned money" on good causes.

(wow. if reading that paragraph  didn't cause certain parts of your anatomy to shrivel and retract, you either don't got 'em, or weren't reading carefully. )

But if the Right-on Rev. Boyd were the only one preaching this message this would be nothing more than a case of "4,000 down 150 million to go".  However it appears that this Preacher is merely the tip of the spear, in a growing wave of discontent and revulsion at the extent that Republician Party has sought to entwine itself with Christian Churches.

But the upheaval at Woodland Hills is an example of the internal debates now going on in some evangelical colleges, magazines and churches. At least six books on this theme have been published recently, some by Christian publishing houses.

 Randall Balmer, a religion professor at Barnard College and an evangelical, has written "Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America -- an Evangelical's Lament."

 There is a lot of discontent brewing," said Brian D. McLaren, the founding pastor at Cedar Ridge Community Church in Gaithersburg, Md., and a leader in the evangelical movement known as the "emerging church," which is at the forefront of challenging the more politicized evangelical establishment.

In other words the emerging church would kinda rather like to be able to be More of a religious organization rather than a weekly political rally:

"More and more people are saying this has gone too far -- the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right," Mr. McLaren said. "You cannot say the word `Jesus' in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can't say the word `Christian,' and you certainly can't say the word `evangelical' without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people.

"Because people think, `Oh no, what is going to come next is homosexual bashing, or pro-war rhetoric, or complaining about `activist judges.' "

And you just want to grab their shoulder and give them a shake or a hug and say "yes! exactly! People like me who also consider themselves Christian aren't pissed at you personally, just about how too many of your brethren have allowed the term to become a registered trademark of the Republican party."

 So are we Seeing the emergence of a "great awakening" by Evangelicals? Have they Hard to tell Yet, but it's very clear something  big is happening.   A storm of discontent seems to be brewing  among the evangelical churches about their relationship with the Republican Party. It's possible that the disconnected between their aggressive lip-service to "Christian Values" while  voting for an agenda that was anything but, has created  too much cognitive dissonance, for even the most "faithful" to handle.  

And the Good news is  the Experience of "coming into the light" hasn't been all bad for pioneers like the Rev Boyd :

Mr. Boyd now says .. "I don't regret any aspect of it at all. It was a defining moment for us. We let go of something we were never called to be. We just didn't know the price we were going to pay for doing it."

In the end, those who left tended to be white, middle-class suburbanites, church staff members said. In their place, the church has added more members who live in the surrounding community -- African-Americans, Hispanics and Hmong immigrants from Laos.

This suits Mr. Boyd. His vision for his church is an ethnically and economically diverse congregation that exemplifies Jesus' teachings by its members' actions.

Okay maybe describing him a conservative might have been the wrong adjective earlier, perhaps we should give him the label "un-self-aware progressive" instead.

 Either way he's a wise man, so I'll close this as I opened it with a thought from the Rev.:

One woman asked: "So why NOT us? If we contain the wisdom and grace and love and creativity of Jesus, why shouldn't we be the ones involved in politics and setting laws?"

Mr. Boyd responded: "I don't think there's a particular angle we have on society that others lack. All good, decent people want good and order and justice. Just don't slap the label `Christian' on it."

Can I get an Amen?


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