Beyond Red, Blue: The Church as Post-Election Healer
Dec. 21, 2004
A UMC.org feature
By Marta W. Aldrich*
wide swaths of red and highly populated pockets of blue, the 2004
presidential election map painted a nation with two profoundly different
visions of America – two camps caricaturizing and even demonizing each
other as either “right wing” or “the cultural elite.”
The result is a cultural divide far beyond ethnic, geographic or economic differences.
the election closed with President George W. Bush calling for trust and
U.S. Sen. John Kerry for healing, the church is left to ponder its role
in the political process and, more importantly, respond to its calling
as a healer and peacemaker.
amid its own struggles with deep philosophical and moral divisions over
gay marriage and gay ordination, how can the church hope to be a healer
of such polarizing issues in the secular world? And how can a church
that cannot find common ground in the United States be a peacemaker in a
terrorism-ravaged world? Or a reconciler for families broken apart by
divorce, addiction or abuse?
analysts and theologians say one thing is clear: Despite pre-election
talk of war, terrorism and the economy, moral values became the
lightning rod that mobilized voters in the 2004 election – some say at
the expense of the church’s autonomy because of its willingness to
become a political player.
Christianity gets involved with partisan politics, it’s like mixing ice
cream with horse manure,” says Tony Campolo, author, commentator and
professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University in Pennsylvania.
“It’s not going to hurt the horse manure, but it’s going to do havoc to
the ice cream.”
politics polluted the church’s identity in 2004, Campolo says. He
cites, for instance, Republican Party access to many church membership
rolls to mobilize voters and volunteers.
Michael S. Horton, author of Beyond Culture Wars: Is America a Mission Field or a Battlefield,
agrees the church involvement in political strategy was unprecedented.
“On the left and the right, there seems to be this push to use Christian
faith and churches as a bulwark for a particular cultural agenda,” says
Horton, a professor at Westminster Seminary California.
a result, he says, “God is reduced to a mascot,” and the church is
distracted from its primary missions of proclaiming Christ in word and
sacraments, making disciples and serving as an agent of love, peace and
Michael S. Horton
you have created churches that are predominantly Republican or
Democrat, you really cannot be a source for reconciliation,” Horton
says. “You have already taken sides.”
C. Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, urges
religious leaders to rethink the church’s relationship to political
life. He fears the church will lose its prophetic voice by succumbing to
the fleeting rewards of worldly political influence.
political fights and battles are not what the church exists to fight,”
Haynes says. “The church exists to reconcile people to a higher truth
and a higher reality. … The church has a voice that speaks for justice
and for peace … for forgiveness and for repentance.”
So where does the church go from here to heal a splintered nation?
first must understand and affirm religious liberty as a basic ground
rule for negotiating differences with civility and respect in the United
States, Haynes contends. The First Amendment guards the rights of all
people, including those of other faiths or no faith. He says this
freedom of conscience is consistent with the Gospel, which calls for an
authentic faith, not a superficial or government-coerced faith. “The
truth, left to itself, will prevail,” he says, paraphrasing Thomas
Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.
doesn’t prevent Christians from taking part in the political process
individually by speaking out on policy issues and even joining political
action groups, Horton says. The church is different, though. “We don’t
look to Caesar to legitimize anything the church does,” he says. “… The
kingdom of Christ just isn’t headquartered in Washington D.C.”
Charles C. Haynes
warns against relying on government and political solutions to excuse
Christian inaction as peacemakers and healers. “Sometimes it’s easier to
speak out about high prescription drug costs for the elderly than to
care for our own parents when they get old,” he says. “The realm of
politics is impersonal. You don’t really heal, restore or reconcile
until human beings actually face each other.”
and international healing can begin by focusing on common concerns
among people of all ideologies, Campolo says. He cites the needs of the
poor, the AIDS crisis in Africa and justice for the Palestinian people
in the Middle East among “the gigantic issues of our time” that most
Christians can unify behind.
also urges stepping back, at least for now, from hot-button issues such
as homosexuality, which he believes will not be resolved any time
soon. “While this is an important issue, it is not the defining
issue,” he says.
have to show love, we have to show grace.” Campolo says. “And it’s
about time that (the church is) more known by our grace and our love
than by our rules and our judgments of one another. … And that is our
*Aldrich is a freelance writer in Franklin, Tenn.
News media contact: Matt Carlisle, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5153 or email@example.com.
This feature was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of The United Methodist Church.