Monday, May 09, 2005

Not all Baptists see church and state the same - Courier-Journal

"Justice Sunday: Stop the Filibuster Against People of Faith" is being organized by the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council to rally support for dropping a Senate rule that has let Democrats block Bush's nominees.

Ezell said tomorrow's telecast was not meant to be a political event, and he blamed "the national media" for turning it into one. At the same time, Ezell said, "It's America. We shouldn't be expected to check our citizenship in at the church door. And we are doing nothing illegal here."

The leaders of such Baptist churches as Lyndon, Deer Park, Crescent Hill, Buechel Park and Broadway who attended yesterday's news conference at Highland had a different view. "What's happening alienates people … and keeps us from our purpose and mission," said Derik Hamby, pastor at Ridgewood Baptist Church.

Phelps, describing Highview Baptist as a "sister church," read a statement that said the ministers "stand together with Highview Baptist Church and Christian churches in holding up Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life. … But as people who take Scripture seriously, we believe truth must be spoken, and spoken in love. We do not believe Sunday's rally meets either test." He went on to say, "Churches are for the worship of God and the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Convention halls are for political rallies and party wrangling. To confuse the two is to violate the First Amendment that 18th-century Baptists fought to include in our nation's Constitution." Phelps said there's no support for the premise that judicial nominees are being "persecuted" for their Christian faith, and that the ministers want the public to know the event does not represent "all Baptists in this city, or people of faith everywhere."

The Rev. Reba Cobb, a board member of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and former executive director of the Kentuckiana Interfaith Community, said: "No one faith or political party holds a monopoly on morality in this country. … Characterizations of public policy issues as the faithful versus the faithless are divisive, misleading and, perhaps worst of all, exploit religion for political purposes."

Ezell said the goal of the event is to "educate our people about the issues, and what we believe; our faith affects every area of our lives. Does that affect political issues? Of course it affects political issues." All people have a right to express their views, he said, adding that the church will accommodate protesters tomorrow by offering them beverages and a place to meet. He also denied that Highview is a "sister church," saying they were more like "very, very distant cousins," with different beliefs, different congregations, and in different branches of the Baptist faith. "Nobody who goes to his (Phelps') church would ever go to mine," he said.

Between Ezell and Phelps I suspect I'd find Phelps more likeable. But on the issue of church and state, Ezell's position is closer to mine. God isn't after part of you; God is after all of you. And God expects to see the fruits of faith in all aspects of our lives; faith is not something you compartmentalize. Where I part from Ezell is in his implied conclusion that every person of faith will necessarily agree on public policy questions -- calling into question the faith of those who disagree with him.

The Constitutional separation of church and state says the state should not favor one faith or one denomination. It does not say that people of faith cannot be active in politics, or that government officials should not be guided by their faith. Thus, it can mean that when people of faith encounter each other in the political arena they may disagree. And that's OK.

In the political debate over social issues liberals model what they think conservatives should do: that is, liberals think conservatives should not speak of how faith informs their politics. That's a losing argument. My recommendation is that mainstream liberal Christians need to speak to how their faith informs their politics.

That would be a good thing, because the level of theological thought in the public arena is pretty impoverished. And that means there's plenty of people who are going hungry spiritually. And that's not bringing about God's kingdom.

Preachers, if your sermon does not connect the dots between belief and my life, my whole life, then you're not doing your job. The folks in the pews need theory, but they also need concrete examples to turn abstraction into practice in their daily lives.

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