This week's question comes from Doug L., a surfer on the Internet. He asks, "Why is the church afraid to take a stand on politically sensitive issues?"
With the upcoming primaries and November only a few months away, Doug's question seems rather timely. But to be fair, not all churches are frightened into complacency in the political arena. There are a good many churches, denominations, and religious organizations with bold political agendas.
But there are many churches who do seem afraid to take a stand. Why?
There are probably more individual answers to this question than I'm allotted lines for this column, but most reasons can be attributed to two cultural anomalies: confusion over right and wrong, and an extreme understanding of the separation of church and state.
Once upon a time, the church had an active role in defining the bounds of the rightness and wrongness of behaviors and actions. But as centuries passed and the church became more and more powerful it also became dogmatic, unmerciful, and corrupt ("Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely" J.E.E. Dalberg). The Reformation wrested away the authority of the church on many matters, but especially in its capacity to interpret right and wrong. That task was placed firmly in the hands of the people and the state where it pretty well rests to this day.
Since then, morality has been "slip sliding away." Whereas once it was morally and socially unacceptable (wrong, sinful) to cohabitate without marriage, today it is a norm. Whereas expletives were considered in bad taste, today movies for children use language that would upset my grandmother. And it goes on and on: lying, nudity, abortion, divorce, character assassinations, intoxication, greed, immodesty, etc. All once considered morally and socially wrong, now each tolerated and generally accepted by society.
And since "society is us," there is little wonder we'll not allow the churches we support and attend to dictate what is right or wrong. Not only might it make us uncomfortable, we've decided it's none of the church's business.
Which brings us to the separation of Church and State. When the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were conceived, a nation once plagued with state churches was determined to keep this malady from developing again either locally or nationally. In an effort to keep government out of religion, our First Amendment includes the clause, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . . ." In years gone by, this clause has taken on more baggage than was intended. The purpose of the clause was to prohibit the state from interfering with religion not to keep the church from molding, guiding, and impinging upon the government. Nevertheless, powerful parishioners have rallied around the phrase "separation of church and state" and inspired the current impotency of many churches to take a stand on a political issue of any sort, let alone a politically sensitive one.
So why is the church afraid to take a stand? Could it be because we're afraid the church will rise up and curtail the freedom from morality we enjoy? Or is it because we've been enculturated by a society that values government over the church?
Perhaps it's both.