CommunityPam's House Blend

Evangelical pastor spurns conservative politics — and shakes up the pews

The NYT has a good piece up by Laurie Goodstein, Disowning Conservative Politics, Evangelical Pastor Rattles Flock.

Rev. Gregory A. Boyd, of Woodland Hills Church near St. Paul, MN has repeatedly turned away organized efforts to hold anti-gay, anti-reproductive freedom and pro-Republican outreach in his church, much to the dismay of some parishioners. He holds fairly conservative views, but feels the AmTaliban has gone too far.

The requests came from church members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary?

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.

As a result of his stand, some members have chosen to leave the church, which has lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members. Be that as it may, he has stood firm, and has even written a book, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, based on the Cross and the Sword sermons.

Is this a turning point or is Boyd going against the grain?

“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.

“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.’ ”

Boyd is clearly a renegade and a breath of fresh air — he and others of the same ilk need to take back their faith from the Dobsons and Falwells and Wildmons. While those in the emerging church movement may not be our political allies on issues of equality or reproductive freedom, they clearly have little in common with the AmTaliban’s mission to control every aspect of their flock’s lives (as well as ours). They are ready to speak out forcefully about the importance of church/state separation and what being a “Christian” really means.

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.

“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.

…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.”

As I said above, Boyd lost a good number of people when he refused to use the bible beating tactics of other evangelicals; it’s telling who objected and left and who filled the pews — the deserters tended to be white, middle-class suburbanites, and the church later gained blacks, Hispanics and Hmong immigrants from Laos from the surrounding community.

Hat tip, Holly.

Previous post

Face the Snark

Next post

FDL Book Salon -- Strawberry Days, Part I

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding