Mixing Christianity and politics is killing the church

The “Pastor Protection” act is on its way to Texas Gov.  Greg Abbott, who has vowed to sign it.

The bill anticipates that the Supreme Court will likely legalize gay marriage later this summer.  It protects pastors from prosecution when they deny gay couples the right to marry or enjoy other celebrations of faith in their churches, despite the fact that there is no documentation of any Texas couple gay or straight demanding a marriage ceremony from an unwilling, judgmental pastor.

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Now that pastors are protected from the law of the land, who will protect Christians from legislators misrepresenting their beliefs in order to gather political capital?

In the early 1970’s, about the time I left our church youth group to head off to college, the Moral Majority was awakening, galvanizing conservative voters and using them to reverse the social reforms of the Great Society.  

At the same time, church attendance began its slow but steady decline.

With each election, the Religious Right’s impact grew. It convinced the Republican Party to drop support for the Equal Rights Amendment and killed Nixon’s support for quality childcare for working parents. 

By 1994 Newt Gingrich and Richard Armey’s Contract with America had accomplished two things, neither of which was explicitly stated in the contract.  It had used middle-class Christian voters to secure Republican Party control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years, and its welfare reforms had cemented the vilification of America’s poor.   

Recently, The Weekly Standard, a conservative Christian media outlet, called for a new Contract with America, as if two decades of purportedly Christian principles being used to justify bigotry and mean-spirited legislation have not had sufficient impact.  

Although correlation is not cause, the rise of Christian activism has been accompanied by a precipitous drop in church attendance.  Today, while 40 to 70 percent of Americans still self-identify as church-going, fewer than 20 percent are actually in church on any given Sunday.  

Within the church the reasons given for decline in attendance range from cultural decay to watering down of the message. Unfortunately, the message of conservative Christian activists has never been clearer.

Masquerading as a religious movement, the American Tea Party with its gay bashing, misogynistic, climate change denying, televised and choreographed efforts to control elections and shape laws is delivering a carefully honed message.  

God judges and God hates. 

God’s hate may well be driving people away from the church in droves. 

According to the Pew Forum on Religious and Political Life, “This abuse of religion for political purposes has been tremendously damaging for American politics. But it is worth pointing out that it has been destructive of religion, too.” 

There are churches whose doors are open to everyone. They welcome people as God created them, young, old, doubters, believers, gay, straight, those who simply need a community to accept and love them as they are.  

There are churches that joyously serve others and Christian coffee houses that may well be the new face of the church in America. They provide platforms for open discussion and equip thousands of volunteers to offer true compassion. They respect the hard work of struggling to believe in goodness when heartlessness seems to have the upper hand.  

The problem is, seekers cannot determine from the parking lot whether they’ll be met inside with God’s love or God’s wrath. So they stay away.  

As Christians, our faith rightly informs our actions. However, we must remove religion from the political sphere. We must make it known that right wing demagoguery is not Christianity in action. If we don’t, Christianity may not survive the loud voices of a minority of its Christians.

President Carter, Sunday school teacher and elder statesman, said it best, decades ago:

"When a group of Christians try to implant through government our beliefs on others as superior, that subverts the basic constitutional prohibition concerning separation of church and state. And when we try to use the federal government to intercede in religious affairs, it inherently weakens the unique character of Christ's kingdom."

We allow politics and Christianity to comingle at our peril. Worse yet, we threaten both our democracy and our churches.

 

Nippert is a public voices fellow with The OpEd Project at Texas Woman’s University.

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