Has the church become just one more special interest group? Is that the logical result of the church's mode of operation over the past thirty years as one more group that seeks to have its way by lobbying politicians and working to change laws? Has the church's primary mission in the United States been focused on changing society through the law instead of embodying the change we would like to see in society? I am not suggesting that Chistians should not work to change laws or express their views to politicians, but have we accommodated ourselves to the American political mechanism in such a way that we no longer understand that the most powerful polity the church can offer the nation, in Karl Barth's words, is for the church to be the church, for it to be the alternative to the world?
For example, in the matter of legalized abortion, how effective will Christians ultimately be if we successfully manage to influence the political landscape in overturning Roe v. Wade? In reality, if Roe were overturned tomorrow, approximately two-thirds of the states would pass laws legalizing abortion in one form or another. If the remaining third, outlawed abortion, it would still be readily available across the border in other states. It is my view that if Roe were overturned, after all the screaming and yelling were over, it would be one huge, non-event.
I am not suggesting that if Roe were overturned, that would be bad. I am against legalized abortion on demand; the question I am raising is whether or not there is a way for the church to deal with this matter that is more profoundly Christian than simply working within the political mechanism that any atheist can be a part of comfortably.
If the church were to be the church to pregnant mothers contemplating abortion and their unborn children, how would the church have to behave? What if every church in this country offered to care for a pregnant mom and her child, seeing to it that the necessary medical care were provided, and then after the birth of the child, assisting this new family in getting on its feet? I know there are Christian organizations doing this, but what if every church in the United States made such a commitment? The church would be the church in a way that the rest of the society could not ignore. What kind of claim would the church embody about the significance of children, if we put our time, energy, and money into such practices, instead of picket signs and lobbyists? Such an approach would be in keeping with the early church, whose families went about on the Roman hillsides at night picking up all the infants left to die by their families to exposure or wild animals because their families did not want them. These early Christians took these doomed children into their homes to raise them as Christians.
In reference to the many orphaned children in our world, what if every Christian family, instead of simply making a financial contribution to a children's home, took in one orphan to raise as their own, not adopting only if they are unable to have biological children, but in addition to having biological children? Is it possible to imagine a society not noticing millions of Christians taking in children who have no living parents, willing to welcome such children into their midst?
Instead of lobbying the government simply to throw more money at the problem of homelessness, what if every church took in a homeless person seeing to it that he or she had employment, a place to stay, and any necessary training in order to help get and keep this person on his or her feet? How could society ignore a church throughout the nation that was willing to do what no one else was willing to do?
There are other examples to be given, but what I am suggesting is that when the church primarily focuses its attention on simply changing laws and influencing politicians, we fail to be the kind of polity Jesus calls us to be. Instead of highlighting our uniqueness as the people of God, we affirm that we are no different from anyone else. The church is just one more special interest group.
It also occurs to me that the special interest group approach is actually easier and less painful; for it is possible to seek change without having to change ourselves. We can continue to have two car payments and the vacation to Disney World every year, and all the while feel good about ourselves that we have done something significant for the Kingdom of God. But if Christians truly became serious about being the salt of the earth and the light of the world, a simpler lifestyle would be necessary in order for the church to be the church to the least, the last, and the lost.
Paul Weyrich, the man who coined the phrase, "Moral Majority," writes in his book Taking Stock, "...we have a trivial agenda.... What I mean is that, if all the policies we have called for were put into effect tomorrow, the basic trends in our culture, the trends that are bringing about our decline as a nation and as a civilization, would not be changed. They would be slowed but not reversed.... We would not bring about the spectrum shift we need. We have contented ourselves with advocating 'band-aid remedies' for the symptoms of social decay, which is somewhat like taking aspirin for appendicitis" (p. 4).
The law is a modest helper to be sure; there is a time to protest and there is a time to lobby. But when these actions are seen as the primary mode of operation for the church in a free society, it will by necessity take its place as one more special interest group beside all the others with nothing unique to offer. The church shows its true nature by being the kind of polity that bears witness, not only in word, but in deed to the truth of the claim that Jesus has died and has been raised from the dead. In raising Jesus from the dead, God affirms the importance of this world and the importance of ministering to those in need.
The church can be a powerful influence in the world in a way that cannot be revealed in changing laws and sending e-mails to politicians. In order to do this, all it takes is much sacrifice.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)