Out of this world Christians

 

Many evangelical and Pentecostal Christians would see themselves as somewhat outside of the system of politics and money that rules the world.  They are “in this world, but not of this world”, having been “born-again” into the kingdom of God.

But this insight and godly aspiration may also blind them to the influence and even manipulation of their views and beliefs by the interests of capital, business and politics.  For there are many others, who although they may not be believers – understand all too well how to use the Christian message to influence and control Christian groups.

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 Evangelicals are justifiably critical of the influence of the Roman politics and empirical mind-set on the early church.  Far fewer are aware of the influence of the American empire on their own brand of Christianity. 

 There is a long tradition of this kind of influence.  In the early 20th Century, for example, in North Carolina and Virginia many of the textile mill-owners brought particular preachers to their communities and subsidised evangelical churches because they liked their version of the gospel – one that emphasized personal responsibility and obedience to the industrial masters.  It became almost a formal system of church funding.  The presiding elder of the Methodist churches in the Gastonia district of North Carolina, said of this system :

 “Amen!  I’ve always believed that.  Mill churches serve the mill as much as they serve the folks; let the mill pay for the service.  Churches help the mills to have a steadier and more intelligent source of labor.  Let the mills give more than they do, and let it all be perfectly above board.  It’s worth something to the mills to have churches work among their people.  Why Mr _____ [one of the largest textile manufactures in North Carolina], a Jew, helps the preachers, and the first thing he does when a strike threatens is to call them up – and the strikers can’t win with the preachers against them.  So let Mr ____ pay.”  1

 

This system expanded through the latter half of the 20th Century.  A two word telegram from William Randolph Hearst to his newspaper editors – “Puff Graham” catapulted Billy Graham overnight from an insignificant tent revival ministry to a national figure.   Hearst (later dramatized in Citizen Kane) liked the anti-communist message of the young Graham.

 With the rise of the evangelicals and fundamentalists in the 70’s and 80’s this group was captured for the conservative side of politics by Reagan’s strategists.  It did not have to be so, evangelicals were often on the progressive side of politics in the 19th Century.    And Karl Rove masterminded a successful strategy of mobilizing and organizing the churches as campaign offices for the Republican party for the 2004 election.  Dana Millbank from the Washington Post :

 “I don’t think we can overstate this mobilization of the individual churches. Never happened before. Vast sort of untapped source of political energy in this country. The evangelicals didn’t just come on board for him: They were campaigning; they were at the events; they were the poll volunteers; they were making the phone banks, the phone calls. You know, that’s how you win elections. It was good old grassroots, door-knocking politics, but they tapped this group and organized it in a way that just had never been done to that extent before.

Religious conservatives, if they wanted to get into politics, [used to get] involved with Ralph Reed and his Christian Coalition. No more. You’re doing it right through your church. The Christian Coalition had no important effect on this election at all. It was all about your local Christian church. That turned out to be the rallying point.”2

 

So, while we are discussing proper exegesis of the Scriptures, being filled with the Spirit and being not of this world – perhaps we should also keep a critical eye on what the world is doing.  For there are many who have no interest in the Scriptures, no idea of the Holy Spirit but know how to use our communities, our allegiances and our beliefs in order to manipulate us for their own purposes.

 

–          Wazza2

 

 

 


 

  1. Quoted in “Millhands and Preachers : A Study of Gastonia”  page 149, Liston Pope, Yale University.
  2. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/architect/rove/2004.html

14 thoughts on “Out of this world Christians

  1. “For there are many who have no interest in the Scriptures, no idea of the Holy Spirit but know how to use our communities, our allegiances and our beliefs in order to manipulate us for their own purposes.”

    Excellent article. I’m totally different on issues with the author, but the point of the article is spot on, and the church needs to be reminded of this constantly.

    Well done.

  2. The piece is, of course, highly contrived retrospective judgement.

    The left has always been bitter towards the tendency of Christians to be more inclined towards the conservative view, mainly because US believers are generally opposed to abortion on demand, gay marriage and evolution, which the liberals (US version) tend towards and champion.

    It is ventured that the fundamentalist attitude of US Christians has polarised the US, but, the reality is that the left has shifted to a far more liberal line of thought, and the demographic is split down the middle, and very hostile towards one another.

    There has been a shift in Christian strategy, however, in moving away from the protest vote, or from setting up their own minority parties, to influencing one of the major parties. This is certainly the case in Australia, where it was spoken of for a long time before the invitation by Hillsong of politicians to its influential church to address the congregation, and the media attention that generated.

    It is largely said that Hillsong was biased towards Peter Costello and john Howard at the time, but the reality was that they invited leaders from both major parties, but the labour leadership, not picking up the demographic, publicly declined, completely missing the mood of the electorate, which was a huge mistake, and which Kevin Rudd worked tirelessly to correct on his way to winning the Kevin 07 election.

    But the notion that the Republicans manipulated the Christian vote is artificial, at best. They mobilised it, certainly, but it was the astuteness of the conservative strategists which picked up the groundswell of mistrust towards Democrat policy and their liberal, antichristian tendencies.

    That, as they say, is politics.

  3. I think one of the points is the fact that the elite of the Republican Party in the US aren’t as evangelical/Christians as they imply in order to get the Christian vote.

    “but, the reality is that the left has shifted to a far more liberal line of thought,”

    You think so? I think it’s always been like that.

    I don’t like churches being campaign hubs, and if I were a Pastor I wouldn’t do it in my church. But on the flip side, we should be flooding the world with Christian politicians, workers in media, and even bloggers!

    “and the demographic is split down the middle, ”

    Yep. And it’s that demographic that is being targeted everyday in the media. (Not saying there is a concerted left-wing conspiracy headed up in an office somewhere – but cleary the vast majority of people in the media/entertainment world have been and are doing a great job of steering that middle demographic their way).

    btw, Great piece by Wazza, and superb counter by Steve. If we could keep things at this level this would be a “bottler” of a blog.

  4. Before the civil rights movement in the US, it was common for Christians especially those in the South to see blacks as inferior and not to have the same rights as whites (see also Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa). Had it not been for the civil rights movement, blacks would still be segregated while Christians went on their merry way praising God. What does God care for how people are treated?

    Of course we think such attitudes are offensive. We only think that because of the movements in the 60s and 70s. Sometimes secular movements has to teach the Church about Truth and justice.

  5. It certainly seems as though Conservative politicians value and support certain conservative Christian groups. For example the leaders of the Exclusive Brethren, quite a small denomination, could get a meeting with John Howard almost at will and at very short notice. The leaders of the National Council of Churches (a much wider representative of Australian Christian views and constituency) would be waiting almost a year to get to speak with him. Peter Costello met with Danny Nahlia many times and was outspoken in his support.

    The question is, do these politicians value the conservative Christians for their moral and spirtual views, or do they see them as effective voter-delivery systems to consolidate their power-bases in key electorates?

    And how far should Christian organisations get involved in politics – especially when politicians then deliver benefits to their organisations. Such things as funding for independent Christian schools, grants for social work, preferential tax treatment, exemption from certain laws are all offered to churches – perhaps in exchange for their skill in voter-delivery. Even just meeting with a church leader on the make, confers them some benefit in legitimising their views.

    Is this in conflict with the idea of being in the world but not of the world?

    I think a stance of being apart from politics is necessary to have an effective prophetic voice – to hold politicians to account and to stand up for moral standards.

  6. “Billy Graham, the beloved evangelist known as “America’s pastor,” says that looking back on his long life and public ministry, one thing he would do differently is to avoid the political entanglements that have been one of the rare blots on his otherwise hallowed legacy.

    “I . . . would have steered clear of politics,”

    Interesting.

  7. Bones,
    Had it not been for the civil rights movement, blacks would still be segregated while Christians went on their merry way praising God.

    Surely that makes the vague assumption that all Christians are white, and none are black.

    Would you care to revise your statement?

    When, in the US demographic you cite, did people from ethnicities other than pale-skinned European extraction become Christian?

    Were there no Christian African-Americans being segregated?

    Explain…

  8. Wazza2,
    I think a stance of being apart from politics is necessary to have an effective prophetic voice – to hold politicians to account and to stand up for moral standards.

    Well that’s terribly naive, mainly because you are taking out a substantial vote, leaving the election of candidates to the Parliament to the unsaved!

    Jesus told us to render to Caesar such is his, and to God his due. He wasn’t saying that we shouldn’t interact with the world, but that we were not of the world. In other words we represent another kingdom whilst we remain in the earth, but we are to influence the peoples of the earth as long as we are here.

    He said, “I do not take them out of the world”. He left us here to be the light, the salt, the flavour, the savour, to be the change-makers, the peacemakers, the representatives of Christ.

    Politics is, by definition, activity associated with the governance of a country, including debate and discussion on how to execute justice, peace, fiscal propriety, provision, equity and law. If Christians fail to be involved in the just construction and sustenance of a society then they are not following Christ’s instruction to publish the gospel of peace.

    Politics is form the greek politikos, from polités, citizen, from polis, city, and has to do wth the oikonimus, the ecoomy and management of the people of a community.

    Why would we not be actively involved.

    I thought justice and activism were some of the essentials of the gospel of wazza. I am surprised you would defer direct influence to apply spectatorship, when the greatest advocacy is from the position of election, not from the sidelines.

    But I agre that we need a prophetic voice. Surely, though, holding people accountable is better served from within than from without.

  9. Steve, lets look at it from the other side then. You argue that Christians should work from within the political system.

    Is there anyone, or any organisation a Christian shouid refuse to work with in conducting a political career?

    Is there any time that a Christian should not compromise their beliefs in conducting the political debate or in voting?

    Is there any source of funding that a Christian church or politician should reject?

    Under what conditions should a Christian decide to resign or forgoe their insider position in politics?

  10. Steve, I agree with a lot you say. But individual Christians can vote, become members of parties, run for office, become supreme court judges etc, without churches being campaign offices, and Pastors inviting politicians of one flavor to speak in their churches.

  11. I don’t think churches should become campaign offices. They should take a neutral stance, because each congregation will have people with either socialist or conservative leanings.

    We’re not here to be political machinery, but to promote Christian values, so people should be allowed to make their own choices about their local member.

    Churches preach the gospel. They pray for the national leadership, whoever is in power. God put them there, for whatever reason. Sometimes, under he OT, God gave leaders to test a nation, such as Nebuchadnezzar, or deliver them, such as Cyrus, and both non-Jews.

    If you are referring to Hillsong, Q, I have already highlighted that both major parties were invited to front up to their meetings, but it was Mr Latham who determined they were not worthy of his attention, to his later regret, I’m sure, as he saw how events unfolded in that election.

    The perception was that, because Mr Costello did show up, Hillsong was pushing a particular agenda, but they made it clear that both major parties were invited.

    Generally, especially with Christian Lobby events, Christians involved in organising debates ensure that all local representatives are able to give their standpoint on important Christian issues.

    The Nalliah debacle is different. He prophesied, falsely, that Peter Costello would be the, then, next PM, but failed miserably, when Mr Rudd actually became the, then, next PM, Danny Nalliah blaming the Christian contingent for not praying enough, which was a shamefully sham excuse for a failed prediction.

  12. I imagine there are several answers to your questions, wazza. And from opposite spectrums. I don’t have the answers to everything. I do know that we have to be led by our Christian conscience in whatever vocation we enter, so our integrity should not be compromised by the vices or excesses of others.

    The idea of democracy is that we can enter a party and have a shared voice in policy that is also able to reject aspects or bring change to policy if it doesn’t reflect Christian values, but if we do not actively participate we are powerless, apart from in the twin disciplines of prayer and activism, to bring about substantial change.

    Activism is good, but it doesn’t have the same effect as producing policy or legislative changes through the democratic process. People will respond to well constructed and thought out policy which brings benefits to society. Many good Christian men and women have been effective in bringing about law revision in our nation, and this should be encouraged. The alternative s godless decision making against which even activism is impotent.

  13. Adding to this, I think any bright, intelligent young person who wants to make a difference to our nation should enter the highest level of law they can achieve and do what they can to enter Parliament, either at State or Territory level, or at Federal level, or local councils.

    I would consider this a vocational calling within the Christian mandate to bring change to a community.

    Some of the greatest politicians have been Christians.

  14. Steve, not at all. You’ve explained that before and i have no problem with that at all. I don’t think there was anything wrong with Hillsong and Costello at all.

    I was referring to the

    “And Karl Rove masterminded a successful strategy of mobilizing and organizing the churches as campaign offices for the Republican party for the 2004 election. ”

    It’s probably more of a US thing.

    Though the old Joh for PM was pushed too much in QLD charismatic churches (but that’s a long time ago now).

    I liked your last comment. It would be great to see more young people have a long range ambition to be a future PM or President.

    I am more aware of the US scene than Australia, and am surprised that there aren’t more quality people running for the most important job in the world.

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