Thursday, May 28, 2009

Once again: Jesus Christ was not a right-wing Republican, nor a left-wing Democrat

In the years before the Conservative Resurgence, Southern Baptist Moderates, who ruled the SBC at the time, moved ever closer to total alignment with the Southern wing of the Democratic Party. This was personified by President Jimmy Carter, himself a former SBC politico. 

In their love for Carter, SBC leaders then failed to note a political shift occurring right beneath their noses across the country and even in their own denomination—a shift which eventually brought on the Ronald Reagan revolution and all of its attendant conservative philosophies.

Will history now repeat itself again?

The SBC today could be renamed the Republican Baptist Convention. When the Republican Party sneezes, SBC leaders pop up with handkerchiefs and hand sanitizers. Their alignment with the Republican Party far exceeds the love affair the Moderates had with Carter back in the late 1970s.

Recently Richard Land of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission produced yet another column in Baptist Press taking the standard Republican Party line, this time on the nomination of Supreme Court nominee federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor. That's just the latest of his and other SBC leaders' statements that read as though they fell right out of the Republican Party play book.

SBC leaders could take some important lessons from the late Pope John Paul II. In 1979 when he set out to corral the excessive political involvement of some of his priests, particularly the Jesuits, John Paul said, "Jesus Christ was no political revolutionary and his priests are not to be either."

I was at the meeting in Puebla, Mexico, where John Paul made that famous statement. I was impressed with the wisdom in his words then and have been increasingly so over the years.

I very much admired the way John Paul II dealt with this issue.  He was outspoken on various political points of view, yet no one could label him a particular party member. He had his own firm beliefs about many issues, yet he was able to speak out on social and ethical issues of his day without aligning himself with any particular political leader or party. He was, in other words, his "own man". He wasn't in the hip pocket of any politician or political party.

Through the past four decades I've often written and spoken on my basic belief that Jesus Christ was neither a Republican nor a Democrat and that church leaders err when they cozy up to one political party or the other. I believe firmly the church's agenda should never be fully aligned with any secular political party. 

Church leaders need to speak to social, ethical, and biblical issues as addressed in the Bible, not act in lock-step unison with one political party or the other.

SBC leaders today would do well to remember what happened to the former SBC leaders  when they became so obsessed with Carter and his version of Christianity as represented by the Democratic Party in the 1970s. Very soon they found themselves on the outs with the majority within the SBC, who opted to join in the Reagan revolution.

As with the days of Jimmy Carter, these are times of great political, social, and economic ferment and turmoil. If SBC leaders today keep opposing everything President Obama does and keep jumping at every play called by the Republican Party while the Republican Party continues to sink in public polls, SBC Conservative leaders today just could find themselves in the same mud puddle the Moderate leaders found themselves in during the aftermath of the Carter presidency.

Southern Baptists do not have a long history with the Republican Party. In fact, for more than 100 years, the Southern in Southern Baptist yielded a great disdain for the Party of Lincoln. A major component in the shift in the SBC's political loyalty occurred because of the rising affluence among Southern Baptists in general and the party's strategy to attract Southern loyalists in particular. 

Somebody needs to tell Southern Baptist leaders today that it's time to take a deep breath, stand back from all the political wrangling, and start quoting the entirety of their inerrant Bibles instead of dancing to the tune of the right wing of the secular Republican Party.