Disclaimer: 1) I believe that Christians (along with all other Americans) should vote. 2) I think it is awesome when Christians run for a political office. 3) I think all political issues should be considered through a biblical point of view.
Abraham Lincoln (image)
The first result of my Google image search of “church” returned a picture of…a…church. This was not nearly as surprising as discovering Church’s Chicken. But, my curious mind wondered why this particular church had made its way to the top of Google. I clicked on the image and after seeing a larger version of it, the first words that I read were, “Abraham Lincoln Online.” The second words that I read were, “Lincoln Family Church.”
I was a bit taken aback by this discovery. I have always been a fan of Abraham Lincoln, but I was shocked and a little bit annoyed that a church would be so strongly connected to a president or any political figure. Church’s need to be about Jesus, not politics. As I dug deeper the connection grew stronger. I discovered that the church’s URL is www.lincolnschurch.org. Lincoln’s church. Not Jesus’ church. Lincoln’s church! Did you catch that? Lincoln’s church.
If you can’t tell by my repetition, the URL upset me. Church’s need to be about Jesus, not politics. But, it was just a URL (I told myself). And, it was Lincoln’s church in the sense that he was a part of it. If Creekside had been the church for a president I would be proud of that. I wouldn’t change our URL to www.washingtonschurch.org or www.rooseveltschurch.org, but I would be proud of it. So, enough about the URL.
The first thing I noticed on www.lincolnschurch.org was an image – an image of Abraham Lincoln. After further examination I saw two more images of Lincoln on the homepage. Based on the URL and the homepage pictures, it seems this church is very focused on their relationship to president Lincoln.
The content of the site isn’t much better. There is an advertisement for the event, “Christianizaing Lincoln.” There is a page devoted to explaining the connection of the Lincoln family to the church. There is a page devoted to advertising the “Lincoln’s Worship Birthday Celebration.” And, perhaps most telling, is that the site says that “A stained glass window in the front features President Lincoln in the middle, flanked by Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton” (Not Jesus?).
I don’t fault First Presbyterian Church of Springfield for being proud of their connection to a United States president (even if I think their website is a little bit over the top). I am hopeful that this church is being used by God to bring people to the belief that Jesus is savior and lord. Plus, I love history and if I were in Springfield, Massachusetts I would make a point to go see the bench that Abraham Lincoln and his family sat on. But, by so connecting themselves to a political figure they run the risk of alienating the people from church. Lincoln is widely respected and loved by most Americans and so one may wonder how a connection to him would alienate people from church. But, not all Americans share this respect for Lincoln. I recently read the following words on a blog, “Lincoln, immortalized as the “Great Emancipator” was a racist, white supremacist who used American soldiers to suppress and kill American citizens and deserves only infamy.” For at least one person First Presbyterian Church of Springfield has connected themselves, and church in general, to a racist murderer. This is not a good association.
You may want to argue at this point that making this type of association is unfair. But whether it is unfair or not does not change the fact that it will and does happen. In fact, it is happening all over our country. The American Church has made a point of endorsing political candidates and its negative effect on those outside the church has become clear. In his book, They Like Jesus But Not the Church, Dan Kimball records the comments of a girl who likes Jesus and not the church. “Pastors are creepy” and they “try to proselytize people to become right-wing Republicans.” Kimball quotes another girl as saying, “I don’t trust the church. All you ever see is men who have their own political agendas basically brainwashing the people in their church that if they don’t believe the same things the church leaders do, and vote the same way, they are going to hell. Church shouldn’t be about politics.” It is easy for those of us inside the church to get angry when we read quotes like these because, they are not perfectly accurate. For one thing, I’m a pastor and I’m not creepy. For another, most churches are not actually teaching that voting the wrong way in the next election could result in a person going to Hell. But, instead of getting angry, I suggest that we should consider why people outside the church have these opinions. If we consider this long enough we might come to the conclusion that the church has become to political and has too strongly endorsed, in one way or another, certain political figures.
In an article I recently wrote for the Wilsonville Spokesman I referenced an article that quoted Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He says, “It (endorsing candidates) puts congregations in an awkward position. It’s not a wise thing for churches to endorse candidates. We think candidates should endorse us. We think the mixing of the sacred nature of the church with the exceedingly worldly nature of politics is … unseemly.” I agree with these sentiments. If a church (or the church) connects itself to a specific candidate they connect themselves (whether fair or not) to the good and the bad that comes with that candidate and with politics in general. This connection alienates some from the church and keeps them from becoming a part of it (see above quotes).
As we move towards election day 2012 many churches will choose to focus on getting one candidate or another elected. When they do this they will make fulfilling their God given mission of making disciples of Jesus more difficult. If a church’s connection to a specific candidate prevents one person, even one, from exploring a relationship with Jesus or dawning the church doors it is a tragedy. Instead of trying to change our country through politics churches ought to be focused on changing our country through leading individuals to a life changing relationship with God. A president can be in office eight years; changed lives last for eternity.
I am over my self-imposed thousand word limit. In the next post (which will come faster than this one did) I’ll discuss my thoughts on the the video, music, and book results for the Google search of “church.” Why am I doing this? Check out part 1 of “Church’s Chicken and Other Stuff” for the answer.