The requests came from church members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary?
After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.
“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”
Mr. Boyd says he is no liberal. He is opposed to abortion and thinks homosexuality is not God’s ideal. The response from his congregation at Woodland Hills Church here in suburban St. Paul — packed mostly with politically and theologically conservative, middle-class evangelicals — was passionate. Some members walked out of a sermon and never returned. By the time the dust had settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members.
But there were also congregants who thanked Mr. Boyd, telling him they were moved to tears to hear him voice concerns they had been too afraid to share.
“Most of my friends are believers,” said Shannon Staiger, a psychotherapist and church member, “and they think if you’re a believer, you’ll vote for Bush. And it’s scary to go against that.”
I may not agree with Mr. Boyd about much else, but I do agree with him that churches should not be the incubator of partisan party politics, either on the left or the right. Without question certain churches will attract people who vote a certain way. That's only natural, and not something to be concerned about (hunting clubs attract certain types of voters too, I'm sure.) But when churches seek to take an active role in politics, they strain the Constitutional ideal of separation of church and state:
In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.
“America wasn’t founded as a theocracy,” he said. “America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state."
This is in contrast to those who insist that America was founded as a Christian nation. Saying so, they inevitably mean that Christian principles (by which they mean conservative Christian principles) should control our laws.
Why did Mr. Boyd turn away from "political" evangelism?
He said he first became alarmed while visiting another megachurch’s worship service on a Fourth of July years ago. The service finished with the chorus singing “God Bless America” and a video of fighter jets flying over a hill silhouetted with crosses.
“I thought to myself, ‘What just happened? Fighter jets mixed up with the cross?’ ” he said in an interview.
To me, such an image is the essence of conservative evangelism in America today. Conservative evangelical Christianity is too often wedded to what some naively refer to as patriotism, but what is in fact blatant American nationalism and jingoism. It is a doctrine that preaches American military superiority and takes a simple-minded view of world politics interpreted through the lens of the Christian bible, a view where America is always right, other countries are either with us or against us, our enemies cannot be accomodated but only defeated by force, and there is no room for reflection on our own failings either morally or politically. In other words, it's a doctrine that is particularly ill-suited for these highly complex times where are friends are sometimes also our enemies and pure military might is incapable of solving some of our intractible problems.
I certainly don't begrudge Mr. Boyd, or any other evangelical, for believing in what they do and voting accordingly. I would never argue that a Christian, or anyone, should vote without considering the dictates of their moral philosophy. But it's one thing to adhere to the moral teachings of your church and vote accordingly, and quite another to harness your church to work on behalf of one political party. Fortunately there are those evanglicals like Mr. Boyd who are uncomfortable with it too.