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|Tearing Down Walls of Separation||
The axe used to separate church and state has fallen once again. This time the victim or victims, depending on your view, come from a small congregation in the hills of North Carolina.
Pastor Chan Chandler, formerly of East Waynesville Baptist Church, resigned this week amidst a personal and public firestorm following months of sermons intertwining issues both political and religious.
The pastor claims to have never endorsed a particular candidate. "This has never been about politics," he said. "It's always been about whether the Bible applies to the entire life of a Christian."
Others disagree. ABC News claimed Chandler "urged parishioners to vote for Bush." Isaac Sutton, a deacon for 12 years at the church who was recently voted out, said, "He went on and on about how he's going to bring politics up, and if we didn't agree with him we should leave."
As a leader and a Christian, I would hope that no pastor would ever force someone out of their church because of their political affiliation. In the same way that we are not separate as Baptists, Pentecostals or any other denomination, but rather one as Christians, we are also not separate as Democrats, Republicans, or any other political party, but rather one as Americans.
At the same time, there are many moral issues that are being pulled into the political arena that the church must confront. In modern times, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. loudly took on the political power behind the moral injustice of racism, Pope John Paul II repeatedly spoke out against abortion, and many other religious leaders rightly used their position and platform to uphold Biblical principles, even if their speech overlapped into the political arena. Moral truth transcends political structure and should never be excluded because it originates in Judeo-Christian beliefs.
The prophets of old routinely "meddled" in state affairs. Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet endorsed and worked to ensure that King David's selected successor, Solomon, defeated his rival, Adonijah. The prophet Ahijah pronounced the end of King Jeroboam's reign. Elisha went so far as to instruct the military commander Jehu to overthrow king Ahab and take over the throne. For such intrusions, many prophets were stoned to death.
John McCandlish Phillips, a former reporter for the New York Times, recently penned, "In more than 50 years of direct engagement in and observation of the major news media, I have never encountered anything remotely like the fear and loathing lavished on us by opinion-mongers in these world-class newspapers in the past 40 days. If I had a $5 bill for every time that the word frightening and its close lexicographical kin have appeared in the [New York] Times and the [Washington] Post, with an accusatory finger pointed at the Christian right, I could take my stack to the stock market."
Today, those who speak in a manner influencing the political power base are often struck down -- not with rocks, but with the fiery pens of journalists. They claim conservatives want to usher in a theocracy comparable to the Muslim states of the Middle East. They paint Christian leaders as on a "jihad" to destroy America as we know it.
It seems that when a moral or religious leader crosses that arbitrary line of "separation of church and state," they are targeted for gross misrepresentation and character assassination in order to make them ineffective and obsolete. Though the method is less barbaric than stoning, the intent is the same -- to silence the opposition.
The real danger lies in a system that threatens a minister with the loss of his pulpit for addressing moral issues. It smacks of Stalinism to say, "You cannot speak out against that idea or person."
Most Christians openly accept those who disagree with their religious convictions. We believe that in a pluralistic society, disagreement is healthy. We are not afraid of unfettered dialogue, because we believe that truth withstands debate.
America is at a time when the walls that separate us must be torn down. Conservatives and liberals must debate the issues. Republicans and Democrats must work together. And people of faith must speak out, even if it affects the political landscape.