I am a life-long member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). There is a general church that represents everyone in my denomination. There is a regional church that represents members of my denomination in Arizona. And, of course, there is a local church that I attend at 15303 South Gilbert Road, Gilbert, Arizona. (Weekly services Sundays at 9 & 11 am and Thursdays at 7 pm, in case you’re interested.) The middle group, my regional church, passed three resolutions over the weekend. It resolved to (1) encourage churches to fight global warming, (2) to encourage churches to promote hospitality, particularly toward Hispanic immigrants, and (3) to denounce Arizona’s law that targets those who unlawfully entered the United States.
I supported each of these. I greatly respect people who strongly opposed the third measure. The vote for the first two was overwhelmingly in favor; for the third it was close enough to require a standing vote-meaning we had to count the aye’s and nay’s. Is it right for a church to denounce the passage of a law?
Lets clear some brush right away. Separation of Church and State is primarily related to the prohibition of government support for religions. It may apply as an American value but it doesn’t apply as a legal concept. Similarly, churches are limited in their ability to advocate the election or defeat of individuals, but much less so ballot measures, and not at all political ideas. See, e.g., the church’s pronounced opposition to abortion, and sadly to a much lesser degree war and capital punishment.
So, this action did not violate the First Amendment, nor jeopardize the church’s tax-exempt status (which arguably DOES violate the First Amendment) but there is more to the discussion than that. Is it dangerous for churches to use their position in the political arena? I think it is, but nonetheless, there are times when being mindful of that danger churches must act.
In Arizona, many of us are personally aware of the fear struck in the hearts of the least of these by this law. A law that may never take affect; a law that frankly gave very little new power to the police. It is hard to read about Jesus marching into Jerusalem to challenge the powers that be and to read about the martyr Stephen and conclude that in the interest of politeness, we can remain silent on such issues.
It requires me to recognize, however, that those who oppose abortion in the name of their faith are equally right to raise this opinion. I don’t find that view supported in Scripture and to the extent it is supported by church tradition it evidence of the oppression of women. But that is my reading, and my opinion is no more valuable than that of the anti-choice activists.
Ultimately, I believe that if the church does not speak to the issues of the day, it is worthless, like salt that has lost its saltiness, it should be discarded.