1/17/2012 - Beeson Divinity School Dean Insists Church Must Be Involved in Politics
By Michael J.Brooks
Dr. Timothy George spoke to students and faculty of JudsonCollege in its weekly chapel
Beeson Divinity School dean Dr. Timothy George saidChristians should be involved in the political process, noting that the God ofthe Bible exhorts his people to influence everything in their world.
George conducted a seminar for local ministers at JudsonCollege on Jan. 17 entitled, "How to make your church politically activewithout being political." The event was jointly sponsored by the collegeand the Office of LeaderCare and Church Administration of the Alabama BaptistMissions Board.
George suggested that modern Christians live between thetension of two overarching ideas. On the one hand, St. Paul insisted in thebook of Romans that government is ordained of God to maintain order in societyand Christians must be obedient. On the other hand, the early church determinedthat if faced with moral choice, their obedience would be to God rather than toman (Acts 4:18).
George, who has served as Beeson dean since 1988, said thatthere are a number of false views of God and government.
One is that government should compel religion.
"There are modern societies where this is true,"he said. "We generally think of some Mid-East nations where Christianityis illegal, but the church has fallen into this trap at certain times in her historyand has made a certain denomination the state religion. True religion is amatter of conscience and government isn't equipped to compel it."
On the other extreme is the idea that government shouldexclude religion. George said the First Amendment is clear that the Americangovernment must not prevent the "free exercise" of religion.
"The legal term is 'non-discriminatoryaccommodation,'" George said. "I think this gives wide latitude toreligious practices and we have to be fair to all religious expression unlessit endangers people."
George noted, for example, that the U.S. government hasstood in the way of free expression at times due to the reported endangermentof children.
"Another false few is that the church should doevangelism and not politics," George said.
"But the Christian message is that God is sovereignover all the creation. We cannot be only concerned about what happens withinthe four walls of our homes and ignore the surrounding community, nor can we beconcerned only for what happens within the four walls of our church and ignoresociety."
George noted that much of the American church's politicalexpression is governed by the IRS, especially a statute enacted in 1954.
"The statute is called the 'Johnson Amendment' since Sen.Lyndon Johnson of Texas pushed it through the Senate on a voice vote withoutdebate," George said. "He'd been incensed that some non-profits hadopposed his election, so this was, in effect, pay back."
The amendment threatens revocation of tax-exempt status if achurch endorses candidates.
George said that prior to this ruling, it was common forpastors to preach about personalities.
"Published sermons in the 1800s took issue with ThomasJefferson's candidacy for president since he wasn't a Christian, but adeist," George said. "But now churches feel the weight of the IRSduring the political season."
George said that the best course is for pastors and churchesto discuss moral issues and to provide voter information that clarifies issueswhile avoiding the endorsement of candidates.
George gave attendees copies of "The ManhattanDeclaration" written by himself, Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship andRobert George of Princeton University. The document, produced in 2009,elucidates three moral issues upon which the writers propose Christians unite.
George said the Manhattan document, named for the city ofits initial adoption, was inspired by the Barmen Declaration of 1934. More than100 German religious leaders signed the document in opposition to the rise ofNazism, and some of them paid dearly for their courage.
The Manhattan document contains three issues: the sanctityof life and marriage and religious liberty.
George said that the document defends "pre-born" lifeand speaks to the end of life, opposing euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide.The marriage section upholds the traditional view of marriage as between oneman and one woman as a life-time covenant.
"It is the marriage section that's brought more criticism,"George said. "Some have accused us of being hateful, but there's not aword of condemnation in the document against the gay community. What we arguefor is 'the common good' that enriches society."
Nearly 500 thousand people have signed the declaration,George noted.
"This document isn't a political one," he said,"but a moral one. It's an example of the church taking a stand on issues,and reaching across dividing lines to find support from people of variouspolitical and religious persuasions. I think this is what the church can andshould do."
The document can be viewed at www.manhattandeclaration.org.