Iowa Caucus, Apartheid & the Church

A few days ago I heard a reporter say that the Iowa Caucuses could come down to which candidate the evangelical pastors in Iowa backed on Sunday morning from their pulpits. I’m not sure that’s how it played out or not, but the idea is repugnant to me (I think there should be disciplinary procedures for pastors who back candidates from the pulpit much like this young corporal will be in trouble for backing Ron Paul while in uniform). Kidding. Kind of.

Last night I was reading the excellent book by J. Todd Billings, Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church and my disdain for churches backing political candidates or agendas was confirmed, though admittedly in a roundabout kind of way. The fourth chapter of Billings book, “The Gospel and Justice,” explores the failings of the Reformed Church in South Africa during the apartheid era and it’s attempts to set the ship right in the Belhar Confession.

In 1857 the General Assembly of the Dutch Reformed Church (in South Africa) received a request from some white members of its church to celebrate communion separately from black members of the church. This request was clearly out of keeping with the Reformed doctrine and polity as set out in the Synods of Dort, and the 1857 Synod said there was no biblical basis for segregating races when coming to the Lord’s Table. However, the Synod accommodated this request, arguing that ‘due to the weakness of some’ (meaning white members), communion and worship can be segregated according to race.

This move eventually led to the separate, racially based denominations under the broad umbrella of the Dutch Reformed Church – the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (1887), and later the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (1951). In addition, what began as a matter of polity and accommodation to some weaker members developed into a full blown ideology with its accompanying theology that “sought to ground the separation of the races in creation.” With this theology, the DRC became an “avid advocate of apartheid as a government policy in 1924”.

Thus, the sin of the church’s ‘broken theology’ and its horrific implications for the church were compounded as the church lent it’s support for a broken and unjust social program. And, it was done with the idea that it would be good for both whites and blacks! Billings establishes that apartheid was rooted in an overly optimistic, not pessimistic, view of humanity. It was “an impossible pipe dream built on unfounded optimism that it would safeguard racial and cultural identities in an equitable way, establish economic stability, and secure neighborly peace.” (quote in Billings from Phillipe Theron’s “One Savior, On Church:Reconciliation as Justification and ‘New Creation’).

I think that is an important point. The church didn’t separate the races in their worship and later support the separation of races in society out of spite or hatred – at least not on the surface. It was a hateful thing, to be sure, but it was masked with good intentions. In the churches, it was a pastoral accommodation that was thought would make people feel more comfortable (at least the ‘weaker members’) and would thus contribute to the growth of the church. Billings points out “it was rationalized on grounds of missiology and practical necessity.”

These good intentions were out of step with the truth of the gospel and the Lord’s establishment of one common meal to nourish his church. The church, acting out of fear or hatred, deceived itself into thinking it was doing the loving thing. And then, it took it’s broken though well meaning theology and supported a horribly sinful social policy with it. It’s happened a few times in history. Robert Lewis Dabney shouldn’t have supported slavery…but he did. The church shouldn’t have supported racial segregation in the South…but it did. The church shouldn’t be so quite to support a candidate who is unquestioningly pro-Israel…but many are. Examples could be added ad nauseam.

What does this have to do with Iowa and North American Pastors? Pastor Joe Cornfed endorses Candidate NotSoBad. Later, candidate NotSoBad shows his true colors – he’s corrupt and unjust. Now the church is in a pickle. Or Pastor Hawkeye endorses Legislation SeemsGoodAtTheTime, but he hasn’t really read it and doesn’t know the far reaching ramifications of said legislation economically or socially, let alone legally. It winds up addressing problem A, but causes problems B and C. And oops, the church helped it happen. He had good intentions, maybe. Maybe he didn’t have enough knowledge of the issue. Maybe he was sinfully self deceived. But now there’s a problem – he, through his pulpit, has contributed to injustice and oppression.

Let me give another hypothetical situation (not so much). Pastor CornFields is passionately prolife. He hears that candidate Ima UsingU is more prolife that candidate Mittle Roade, who is also prolife, but maybe a little less consistently. There’s also another candidate who is prochoice, but wants to raise wages of working moms, provide free childcare for poor working moms, make adoption easier, etc. He claims his policies will make abortions less appealing and less ‘necessary’. Who should Pastor Fields endorse? Ima UsingU’s position is more like his own, but that might make him unelectable, or make it impossible for him to get his proposed legislation passed. Mittle Roade, who knows? And can he really support someone who supports keeping the holocaust of infants legal, even if his policies may drastically reduce the numbers of pregnancies terminated?

My suggestion – preach the Word of God. Call for justice. Remind people that God is a God who cares for the oppressed and marginalized and call hold the unjust to account. But don’t pretend to know the in’s and out’s of policies. Leave that to your people, to their gospel freedom, and to their Spirit led consciences. Hell, maybe a few of them will be lawyers, economists, social scientists, etc., and maybe, just maybe, they’ll have a better grasp on those issues than we pastors will.

There’s lots of good reasons to by a Reformed Two Kingdomer…maybe the best is that I know the deceitfulness of my own heart and my proclivity to bolster my agenda with my theology.