by Rev. Dr. Rodney W. Kennedy
Are you frustrated over the attempts of some preachers to define what it means to be Christian with secular political labels? Will we ever get it through our heads that God is not the exclusive property of politicians or preachers? Can the church sweep the labels out the back door with the morning trash and reclaim our historic identity as followers of Jesus? Being a Republican or a Democrat doesn’t make us Christians.
Did you know that the church didn’t start with squabbles over being liberal and conservative? The church started with the good news of the gospel of Jesus. Then the church went about the business of showing the world how the people of the gospel lived? Have we forgotten the earliest description of the church in Acts 2: “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’). 37He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
Don’t you remember that the church’s first big issue was not abortion or gay rights,, but the sharing of food? You can’t get more political than that, because whoever controls the bread has the power. The issue was over whether the Hebrew widows were getting more than their fair share of bread as compared to the portion given to Gentile widows. In other words, the church has always had divisions. The church solved the sharing of bread issue by inventing “deacons” to serve.
Now, we define loyalties with “conservative” or “liberal” instead of “Christian” and “Baptist.” Can you remember when we were not crippled by our labels of conservative and liberal? Our denominational loyalties have been obscured by our secular political allegiances. Once we were American Baptists—a people who supported the abolition of slavery, separation of church and state, civil rights, the rights of workers, support of public schools, and women as ordained pastors. And now other Baptists, like the Southern Baptist, Paige Patterson, spread lies about us. He told the Baptist World Alliance that the SBC was withdrawing its membership from the group because of the influence of those liberal American Baptists. There are about 2.5 million American Baptists and more than half of them are conservatives. Paige Patterson just needed a scapegoat to cover up his bad manners of dropping out of the world- wide association of Baptists; because if the Southern Baptists can’t run something, they will run from it.
I’m tired of political labels crippling the work of the church. I refuse to fit in anyone’s categories. Sometimes I’m liberal; sometimes I’m conservative. I have nothing in common with those electronic soul molesters who hurl their political agenda in a tidy, cultural gospel of wealth, health and worldly power. I am sick of being identified with preachers who preach “Take up your cross and relax.” “Take up your cross and get in touch with your inner beauty and positive self-esteem.” “Take up your cross and get rich.” “Take up your cross and send a hurricane through New Orleans to flood the homes of poor people and blow other people’s houses to smithereens.”
In agreement with Will Campbell, one of my mentors, I’m a conservative when it comes to the government keeping its nose out of religion, morality and my relationship with Jesus. Only a liberal would want the government to write prayers for our children when they should be learning to pray at church. Only a liberal would want public school students to study the Bible taught by somebody who graduated from Bob Jones University or Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. Only a liberal would want the Ten Commandments plastered all over government property. I’m not sure why these Christians decided to make such an issue out of insisting on posting the Jewish 10 Commandments in federal buildings or state grounds. Judge Roy Moore of Alabama installed a two-and-a-half-ton monument in the lobby of the Alabama Judicial Building. Ironically, the Ten Commandments emblazoned on that block of granite became known as “Roy’s Rock.” In other words, it’s a piece of idolatrous junk. We probably don’t have the skills to recognize idolatry any more, but busloads of Christians would visit “Roy’s Rock”, drop to their knees, and pray in front of the granite monument. Idolatry! One protester screamed when he learned that the court had ordered the monument’s removal, “Get your hands off my God!” Any questions? The 10 Commandments are to be obeyed not worshiped.
Look, I’m too old-fashioned for all this silliness. I want to hang on to the Bible – all of it – and the First Amendment to the Constitution. Look, the church has enough problems without the government interfering in what we do. I don’t want big government interfering in my theological convictions, how I worship, what I read, what I watch on television, or how I decide to make personal decisions. I want liberals who want the government to control private lives and moral decisions to leave us conservatives alone. In return, I’ll leave them alone.
Whether you are conservative or liberal pales in comparison to whether or not you are Christian! So drop the labels and love one another!