Whenever church and state are wed, the state impacts the church. It rarely occurs the other way around. Because the state is a secular entity, its effect on the church is almost always a negative one.
All we have to do is look to history to find a prime example. During its first 300 years, the Christian church was vibrant, pure, and thriving despite its status as an illegal religion within the Roman Empire. At times facing severe persecution, the church was consistently salt and light within a pagan empire.
However, after Constantine made Christianity the religion of the empire in the early 300's, the church began to take on the character of the empire. Its impact on the world lessened as its morals declined and its evangelistic fervor diminished.
The state impacted the church; the church did not impact the state.
Fast-forward to today. Christian churches within our country (at least for the most part) seem to be wedded to the Republican Party. I believe this has occurred for two primary reasons. First, the Democratic Party is now controlled by its left-wing element that is outwardly anti-Christian. Second, the Republican Party has embraced the so-called "Religious Right," and wants this powerful voting block.
(Just as an aside, I write this piece as an Independent voter. However, I am far closer to a Republican than a Democrat. The Democratic Party has drifted so far to the left that it can no longer even be considered for my vote.)
So what impact has the union between the Republican Party and Christian churches in America had? Frankly, I don't think it has had much impact on the Republican Party other than to help it gain the presidency 5 of the last 7 elections.
More importantly, what impact has this close relationship had upon American churches? I believe the impact has been a negative one because we, as Christians, often act and believe more like Republicans than Christians (I realize you can be both Republican and Christian; please just keep reading).
I see at least 5 specific areas where I believe the Republican Party is at odds with Christianity. The 5 are treatment of the poor, stewardship of the environment, gun-control, immigration-reform, and financial responsibility. Let's take a look.
As for treatment of the poor, the Democratic Party has consistently tried to give money to the poor in our society in the hopes that this would cure the problem. We have seen, from F.D.R. to L.B.J. to W.J.C., that this does not work. In response, the Republican Party has, for the most part, tried to ignore the problem of the poor, in the hopes that it would go away. This hasn't worked either. Could there be another solution? Jesus made it clear on multiple occasions that His followers should care for the poor. Jesus certainly did. However, most churches hold to more of a Republican attitude toward the poor that a Christian one. The view within most churches seems to be that the poor deserve their fate. Therefore, churches set up some sort of small benevolence fund, but do little else at all to assist the poor.
As for the environment, I am not suggesting that we worship nature as some in the Democratic Party do (see Al Gore). Once again, however, we see the Republican Party reacting to a Democratic agenda by going to the opposite extreme. In fact, I have seen Republicans do little over the years except block environmental protection measures put forth by Democrats. How do churches respond? Churches mostly ignore the issue. Why? Has not God given us a beautiful earth to be stewards over? He has. Churches, however, rarely speak about this issue, and if they do, they just say the same words that the Republican Party says.
Gun-control is another issue where most churches are either silent or just repeat the Republican Party line. I'm not suggesting that guns be banned. After all, it is evil people who should be blamed for shooting other people, not the guns they use. However, there are plenty of fire-arms that can be easily purchased in our country that are not designed for hunting wild game. Their purpose is simply to be used for killing people. Shouldn't churches be calling for the banning of these sorts of high-powered weapons? Jesus was clearly a non-violent individual who had a pacifistic streak to say the least. The Republican Party, on the other hand, is strongly influenced by the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Immigration-reform is a hot issue right now. Despite the president's attempts to pass a reform bill, it was Republicans in congress who blocked the measure, saying it gives amnesty to people who should not live here. The Republican Party, for the most part, does not want more immigrants (probably because non-whites tend to vote strongly Democratic). However, when we look at the teachings of Christ, He is very open to all people. He did not speak to the importance of borders between countries, but rather spoke to the importance of people. Much as He cared for the poor, He also cared for Samaritans and Gentiles. So where are churches on this issue? I hear little because most stay within their own walls, not reaching their communities.
Finally, what about financial responsibility? Despite the fact that the Republican Party talks about lower spending and smaller government, it does not put this into practice. It was under Ronald Reagan that our country's national debt hit new heights. Today, we see huge budget deficits each year. Ironically, it was under Bill Clinton (not my favorite person) that we had budget surpluses. Where does the church stand on this issue? It is true that many churches give a great deal of money toward missions, and for this I am thankful. However, many churches are also deep in debt for buildings that they financed on credit. Is this good stewardship? Is this a good message to be sending to our church members, many of whom have a great deal of personal debt? Shouldn't our churches teach financial responsibility and also act this out?
I apologize for the negative tone of this post. I did not intend for it to turn out this way. My intent is simply to warn about the impact that the Republican Party is currently having upon our churches. Let us not turn a blind eye, and act like the Republican Party is a Christian political party. It is not. This is why the two leading candidates for the Republican nomination for president in 2008 are a nominal Christian at best (Rudi Guliani) and a Mormon (Mitt Romney).
May I suggest three recommendations for all of us?
First, let us cut ties with the Republican Party. This does not mean that we won't vote for a Republican candidate. Many times we might do so. Let us not, however, automatically vote for the GOP. Count yourself as an Independent.
Second, let's look for a third party candidate who believes more along the lines that we do. This will take some work on our part because they are often somewhat difficult to find out about; the Democrats and Republicans have made it difficult to run from outside their two parties.
Third, and most important, we must as individuals and churches look to the bible to inform how we vote and what our positions should be on political issues. Search the scriptures for they contain the words of life.
Let us not be skewed away from the bible by the Republican Party. May we vote, believe, and live in a way that pleases our Lord Jesus, not Rush Limbaugh.