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Frist is Going for the Jugular

I don’t put political signs in my yard. For one reason, I live in a borrowed yard, a yard owned by the church members whom I serve. Some might mistake my views as those endorsed by the church.

But it’s much deeper than that. Even if I owned my own home, I still wouldn’t stake out a sign for someone running for political office. Because of my occupation, it’s a matter of principle.

Because I am a minister of the gospel, I also would not use this column to endorse a political candidate. One could argue that the article has nothing to do with my church–that the two are separate, and that I should be able to say and do as I please away from the pulpit–but few readers would see it that way.

The pulpit is a sacred place where the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached to a lost world. It is a place where words of hope are offered, prayers are spoken, laments are voiced, praises are acclaimed, confessions are made, thanksgivings are brought, supplications are made, judgments are pronounced and invitations are given.

History has shown over and over that whenever the church weds itself with politics, the church suffers.  Eventually the cross of Jesus becomes hidden behind selfish human agendas. The hierarchical leadership becomes so full of itself that it cannot see its own self-righteous ways and cannot be a voice of change for the sake of Christ.

In America, we once again are on the brink of the church becoming wed with politics. We are getting closer to our pulpits being opened up to those who would seize the opportunity to tell people how they should vote–as if God were a Republican or a Democrat or held a position on the Senate filibuster rule.

A Baptist church in Louisville, Ky., last Sunday allowed a telecast saying the filibuster rule in the Senate should be abolished. It’s really quite amusing that this 200-year-old tradition has suddenly become a crisis of such great proportion that it warranted a Baptist church becoming involved. Of all the ethical and global issues of our day, this one gets the church’s attention?

The reason it did is because without the rule change, the filibusters cannot be stopped. Without stopping the filibusters, certain judges that Republicans want confirmed will continue to be blocked by 41 Democrats. As long as these filibustering senators stand their ground, these nominations are doomed.

While Sen. Frist and other Republicans have used the filibuster themselves, they now want it abolished. With a clear Republican majority in the Senate, Frist appears to be “going for the jugular,” a phrase with which many Southern Baptists will identify.

It was in September of 1980 that Judge Paul Pressler of Houston used this term to describe the strategy that enabled the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention: Win the vote of the SBC presidency for consecutive years and appoint like-minded members to the convention’s boards, agencies and committees. Eventually enough trustees of seminaries could be elected so that presidents and faculty could be changed and controlled.

It worked. Among those changes was election of Al Mohler as president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mohler was another speaker at the rally along with Sen. Frist.

Frist sees the filibuster rule as the “jugular vein.” If it can be abolished, Republicans can run the table. Nothing will stand in the way of the majority party moving forward with its agenda. It is more than ironic that he turns as a base of support to a Baptist denomination with previous experience in running the table of leadership positions.

The Founding Fathers put the filibuster into play for a reason. The reason was the system of checks and balances, which has kept our country from running too far left and too far right. It has kept a simple majority from running roughshod over the rest.

What happens if Frist gets his way and years from now the pendulum swings back to the left?  The filibuster rule which he believes is working against his party now would not be there to help his party later. Frist is nearsighted. The rule is there to help the Republican Party as much as the Democratic Party.

Moreover, allowing biased, partisan issues to be broadcast from a church–as the issue by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s videotaped message was last week from Highview Baptist Church in Louisville–too closely identifies the church with a particular candidate and a particular political party.

The church should care about politics and be involved in local, state and national government. However, the church should say boldly to politicians, “Do not take advantage of our network to get your political agenda done!”

Ministers ought to guard the pulpit and make it clear that only the gospel is to be preached from that sacred place. As important as politics are, they should stay outside the door of the church.

When preachers allow politics into the pulpit, churches should see it for what it is: an individual reaching out for power and clout. That kind of preacher is dangerous, and the church shouldn’t stand for it.

Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. His column appears in The Moultrie Observer.