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Marks Of An Authentic Church

Jesus said that we would be known by our love. Lately though, we people of faith, Christians in particular, are better known for our politics.

Admittedly it is the political season and candidates grab for whatever works to win elections. But churches of late have engaged in a level of partisan politicking that is unsurpassed in our history. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
In fact, it has become such a problem that the Internal Revenue Service has announced an intensified effort to enforce laws which prohibit churches and charities from engaging in partisan politics.
 
How did this happen? Why have so many churches left off being sanctuaries for worship and taken on the role of party precinct houses?
 
Part of the answer lies in a sense of urgency created by the so-called culture wars of our time. Christians sense that American culture, and maybe even civilization itself, is in decline. They shudder at what appears to them to be a complete breakdown of all things decent and holy. Intuitively they believe that renewed worship and reinvigorated spiritual practices might turn back this slippery slide into the abyss. If only God could be introduced into the equation, things would be better.
 
And Christians are not wrong to think this. There is a correlation between deep, authentic spirituality and mental, emotional and even societal health. Unfortunately, while they may have the right medicine for what ails us, they are not taking it according to the prescription.
 
Clever electoral strategists have somehow discovered this deep spiritual longing among the American faithful and are successfully exploiting it for political advantage. With cunning and craft these political wizards use spiritual needs in order to get political results.
 
So, for example, a yearning to strengthen marriage and the family becomes a war against homosexuals. Or a deep desire for a faithful and meaningful prayer life becomes an assault on public schools where teacher led prayed is illegal. The answer to a rising crime rate is to post the Ten Commandments down at the court house.
 
Candidates who champion these causes are able to portray themselves as friends of the faith, while those who might challenge the same practices on either ethical grounds, or legal opinions, are cast as unfriendly to the faith.
 
And so we are known by our politics. We are red churches and blue churches in a red and blue <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />America. We are churches characterized by an ever narrowing range of social issues which political schemers use as leverage to get the faithful dashing to elect the latest savior of the day.
 
And because it’s a war, the tone of our conduct is combative. And because it is sold a war between good and evil, then there can be no surrender, no compromise, no compassion, and no common ground. It’s all or nothing, and we cannot afford for God to lose.
 
Jesus offered a different path. Jesus taught that an authentic Christian life is characterized by love.  We love our neighbor, we love each other, we love the poor and the weak in our midst, and amazingly, we even love our enemy.
 
Does this mean we should disengage from politics? No, only from the politics of hate and intolerance. Being known by our love calls us to engage in politics that embraces the common good, and which seeks to create a community where everyone can pursue life and faith freely.
 
As the Apostle Paul wrote long ago, against such love there is no law.
 
James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.