Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Church and State, Part 1

Did you hear about the pastor of the Baptist Church in North Carolina who told 9 of his congregants that they had to leave the church for voting for John Kerry? Apparently, during the recent campaign season, this pastor like so many others in this country (preachers, pastors, priests, reverends, etc.) preached politics from his pulpit telling his flock that if they supported John Kerry they were sinners who were going to hell. He told them that if they voted for John Kerry they would be kicked out of the church, and he kept that promise. About a week ago, he met with the church elders (or whatever they're called in a Baptist Church) and he basically convinced them to "vote out" 9 of their fellow worshipers. Now isn't that a fine imitation and demonstration of Christ's love?

Honestly, I don't know why this story made national news (I saw it on ABC's nightly news cast), but it did. And I guess the backlash from the story was pretty intense, because during his sermon on Sunday, the preacher said that the whole thing was a great misunderstanding and invited the 9 cast-outs to return to the church. I'm not sure exactly how someone misunderstands a statement like "You voted for John Kerry you evil sinner and you will burn in hell for eternity for it, so leave this church immediately, you are no longer welcome here." It seems pretty cut and dry to me. Of course I'm just imagining the words used to usher those 9 people out, but I'm guessing that I got it pretty close. The pastor blamed the whole misunderstanding on his passionate beliefs regarding abortion - he was simply sincerely and vigorously trying to defend the innocent lives of the unborn, and people misunderstood. Oh yeah, I'll have a whole lot more to say about this. But keeping to the point....

Now the events leading up to the next chapter of this story are fuzzy, but apparently the apology wasn't enough, and on Tuesday (last night) the preacher annouced to his congregation that he was resigning from the church. This move must have been unexpected as it took most everyone by surprise, so I have to believe that something bigger was going on (interestingly, on their web site, CNN linked the story, literally - though an HTLM link, to the IRS - no details provided), but he attributed his resignation to the flap caused by the "misunderstanding."

Look, I'm all for passionately held beliefs. I am extremely passionate about my own beliefs. I'll argue long, hard and loudly for my beliefs. But I don't bash people over the head with them. I respect the right of a person to hold to beliefs (as wrong as they are) different from my own. I even recognize that people can have thoughtful, logical, well reasoned (albeit misguided) bases for holding to their beliefs. I believe that people can live in proximity to each other and believe different things. Apparently I am wrong in this belief. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that apparently this belief is extremely unamerican. I don't mean American as in that set of philosophical ideals set down by the founding fathers of this country in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, I mean american as in the current way of life of the masses of this country. It seems to be perfectly acceptable, even expected, that people live by the creed, "if you don't believe the way I do, and if those beliefs don't motivate you to behave the way I do then you can't..." Fill in the blank: worship in my church, live in my town, go to my school, be protected by the laws of my state, do business with me, expect to be treated fairly or equitable in matters of employment, housing, medical care, etc.

to be continued...

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