Thursday, May 12, 2005

Separation of Church and Members

Speaking of neoantidisestablishmentarianism, there's been buzz all week about the North Carolina Baptist church that voted 9 of its members out of the church because they didn't vote for President Bush. Apparently, at least 40 members of the East Waynesville Baptist Church, lead by their pastor, don't believe in separation of church and state, and moreover, do believe in separation of the church from its members who don't toe the favored political line. The pastor (who resigned after public pressure) claimed it was a misunderstanding, saying "No one has ever been voted from the membership of this church due to an individual's support or lack of support for a political party or candidate." And even other pastors in the area raised their eyebrows. "This is very disturbing," the Rev. Robert Prince III, who leads the congregation at the nearby First Baptist Church, said Saturday. "I've been a pastor for more than 25 years, and I have never seen church members voted out for something like this."

Like many, I find the whole blurring of religion and politics disturbing for political reasons. But I find something else very disturbing for religious reasons, and that's this whole notion of voting anybody out of their church. A Christian church should not be like some reality show where people get "voted off the island". But apparently, it is not at all unheard of for a self-righteous congregation to "disfellowship" some of its members when they don't meet the church's approval. I was appalled when I first heard of this practice. Isn't that the spiritual equivalent of throwing somebody out of a life raft? How can people call themselves Christian and do such a thing? (Perhaps they read the Gospels and thought that the Pharisees were the heroes of the story?)

Look again at the quotes above from those two pastors. While both of them claim to disapprove of a purely political ouster, they also both clearly suggest that there may be other legitimate reasons for voting someone out. I wonder, just what sort of reasons might there be for disfellowshipping someone? For true Christians, I don't think there are any. (Even if someone embezzled the church funds, well, just read Les Miserables to learn the appropriate Christian response to that.) There are at least 40 people in East Waynesville, and countless others like them all across the country, who need to do some serious soul-searching about what it really means to be a Christian. I suppose these people might think they're just trying to distance themselves from sin. But this is not to follow the example of Jesus, who consorted with tax collectors and prostitutes, and who taught that whatever you do to the least among us, you do to Him. So essentially, the so-called Christians who disfellowship anybody are throwing Jesus out of their church.

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