Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Vineyard and politics

Politics is rarely the place I like to reside, especially on a Sunday morning. Politics are unholy to me. Pursuit of serious political power for Christians, IMO, is like Israel begging God for a king: Are we certain we want what we're asking for?

I stay away from answering those questions, but I had to perk up when I heard about Jane Norton, Republic primary candidate for one of Colorado's U.S. Senate seats against incumbent Michael Bennett.

Aside from the press packaging and comparisons to Sarah Palin, Norton appears to be a run-of-the-mill Republican who has adopted (seemingly) every party plank from start to finish. What made me curious is Norton is also a member of the Smoky Hill Vineyard in Centennial, Colo.

I'm not aware of any current Vineyard members in U.S. Congress. There could be one but I've not heard of it. Conceivably, if elected (and there is some doubt she will win the primary, much less the election), she would become the most politically powerful Vineyard member I know of. Only Bill McCartney, founder of Promise Keepers and former Colorado football coach, might've had more political influence.

I'm not really in favor of this because it causes the Vineyard to answer political questions I don't think our organization is really meant to answer. For example, here's how Linda Hirshman portrayed Norton and our organization:

Like Palin, Norton actively participates in a Pentacostal house of worship; she belongs to the Smoky Hill Vineyard Church. The pastor, Greg Thompson, says “of course” the church “is pro-life” and “believes that marriage is between a man and a woman.” The Vineyard movement has produced much writing and speaking against abortions and in favor of loving homosexuals so strongly that they'll abandon their sexual "attractions."
Have we? I was not aware of that.

One of the things that made me feel comfortable with the Vineyard was what I perceived to be an apolitical stance, unlike a certain denomination that likes to make headlines each year by trudging into the political arena with bold statements. I could never tolerate that. Politics tend to skew the Gospel message. I want an unadulterated Gospel message, one that does not require you to adopt a political view to assure salvation.

So it's surprising to me that (a) a pastor would be allowed to speak on politics for the entire movement and (b) the Vineyard has been positively identified with a political position.

I'm vaguely aware that Anaheim Vineyard was home to many pro-life rallies in the 80s, but to my knowledge that relationship is no longer there. I'm fully aware of the Vineyard's relationship to ex-gay organizations like Exodus International, part of a practice I find somewhat dubious and possibly harmful. But I don't want to get off point here. That's ministry. What the blogger above mentioned is akin to a political arm of my church affiliation, and that's discouraging if true.

Back to Norton ...

It's neither here nor there to me if she wins, and it won't have any impact that I can foresee on the Vineyard. But it did make me think what it would be like to be in that church, having someone I'm in fellowship with basically define who I am politically. Not on purpose, but that's how the media would work. I think that would be a great challenge for me and I confess, if it become a bright focus, I would face a difficult decision on how much I would want to be a part of that church.

One of my heroes, Greg Boyd, wrote an outstanding book called Myth of a Christian Nation. Before any of my Calvinist friends jump on me here, I'm still (still!) not endorsing Open Theism. But Boyd made so many strong points in favor of the Gospel I am happy to recommend that book to anyone who wants to understand my apolitical point of view.

Boyd aptly sums up the entire book in a few quotes:

The picture I get of God's kingdom is of people—tax collectors, prostitutes, fishermen—following Jesus. If we understood that our one job is to replicate the outrageous humility of Calvary, I think we'd begin to see the world in a different way. Instead of other people being our enemies, we would see them as the very people we are called to serve .... You have to put down the Cross to pick up the Sword.

 And that's the challenge I face when I see my own kind entering the field of politics. Not only do I have no interest in the sword, I don't want anyone to perceive me as carrying the sword. I don't want any mixed messages concerning what I'm about.


rick said...

Probably off point for the post but I think you may have articulate what might be the problem (in my simple mind).

“pro-life”, “defining marriage as between a man and a woman” and "loving homosexuals so strongly that they'll abandon their sexual "attractions.""

I don't know the intent of the "blogger" but these are not "political" statements and when we allow them to become such, we lose.

So I'm with you, while part of me would like to see our political system filled with Christians, I'm unclear how a Christian can be a politician - that's like being a used car salesman - it's anti-christian. :)

Enough rambling ... peace and welcome back to blogging ....

Matthew Self said...


I once saw a poet stand-up and list all the world's ailments he could think of that Christ took on in his sacrifice. It was as ominous and cancer and as harmless as a headache. The poem was forgettable but his point -- to a secular audience at a small coffee house -- was not lost on me. This was maybe 15 years ago. On the way home I started thinking about how if the Church REALLY carried on the ministry of Jesus, we weren't just called to throw some pennies into a jar or donate some old clothing our kids don't use anymore. We are supposed to take on all pain of the world for the world.

I don't mean that in a psychotic way. There are crazy zealots literally nailing themselves to a cross every Easter. I mean that in a social justice way. I mean that the world's burdens are actually our burdens, and when we take on that perspective -- that is the radical humility of Calvary -- we stop looking at political solutions. WE ARE the solution, not the final one, but the temporal one in the age of mercy.

That's my frustration and I think that's where I'm coming from. Am I pro-life? Of course I am. Am I pro-heterosexual marriage? Of course I am. But in terms of man-made laws, why would I think legislating that would make us any better than if I just left them alone? What message is the church sending? Not the Gospel.

Good stuff. Thanks for dropping by!

rick said...

Matt - I like that. It makes me think two things.

1) Power of the Kingdom - there needs to be real power, not just talk or even social justice based on our abilities - but real life changing power.

2) We need to be known for what we are for. It's ok to be against something but we should be coming at life from the affirmative.

I think my earlier reaction was triggered by the sentiment that those moral issues were to be relegated to the political arena only. I think there are some people like that ... and worse, then those same people say we must separate church and state ... with that they have an instant "win" ...

Anyway, good post and follow-up thoughts ... thanks.

steven hamilton said...

...and here i thought i was the most politically powerful Vineyard member (being sarcastic...i'm in DC and bi-vocational pastoring in the Vineyard here and also being a 17-year civil servant with the Federal Government).

kidding aside, i'm hopeful that people don't think the Vineyard's politics can be summed up in one person from one party (especially after a bunch of Vineyard pastors, including t Bert Waggoner, signed the accord regarding a call for peace with the Palestinians and opening the possibility of a two-state solution...not to mention having a Palestinian Christian be a main speaker - alongside Rich Nathan - at last year's National Conference.) it does "speak" something to people outside the Vineyard - in much the same way you observed years ago about people's persceptions of the origins of the Vineyard began (Paul Cain...seriously?)

i really appreciated Boyd's book.

i like to think that we proclaim and embody as God demonstrates the Kingdom...and i wary as well of compromising our embodiment of Jesus' message...

anyway, thanks for your thoughts here Matt!

steven hamilton said...

ne more quick thought: i can't believe that a group of people who follow Jesus - let alone one that holds to the Kingdom of God like the Vineyard - can be apolitical. we are political.

i just believe that in a two-party political system like the US, american politicals will feel deep affinity at certain points, and at others we will seem deeply treasonous to them...they'll be confused by our politics, in fact our politics won't make sense to them unless they understand the politics of Jesus...

that may be - and probably is - controversial, but i think it is true...

Matthew Self said...

Steven, great comments, but I'm not sure *I* understand your last post. LOL That's OK. Sometimes it takes me a couple bonks the head before I get it. I'll reply to what I think you said.

As American citizens I think we have a duty to vote and to vote our conscience. I've never had a problem with that. What I *do* have a problem with is when someone starts rolling up political ambition under the Christian banner to build a consensus on something. That makes me very, very, very uncomfortable.

I'll give you an example ... anyone who's followed U.S. politics has heard of the National Prayer Breakfast. It's viewed as a celebration (or call to) Christianity and attended by every important politician in the Beltway. It's been that way since the '50s. What most people don't know is it's organized by The Family, which is more frightening to me than any liberal. They operate under a Christian banner, but I assure you their message is anything but. Feel free to Google "The Family" and tell me what you think.

That's what I see when Christians start polarizing under politics. Inevitably this world's power becomes more important to us than the mission Christ gave us.

Matthew Self said...

And BTW, I was not the only one that bailed on the GOP in the 90s. I was just a little early just in time to grow out of my Young Republican phase. People like Cal Thomas followed suit and our ilk have been growing ever since.

steven hamilton said...

believe me, doug coe and his family cohorts scare the bejesus out me me too..

i stand with you against political ambition and agree with what you are saying and your example, so perhaps i'm being too nuanced, and perhaps others have said it better: it's not if we are political, it's how we are political...which means we don't endorse one political party over another, but we will do things and embody issues that are's just that our politics - both individually and as a community of disciples of Jesus - won't make sense to the power structures of this world, even if for the mere fact that we are wary of and shun political power...

not sure that helps...but let me ask you: was MLK, jr. political?

Matthew Self said...

Absolutely MLK Jr. was political, and how he went about leading was righteous. But he almost blew it because how he went about his personal life was not righteous.

I'm not against churches rallying for the right causes. The Religious Right was built on the very same foundation of the group that led the abolition movement in the 19th Century. But we allowed people who weren't Christians to co-opt our vote because, we were told, we shared a common agenda. But we really didn't. The Religious Right became that was neither religious nor right.

I've got room in my worldview for God to inspire leadership for a real political movement. I don't know what it would look like, but I know it doesn't look like anything we call political movements today.

Jason Coker said...

Nice post. Couple thoughts:

In an association like the Vineyard that is full of fiercely independent churches, people are always going to be speaking for the movement - even if they aren't. That may not be entirely good, but it's the reality of our organizational structure.

I could be wrong, but it sounds like the writer was looking for a simplistic way to pigeonhole a candidate they didn't like. In some other city, in some other paper, it's entirely possible another Vineyard pastor could be used to positively identify the Vineyard movement with other non-conservative political positions like being pro gay-marriage (that's my position), supportive of Palestinians (as Steve pointed out), or old-earth evolutionists (like the Ann Arbor heretics).

Love Boyd. I'm a big fan of his Anabaptist and anarchist leanings. And I'm not even afraid of his Open Theism (!).

Anonymous said...

I'm a liberal Democrat and a Christian. Virtually every evangelical community in America assumes that Christianity is Republican and holds Republican convictions..."of course". You guys are no different than the rest. That someone is despicable is "... worse than any liberal" implies and assumes a lot, and sentiments like that leave me gladly out of your fold. Christians are coopted by the Repub party, and the Repub party is captive to interests that are the most powerful, vicious and un-Christlike on earth. God bless us all.