The Public Role of Churches

I came across this article from The Christian Century by Charles Mathewes. It’s a review of Public Pulpits: Methodists and Mainline Churches in the Moral Argument of Public Life by Steven M. Tipton. It’s more of an essay than a book review, but it makes for good reading.

Tipton’s book is a sociological look at the efforts by mainstream Protestant denominations to influence politics and public policy, an effort that has achieved “spotty results” despite “persistent efforts.” You can read the review yourself if you’re interested in the details (and I do think it’s worth reading, even though it’s rather long for a book review), but what struck me most was Mathewes’ conclusion: “Churches are mistaken if they think their main public job is anything other than teaching their laity.”

He is speaking of the mainline Protestant churches, but he just as easily could be talking about (and to) the conservative churches, Catholics, Unitarian Universalists, and just about everyone else whose fascination with politics and political influence has made them forget why their churches were formed in the first place.

As religious people in religious organizations, it’s not our job to change politics. It’s our job to change people’s hearts, to show them (through our words and our deeds) that justice, compassion, and celebration of diversity are a better way to live, that we really do live in an interdependent world and that things go better for all of us when we work with others respectfully rather than attempting to control them with our wealth and power.

If we want to change the world, perhaps we should try spreading our values instead of spreading our politics.

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