Most members of Woodland Hills Church near St. Paul stayed after the Rev. Gregory A. Boyd urged an end to sexual moralizing and military glorification and said America should not be proclaimed a Christian nation. (Bill Alkofer / New York Times)I stumbled across this New York Times story about a church in Maplewood, Minnesota, which lost a lot of congregants due to its pastor’s teachings (WebCite cached article). Apparently he wasn’t militant or political enough for their taste:

Like most pastors who lead thriving evangelical megachurches, the Rev. Gregory A. Boyd was asked frequently to give his blessing — and the church’s — to conservative political candidates and causes. …

After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.

“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”

Boyd didn’t back down, even though he’s no conservative, and some of his flock left over the matter:

Mr. Boyd says he is no liberal. He is opposed to abortion and thinks homosexuality is not God’s ideal. The response from his congregation at Woodland Hills Church here in suburban St. Paul — packed mostly with politically and theologically conservative, middle-class evangelicals — was passionate. Some members walked out of a sermon and never returned. By the time the dust had settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members.

The Times article offers some more details on Boyd’s teachings that some 1/5 of his congregants found so horrifically offensive:

In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.

“America wasn’t founded as a theocracy,” he said. “America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state.

“I am sorry to tell you,” he continued, “that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.”

Mr. Boyd lambasted the “hypocrisy and pettiness” of Christians who focus on “sexual issues” like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson’s breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl halftime show. He said Christians these days were constantly outraged about sex and perceived violations of their rights to display their faith in public.

“Those are the two buttons to push if you want to get Christians to act,” he said. “And those are the two buttons Jesus never pushed.”

It’s very true that Jesus swerved clear of any puritanical sexual mores. In fact, the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) is an example of Jesus specifically choosing to ignore such considerations, even when one was literally thrown in his path. Jesus was also apolitical … to an extent that some in his audiences were bothered by it. Nevertheless, Jesus explicitly set the record straight: “Give to God what is God’s, and to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Mt 22:21, Mk 12:17, & Lk 20:25).

Congratulations to the Rev. Boyd for holding his ground in the face of overwhelming dominionist and theocratic pressure to make Christian churches into a collective government of the US. I may not agree with his beliefs, but I appreciate his method of following them.

Photo credit: Bill Alkofer for The New York Times.

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