Church and state are tough to separate in the inner city

November 10, 2006|By Tony Evans

When I read or hear a story about the separation of church and state, it's hard for me to relate.

When I was growing up in the inner city on Baltimore's west side, I saw firsthand the challenges that urban kids face: poverty, violence, promiscuity, chemical addictions and family disintegration. The government has spent trillions of dollars trying to reverse this spiral of social disintegration, yet the problems grow worse each day.

The separation of church and state is a suburban, not an urban, issue. So when some groups complain about Christians being involved in politics, it doesn't touch me where I live.

In the urban community, where we have such pressing needs and such intractable problems, we want to get help from as many places as we can. Without the church, urban leaders can't do what they do. The church is the only mechanism for mass mobilization. That's why the civil rights movement came out of the church.

Government can run and fund programs, but it can't love, it can't show compassion and it can't embrace. Our faith is designed to have social implications, not just heavenly ones. The spiritual and the social must be connected.

In the urban community, the church doesn't just take people to heaven; it feeds, clothes and houses them. It teaches them how to read and gets them jobs. The church should be doing all that. What the government should be doing is freeing up the church and supporting the church, as long as it is providing social services.

That's why President Bush deserves applause for his support of faith-based initiatives such as the National Church Adopt-A-School Initiative, which we started in Dallas. Programs such as this continue a tradition of religion and politics intertwining that dates to the Old Testament.

The Bible is full of politics. Two books, I and II Kings, deal with the rule and reign of government leaders. Jeremiah rebuilds communities with government support. Daniel rises high in the governments of Babylon and Persia. John the Baptist interacts with Herod. Jesus has to deal with the political tensions of Pilate. God's involvement with politics and government is inescapable even from a casual reading of the Bible.

The question is not: Do religion and politics mix? The question is: How should they mix?

Most African-American Christians are Democrats. They believe that the Democratic Party is more sensitive to the social and justice needs of minorities, the poor and the disenfranchised.

Most white Christians vote Republican. They believe that the Republican Party is committed to the moral issues of the day: It opposes abortion, homosexual rights and the redefinition of the family.

So you've got one group of Christians who emphasize the moral issues and therefore vote Republican. You've got another group of Christians who emphasize social justice issues and they vote Democratic. What that has brought about to a large degree is a divided church.

God is interested in whole life, not term. He's interested in us from the womb to the tomb.

You know something is wrong when the church of Jesus Christ is divided along political lines.

God is not a Republican, and He's not a Democrat. God is not against government; God established government, but He didn't establish it to compete with Him. He established it to serve Him.

Does He want us involved in politics? Absolutely. God set up politics.

But He wants us to keep them in the proper perspective. Many of our pulpits have turned into political playgrounds instead of representing the throne room of God.

When folks say that's a problem, I can relate.

Tony Evans is senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, president of the national ministry the Urban Alternative, and founder of the National Church Adopt-A-School Initiative. His e-mail is scarroll@ocbfchurch.org.

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