Thursday, May 12, 2005

Politicizing Church Discipline

Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary, has been cozying up to politicians for so long that he is now confusing church discipline with political party discipline. In an article entitled "Should a church discipline members over politics?" Mohler says,


The right form of the church requires a common commitment to certain shared convictions. These commitments are irreducibly theological, but come with inevitable political consequences. Until recently, our domestic political debates have failed to reach a point of crisis with regard to these consequences, but crisis cannot be rejected as a possibility. In such cases, the church must maintain its witness and convictional commitments. A church should exercise discipline against a member who, while claiming to be a Christian, would vote for Adolf Hitler -- or David Duke.

It has long been a practice of political parties to discipline its members over how they vote. Until the recent sad events at East Waynesville Baptist Church, to my knowledge, it has never been the practice of Baptist churches to discipline members over how they vote.That is the chief reason why when Baptists send representatives to associational, state and national conventions we call them "messengers" and not "delegates." Historically, Baptists have strongly advocated and respected the right of persons to vote in accord with their own conscience.

Frankly, it is not out of the realm of possibility that some members of the church that I pastored in Houston did vote for David Duke during a presidential primary. While I strongly disagree with the way they voted, they are not accountable to me or their church for the way they cast their ballot.

For people living in a democratic society, the voting booth is sacred space. Each person must examine his or her own conscience and give an account to God alone for the way they cast their ballot.

If Mohler and others on the Religious Right would ever learn to recognize that, in a democracy, the right to vote is a sacred duty and a solemn responsibility, then both major political parties would surely be united in demanding that every citizen have equal access to the ballot box, that every vote be counted, and that every ballot be tabulated by accurate and publicly verifiable means.

It's the democracy part that hangs them up. Their theocratic impulses blind them to the link between the inalienable rights of conscience and the sacredness of the ballot box.

(This blog is cross-posted from the Mainstream Baptist blog.)

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