Winter 2003
Volume 7 Number 2

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Not often will the church need to position itself so starkly against its nation as it did in Nazi Germany. But, according to Hunsinger, it must be prepared to do so. (Hunsinger recalled that Bonhoeffer responded in the late 1930s to the question, “What are you praying for these days?” by saying, “I’m praying for the defeat of my nation.”) And though some may disagree about whether a national flag has a place in the sanctuary, the church must maintain its prophetic role. Because humans are sinful, their nations and systems will inevitably be unjust—and the word of judgment, along with the word of grace, must be pronounced.

Faith and Politics in the Reformed Tradition

Reading recommendations by PTS professor of systematic theology emeritus E. David Willis

Calvinism and the Political Order (Westminster Press, 1965), edited by George L. Hunt and John T. McNeill

“Calvinism and Public Affairs,” by John T. McNeill, chapter 24 of The History and Character of Calvinism (Oxford University Press, 1954)

Christianity and Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 1995), by John De Gruchy

Conscience and Obedience (Word Books, 1977), by William Stringfellow

The Transfiguration of Politics (Harper and Row, 1975), by Paul L. Lehmann

While most would agree with that theory, disagreements arise when it comes to the issue of when and on what issues the church must be prophetic. (Is there a better way to fracture a group than with theology and/or politics—whether at a dinner party or at church, whether during casual conversation or from the pulpit?)

For example, Forrester and Soaries both strongly supported approving President Bush’s resolution on Iraq. At the Trenton Farmers Market, a volunteer who worked for the campaigns of both Soaries and Forrester enthusiastically said that he thought that both candidates’ theological training had given them a “moral clarity about good and evil” regarding terrorism and Hussein that was lacking in many other politicians (particularly their opponents).

In contrast, Hunsinger organized an on-campus October teach-in titled “Attack Iraq? No!” (See story in this issue.) Hunsinger, as well as many other PTS faculty members and students, did not think that as of mid-October there was just cause for war. On this issue and at this time, they said, the church should speak a word of judgment and grace to the United States government.

PTS professor Luis Rivera-Pagán, who in 1971 spent three months in prison for civil disobedience protesting the U.S. Navy’s use of the Puerto Rican island of Culebra for target bombing, recently participated in a forum in his native Puerto Rico. He sat on a panel addressing separation of church and state with the president of the Puerto Rican senate, the president of the Puerto Rican house of representatives, the general secretary of the Bible Society of Puerto Rico, and the president of the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico.

For more information regarding target bombing on the island of Culebra

American Veterans' Committee for Puerto Rico Self-Determination

Puerto Rico’s constitution includes an even more strictly defined separation of church and state than does the U.S. constitution, but Rivera-Pagán and the president of the Evangelical Seminary, Samuel Pagan (PTS Class of 1977), insisted that does not mean the church should keep silent on matters political.

“Some politicians think that every time the church becomes prophetic and criticizes the government, it is violating the separation of church and state,” Rivera-Pagán says. “But we insisted that the church must retain its freedom to express its prophetic voice of criticism anytime we think that justice is not well served by actions of the government.

“Most political decisions are made by people who are at the top of the social scale,” he says, “and so they tend to favor those who are also at the top of the social scale. But if we go to the Bible, to the prophets, and to many of the saints, they were more concerned with the people who are inhumanly treated, with the downtrodden and poor, the orphans and widows, with the people who are barely able to survive. A good thing about the Old Testament is the way prophets are constantly chastising and chiding the monarchs because they tend to forget social justice. That is an important element that should always be kept in mind. Politics tends to be an affair of elitists. But [the church’s political] participation should be geared toward those who are voiceless—toward those whose views do not appear in The New York Times or The Washington Post, but who are, in global terms, the majority.”

The African American church has a strong tradition both of prophetic critique, witnessed in the Civil Rights movement, and of actually effecting social justice in its neighborhoods.

Soaries’s church in Somerset is a model of community activism. The First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens has more than 6,000 members and has spun off several corporations to focus on much-needed work of community development. In the past 12 years (since Soaries became senior pastor), the church and those corporations have hired more than 100 people; placed (since 1996) more than 300 people in jobs with various banks and companies; established a technical training school in conjunction with Cisco Systems, from which 14 people graduated last year; bought, refurbished, and resold 6 individual homes and 124 condominium units so that for a lower monthly cost families can purchase instead of rent their homes; facilitated bringing approximately $100 million in private and public investment capital to the area; started a preschool that serves 60 children; and currently manages 165 foster homes.

Continued on Page 5

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