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May 31st, 2010
09:50 AM ET

An alternative model for Protestant politics

An American preacher rails against the popular caricature of believers as backwards and narrow-minded, decries the popular culture’s hostility toward religion and implores Christians to stop being so politically correct in the workplace and to start loudly expressing their faith-based opinions. Sounds like a typical evangelical Protestant minister, cribbing lines from Focus on the Family.

Another American preacher decries imminent government cuts to programs for the poor, urging Christian churches to mobilize politically to protect society’s most vulnerable. Sounds like a typical mainline Protestant minister, cribbing lines from Jim Wallis.

Christian conservatives feel besieged by the secular culture, liberal Christians want more social justice. Everyone knows that.

So it came as a surprise to hear both sentiments expressed Sunday morning in the same Protestant sermon – not by an American minister but by a Brit, preaching in one of England’s most illustrious Anglican churches.

The church was Cambridge University's King’s College Chapel, completed by Henry VIII in the early 1500s and, to this day, boasting the world’s largest fan-vaulted ceiling. I stopped into the church, pictured above circa 1880, because I’m in town on a fellowship.

The sermon came from the Very Rev. Vivienne Faull, the first woman chaplain at Cambridge University, who called for Christians to begin proclaiming their religious convictions amid an increasingly secular culture, beginning at the workplace:

In some places to be a Christian by day is to be regarded as a dinosaur – dangerous and clumsy, deeply stupid, a thing of the past. To avoid that label, and therefore professional stagnation, discipleship might well be limited to quiet though generous gestures in the dark rather than public witness to Christian faith.

In other work contexts there is a veneer of acceptance, but in modern professional culture Christianity is not particularly respectable and Christians are assumed to have a conservative moral outlook which flies in the face of diversity and polarity and self expression. Professions require putting our own preferences aside.

In the U.S., you’d expect such lines to be followed by a call to speak out against gay marriage or against the government’s attack on religion in the public square.

But the closing lines to Rev. Faull’s sermon asked Christians to make sure looming national budget cuts don’t make the poor even more vulnerable:

In the coming months, with the national imperative to reduce debt, and consequential austerity, Christians, both lay people and clergy, will face the question of our public witness acutely. Are we called to be Christians, not just by night, but also by day? Are we prepared to resist the temptation to mingle with the crowd but rather to stand up and be counted?

Faull told me afterward that her Church of England was prepared to protest certain national cuts because it has a “bias toward protecting the poor.”

Of course, the Church of England got lots of attention last week when its head, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams – who also leads the worldwide Anglican Communion – slapped the American church over its continuing consecration of gay bishops.

But Faull’s sermon is a reminder that Protestantism doesn’t have to fit neatly into a conservative or liberal political box – and that the political split between conservative evangelicals and progressive mainliners in the U.S. is perhaps more an American phenomenon than a Christian one.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Anglican • Christianity • Culture wars • Politics • Protestant

soundoff (71 Responses)
  1. michele

    I don't go to church, I help others. And if we listen to the words of Jesus, if we can believe he actually said the words, and not the interpretations of men, we would be much better off. Follow his works, his words, his life. He was a teacher and a spiritual leader. One doesn't have to believe in anything beyond that to learn from him.

    June 6, 2010 at 8:02 am |
    • For Fun

      Michelle – You don't go to church and yet you call people to follow Jesus. This very same Jesus who was in the synagogues teaching and hanging out with all those less than perfect people. Avoiding the sinful, hurtful, messy church people doesn't make you more "holy", only more self satisfied and self righteous. Jesus went to "church"and was holy in spite of those around Him.

      July 8, 2010 at 7:01 pm |
  2. msgijoe

    If you study religion, it becomes apparent that God has spoken to many people...but did not tell them the same thing, hence many religions. Even in Christianity, which is too varied to be considered one religion, humans have received many DIFFERENT revelations.

    June 6, 2010 at 7:19 am |
  3. J. Twedt

    I'm so sick of these people blithely equating the government with "social justice". Can a Christian not give someone of their own money without having to do so through the government? Can it not be a closer, more personal, and better thought-out allocation of funds to improve society in ways with which we are more intimately familiar? How much does our congressman 2,000 miles away know about the homeless man up the street? They will tell you that they are experts...but in 5 minutes of talking to that man, you will know more than they.

    The only ones that are stopping us from going out and helping our fellow man are the people who are taking away our ability to do it–the government. People look to the government to fix society's problems because it allows them to dodge the responsibility themselves. End of story.

    June 5, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
    • msgijoe

      I think the only people who do not help others are those who do not want to help others. The government is there to help those who do not receive help from private sources. However, I will admit the government has expanded their welfare activities to include some (perhaps too many) who do not need help.

      June 6, 2010 at 10:15 am |
  4. Bill

    Jesus was neither a liberal nor a conservative. This is just a bunch of nonsense human beings made up, and has nothing to do with Him or His will. To be a follower of Yeshua all we have to do is focus on Him and do His will, and let the rest sort itself out.

    June 5, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
    • Gary

      Hard to do if you were born a native American lets say from 10000 years ago till 1600s.. or Born in India,China anywhere in middle East where Christianty is non existent or forbidden. .....Intelligent Good people do not need a Quran,Bible,Mayan calender or any religious text to learn and understand right from wrong.

      June 6, 2010 at 9:37 am |
  5. bailoutsos

    Went by a Catholic church today and saw a sign that stated "Character Development – Summer School for Boys." Odd that there is nothing for girls.

    June 4, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
  6. Gary

    God dosnt get 10% ,churches do ...which in my opinion have nothing to do with God..

    June 4, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  7. kenny

    It is interesting to read these comments on this issue, It seems that what is called for in these discussions is a well defined teaching on the nature of the church and state. What are their respected spheres and what are their self articulated duties. It's easy to stop at the particulars of some practices on both sides, be it the state or the church and complain about it overstepping it's arena of responsibility. It's easy to pick a couple of verses out of the bible and apply them to the government or the church for good or ill. I think before one starts to speak on these issues one must gain some understanding of where we are and how we got here. A good History of The relation between the church and state (in the western world) should be consulted before people open their mouths. Also I think people would be served well to look at some standard works on what theologians have said about the nature of the church and it's ethics. My point is that there is a rich history to be understood between the two and for the most part the western world has figured out ( at least in theory) how these two spheres can co exist. It is people who don't know this history who are highlighted and given the spotlight when they say or do foolish things.

    June 3, 2010 at 4:46 am |
  8. adam

    "the political split between conservative evangelicals and progressive mainliners in the U.S. is perhaps more an American phenomenon than a Christian one"

    ...or, call me crazy, but just maybe it is in the interest of news organizations to write headlines which depict this massive split thereby rousing peoples' passions and pitting them against each other.

    Perceptions often do not reflect reality. Of course there are people in these opposite camps, but methinks these categorizations have been HUGELY exagerated.

    June 2, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
  9. V. Sheldon

    ++Rowan Williams has been an abysmal and utter disappointment as the leader of the Communion. He seeks to cut off his hand , to spite his face. As soon as the money generated from TEC stops flowing in to the Communion coffers (and much of the funding comes from TEC ) methinks he may think twice about which side of the fence he chooses to ally himself with. The African jurisdictions are already using their new found "farm club" offshoots in the US as milk cows to bankroll their own agendas. It is a matter of money.

    June 2, 2010 at 8:58 am |
  10. Joesph

    The problem with some "Christians" today is not understanding the role of government.
    1. "Do not tax people heavily less they be discouraged.
    2. Do not steal.
    3. Give God 10%
    4.Do not covet thy neighbor’s goods.
    The main problem seems to be a thinking that the gov programs to help the poor is fine, but it is at the expense of
    Stealing from others (taxation)
    Stealing is stealing It matters not if one is Robin Hood or unfair taxes.
    Or in the words of G K Chesterton
    "Once abolish the God, and the government becomes the God"

    June 2, 2010 at 8:15 am |
    • SeanNJ

      Why does god need 10%?

      June 2, 2010 at 11:40 am |
    • jephman

      I would rather pay taxes out of a paycheck than to have the IRS come to my door with a $5,000 bill for the roads I drive and then another $5,000 for the military to defend our country. Both are needed. The 10% God asked for was not in money but in livestock and foodstuffs for the poor. The 10% is now money and because of that you have poor people avioding church so as not to be ashamed of having to pass the collection plate without a donation. God hates money because money is a god with many worshipers. God also is no fan of huge expensive houses of worship. He did his best to discourage King David of building a grand temple to Him. Prior to that the faithful worshipped in tents. The first tent being one God himself drew the plans for and was portable. We all think God is complicated but if we read His Word we find out otherwise.

      June 2, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
    • For Fun

      Joseph – why do you speak in modern English for the majority of your post, but then revert to Middle english to "quote" the Bible? Your argument is not enhanced by this retrograde step and the words do not gain value because of 400 year old syntax.

      July 8, 2010 at 6:45 pm |
    • For Fun

      Jephman – God does not "hate money". Nor does He love it. It's just a medium of exchange and a visual reminder of where our hearts are. Oh, and check out those OT directions for God's worship spaces. Pretty fancy tents.

      July 8, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
  11. Docdrewdean

    The culture wars are undermining the credibility of Protestant churches in America. Look back 100 years ago, and Southern, white evangelicals like William Jennings Bryan were among the most ardent critics of the Republican Party's trickle-down economics. which they disparaged as the fruit of social Darwinism. Look back 100 years ago, and the Episcopal Church, jokingly referred to as the Republican Party at Prayer, did not yet ignore personal morality for the sake of social ethics. When church leaders are more interested in being cheerleaders for a particular political party than for preaching the whole Gospel, then their social and political pronouncements become diabolical.

    June 1, 2010 at 8:00 pm |
    • TBera

      Very well said!

      June 2, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  12. Carl Justus

    If families would take care of their own and the church would take care of those who do not have families to take care of them we would not need all the social programs.

    We have neglected our responsibility by GREED and so the only place left is the governments to take care of those in poverty. To do that of course taxes have to raised, people have to be hired and the administration fees number as much as the cost of taking care of person.

    June 1, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
    • For Fun

      Actually, Carl, ask yourself if the church really stopped taking care of the poor or if the government simply got in on the action to sideline the churches to consolidate power. History has many fine examples of churches doing good works when the greater society and government failed them.

      July 8, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
  13. Alfred

    Awesome. We already have so many conflicts and sensitive topics in the workplace to make the average professional environment a living nightmare, let's start trying to push our personal spiritual beliefs onto each other too. Great. That will make things just perfect! 😉

    June 1, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
    • For Fun

      Alfred – take note, the chaplain said nothing about "pushing" or "twisting arms" or "judging" or whatever is the up-to-date way to bash people of faith. She called for people to be as real about what's important to them as any follower of a particular belief system, be that God or your favorite football team.

      July 8, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  14. Doug Dash

    Many of the above posters have very little knowledge of true Christianity, and the role that true Christians are required to play in society. The true Christian believes in the Holy Bible as the revealed Word of God to ALL humanity, not just a corner of the world. They believe in God's plan for salvation as prophecied in the old covenants, and fulfilled in the person of Yeshua The Annointed (Jesus Christ). They believe that all worldly governments and societies are ultimately imperfect, and will one day submit to the governence of Yeshua when He returns to Earth and establishes His eternal reign.

    Christians are admonished to occupy until Christ returns. They are to not entangle themselves in the affairs of the world, but are not supposed to be silent, nor ignorant. They are the ones that are supposed to offer charity to the poor and needy, not through compulsion, but by a willing spirit. The essence of this facet of true religion can be found in James 1:26-27. Read. learn and practice.

    God will not judge us by what side of the political division we keep; He will judge all by one matter: Did you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, or not?

    June 1, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
  15. Rusty Freedom

    Ques) "What do they want to do to our family?"
    Ans) "They want to FOCUS".
    Ques) "Both of us?"

    June 1, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
    • Q

      LOL! I'm gonna wear this one out quick... Thanks!

      June 1, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
  16. Doulos

    The true Gospel has a foot in the "Liberal" idea of helping the poor and another foot in the "Conservative" idea of defending your faith and speaking out against sin. Jesus did both, and you're not going to find a better role model than "the greatest teacher who ever lived". Sadly the world has forced the issues into a "Liberal" versus "Conservative" debate. God commands us to care for the poor and needy. God also commands us to call sin what it is...sin. For those of you not versed in the Bible, God hates sin. He hates sin so much, that He sent Christ to die as a payment for the sin debt of you and me. That sacrifice cleans the slate for all those who believe in Jesus Christ. A part of the re-birth steming from that belief is following the command to help the needy. Another part of that belief is to repent of sin and to tell others to do the same thing so that they too can be saved from eternal punishment for thier sins against God. In the end, this is not a "Liberal" versus "Conservative" debate...this is simply doing what God told you to do. We need to lose the labels and pay more attention to what God has said.

    June 1, 2010 at 10:07 am |
    • MC

      Well said

      June 1, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
    • Alfred

      You ever wonder why so many people laughed at Rodney King? 😉 This article and discussion brought to light the "true" reason for me 🙂 thanks for that.

      June 1, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
    • Jill

      Doulos said: "The true Gospel has a foot in the "Liberal" idea of helping the poor and another foot in the "Conservative" idea of defending your faith and speaking out against sin. Jesus did both, and you're not going to find a better role model than "the greatest teacher who ever lived". Sadly the world has forced the issues into a "Liberal" versus "Conservative" debate. God commands us to care for the poor and needy. God also commands us to call sin what it is...sin. For those of you not versed in the Bible, God hates sin. He hates sin so much, that He sent Christ to die as a payment for the sin debt of you and me. That sacrifice cleans the slate for all those who believe in Jesus Christ. A part of the re-birth steming from that belief is following the command to help the needy. Another part of that belief is to repent of sin and to tell others to do the same thing so that they too can be saved from eternal punishment for thier sins against God. In the end, this is not a "Liberal" versus "Conservative" debate...this is simply doing what God told you to do. We need to lose the labels and pay more attention to what God has said."

      Yes, yes, yes!!! Labels are a purely human invention to place people in tidy boxes, and I've always hated labels... because labels limit peoples' ability to see beyond them. Woman, Christian, human, whatever... some will see the "good" in the label, and some will see the bad. I once gave a talk about hating labels and said that the only "label" I ever wanted was "giver."

      June 1, 2010 at 8:35 pm |
    • TBera

      I have to disagree with you on the notion that Christians are there to point out sin. One of the main problems with the church today is that its followers are gorging themselves at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, when they should be partaking of the Tree of Life. So much attention to sin only begets sin. If you study Paul's writings, you will see that he was aware of that problem. Focusing on sin is not the answer. Focusing on LIFE is the answer. It is also interesting that the devil is called the "accuser of the brethren." As Christians go about to accuse, what spirit are they really manifesting... Bingo–the adversary.

      June 2, 2010 at 9:34 am |
    • Doulos

      Jill,
      The only label I want is "good and faithful son". Nothing else matters beyond that.

      June 3, 2010 at 7:29 am |
    • Doulos

      TBera,
      It is a common mistake to say that Christians are accusing others of sin...rather it is out of love that we bring sin to the attention of others so that they may repent. You must remember that Christians are still sinners, too. The difference is that followers of Jesus Christ know that one day they will live without sin. And any Christian that thinks, says or believes that they are some how better than another and therefore in a position to judge the sins of another is sorely out of place.

      And to your point that "attention to sin begets sin" is just wrong. We are all born sinners. The difference between Christians and the rest of the world is that true followers of Christ see, understand and repent of their sin. The rest of the world simply does not their sin as sin. It is only the Holy Spirit that dwells in Christians that allows us to do this...it is not of our own power. Attention to sin serves not to beget sin, but rather serves to continue to keep our eyes open to the wrongs we committ against God. By being reminded of our sin we are simultaniously being reminded of our need for Jesus. The ultimate end is for non-believers to see their sin for what it is, repent and turn to Christ for their salvation.

      "A common misconception in our society today: [is] that Christianity is somehow about being good enough to be a Christian, when it’s actually about understanding that we're bad enough to really need Christ."
      – Jeff Haul, The Mockingbird Blog

      June 3, 2010 at 7:44 am |
    • Dan

      The problem with the liberal approach to helping the poor in the context of Christianity is that it is forced. The approach levies involuntary taxes against everyone – regardless of belief system – to provide services for the poor. Christians are called to help the poor out of selfless love because of a changed heart – rooted in the fact that when we were dead in sin, Jesus loved us enough to die for us. It is an act of the heart (a.k.a. "charity"). When a government takes money, then provides services, this is obviously not an act of the heart.
      I'm not saying that the government shouldn't do this, but I am saying that making a Christian argument that the government should take more and more as the solution to help the poor is a faulty one.

      June 5, 2010 at 8:41 am |
    • For Fun

      Dan – Doulos made no such argument about government policy. And liberal/conservative can have non-political meanings. Don't be overly reactionary.

      July 8, 2010 at 6:30 pm |
  17. abcdef12345

    Christianity is not one religion; it is a hundred religions. By coincidence, the names of their gods are the same (God, Jesus, Satan) but the personalities of those gods and the beliefs of the various sects, denominations, splinter groups, and cults vary greatly.

    June 1, 2010 at 7:11 am |
    • Network

      Christianity are people who follow Christs teachings. People that don't follow those teachings aren't Christians. Refer to the gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke or John to see what Christ teaches. Religion is a set of rules.

      June 1, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
    • Phil

      Christianity is not a 100 religions. Jesus Christ established 1 and only 1 church, which through Apostolic successions exists till today, from Peter to Benedict. All other off shoots are attempts to take the original and make it better, but it is not the Church formed by Christ himself. The Holy Catholic Church is afterall, made up of people, and people have failings – and are not perfect, but the message has been the same, made manifest in the Bible (some 300 yrs after Christ sanctioned the church) but the bottomline is that the Church is eternal.

      June 3, 2010 at 11:09 pm |
    • Dave

      Phil, it sounds like you need a history lesson. The Orthodox churches have every bit as much of a claim to direct apostolic sucession as the Roman church.

      June 4, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
    • For Fun

      Phil and Dave. Be secure enough in your God to allow for the work of the Holy Spirit. Mankind has split up many things and God wants them back together, but elitism without patience won't move anyone in the right direction.

      July 8, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  18. OutField

    The 6 or 7 major religions have all lost touch with reality. Are we to believe the earth is only 6000 years old? Do we need to accept every word in a sacred text to be faithful? What we know as a civilization/species is so miniscule compared to what we do not know. Faith is not accepting dogma, faith is experincing the wonder of existance, of the eteral past, and future, in the now. We may learn 10 million times more than we know now, and still not know why we or things exist at all.

    June 1, 2010 at 1:13 am |
    • Margaret

      I mostly agree with what you say but suggest you check out Buddhism and science. The Dalai Lama has stated many times that religion should change to reflect scientific proofs. I'm assuming here that you consider Buddhism one of the 6 or 7 major religions....

      June 4, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
    • For Fun

      Outfield, you're mixing your statements. None of the major religions teach a 6000 year old earth. And the Bible allows for doubt and growth as we walk our faith. Don't get lost in fringe teachings when evaluating the whole.

      July 8, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  19. Evan

    Interesting article but both perspectives miss the fundamental purpose of preaching- presenting Christ crucified as the object of faith. Without that essential focus one might as well skip church entirely.

    May 31, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
    • Jill

      Amen.

      June 1, 2010 at 8:29 pm |
    • TBera

      I agree–but the church has left its First Love to go whoring after political causes and political power... sad...

      June 2, 2010 at 9:27 am |
    • jm

      Agree with you guys completely

      June 2, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
    • former baptist

      if your belief is basded solely on the resurrection you are ignoring the belief that Jesus was the only son of God whos teachings should trump theresurrection belief including the intolerance for the money changers which is contrary to conservative politics and belive in helping the needy ,a cornerstone of liberal politics often renounced by the conservative "christians" I find ironic the belief that Jesus is divine but too stupid too say what he meant,which accounts for my following of the teachings of Jesus and rejection of baptist dogma

      June 6, 2010 at 6:58 am |
  20. Reality

    Historic Protestantism and what preachers should be saying but don't:

    Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immaculate conceptions).

    Current problems:

    Adulterous preachers, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology

    May 31, 2010 at 9:54 am |
    • Willie12345

      The real issue is corruption within the many Christian Churches. They are losing whatever creditability they ever held. Consider the Catholic Church, child abuse has been overlooked intentionally. The church failed to uphold it's own fundamental doctrines. Until these problems are resolved, many Christian Churches will continue to decline in membership.

      June 1, 2010 at 8:19 am |
    • Phil

      How about these Catholic works – Free Education for the poor, immigrant support, help for the jobless, Social Work, worker rights, women empowerment in third world countries, AIDS hospices in industrialized nations – free your mind, and don't be narrow minded. go to catholiccharitiesusa.org and crs.org instead of indulging in hate.

      June 3, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
    • bailoutsos

      Went by a Catholic church today and saw a sign that stated "Character Development – Summer School for Boys." Odd that there is no class for girls.

      June 4, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
    • Anglo-Catholic Anglican

      Anglican and Orthodox Christians are not protestant nor Catholic. As an Anglican, I belong to The Episcopal Church: We have Mass, priests and yes, nuns and brothers. We and our Orthodox friends are neither protestant nor Catholic and I wish folks would stop calling us such ! Grace and Peace !

      June 6, 2010 at 10:57 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.