Weakened Democracy Makes for Weakened Churches

by | Jan 4, 2022 | 18 comments

We are one year out from the insurrection at the US Capitol building in which riotous crowds did great damage to the building, threatened US Congresspeople—both Democratic and Republican—beat Capitol police, and tried to stop the counting of electoral votes. Moderates are retiring, leaving more extreme voices at the forefront of leadership. This trend results in weakened democracy.

A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, a conservative, no-nonsense newspaper, notes that in the year past, the unthinkable has happened. Instead of former president Trump’s influence waning through this obvious attack on the institutions of democracy, as of late 2021, 81% of Republicans have a favorable impression of Trump while 57% continue to believe the false story of stolen elections. His standing among many Republicans is stronger than ever as he continues to trumpet the falsehoods of a stolen election. Meanwhile a sustained investigation by the Associated Press has shown that less than 475 votes of the millions cast during the 2020 presidential election might be potentially fraudulent.

When truth is attacked, questioned, battered, and simply negated through the repetition of falsehood, and the false is lifted as true, democracy suffers.

 

How Weakened Democracy Weakens Churches

Meanwhile, this degradation of democracy has not stopped at the doors of the church. Rather, skewed narratives of true and false have infiltrated, fractured, and polarized congregations. This divisiveness shows up in the partisan-inspired debates over COVID-19, masks, vaccines, and safety. Managing this internal opposition has stretched pastors to the limit as they add this to the long list of dramatic changes to manage.

In the polarized environment in which we live, weak democracy makes for weak churches. Of course, it’s not just weak democracy that weakens churches. As I note elsewhere, congregations have been in decline due to other internal factors.

Even so, government has not always had such an outsize influence on churches. For example, during the early days of the church, under repressive Roman rule, the church flourished and thrived. At that time, Jesus was not equated with political processes. Rather, he stood in opposition to the powers that be. His rule was a countercultural one of love, inclusion, hospitality, miracles, and the Kingdom of God.

 

When Jesus is Equated with Political Identities

That’s not always the case now. When Jesus is equated with political identities the church suffers because the followers of Jesus are now asked to serve a lesser power. Instead of the ultimate command to love God, neighbor and self, they are subject to the whims and manipulations of partisan politics. The common good is pushed aside for monied interests, power grabs, self-serving falsehoods, and even coup attempts. Jesus’ followers, blessings, and Kingdom are easily manipulated by leaders who are not necessarily aligned with the Gospel message.

 

What Can the Church Do?

As we approach the Day of Epiphany—the day in which Jesus is recognized as the incarnation of God, we also approach the anniversary of the Capitol insurrection and a failed coup attempt of the US government.  On the Day of Epiphany and beyond we are faced with two opposing images of power: one that manifests the love of God in humble human life, and one that selfishly attacks civic institutions that safeguard democracy.

Which image of power will the church choose to recognize? To follow? To emulate?

Even more important are these questions: How will we separate fact from fiction?  How will we tease apart lies from truth?

The church would do well to teach people how to hear each other, to respect each other, and to discern the truth. For the bottom line is that, in these polarized times—when democracy is weakened—the church is weakened too. This dual weakness does not serve our communities, our message, or the Kingdom of God.

 

Putting Jesus First

When the church puts Jesus—not politics—first, true strength can grow. This strength is borne of love, forgiveness and humility. This kind of strength is good for everyone. It’s the soil in which the Kingdom of God, the Beloved Community, can take root. That is good for the church, for society, and for democracy.

We must seek to strengthen the church and the communities we serve through love of God, neighbor and self to navigate polarizing times.

May God be with us as we seek anew to follow Jesus.

 

Copyright © 2021 rebekahsimonpeter.com, All Rights Reserved.

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18 Comments

  1. Chuck Cooper

    I am disappointed in your email. Our Republic is under attack but it has nothing to do with former President Trump!

    Reply
    • Rebekah Simon-Peter

      Thanks for weighing in, Chuck. As my former DS, whom I like and respect, I of course don’t want you to be disappointed in me. However, I feel good that I had the courage to address this issue as many church leaders feel that they can’t afford to.

      Reply
      • Rick Smith

        You are saddened by secular politics being in this forum but your article deals with exactly that. You are placing blame on the “Insurrectionists” at the Capitol thereby exposing your bias. I remind you that we are not a democracy but a representative republic.
        I agree that we are struggling with the truth which does not change depending on who is in the majority. In fact, the minority is dictating the truth. Didn’t the traditional wing get the most votes at the last General Conference? The results of that vote were promptly dismissed. Is that how a democracy is to work?
        The Insurrection of last summer has been ignored by the church. The views they espouse, black lives matter as opposed to all lives matter, socialism becoming mainstream, same sex marriage and multiple genders are eroding the fabric of this country. The UMC is falling right in line. The majority doesn’t matter.
        I agree that our republic is in trouble and it is affecting the church. The answer is open debate without being labeled as misinformation. The loudest voices are not necessarily the most truthful. Just because something is repeated constantly also doesn’t make it true.
        You have been clear on which side you stand. Your side must also take responsibility for this issue.

        Reply
    • Allie Lakey

      Interesting conclusion. Can you elaborate?

      Reply
      • Rebekah Simon-Peter

        My thesis is that not only does weakened democracy weaken churches, but weakened churches also weaken democracy. I also believe that when churches grow strong in their primary purpose they can positively impact their communities, country and governance.

        Reply
  2. Rev. Warren Murphy

    Rebekah,
    You hit it right on target. It’s time to follow the teachings of Jesus. It’s unbelievable that so many so called Christians can follow a former president who has no religious connections and knows nothing about the Christian faith. He is a false idol if there ever was one. Your right by saying we need to follow Jesus and his teachings of peace, honoring the “least of these” and love. That certainly doesn’t come about by overthrowing a truly democratic government. Keep up your good work by keeping churches on the right course.

    Reply
    • Rebekah Simon-Peter

      Thank you for commenting, Warren. So much positivity and understanding can come from following Jesus’ teachings. I think the church has a lot of work to do to reclaim our place in the world. It comes by reclaiming Jesus from politics. Blessings.

      Reply
  3. Sara E Dunlap-Knapp

    As far as I’m concerned, your comments about the state of our politics are right on As far as I am concerned, preachers should keep their political comments on Sunday morning to Please get out & vote

    Reply
    • Rebekah Simon-Peter

      I hear you Sara. That’s quite common in the Black church community. I served at Scott UMC in Denver CO, primarily Black congregation back in the 90s. I was aware of that theme in our whole community.

      Reply
  4. Jenny Secor

    I agree with Chuck. America is being attacked. It is very difficult to trust institutions when so much is being censored, and many lies have been told e.g. “less than 475 votes were fraudulant”. Unfortunately, the United Methodist Church has helped with the decline. UMC supports the things God hates. Here are the falsehoods that are lifted as truth, Rebekah: LGBTQ+ is a normal lifestlye, Planned Parenthood abortionists perform good works, Palestinians deserve Judea and Samaria and their East Jerualem capital, and BLM, a communist organization, is something we are encouraged to support. Again, this is why the church is weakened. We parishioners speak out, and our church leaders make the decisions without our input. We Americans speak out, and our leaders do not listen. We were respectful to your authority, but now we must turn the tables over and say no.

    Reply
    • Rebekah Simon-Peter

      Jenny, I think you and I agree on something very important: the question of how to tell what is truth? What sources do you go to? How do you vet them?

      Reply
  5. Towanda N Connelly

    I’d say we need to go back to basics. Focus on our relationship with God and the word of God. Let’s be intentional to ask, what would Jesus do?
    Love God, Love People and everything else will come. We all should live into the light that is within us.

    Reply
    • Rebekah Simon-Peter

      Towanda, thanks for your very high statement of purpose. As basic as it is, it’s hard to do!

      Reply
  6. Karen Larsen

    ‘When truth is attacked, questioned, battered, and simply negated through the repetition of falsehood, and the false is lifted as true, democracy suffers.’

    I recommend you step back and follow your own conclusion. There are several untruths in your comments.

    Only one person, Ashli Babbit, was killed on January 6th.
    No one has been charged with insurrection. One man was held without being charged for months in torturous solitary confinement. He survived solely on his faith and I do not doubt Jesus sat with him jn his cell. I recommend you watch his interview with his wife about his experience. Find the truth in their own words.
    There are many reason former President Trump’s popularity increases. Least of which is the voter fraud in the last election. Losing our ability to afford food and heat. The global disaster of leaving Afganistan; women back in slavery and tortured daily; children sold for food. Drugs and human trafficking flowing through our southern border. Satan’s playground.

    Choose your own politics. But as you say, keep it out of the Church. Jesus should not be used to justify hate based on lies and blindness.

    I pray you spend tomorrow seeking the truth. Examining your conclusions. Or not. But please pray for those who are being used as fodder in a very real and dangerous spiritual war.

    Blessings.

    Reply
  7. Rick

    It saddens me to see that even in this forum the division of secular politics have invaded our hearts and minds. My Pappy used to say, “never talk religion, politics, or money in polite conversation.”
    It seems that every aspect of society has been polluted with evil political positioning. Sports that were once a respite from life’s problems have become just another political stage. The church, which should be a sanctuary from the world’s ways has now become another political stomping ground. Even children’s innocence has been hijacked for the sake of political positioning. It seems that everything that was once regarded as sacred and not to be corrupted by secular politics has become “fair game” for external and internal political squabbling.
    I too would like to see us go back to the basics. However, Pandora’s box has been opened and the evil of greed, envy, hatred, pain, division, power, et al. has been loosed. How, or can, we put the evil back in the box?
    Can the corrupted church be saved? How can our sin be absolved?
    REPENT CHURCH! Turn away from the sin that corrupts and separates us from what God calls us to be.
    Perhaps an additional couplet should be added to Galtian 3:28; “neither conservative nor progressive”. Eliminate the labels that we tag one another with so that we can see one another as Christ would have us, as sisters and brothers.

    Reply
  8. Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth

    Searching for examples of “weakened democracy,” we United Methodists might first consider The United Methodist Church. General Conference 2019 made significant denominational decisions. Immediately, the disruption of General Conference began. Then bishops, clergy, annual conferences, and congregations decided not to live according to the decisions of the General Conference. Bishops continued to demonstrate refusal to uphold General Conference decisions. If that is not “weakened democracy,” I do not know what is. It is that “weakened democracy” that has most acted like an acid that eats away the communal bonds of The United Methodist Church. (One more comment: The United Methodist Church at her best functions like a democracy under [not against] the rule of Christ the King.)

    Reply
  9. Nate

    A well-thought out and brave article, Rebekah, from a fellow UM clergyperson and former Wyoming resident. Blessings to you in your ministry.

    Reply
  10. Dan Johnson

    Your article is exactly why so many UMC churches are leaving the denomination. To quote an AP article is like listening to Pinocchio tell his version of events.

    Reply

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