Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Obama's Going to Kill the Church

Over at the Christianity Today blog I see that some conservatives are worried that Obama's big government plans are going to be bad news for the church:

Not surprisingly, the historical and sociological record suggests that when the state addresses most of the physical and financial needs of people, or when individuals are wealthy enough to care for those needs entirely on their own, that people are less likely to turn to God, their local church, charities, or their families for help, direction, and consolation.

This is why in some important respects the Church is healthier in Nairobi than it is in New York, or in Lagos than it is Los Angeles. In these African cities, the Church—and faith—is more likely to take, by force of necessity, a wholistic approach to ministering to the human person. In stable, affluent societies the Church is often reduced to a therapeutic role in people’s lives. Any my worry is that a successful Obama revolution would only deepen that pattern in the United States, and reduce the size and vitality of the Christian faith in the process.

What is being suggested here is that the church needs a little (or a lot of) suffering in order to thrive. While it is certainly true that the church (or mosque) does well in parts of the world where human suffering is greater, and it does better in this country when the economy tanks, it is a weak and insecure church that depends on and perhaps quietly welcomes trouble so the pews will be filled.

Jesus said "blessed are the poor." He did not say blessed is poverty. I imagine that Jesus would endorse whatever system best alleviates poverty and human suffering. When there was no welfare state churches stepped into the void and cared for widows and orphans, created hospitals, and fed the poor. But today there is a welfare state and it has the potential to feed, protect, and care for our physical needs in a manner far more efficient than churches. We should welcome a robust state that sees it as an essential part of its mission to take the rough edges off of capitalism and make sure that no one lives in poverty, everyone has adequate healthcare.

If the church needs suffering to thrive, then the church deserves to die. Ditto for the notion that without fear of eternal punishment there will be no one left in the pews. There is plenty of heart, mind, and spirit left to speak to without relying on suffering, fear, or guilt.

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