By: Jerry S. Maneker.

“…O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.” (Isaiah 3:12)

I don’t believe that churches should be tax exempt, nor do I believe that nationalism should be confused with
Christianity.  All too frequently, American flags in front of many church sanctuaries bespeak the worship of patriotism,
nationalism, ethnocentrism and even jingoism that become subtly enmeshed with the Gospel message.

The Gospel message knows no national boundaries, nor does it know anything of national aggrandizement that all too
often occurs because people are loath to bite the hand that feeds them.  To the degree that churches enjoy tax exempt
status, it is to that degree that churches frequently become little more than agents of the state to protect the ideal
values (what we say exist) as opposed to the real values (what does in fact exist) of our society; perpetuate those values
in the name of Christianity.

In this regard, Karl Marx was correct when he called religion “the opiate of the masses,” as the institutionalized church
largely affirms the status quo from which it handsomely profits via tax exemption and affirmation by society at large, as
long as Christianity reduces itself to little more than mouthing the shibboleths of the power structure.  This phenomenon
can be seen when the Church dares to speak out against capitalism run amok, as when Pope John Paul2 denounced
“the culture of death” including such behaviors as capital punishment, abortion, and corporate greed, and was roundly
ignored by much of the secular and even church worlds.

Where are the churches when civil liberty issues are being discussed?  Where are the churches when corporate
mergers, ensuing mass layoffs, down sizing, and the bottom line trumping the health and welfare of our fellow human
beings occur?

One church I attended had a conservative politician speak from the pulpit concerning his upcoming election.  In this
church voter guides were handed out virtually telling people for whom to vote; they were all uniformly conservative in
their political leanings.  Many other churches were also conservative, corrupting the Gospel message of love and
inclusiveness with the message of ostracism and exclusion that is part and parcel of ethnocentrism.

The pastors of these churches led the flock astray, although many of the flock were all too willing to be so led.  Many
viewed Jesus as the equivalent of a blond, blue eyed conservative who hated gays but was in favor of capital
punishment; was in favor of capitalism, and ignored foreign child slave labor that, in part, fuels it.

By enmeshing nationalism with Christianity, jingoism frequently ensues, containing pious platitudes concerning the
merits of our country as opposed to those of other countries.  These comparisons are not necessarily stated, but are
clearly implied by the conspicuous display of the American flag; by the patriotic songs that are sung in many churches
on the Fourth of July.  “The Star Bangled Banner,” “America The Beautiful,” “God bless America,” have their place in
patriotic displays in secular society, but have absolutely no place in our churches.

This issue is of concern as we are apt to confuse the liberty of Christianity that is inclusive of everyone who has been
called out of this world by God before the worlds were formed with cultural critique that seeks such goals as “traditional
family values,” thereby demeaning or even mocking gay families.  Within the Church, socially and politically conservative
beliefs are as much unstated as they are stated, but they are so well entrenched in most of the church world that these
values are often confused by Christians and non-Christians alike.

The Church must be proactive in speaking out for civil liberties and fighting for inclusion of all people in the life of society
and in the Church. Would Jesus, the friend of sinners, discriminate against people of color, gays, or the poor?  

I attended a Bible study recently where the issue of homosexual Christians came up.  I was pleasantly surprised that
these conservative people were so compassionate that some even favored gay marriage, despite the fact that they were
theologically torn about the issue.  Their compassion outweighed their faith in their biblical interpretation of the “clobber
passages” that are erroneously used to condemn gay people.

Their stance represented the best that one could expect!  I was proud of them and delighted to be able to participate
with them in the discussion.  

However, to get to the point of overriding the cusp of the status quo, one must take a leap of faith that is greatly
hindered by being shackled to the values of the state to which one pays homage through tax exemption and patriotic
displays within the Church.  To love one another is not only an individual matter, but also an institutional matter that
involves the embracing of other countries and their people.

The Gospel demands this kind of embracing, and patriotic displays within churches, although not necessarily preventing
such embracing, certainly doesn’t help contribute to the embracing of such groups as Africans, Asians and others who
are not like “us.”

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