Thursday, September 27, 2012

Charles Drew Interview (with Mary Nichelson)

Picture It is hard to dismiss the obvious; 2012 is an election year. Although taking your opinion to the polls is recommended and encouraged, many voters wonder where their morals and theology belong in the matter. Red letter Christians pour over the four gospels looking for answers, while others ask “How would Jesus vote?” 

Many wonder if politics and religion should intersect while others commit to turning a deaf ear, convinced their vote bears little weight in the election results. In his new book, Body Broken, author Charles Drew asks, “Can Republicans and Democrats sit in the same pew?” His passion for the church to remain united despite its political differences is apparent. 

Jesus wants us to. He prays for it in John 17 and, according to Ephesians 2, he died to unite Jews and Gentiles (the most deeply hostile social groups in the ancient world), creating in them ‘one new man’.  If, therefore, Christians cannot find a way to live together in harmony (even when they disagree politically), they deny the power both of Jesus’ prayers and his cross. The credibility of the Christian story is at stake.”

Here, in his own words, Drew openly shares why he felt committed to write-and then revise-an important faith-based political commentary. “Indivisible under God” means something to Drew and he wants it to mean something to the church body, as well.

Why did you write Body Broken?
To help Christians stay united without ignoring their social and political responsibility. Republicans and Democrats ought to be able to worship together in the same church.

What is new about this new revised edition?
There are two changes. First, it is updated with reference to developments since 2000—the economic crisis, the election of Barack Obama, etc. Second, the book is more sharply focused on the necessity and possibility of Christian harmony in the midst of Christian social and political engagement.

Why not make peace in the church by withdrawing from all political discussion and involvement?
I can think of two reasons. First, Jesus commands us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” We are his hands, voice, and feet, called to make him tangible in this world. We cannot be these things if we withdraw from political and social life. Second, we misrepresent Jesus if we withdraw from public life. He is not about to withdraw from the world he died to renew. Neither can Christians.

Should we legislate morality?
Everybody legislates morality: laws are the instrument we use to enforce or promote what we value—and values are an expression of morality. The important and interesting question is a different one: “Which morality should be legislated and why?”

Which morals should we seek to enforce by law?
Sorting this question out is difficult and we need to be patient with each other as we seek to do so. Some of the following distinctions can be helpful:
  • The distinction between theocracy and influence.
  • The distinction between moral principle and political strategy
  • The distinction between the calling of the church and the callings of individual Christians.

Should there be an American flag displayed in a church sanctuary? If so, where?

This is a good question—it makes us think hard about the relative importance of our allegiance to Jesus Christ and our allegiance to America. We should be patient with each other as we try to sort it out.
  • Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s’—which suggests that we obey Jesus by honoring our country. Displaying an American flag in a worship space in the United States might for this reason make sense.
  • Jesus also says, “Give to God’s what is God’s”—which demands that our allegiance to our country must never be absolute. Displaying an American flag in such a way as to suggest that God and America speak with one voice would for this reason be problematic.

Should the church support foreign wars, encouraging its members to fight in them?

This is another good question aimed at pressing us to sort out our dual allegiance to God and to our country. Once again we need to be patient with one another as we try to sort it out, guarding each other’s consciences in areas where the Bible is not explicit.
  • Some (pacifists) will say, “Never. For the state to ask me to use force against another human being is for the state to step beyond its proper limits. Jesus says to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5).
  • Others (positivists) will say, “Of course. The state is put in place by God and we obey God, therefore, by exercising loyalty to the state, even if it means putting ourselves in harms way” (see Romans 13)
  • Still others (normativists) will say, “It depends on the war (is it a just war—a necessity brought about by a great evil that must be resisted) and upon what particular deeds I am asked to perform (What happens if my commander orders me to shoot or maltreat prisoners of war?).

What do you do when you deeply disagree with a fellow Christian about politics?

  • Think biblically about what is going on, about what is at stake:
    • The disagreement is a chance for you to grow in love and faith.
    • Jesus is praying for unity in the church Jesus died to make you one with this person.
    • Your relationship with this person will outlast the end of every political strategy and disagreement.
  • Pray for yourself and this fellow Christian
  • Talk honestly and openly, looking for common ground in hopes that you can do something together
  • Sit together in the same pew.

Author Bio: Charles D. Drew received his education at Harvard (BA in English) and Westminster Seminary(M. Div.). He has pastored for thirty years in Virginia, Long Island and New York, all in university settings. He presently serves as the senior minister of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church, which he founded in 2000 near Columbia University. Drew speaks frequently to universities and churches and is also the author of A Public Faith: Bringing Personal Faith to Public Issues, An Ancient Love Song: Finding Christ in the Old Testament and A Journey Worth Taking: Finding Your Purpose in This World. He and his wife Jean, a science teacher at the Brearly School in Manhattan, have two married children and two grandchildren. Sailing and music are two of Charles’ great loves.

You can learn more about the intersection of church and politics by visiting Drew’s blog. Purchase a copy of Body Broken, visit New Growth Press.

Author interviews also featured in the September issue of TWJM: Michael J. Scott, Murray Pura, and Delia Latham. 

About Mary Nichelson: 

This interview is courtesy of The Wordsmith Journal Magazine.

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