Leading up to and following the 2004 election, Woodland Hills Church, an evangelical mega-congregation on the outskirts of St. Paul, Minnesota, caught national attention when it lost twenty percent of its membership because pastor Gregory Boyd refused to endorse a Republican agenda. He refused to do this not because he was pro-choice or because he sought to defend gay marriage (he was conservative on these issues). He did it because of his understanding of the role of the church. “When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross” (Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, June 30, 2006). Despite the fact that Rev. Boyd took six sermons to explain himself, one thousand members of the congregation left.
Why, we must ask, did this exodus happen? I suspect that if the thousand had been polled regarding their view of Christ, the centrality of the cross, and the doctrine of the Trinity, they would have been on the same page as the four thousand who stayed. This means that it had to be something else—a lesser thing from God’s perspective—that led to the division. No doubt the reasons from person to person varied in the details, but the fact remains that twenty percent of a church “walked” because of politics—despite the fact that Jesus prays that we “may be one” as he and his Father are one, so that “the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22, 23).
Much is at stake here. If the crucified and risen Messiah cannot hold Democrats and Republicans together under the same roof, if he cannot enable them to work through their differences, then he is not much of a Savior—he certainly is not the Messiah of the world. Stories like Woodland Hills “prove” that in the final analysis, we are a social organization just like any other social organization—united by the same sort of bonds that unite other human groups, and apt to dissolve for the same reasons that other human groups dissolve. This is more than unfortunate. It is disobedient, a betrayal of our Savior, the cause to which he has called us, and the purpose for which he died. It proves that we have allowed our vision for America to capture our hearts more deeply than God’s vision for us as his ambassadors. And the effect is to compromise the power of our testimony to the world.