We who live in Christian community have leaders determined by various methods to whose authority we generally submit. This hierarchical structure varies from extremely formal and rigid (e.g., the Catholic Church) to informal and fluid (e.g., some Pentecostal churches). The existence of a leadership structure is both Biblically ordained (for example see Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4; 2 Cor. 1:24) and practically necessary for effective corporate functioning.
I think that most Protestant Christians are in agreement that there is nothing absolute about a given church leader’s (or church organization’s) authority. That is, we believe that the only head of the church is Jesus Christ and that the Bible’s testimony is the unique source of authority for the living out of our lives in Christ. Therefore, we in the laity are empowered to test the teaching of our leadership by its fidelity to God’s Word.
Further complicating this relationship is the undeniable fact that our leaders are merely flesh and blood, with all of the possibility for frailty and folly which this implies. Thus, our leaders live in social and organizational groups that have their own set of expectations, politics and rules. Although there can be much that is good in these social groupings, there is also the possibility of group-think and blind adherence dominant opinion.
So, when our Christian leaders deliver teaching our default position should be respect and serious consideration. However, due to the above discussed issues, there are cases in which we must conduct our own review of Scripture and exercise our own judgment.
The Current Issue
The current issue of most extreme political disagreement in the United States may well be that of immigration and refugee policy. This issue divides political parties, families, churches and many other organizations. With regard to the church, as pointed out in The Atlantic:
From religious leaders’ perspectives, backlash against Trump’s immigration policy may be the most ecumenical issue in America right now. Hundreds of prominent clergy signed onto a letter condemning the “derogatory language that has been used about Middle Eastern refugees and our Muslim friends and neighbors,” calling on Trump to reinstate the refugee program.
Such wide agreement is often supported by a correspondingly wide set of motivating considerations, from a general political rejection to concern about practical consequences to distrust of a particular politician’s character and/or judgement, among others.
Thus, if the issue becomes more focused, an apparent consensus can quickly evaporate. For example, if the issue is narrowed to the Christian perspective on “open borders,” then the above agreement will likely splinter.
Although there may be general agreement among most clergy members, the laity is more evenly divided. After all, enough people voted for Mr. Trump to elect him President. And candidate Trump was crystal clear that the current status of immigration / refugee policy was unacceptable. It is also the case that there are prominent Christian organizations and leaders who either have chosen to remain silent or supported the proposed policy changes.
So, if most of our clergy appears to be in agreement that President Trump’s policies are undesirable and the previous administration’s policies are more so, then should we automatically accept this teaching or submit it to our own careful scrutiny?
I’m concerned by the lack of specificity, ill defined logic and superficial Biblical justification for many of the statements made by some of our clergy. For example, when Grady Parsons, Stated Clerk of the Office of the General Assembly chose to educate candidate Trump on PC(USA) on refugees, immigrants, the policy described clearly pointed towards a Progressive Leftist political perspective. I will deal with my numerous serious issues regarding this letter in the next post.
Likewise, we are exposed to repetitive recitations of Bible passages such as Leviticus 19:33-34 (ESV)
When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
without the benefit of comprehensive exegesis and exposition on the context, word definitions and other Biblical passages that may well illuminate and/or modify the meaning.
So, is this a case where our leaders have already done the theological heavy lifting and generated a conclusion that, though communicated in shorthand, is beyond reproach? Or, is this, like the same-gender marriage argumentation, a human political position covered by a veneer of faux religiosity? Obviously there is much room for variation between these two extremes.
Given the stakes for our nation, I conclude that careful scrutiny is necessity.