Deacon concerned that partisanship can sidetrack

HOUSTON?While it has been argued that Christians can do far more in the political arena than they have believed is allowed by law, is there an ethical line that can be crossed when believers gather Sunday mornings displaying their partisanship?

The answer, according to one man, is “yes.” Eddie Weller, an American history professor at San Jacinto Community College in Houston with a doctorate from Texas Christian University, is familiar with the role Christians played in the development of the United States.

Pastors, he said, have a duty to preach on biblical truths that impact society?issues like abortion, gambling, and same-sex marriages. But topics not specifically addressed in God’s word and which have more political overtones than the simple “thou shalt nots” should be left for another discussion. For example, he said, health care for indigent families and housing subsidies for the poor have a more political spin to them, but can be easily related to Jesus’ commands to care for the less fortunate.

An unashamed Democrat in a congregation of conservative Republicans, Weller has learned to take good-natured jibes?and not so good-natured?concerning his political leanings. He has taught Sunday school there for 14 years and has served as a deacon since 1994. Weller has volunteered on numerous committees and ministries of the church and because of his faith in Christ, does not align himself with some of the more socially liberal tenants of the Democratic Party. He is among the minority of pro-life Democrats. But with the spiritual gift of mercy, he said he must take sides with the party he believes has the interests of the poor and needy high on its priority list.

Although he may be in the political minority in his own Houston-area SBTC congregation, Weller represents one half of an even split among believers. According to a 2000 Barna Research Group survey, those categorized as born-again believers were split 35 percent to 35 percent between the two major political parties. Independents made up 18 percent of the voting group.

The idea that conservative Republicans have a lock-hold on a biblically-based worldview does not match statistical evidence. But that does not keep people from believing it, he said.

“I have a hard time with someone saying the Republican Party is the Christian party,” Weller said. Fellow church members, in all sincerity, have said they would pray for him. A few years back, Weller said a woman, upon being introduced to him and then discovering his political proclivities, responded, “And they let you teach Sunday school!” A friend of Weller quickly responded, “We make him park his pitchfork at the door.”

William Nix, also a Ph.D. who studied history, finds the Republican Party more in line with biblical teaching. He believes both parties want much of the same things for the country?like feeding the poor, but finds disagreement over who will be allowed to control the purse strings.

Weller said there have been instances in his life when political speech or even just its symbolism has left people hurt or feeling out of place in church. And these are the times, he argued, when his brothers and sisters in Christ have crossed a line that hinders a church’s ability to share the gospel.

One such incident occurred in the mid-1980s in a large Baptist church in the Dallas-t1:City>Fort Worth metroplex. “Friend Day” was approaching and Weller wanted a lost friend and his wife to attend. Weller had finally secured an agreeable answer from a fellow Democrat friend when the church ran a newspaper ad touting that the pastor’s guest at the service would be a Republican senator.

“They never set foot in that church,” he said. Two years later, Weller added, the couple was divorced. Did the pastor’s bringing a political figure to church cause his friend’s divorce? “No, of course not,” Weller said. “Could lives have been completely changed? Of course. The gospel changes lives.”

The most recent experience was in his current church home during the 2000 presidential campaign. Contributors to the George Bush campaign were awarded “badges” which many church members wore with pride each Sunday morning. Such a display, Weller argued, could send a message to visitors of a differing political persuasion that they are not welcome.

Keet Lewis of the Heritage Alliance said, “This knife has to cut both ways.” He said some politically liberal churches have a history of inviting Democratic candidates to speak while “freedom loving, Republican-minded people” sit in the congregation.

Jim Bolton, a member of First Baptist Dallas and a past chairman of the SBTC’s Texas E

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