The results of another Gallup poll in the field of religion are now available. Last time, which I reported, it had to do with the differing viewpoints of British and American regarding church-going. This time, it tries to answer the question: Should churches speak out on social and political questions? Again, there are interesting contrasts between us and the British. Most Englishmen believe the church should keep out of such matters. In this country, there is a definite difference of viewpoints, with slightly more people believing that churches should speak out on social and political matters. Among the typical views expressed on the issue in this country are these:
“If the church expressed its views more it would clear a lot of people’s minds. Politics have always been a corrupt business. There are good and bad politicians and more good politicians would help affairs.”
Again: “The church cannot separate itself from the political side of life… It preaches the Gospel to the people and the preacher has a right to express his views. If the government would listen to the church there would be less corruption.”
Against the idea of churches taking an active role in these matters are such positions as:
“The church should teach the Bible and let the people govern the state outside of church.”
“If a minister is called to preach, he should not be in politics. If he is in politics, he does not have time to save souls.” (A rather curious mixture of theological jargon that may have been meaningful to the person making the statement but is by no means clear to this reader.)
“The church should teach the Bible and stay out of politics. The two don’t mix.”
Statistically, 53 percent of those in Britain said the churches should keep out of the social and political picture; 44 percent thought it should express its views; and 11 percent had no opinion.
In this country, 44 percent thought it should stay out; 47 percent said it should express its views; while 8 percent had no opinion.
An interesting variation was revealed between women’s and men’s viewpoints in this country. Most men said that churches should keep out of political matters, while a majority of women thought they should express their views.
It is difficult to see how churches can refrain from speaking out on social, economic, and political matters unless they are content to simply be academic monasteries in which, like the three monkeys, they see, speak, or hear no evil, devoting their church-going merely to mental, emotional, or what have you exercises in ritual that is removed from life and probably devoid of real meaning. Nobody but the rash would suggest that a church should espouse the cause of any political party. Probably almost all of us would be repelled by a church that did. However to say that there is no moral obligation of the church to let itself be heard on vital issues affecting the lives of people is to let it be shorn of the most important function for which it exists, that is, to bring meaning, purpose, and hope of achievement in the here and now. Wherever the church has for long remained an instrument through which men were encouraged or forced to forgo improvement in this life in the hope of something better in some imagined future one, it has become something of a dead institution, having little meaning to anyone but the spiritual and socially blind.
If religion, any religion, is to flourish in the hearts and minds of people, it must pursue a course that will make people see in it an instrument through which the lot of mankind can be improved, physically, morally, and spiritually here and now. Anything that comes afterward as a result of such improvement can be regarded as something of a bonus, for the good life is worthwhile within and for itself, and churches should help make that good life more nearly attainable. If they do not, they become as sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.