Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Schuller & State

I recently spent an hour reading through Robert Schuller's book, Prayer: My Soul's Adventure With God, A Spiritual Autobiography. I didn't approach it with any expectations, nor to spend a lot of time on the book.

There were three sections that caught my attention, and they all were at the intersection of church and state.

First, Members of Congress from both parties were members of his church. They and others advised him to steer clear of politics, advice he heeded. He noted criticism he took for limiting his ability to be a prophetic voice on issues of the day.

I would agree with the critics that such a commitment can be limiting on a preacher's ability to teach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). I think there's also something to be said for differentiating between politics and policy. Policy is what elected officials actually do; politics is how they get elected and into official position.

Currently (since 1954) preachers are allowed to discuss the Bible and its implications for public policy, though not making outright endorsements of political candidates. I think the First Amendment on both church and speech grounds permits discussion in church of either policy or politics, but the Johnson Amendment has had a chilling effect to where preachers tend to discuss neither.

Second, Schuller recognized when a government had gone too far and merited civil disobedience. He took part in an effort to smuggle Bibles into the Soviet Union. His partner ahead of him made it through customs, but he got caught trying to make the effort. The Bibles were confiscated, but they were still allowed into the country.

He heard about the Museum of Atheism and asked for a tour. He was surprised to find that his image was on display there as an enemy of the state. Perhaps his tour guide recognizing him reported him as he was soon thereafter escorted to a plane off in the countryside that flew him out of the country.

Third, in 1989, Schuller was eventually invited to preach and give whatever message he wanted on state television to everyone in the Soviet bloc, approximately 200 million people at the time. He had no time to prepare before the interview or message, but he prayed and did as best he could with the 15 minutes he had to speak freely. He began with a message that focused on the positive, one of his hallmarks, and eventually the message included Jesus. This was to be broadcast on Christmas 1989.

The effect on these former Soviet countries was described as as stark as when the atheistic communists had first tried to stamp out faith and religion 70 years prior. This led to Schuller being the first American preacher broadcast weekly in the former Soviet Union.

That's a big prophetic influence for someone who was steering clear of politics. Perhaps it's easier to clearly see the need for the truth in public policy elsewhere where you're not living under it than at home where you are.

I didn't read enough to know the whole story, but he mentioned Armand Hammer as an early communist influence in the United States. Later it seemed Hammer had become a member of his church and told Schuller how he knew Lenin personally and had given him a foot-tall bronze statue that he kept on his desk. After recording that first television broadcast, Schuller was taken on a tour of the inner bowels of Soviet power. After passing through several rooms, he was taken to the room from which Soviet power had been exercised at the highest levels and indeed saw the statue.

God's Word can conquer evil empires and penetrate the hearts of people in power and those near them. This has been happening since Bible times, too.

Paul wrote to the church in Philipi, “I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ” (Philippians 1:12-13). In concluding that letter he wrote, “All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar's household” (Philippians 4:22).

“There were also some women in their company who had been healed of various evil afflictions and illnesses: Mary, the one called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out; Joanna, wife of Chuza, Herod's manager; and Susanna—along with many others who used their considerable means to provide for the company” (Luke 8:2-3).

God, and His Son Jesus, His Gospel, and His Word are for all people—for the powerful and for the powerless.

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