Sunday, March 1, 2015

Making a "U-Turn" in Pennsylvania

On March 19th, the Pennsylvania Pastors Network will host U-Turn: A Conversation with Pastors on Society, Culture and Leadership at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA. "It’s time for a course correction in America," the conference website argues, "and our success hinges on re-embracing the proven roadmap that the Bible provides." According to the event website, the conference has several goals for the day.
  • Identify the Biblical model for triggering a U-turn in a society.
  • Explore the top cultural issues that will confront your church in the next 5 years.
  • Learn how pastors can be empowered to speak on political issues without politicizing their pulpits.
  • Learn how prayer effectively lays the foundation for spiritual renewal in our nation.
Among U-Turn's scheduled speakers are David Barton (founder and president of Wallbuilders and the author of several Religious Right "history" books), George Barna (founder of the Barna Group), Jeff Mateer (general counsel of the Liberty Institute), and Sandy Rios (director of governmental affairs for the American Family Association and host of the Sandy Rios in the Morning radio show). Former governor Mike Huckabee was scheduled to speak at the event, but his name no longer appears on the conference website or promotional materials.

The Pennsylvania Pastors Network website had much to say about the relationship between religion and government when announcing U-Turn. "Today’s society works hard to separate faith and government, but the Pennsylvania Pastors Network ... believes exactly the opposite should be true," the website states.
"PPN believes that those in the pulpit are "Ministers of God," called by Him to preach the Word and speak truth in the public square. Likewise, those elected to office are not just "politicians" but occupy an equally ordained position as "Ministers of God," with the clear job description of servants of God and God’s servants to the people ... The powerful one-day "U-Turn" conference is open to pastors, leaders and laypeople and is specifically designed to answer questions about society, culture and leadership, with a focus on how cultural trends can be strategically impacted with the truths of God’s Word."

American Pastors Network president Sam Rohrer told OneNewsNow that "the pulpits of America have been silent for far too long" and that "Christian people have felt that being involved in matters of culture can be left to somebody else". Because of this alleged Christian apathy, "evil is advancing in this land", a situation that the U-Turn conference hopes to address.

U-Turn seems intended to encourage conservative religious leaders to talk about political and social issues from the pulpit. This puzzles me, since American religious leaders have been anything but quiet on these issues. Conservative pastors and priests have never been timid about discussing abortion, same-sex marriage, or legislation from the pulpit. As initiatives such as Pulpit Freedom Sunday demonstrate, some members of the clergy have no qualms about endorsing political candidates from the pulpit, in violation of IRS policy. In light of America's extremely vocal conservative clergy, Rohrer's assertions about passive, quiet churches ring hollow. Perhaps his words are another example of Religious Right victim-rhetoric, which depicts the Christian Right as a silenced, shoved-aside victim that must assert itself now that "evil is advancing in this land".

I expect that U-Turn will encourage religious leaders to continue speaking out from the pulpit on political and social issues. What remains to be seen, however, is where church-state separation and IRS policy will fit into U-Turn's conversation. I plan to attend U-Turn, and I'm eager to learn what speakers will have to say.

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