Knee deep in the church's response to the crisis in Haiti, overwhelmed by the determination of United Methodists to respond to the suffering there, I received an unsolicited email from the folks at the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) complaining about the President's health care plan. (Victims of Obamacare, By Mark Tooley, 1.28.10) Thousands of you are on the IRD's unsolicited email list. From time to time I hear from you, upset about something that the IRD is upset about. They tend never to be concerned about anything that concerns the church - like the suffering of sisters and brothers in Haiti, the content of our preaching, the quality of our discipleship, the orthodoxy of our theology.
The email tirade was fairly typical for the IRD - snide, caustic, right wing conservative, devoid of any reference to the Bible or Jesus. Mr. Tooley is a good enough writer but he is utterly innocent of any theological interests. And so is the IRD. Note their title: Religion and Democracy. They never talk about Christ and they seem to think that politics and government is the answer to everything. The IRD seems to be a group of people who worship "religion" and "democracy" whereas the United Methodist Church is trying to worship and to obey Jesus. Emails from the IRD could as easily be released by Mormon Glen Beck or some Islamic Society as by any Christian church. Though their main function is to attack mainline churches, "church" is not in their name. Right wing politics appears to be their church.
Of course, I've been critical when left wing politics plays a greater role in our conversation as a church than scripture or Jesus. But standing there, trying to get those water purification systems out of Alabama and into Haiti, wading through the hundreds of health kits that Alabama Methodists produced in one week, with our Conference website jammed with Methodists attempting to give money to Haiti, I was once again reminded of the irrelevancy of the IRD. They may have generous funding from a few right wing fanatics, they may have some interesting things to say about politics, and Mr. Tooley may be (in certain moments) a good satirist, but they don't have much to do with being the church. Jesus Christ ought to control the church's imagination - not politics left or right.
I hope that you will keep this in mind the next time you receive an email from the IRD. We're United Methodist Christians. We have more important things to worry about than the purely [political] infatuations that worry the IRD. In a world that worships politics as divine, we have more important things to do than politics.
This week of Thanksgiving, as you give thanks to God for the gifts of religion and democracy, be sure to give thanks that we are saved neither by religion nor democracy but rather by the work of Jesus Christ!
--Bishop William H. Willimon
[Taken with permission from Bishop Willimon's Weekly Message, Nov. 22, 2010. North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church.]