Some years ago, Madeleine L’Engle wrote an essay “What May I Expect From My Church?” for the book Churches on the Wrong Road. The book is a contribution to the debate of where the Church ought to be involved in social issues of the day. Of course this is an oft-discussed issue today, and this book raises a number of important points. In his introduction to the essays, Edmund Fuller writes:
A “wrong road” generally is seen by some person or group as the path toward one form or another of the kingdom of God on earth established by humankind, or else is some idea of the temporal perfectibility of humanity, the advent of a New Man, a new Adam, as Russell Kirk puts it, “the terrestrial paradise instanter.”
The ways toward such goals tend to become political and economic ideologies, the nature of which not all who follow them are aware. One sure warning that a church is on a wrong road is the assumption that that church can and should speak monolithically on secular issues about which, especially in a democratic society, committed Christians may have drastically varying opinions in good conscience. Beware of an implied dictate: Follow our political line, vote as we vote, support a specific social issue or program of ours, resolve some complex moral issue exactly as we do, or you are not a good Christian and we will read you out of the church.
No doubt, when this was written in 1986, many of the authors had in mind the rise of “the religious right” as a force in American politics. However, we see today the pendulum swinging the other way; a sort of militant ideology held by the Left that is dismissive of anyone that might disagree. We have backed ourselves into a corner in the U.S. that does not allow for neutral ground (not moderate ground), a place where reasonable ideas can be shared without the fear of judgment.
Although now out of print, this challenging little book has made its way off of my bookshelf and onto my desk. In the midst of fierce debate in the public square, what do love, charity, and civility look like? I have my answer in trusting in him who died for me and has given us his Holy Spirit to leads us and guide us into all truth (there are some things we can be definitive about).
As L’Engle reminds us in the closing words of her essay:
I need my church to affirm God’s love for me and for all the bleating sheep. Then all we, who like sheep have gone astray, will better be able to think about and to act on some of the thorny issues which confront us. I need to know that God is love—unconditional, self-sacrificing love—and that I am part of that love.
I need my church to teach me this, so that I may be able to proclaim, in John Donne’s words, “I am to be judged by a merciful God, who is not willing to see what I have done amiss. And though, of myself, I have nothing to present to him but sins and misery; yet, I know he looks not upon me now as I am of myself, but as I am in my Saviour… I am therefore full of joy and shall die in peace.”
You might find a copy at a local used bookstore or at abebooks.com.