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Politics in 

the Churches of Christ


The Restoration Movement, from the start, was concerned with the work, worship and organization of the local congregation--not social issues. The only social issues were personal holiness issues (part of theHoliness Movement started by John and Charles Wesley in the Church of England). The Holiness Movement was continued in the United States by the formation of the Methodist Church (from Wesley) and the Pentecostal Movement (from the Methodist Church). Thus a 1970s rule on the Florida College campus was: No holding hands (to discourage lust between members of the opposite sex). But no rule existed against racial discrimination.

Social issues were left to religious movements such as the Quakers who actively participated in the Underground Railroad to help slaces escape, and who also helped to reform the penal system. The Shakers formed communal farms where the homeless could come and work in a communal setting. The Salvation Army worked to stamp out alcohol abuse and to feed the poor.

When the Quakers were calling for the abolition of slavery, Thomas and Alexander Campbell also opposed slavery (1830-1860). Having owned a few slaves, they educated them and gradually freed them. They spoke out and wrote against slavery, especially the abuses of slavery. But the Restoration Movement split in 1864 between the north and south, the north becoming the Christian Church, and the south becoming the Churches of Christ.

Outside the Restoration Movement the Southern Baptist Church was established after the Civil War in part because they did not want to be a part of the northern Baptists (American Baptist Churches) who opposed slavery and supported integration.

As Churches of Christ in the 1950s joined the social movement to help the poor (the social gospel), para-church organizations formed to administer these charity movements. There was still a significant group in the Churches of Christ who saw both the social gospel and the para-church ministries as compromises of the central reason for the Church of Christ: to be anti-hierarchical and anti-denominational in structure, thus the split between the majority and the non-institutional wings occurred.

"Many denominations got caught up in the national debate of the 1850s-70s over the nature of America's political union, slavery and anti-slavery, the War Between the States, and the reconstruction era. In the meantime, true churches of Christ kept preaching the gospel and saving souls as God ordained. They had no social agenda, no poverty program, no colleges, and no political platform. They preached Christ to rich and poor, high and low, male and female, free and slave, Northerner and Southerner, Easterner and Westerner." --Ron Holbrook, Truth Magazine, 1991

My parents told me that during the 1960s it was the custom that if a black family came into a white Church of Christ, one of the deacons would whisper to them the address of the black Church of Christ across town, so that they could leave and be more comfortable there. The black family always got up and left.

Bootstrap Politics

In the hard line Churches of Christ there is an emphasis on each person having a fair shot at heaven, and a partially works-oriented salvation-- a distinctly bootstrap American frontier attitude: loading up the wagon, moving west, establishing one's own independent farm that depended on one's own hard work, no-one else's. This attitude was influential in the Churches of Christ because their theology was formed when they first started gathering in 1790-1810. Even though the settling of the United States ended about 1890, the attitude continued into the industrial age in the idea of American entrepreneurship. 

This "pulling oneself up by one's own bootstraps" idea lives on today in the attitude that any American has the ability to build wealth, and once he/she has built that wealth, they have the right to keep it from the government's greedy hands. Americans tend to believe we are all born equal at the starting line of a success race, and anyone who falls behind in that race has fallen behind because of laziness or selfishness. 

Thus the majority of people in the Churches of Christ (along with evangelicals and fundamentalists) have voted Republican or to the right of Republicanism (some vote Libertarian). 

People in the hard line Churches of Christ have usually ignored social problems, viewing life from an individualistic point of view. Through the years members of Churches of Christ would have endorsed the majority viewpoints that Indians were untrustworthy, dishonest and dangerous; black people were lazy, impulsive and ignorant; communists were the greatest threat to freedom; communists were conspiracists and plotters; unions were hotbeds of communism; anti-war protesters were cowards; welfare recipients were lazy, impulsive and manipulative. People in hard line Churches of Christ endorse flying the flag on holidays, serving in the military, and supporting the wars the US wages. The majority of people in hard line Churches of Christ have been blue collar workers, less educated, less wealthy, lower middle class, and have not seen themselves as having any political power, so politics has not been a particularly important topic to them as long as they have jobs and security. 

A book on the 11 nations that make up the United States explains where some of these attitudes came from: 

According to this map by Colin Woodard, the Churches of Christ, especially the hard line Churches of Christ, are located primarily in the Deep South and Greater Appalachia. The Deep South, according to Colin Woodard, is where attitudes of acceptance of the order of things, and no personal empowerment to change them exists, having started with plantation owners from Barbados in the 1700s. Greater Appalachia is the area of the country that was settled by immigrants from war torn areas in the British isles, who developed independence, stubbornness and pugnaciousness as a result of having to resist persecution in the British isles for so long. Hard line Churches of Christ have Greater Appalachian attitudes: a stubborn readiness to fight, an independent resistance to denominational oversight, a bootstrap attitude toward salvation, and a stubborn pride in being right.

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For more on Race Relations in the Church of Christ click here.











James wrote about the danger of this attitude. 






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