By Gayle L. Gresham
Joe Wright, Marshall Hayden, and Russell Johnson have chosen, each in his own way, to take a stand in social and political causes affecting their communities and states. Today they speak openly of their involvement, the reaction of their churches and communities, and offer advice for others seeking to engage socially and politically.
Central Christian Church, Wichita, Kansas
“Jesus gives us the Great Commission to take the gospel into all the world,” says Joe Wright. “He also challenges us with another commission to be ‘salt and light’ in our world. If the church is not going to be the conscience of the community, then who will be?”
Wright takes seriously his commission to be salt and light. Nationally known for his prayer of invocation before the Kansas Legislature in 1996, Wright has engaged in battles against abortion, pornography, gambling, and same-sex marriage. In 2004, Wright helped lead the state of Kansas in uniting evangelical churches to amend the state constitution to protect traditional marriage as being between one man and one woman. Through their efforts, more than 40 liberal and moderate candidates in Kansas lost to conservatives in the 2004 elections.
This swing allowed voters the chance to approve the amendment in the 2005 elections. Wright explains, “It was a strong amendment and a constant uphill battle to get before the people for a vote. However, even in an off-year election, we won by almost a 71 percent majority.”
Standing for what is right comes with risks. Wright received physical threats and bomb threats while campaigning for the marriage amendment. Another church was even set on fire. “We have been on the ‘front line’ in some very volatile situations where emotions have been high. However we have stood our ground,” says Wright. “We have done so in the spirit of Christ. We have loved the unlovely and have reached across the aisle to people in all walks of spiritual life. Even those who are totally closed to the gospel have, at times, been reached through our compassion and genuine concern for the family and children.”
Wright’s public stance on the issues has not been supported by everyone at Central Christian Church. “Frankly,” Wright says, “it has cost us some members. Yet, we feel because God has called the church to be active in these areas, he has richly blessed us. New people have joined our fellowship because they want to be in a church that takes a stand for righteousness in this dark and uncertain world.”
When asked what he would do differently, Wright replies, “I would try to have more articles published in the paper explaining our position before having it explained for us by those who would mislead the people in our community.”
He adds, “I would start sooner and try to get even more people involved throughout the Christian community.”
Wright believes the Christians of this country are in a battle for the future generations of children. “We are raising young people who do not know the difference between right and wrong. Everything is gray. If the church doesn’t stand up and be the church rather than just hold church, we will be totally engulfed in the darkness that is all around us.”
He continues, “Christians must wake up and the church must wake up as a whole! I would advise every leader in the church to get involved before it is too late to do something about the evil we see prevailing all around us. It’s not yet too late, but the window of opportunity is diminishing. One day it will be too late.”
Worthington (Ohio) Christian Church
Marshall Hayden is quick to point out, “I have determined not to be involved in political causes.”
He explains, “My wife and I have attended events where Christians have talked about their commitments and the issues that drive their involvement. As I listened to the speakers, I found myself in near-total agreement with their positions, but all along I have been a bit uneasy about that participation. My personal sociopolitical views seem to be in a significantly different category from my role as a spokesman for Christ, from inspired biblical direction and the faith of the church.”
While Hayden has chosen not to enter into statewide or national covenants designed to rally ministers and churches behind a platform, he has not hesitated to speak out on issues he believes deal with clear biblical principles.
“I have chosen to be involved in opposing the kind of thing that I have watched destroy marriages and families. I have become involved in matters that have clear biblical backing—opposition to pornography that poisons the hearts of men and issues pressed by homosexual activists.”
Hayden is actively involved in working with citizen organizations that are closing down sexually oriented businesses in the Worthington community. These groups have successfully shut down an adult bookstore and a dance club.
Currently, Hayden is the president of PURE (People United for the Right Environment), a group of county officials, ministers, and community activists working together to oppose a “sophisticated” sexually oriented establishment that is trying to locate within a half-mile of the Worthington Christian Church, near a family residential community and school.
Hayden also spoke up for Issue 1, the marriage amendment in Ohio. “I got involved making public statements relating to the marriage issue because it was a timely opportunity to stop the dangerous slide in our society toward a sexuality that is clearly ungodly as defined by Scripture. If Christians had not spoken up, the vocal minority could have imposed its way on the whole country,” says Hayden.
Hayden offers this advice for Christians: “I would urge individual Christians to support healthy and godly things in their communities and to oppose unhealthy and ungodly things by joining community groups that do that, writing and calling officials, using the newspapers, and forming support groups when that seems like the right thing to do. One person who speaks up counts for a hundred who remain quiet.
“I would also urge them not to apply pressure on the church and their ministers to take stands that are political, unless those things are clearly biblically mandated,” he adds.
Fairfield Christian Church, Lancaster, Ohio
Russell Johnson tells the story of the trains traveling through Germany on their way to Auschwitz. Jewish people were packed into the railroad cars like cattle. When they went past the churches, thousands of people cried out for help.
The people in the churches became so upset when the trains went by they began a religious routine. When the tracks began to rattle and they knew the train was coming, the pianist would get up, even in the middle of a sermon, to play. The preacher would ask the congregation to stand and sing songs so they wouldn’t hear the cries of those on the trains.
“I believe when we see a culture becoming increasingly antagonistic to faith, and unborn children are making their way towards the Auschwitz of today, we can’t stand and sing one more song without being held responsible,” says Johnson.
Johnson is chairman of the Ohio Restoration Project, an organization to inform, equip, and mobilize Christians in Ohio on political issues. Pastors involved agree to the “Pray, Serve, and Engage covenant,” requesting that each one sign up 100 intercessors to join an e-network of prayer, recruit 200 volunteers to be equipped to work, and register 300 new voters. Johnson says there are now 410,000 families on their mailing list and 1,772 churches in the state involved in Pray, Serve, and Engage.
Johnson and his church have been involved socially and politically for 20 years. In 1986, the people of Fairfield joined with people from other churches to form the Fairfield Family Association. Johnson says, “We were involved in Pray and Walk, Meet and Greet, Stand and Shine. At the end of the day godly leaders came to the surface, later ran for office, and were elected.”
The churches and leaders worked together to bring an end to the corruption in local politics. “Our former sheriff was indicted on more than 300 counts and is in prison today. Our former county judge is in federal prison. And both of these men were Republicans. In their places are godly leaders. The new sheriff is one of our elders, and the new county judge shares in a leadership breakfast Bible study with me on Fridays.”
Like Joe Wright, Johnson says some members have left over the church’s strong stance. “The vast majority of the folks have been supportive. But there are those church members who found that their primary allegiance was to their teacher’s union, political party, or had some private vested interest.”
Johnson concludes, “The hinges of history are turning on our watch. We don’t have the luxury to allow secularists to define this nation to one more generation. America is at the threshold of losing her heritage to homosexual activists, secular educators, and to many in the media who have a pagan agenda.”
Gayle Gresham is a member and worker at Elbert (Colorado) Christian Church. Learn more about her writing ministry at www.GayleGresham.com.