Hundreds of pastors congregated in Washington, D.C., this week to discuss America’s increasingly secular culture and what the church’s role should be in casting out its demons.
The mood in the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill alternated between reverence and apprehension, as the Family Research Council hosted its Watchmen on the Wall national convention from Wednesday through Friday.
Sitting at dozens of round tables in a packed-capacity ballroom, some of the pastors in attendance blended in with the D.C. regulars wearing blazers and ties. But most were in colorful blue, purple or yellow button-down shirts that they might have also worn in the pulpit on Sunday.
The veritable pastor boot camp mainly featured influential evangelists and preachers, but also showcased prominent Christians in the spheres of education, politics and the military. Breaks in the action were filled by contemporary Christian music.
Several statesmen addressed the packed ballroom, including Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican who made the 20-minute jaunt from his Capitol Hill office to deliver a lecture that touched on America’s unceasing commitment to personal responsibility and familial life.
“Here’s the good news I’m going to give you from the field: Americans are not obsessed with politics,” Mr. Sasse said. “This town is confused about what the center of life and meaning is, but America is still largely not They know that the most important things in American life aren’t centered in this town.”
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The dichotomy between public and private life was a prominent theme throughout the conference. Indeed, despite his admiration for the autonomous American spirit, Mr. Sasse highlighted this tension when he went on to lament America’s growing political indifference.
“The political disengagement of this moment is really something that we should be much more aware of as a crisis of confidence in this country,” he said.
Jack Hibbs, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel in Chino Hills, California was less wavering in his view that the church needs to become more involved in steering political life. Even if the church wanted to eschew political life, he said, the government would not be content to leave the church alone.
“First of all, let’s settle this right now, there is nothing you do that does not involve politics,” Mr. Hibbs said. “You paid taxes this morning on your breakfast. That’s politics. You drove in your car, you paid for gas, you put your seat belt on because politics is involved.”
“We have to preach the Gospel, empower the people, open the doors of our church and turn ‘em loose, because they’ve got a culture that is constantly hammering them,” he said. “And they’re using culture, using politics, to change lives, to implement a godless worldview and to steal your children and rob your freedom.”
Wes Modder, a Navy chaplain who was nearly terminated for holding the traditional view of marriage as a male-female union, captured the challenge facing not just military chaplains, but all Christians striving to hold onto their private beliefs in public life.
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“Now we have chaplains that are going to have to make a decision,” he said. “Are we going to follow God in all of his precepts?”
The discussion frequently wandered onto hot-button issues, most prominently President Obama’s recent order that public schools nationwide allow bathroom and locker room use on the basis of gender identity, rather than sex, or risk losing federal education funding.
Jason Rowland, the principal of Airline High School in Bossier City, Louisiana, who has been fighting the American Civil Liberties Union about religious expression in his school, encouraged the pastors to take a more active approach to education in their communities. He advocated church leaders consult local schools about whether they will follow Mr. Obama’s precept.
“We need your presence in the public schools — and we may even need you to stand in front of the ladies’ restroom at times,” he said.