In the chapter 6 of the book “The Good Society”, Robert Bellah highlights various aspects of the church’s participation in public life. Bellah uses the United Methodist Church to represent the core aspects of Protestantism and highlights how the church models its various aspects to fit religious beliefs and symbols that depict the moral concept of public life. Bellah identifies various features of discontinuity between the functioning of the church as the national level and its impacts on the local congregation. While the major concern for national officials is the church’s outlook on various issues relating to the public life, the local clergy focuses on the spiritual nourishment of the congregation. The local clergy considers this aspect as the primary role within the church. The local clergy concentrates on the congregations’ response to biblical teachings and the integration of such concepts in the welfare of their members. Thus, their engagement in aspects of the “public church” only results from factors that have direct impacts on the local church and its members. The local clergy’s focus on the church’s considerable involvement in affairs at the national level is minimal. They do not consider this as a crucial component of their role within the church.
Bellah illustrates the church’s involvement in public life through its national representatives’ concerns that the liberal churches were gaining more influence over the populace compared to the mainland churches. In this regard, Methodist leaders consider the need for a common social goal among the mainland churches to realize national wide influence (Bellah 192). Bellah views the disparity in the national influence between the conservative and liberal churches as a factor of their diverse views about the church’s roles in matters not specifically linked to the church doctrines. The conservative churches focus largely on an individual’s moral conduct and respect for authority. On the other hand, liberal churches considerably contribute to aspects of civil rights, global peace, improving life by eliminating poverty and environmental conservation. Thus, the narrow scope of the conservative churches limits their influence in various public matters (Bellah 193).
Bellah advises churches to adopt a scope of operation that is beyond the restrictions of national loyalty and a biblical confinement. Despite the legitimacy of the constitution, churches should actively participate in national issues such as criticizing public institutions and negative policies. Although the core role within the church is to nourish the populace spiritually, it is difficult to achieve its objective if various aspects of the congregations’ social and public lives are in jeopardy. Various national matters, although they do not relate directly to the objectives of the church, considerably affect the church. Thus, the church should feel indebted to participate in public matters. In addition, it should encourage its members to participate in national issues since such issues affect them, in one way or another. The lack of an effective link between national church officials and the local clergy and congregation contributes to the weakening of the church’s influence over various aspects that affect individuals’ public lives. While top church officials realize the effects of public institutions and policies on the church’s influence, they have not incorporated measures that highlight the importance concerning such matters to the congregation. When the church loses its national influence, it cannot promote its core objective of spirituality. This is because factors such as the constitution and politics influence most of an individual’s day-to-day life. Although the law defines the state and the church as separate entities, various aspects describe the church as a crucial force in controlling the state’s deliberations. However, in its bid to expand the scope of its roles, the church should retain sobriety and avoid indulging in matters that may create conflicts between the church and state.