During September and October the mega-church is presenting an eight-week series entitled the "Kingdom of God," focusing on Bible foundations as well as denouncing the affiliation between church and state. The first section features the Rev. Greg Boyd, polemic author of The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church.
Recently saddled with the moniker "controversial," Boyd says it was never his intention to ruffle feathers, but he now welcomes the attention as it allows his message to be spread. Boyd originally gained notoriety when he presented a six-week sermon series at Woodland Hills Church, where he is senior pastor. The series, "The Cross and the Sword," resulted in the loss of 1,000 members from his congregation of 5,000.
The catalyst for change occurred just prior to the 2004 elections, when his church was besieged with an unprecedented amount of political pressure to steer the congregation in one direction. Boyd said enough was enough.
"If I'm reading this right and in fact my vision for the kingdom of God is the biblical one, it means that a lot of the churches in America have been seduced into what I call nationalistic idolatry," he says. "We've just gotten confused about what we're supposed to be doing, and we think it's our job as Christians to be outlawing special sin groups rather than serving them -- and that's what I think is catastrophic."
Although Boyd's message might have the rumblings of a liberal, he still holds fast to his beliefs as a conservative evangelical pastor.
He says many Christian conservatives don't interpret the Bible literally enough, inevitably fusing religion to politics in support of violence. To see the negative impact theocracies have had through the ages, he says simply look back in history to see the immense amount of bloodshed in the name of God and Christ.
"I wish more Christians would pay attention to 'Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you,' and you'd be a lot less inclined to jump on a warrior bandwagon and say it's your Christian duty to support the war in Iraq or some nonsense like that," Boyd says.
Addressing Crossroads' audience of about 1,200 during the first lecture, Boyd exuded a casual manner, speaking to the crowd in a worn polo shirt and jeans. He laid out his sermon with all the trappings of college professor infusing humor along the way, a method that seemed to resonate well with the members.
Clare Finney of Newport, a church member for the past 10 years, says she felt invigorated following the first session. She says she didn't allow Boyd's words to simply wash over her but instead interpreted them as a call to arms to go and take action.
"It seems to me we're kind of getting fired up as soldiers, as revolutionaries to go out into this world and spread God's love to other people," Finney says. "This is a call to action -- you're not just listening to a service. This is a call to get up out of your seat and go spread love to other people."
God isn't Republican
For those unable to attend the series, the church will publish copies of Boyd's lectures on its Web site. As far as losing numbers by presenting the series, Matt Chandler, communications director at Crossroads, says the church has alienated some of its members in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
Chandler says Crossroads in no way is telling people not be politically involved but don't expect to get political ideas validated under the heading of religion. He instead says the church is all about self-sacrificial love and understanding the bigger picture.
"People may be offended by some of the things that are said, but we hope people will leave with something to wrestle with," Chandler says. "We just think it's really important for all the church to hear -- and not just people at Crossroads to hear. By that I mean the term 'church' to mean believers everywhere. This is a reminder this is what we're supposed to be about."
Ed Peters, a Crossroads member for the past six years, says he researched Boyd before attending the service. Any time someone delivers a hard message, it's not always well received, especially by those with strong political agendas, according to Peters.
"But even in spite of that, he still reaches out and conveys the truth and sometimes truth isn't going to be well received," Peters says. "It's important to note that the kingdom is not the Republican G.O.P., and I think that's what really upset people that have certain affiliations."
Breaking centuries of religious misuse by the rich or the powerful is not Boyd's ultimate goal. He believes a single man can't accomplish that feat. Instead he hopes to open more people's eyes through his message on how to live their lives and perceive the kingdom of God -- to pick up the cross instead of the sword.
"The kingdom of God transcends the ugliness of partisan politics and the ugliness of national division because the kingdom of God always looks like Jesus hanging on the cross for the very people that crucified him," he says. "And that's the message in a nutshell." ©