Some Thoughts on Politics, Partisanship and Christian Witness

As the GOP end their convention in Tampa and the Democrats get ready to gear up in Charlotte next week, I have a few thoughts about Christians and politics:

We really take ourselves way to seriously.  There was a time in my life when I happened to be far more vocal on where I lean politically. I still have a political blog,, but I don’t blog there as much as I used to. Politics is still important and needed, but I tend to think it is not the main thing in life- serving God is. We may make too much about political life in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, but I do think there was something to the fact that politicos would debate the issues of the day with conviction and then meet over a drink or have dinner with someone of the opposing party. Maybe they knew that politics wasn’t the end-all and be-all; maybe they knew that how we treated each other was more important than having the correct belief. I think today we have made politics so serious that we really can’t laugh anymore. Everything is a do-or-die issue. Instead of breaking bread together, we stay in our ideological silos only talking to like-minded folks and deeming the other side as evil. Politics has become the rule by which we determine who is good and who is bad.

Pastors (and other church leaders) should watch what they say. I’ve been amazed at the venom coming from my fellow pastors this week. No doubt, there will be the same kind of invectives spewed by conservative pastors, but since I don’t live in that world anymore, I focus on what I see within Mainline Protestantism. Yes, pastors can and should share their opinions on the issues of the day.  I’m not arguing that we never say anything that is political, but I am worried about how mean spirited we are to those who are not of the same political party.  In this case, I saw a lot of pastors and other church leaders who are Democrats say some pretty nasty things about Republicans.  Many of those pastor might be patting themselves on the back for their “prophetic” words.  But there are two problems here.  First, bad mouthing someone from another political party is not necessarily prophetic.  Sometimes Christians, liberal and conservative, fool themselves into think what they are saying is line with the prophets of old, when in reality it’s basically a partisan jab.

The second problem is kind of related to this age of social media.  Because we tend to have friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter who share the same viewpoints we do, it’s easy to say something snarky that will impress your like-minded group.  But what if others are looking at your social media page?  What if someone hears you say something partisan and feels they can’t come to your church?  And what about the fact that there are people who go to your church that don’t share the same views you do? Will they feel welcomed?  Will they be less willing to trust you and maybe less willing to trust God?

There is nothing sinful in being a Democrat or a Republican. The minute we start deciding holiness based not on God’s love through Jesus, but on having a “D” or an “R” next to our name is when we distort what it means to be a Christian, and it ultimately hurts the church as a whole.

Fellow Disciple Doug Skinner shares this passage from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Studies in the Sermon on the Mount and then adds a few words of his own:

 The primary task of the church is to evangelize and to preach the Gospel.                   

 …If the Christian Church today spends most of her time in denouncing communism (remember it was the late 1950’s and early 1960’s when he wrote), then it seems to me that the main result will be that communists will not be likely to listen to the preaching of the Gospel (insert “Republicans” or “Democrats” depending on your political judgments where he referenced “Communists”). If the church is always denouncing one particular section of society, she is shutting the evangelistic door upon that section.  If we take the New Testament view of these matters then we must believe that the communist has a soul to be saved in exactly the same way as everybody else.  It is my business as a preacher of the Gospel and a representative of the Church to evangelize all kinds and conditions and classes of men and women.  The moment the Church begins to intervene in these political, social and economic matters, therefore, she is hampering and hindering herself in her God-appointed task of evangelism …Let the individual play his or her part  as a citizen, and belong to any political party that he or she may choose.  That is something for the individual to decide.  The Church is not concerned as a Church about these things.  Our business is to preach the Gospel and to bring the message of salvation to all.  And, thank God, Communists (and Republicans, and Democrats) can be converted and can be saved.  The Church is to be concerned about sin in all its manifestations, and sin can be as terrible in a capitalist as in a communist (or in a Republican as in a Democrat); it can be as terrible in a rich man as in a poor man; it can manifest itself in all classes and in all types and in all groups. (135)

 Of course, this entire argument turns on the presupposition that, “the primary task of the church is to evangelize and to preach the Gospel.”  And this, in my opinion, is the real crisis in the church today.  There is simply no need for the church “to evangelize and preach the Gospel” if Jesus Christ is not the Savior and the world does not need saving, and these are the very convictions of historic Christianity that are most directly challenged by the pervasive pluralism and relativism of our day.  Pluralism reduces Jesus Christ to one spiritual teacher among many, not the only name under heaven by which people can be saved (Acts 4:12).  And relativism levels the moral playing field leaving us without clarity about what’s right and what’s wrong, replacing our need for forgiveness with an appeal for more understanding.  And this is where I see pluralism and relativism delivering the church today – the reduction of Jesus Christ to one of the plenary speakers at the Parliament of Religions and the replacement of the Gospel’s message of salvation to a motivational appeal for nice people to be nicer.

It’s my observation that when the church gets out of the salvation business, she invariably finds work in the humanitarian field.   When we quit trying to “fit souls for heaven,” then it is only natural for us to turn our attention to trying to make things better for bodies on earth.  Now, I’m not suggesting here, even for a moment, that Biblical Christianity does not have a humanitarian impulse or that the physical well-being of human beings in this life is not a concern of the Gospel.  What I am saying is that the abandonment of the church’s spiritual mission by Progressive Christians in order to double down on the church’s social mission is as much a distortion of Christianity as the neglect of the church’s social mission by Traditional Christians in their concentration on the church’s spiritual mission alone.

Which leads me to my third observation:
We need to be more heavenly-minded. Like Skinner, I don’t think there anything wrong assisting the least of these. Social justice is an important part of our Christian Witness. But I think a problem with Progressive Christians especially is that we have made social justice virtually the only thing in Christian living. When that happens, it comes as no surprise that the lines between witness and partisan politics become blurred. We start to see candidates less as politicians for a political party than as someone who is on a godly mission.

Like Skinner, I am going to vote this November and I will vote on issues that I think are important in creating a just society. But at the end of the day, whether President Obama gets re-elected or Governor Romney wins, what really matters is not who gets elected as much as how we are living as followers of Christ. When we forget that, we hurt our witness to the world.

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