Politics vs. Evangelism

This article on changes in the Religious Right is interesting in itself, saying how the old hard-core conservative leaders have either died or are no longer listened to, and how evangelical Christians are now going beyond sex and abortion issues to work also for “compassionate” issues, such as improving the environment and battling AIDS in Africa. The article also raises another issue, though, that Christians are finding that non-Christians’ identifying Christianity with right-wing conservatism, which they hate and fear, has become a major obstacle to evangelism. An excerpt from the article:

Bush’s fall from grace has also highlighted a spiritual reality as evangelicals have begun to sense just how damaging the fusion of Bush and Jesus has been to the perception of our Christian faith.

Beliefnet’s poll revealed that a third of all evangelicals now believe that Christian political activism is “damaging to Christianity.” This isn’t an isolated poll. As Christian pollster David Kinnaman writes, “The number of young people in our culture who now embrace unflattering perspectives about Christians and politics is astounding. Three-quarters of young [non-Christians] and half of young churchgoers describe present-day Christianity as ‘too involved in politics.’ ” Twenty percent of all evangelicals believe that adopting a conservative Christian political agenda has helped destroy the image of Jesus Christ.

For a community of believers such as evangelicals, for whom sharing Jesus’s life-giving message is an essential part of life, this is a shock. It’s evidence of misplaced priorities, of focusing far more on the city of man than on the City of God.

Good point? Or are non-Christians going to hate Christianity no matter what? Should Christians try to be more popular in the name of evangelism? Or is that just more trust in our human efforts at persuasion rather than the power of the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith? One prominent Christian writer has said that Christians should drop anti-abortion activism, since this has become an obstacle to evangelism. How can Christians sort out their spiritual and their earthly missions?

(Hint: Try applying the doctrine of the two kingdoms. How would this work in practice?)

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

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  • Bror Erickson

    As a pastor I try to keep my political views to myself, but sometimes find it appropriate to speak to a certain political issue, but it is always law. Politics is law by definition. Abortion comes up once in a while. But that is a pretty safe issue to bring up. I’m guessing none of the forty or so people that show up here on sunday morning are guilty of it. It still needs to be highlighted everyonce in a while though.
    The only other political issue I’ve ever spoken to is illegal immigration. And that not so much as to tell people how they should vote on the issue. But to remind people that as Christians we are to love. Sorry I know it is a problem. But I absolutely hate to hear what Christians will say about “Mexicans” (as if every Mexican is an illegal immigrant, or that only Mexicans are guilty of immigrating illegally). I don’t care if you do want to build a fence and keep people from coming here illegally. But I do care when I start hearing hateful speech coming from the mouths of Christians.
    My guess though is that there will always be people who hate christianity. If we fell more on the left, the right would hate us. And even being apolitical would get some in a hissy. We shouldn’t forgt that the gospel is offensive. But I was once told by a wise man to make sure it is the Gospel that is offending, and not something else. You know, like yourself or your politics.

  • Bror Erickson

    As a pastor I try to keep my political views to myself, but sometimes find it appropriate to speak to a certain political issue, but it is always law. Politics is law by definition. Abortion comes up once in a while. But that is a pretty safe issue to bring up. I’m guessing none of the forty or so people that show up here on sunday morning are guilty of it. It still needs to be highlighted everyonce in a while though.
    The only other political issue I’ve ever spoken to is illegal immigration. And that not so much as to tell people how they should vote on the issue. But to remind people that as Christians we are to love. Sorry I know it is a problem. But I absolutely hate to hear what Christians will say about “Mexicans” (as if every Mexican is an illegal immigrant, or that only Mexicans are guilty of immigrating illegally). I don’t care if you do want to build a fence and keep people from coming here illegally. But I do care when I start hearing hateful speech coming from the mouths of Christians.
    My guess though is that there will always be people who hate christianity. If we fell more on the left, the right would hate us. And even being apolitical would get some in a hissy. We shouldn’t forgt that the gospel is offensive. But I was once told by a wise man to make sure it is the Gospel that is offending, and not something else. You know, like yourself or your politics.

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  • Manxman

    SOMEBODY’s values are going to be embodied by laws and government policy. If you’re a Christian who claims to believe in the Bible and believe that people are oppressed and their lives are destroyed when Biblical standards of morality are adopted and enforced by government, then there is something the matter with you.

    Americans today, since they are largely the product of an educational system hostile to Biblical Christianity and fixed moral standards, hate authority and blieve that personal freedom somehow trumps God’s standards of right and wrong. They expect our system of laws and government to be like the indulgent parent who lets his bratty kids run roughshod over everyone else by refusing to set proper standards of discipline. I’ve got news for you. Allowing the kids to run wild is NOT being compassionate, either for the kids or for the people whose lives are impacted by them.

    When so-called right-wing Christian conservatives work for government, especially one as pervasive as ours is, to set Biblical limits on behavior in its policies, they ARE being compassionate and Christlike. Properly exercised governmental authority is intended to be a blessing of God. The reason it isn’t seen as such today, even by many Christian evangelicals, is that they have been corrupted by the Spirit of the Age and understand neither what true compassion consists of or what Jesus was really like.

  • Manxman

    SOMEBODY’s values are going to be embodied by laws and government policy. If you’re a Christian who claims to believe in the Bible and believe that people are oppressed and their lives are destroyed when Biblical standards of morality are adopted and enforced by government, then there is something the matter with you.

    Americans today, since they are largely the product of an educational system hostile to Biblical Christianity and fixed moral standards, hate authority and blieve that personal freedom somehow trumps God’s standards of right and wrong. They expect our system of laws and government to be like the indulgent parent who lets his bratty kids run roughshod over everyone else by refusing to set proper standards of discipline. I’ve got news for you. Allowing the kids to run wild is NOT being compassionate, either for the kids or for the people whose lives are impacted by them.

    When so-called right-wing Christian conservatives work for government, especially one as pervasive as ours is, to set Biblical limits on behavior in its policies, they ARE being compassionate and Christlike. Properly exercised governmental authority is intended to be a blessing of God. The reason it isn’t seen as such today, even by many Christian evangelicals, is that they have been corrupted by the Spirit of the Age and understand neither what true compassion consists of or what Jesus was really like.

  • kerner

    Manxman:

    I probably have less confidence in the government than you do when it comes to enacting and enforcing Biblical concepts of morality as secular laws. On the other hand, I do believe that a nation’s laws, particularly its criminal laws, tend to reflect that nation’s morals.

    We can agree that much of the law of the land (prohibition against murder, stealing, etc.) is derived from God’s law. As for what should be subject to the law of the land, but is not: abortion is a bloody offense against an innocent child. What other offenses against God’s law do you think the law of the land should prohibit? Is there some limit to the worldly government’s ability to enforce God’s law (how do we enforce the law against coveting, for example) that you would accept, and how would we decide which kind of offense is on which side of the limit?

  • kerner

    Manxman:

    I probably have less confidence in the government than you do when it comes to enacting and enforcing Biblical concepts of morality as secular laws. On the other hand, I do believe that a nation’s laws, particularly its criminal laws, tend to reflect that nation’s morals.

    We can agree that much of the law of the land (prohibition against murder, stealing, etc.) is derived from God’s law. As for what should be subject to the law of the land, but is not: abortion is a bloody offense against an innocent child. What other offenses against God’s law do you think the law of the land should prohibit? Is there some limit to the worldly government’s ability to enforce God’s law (how do we enforce the law against coveting, for example) that you would accept, and how would we decide which kind of offense is on which side of the limit?

  • S Bauer

    For me, this, as well as many other two kingdom distinctions, is a complex matter that has a lot of room for “dialog.” Perhaps “leave your politics out of religious discussions and your religion out of political discussions” is a good rule of thumb, but, like all rules of thumb (all rule of thumbs?), one has to be aware of its limitations, unless one wants to take the easy way out by saying religion and public life have absolutely nothing to do with each other.
    In general, I would say that there Christians are given two roles to fulfill in the public square. One is a prophetic role in which Christians proclaim the judgment of God in a way that hits *everyone*, even Christians in how they live their lives, square in the eye. In this role no political prescription whatsoever is given as the solution. The only response is repentance.
    The other role that the Christian has is that of citizen. Here, even if a Christian’s motivation for taking a particular political stand arises completely out of his or her faith, the arguments put forward should arise from, and be centered in, what is best for the common good and a healthy society. Bringing God in might cut a lot of corners in making your case and make it easier for you to build an argument that satisfies you, but the citizens you are trying to persuade to support your position will feel their fundamental concerns are being swept under the rug. We have to be willing to accept that the public square is full of grey areas and compromises. This, coupled with rerouting all the attention, time, and money spent on political organizing and influence toward actually doing something ourselves about alleviating the conditions that give rise to our concerns, would go a long way in helping people outside the church to distinguish between the message and purpose of the church and the political positions that its members take as citizens.
    Although we Christians don’t perceive things this way, those outside the church perceive Christians to be part of the dominant culture who are none-the-less losing their grip on power. A lot of the positions and actions Christians are taking in the public square are seen as blatant attempts to retain political, public control and not as arising out of any spiritual or evangelical (in the Lutheran sense of the word) concern.

  • S Bauer

    For me, this, as well as many other two kingdom distinctions, is a complex matter that has a lot of room for “dialog.” Perhaps “leave your politics out of religious discussions and your religion out of political discussions” is a good rule of thumb, but, like all rules of thumb (all rule of thumbs?), one has to be aware of its limitations, unless one wants to take the easy way out by saying religion and public life have absolutely nothing to do with each other.
    In general, I would say that there Christians are given two roles to fulfill in the public square. One is a prophetic role in which Christians proclaim the judgment of God in a way that hits *everyone*, even Christians in how they live their lives, square in the eye. In this role no political prescription whatsoever is given as the solution. The only response is repentance.
    The other role that the Christian has is that of citizen. Here, even if a Christian’s motivation for taking a particular political stand arises completely out of his or her faith, the arguments put forward should arise from, and be centered in, what is best for the common good and a healthy society. Bringing God in might cut a lot of corners in making your case and make it easier for you to build an argument that satisfies you, but the citizens you are trying to persuade to support your position will feel their fundamental concerns are being swept under the rug. We have to be willing to accept that the public square is full of grey areas and compromises. This, coupled with rerouting all the attention, time, and money spent on political organizing and influence toward actually doing something ourselves about alleviating the conditions that give rise to our concerns, would go a long way in helping people outside the church to distinguish between the message and purpose of the church and the political positions that its members take as citizens.
    Although we Christians don’t perceive things this way, those outside the church perceive Christians to be part of the dominant culture who are none-the-less losing their grip on power. A lot of the positions and actions Christians are taking in the public square are seen as blatant attempts to retain political, public control and not as arising out of any spiritual or evangelical (in the Lutheran sense of the word) concern.

  • Manxman

    kerner,

    The bottom line for the Christian in every phase of life, including the political arena, is “What do I have to DO to exercise God’s love toward people?” This “evangelism” vs. “politics” thing isn’t either/or – it is both/and. We have been blessed by God here in America with political freedom, and using that political freedom to leaven our government’s laws and policies is one concrete way we can demonstrate love for other people. And, since government intrudes these days into every aspect of people’s lives, when we get involved in governmental issues, we can have HUGE positive effects on very down-to-earth and practical things.

    It’s not that I have a lot of faith in government, it’s that I see that if we sit back and cede that area of life to the Enemy, then he will use it to drive people’s lives into the gound in every way. It is NOT loving to hand government over to Satan and the secularists.

    However, I HAVE seen what a difference only one Christian person can make when they get involved. Let me give you an example. We were home schoolers, and in the ’90′s we were so concerned about educational “reform” being proposed in our state, that my wife ran for & was elected to the local school board so we could force the Ohio educrats to give us the info we needed on what they were up to.

    The district was in financial shambles and lacked credibility because of inefficient overspending & the expensive buyout of an alcoholic superintendent. When my wife got to the board, she took a hard, Biblical line on financial issues working well with the other board members , and by the time she left 8 years later, the district was running at a surplus of a couple million dollars. She also was involved in curriculum issues, and personnel issues, and was an advocate for other home schoolers in the district. She really made a difference for everyone in the community who had kids in the schools or who supported the district with their taxes. And, though her efforts seldom had to do with overtly “Christian” issues, they were nonetheless guided by Christian principles of integrity and fiscal responsibility. Her bringing order into that situation was political love being exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.

  • Manxman

    kerner,

    The bottom line for the Christian in every phase of life, including the political arena, is “What do I have to DO to exercise God’s love toward people?” This “evangelism” vs. “politics” thing isn’t either/or – it is both/and. We have been blessed by God here in America with political freedom, and using that political freedom to leaven our government’s laws and policies is one concrete way we can demonstrate love for other people. And, since government intrudes these days into every aspect of people’s lives, when we get involved in governmental issues, we can have HUGE positive effects on very down-to-earth and practical things.

    It’s not that I have a lot of faith in government, it’s that I see that if we sit back and cede that area of life to the Enemy, then he will use it to drive people’s lives into the gound in every way. It is NOT loving to hand government over to Satan and the secularists.

    However, I HAVE seen what a difference only one Christian person can make when they get involved. Let me give you an example. We were home schoolers, and in the ’90′s we were so concerned about educational “reform” being proposed in our state, that my wife ran for & was elected to the local school board so we could force the Ohio educrats to give us the info we needed on what they were up to.

    The district was in financial shambles and lacked credibility because of inefficient overspending & the expensive buyout of an alcoholic superintendent. When my wife got to the board, she took a hard, Biblical line on financial issues working well with the other board members , and by the time she left 8 years later, the district was running at a surplus of a couple million dollars. She also was involved in curriculum issues, and personnel issues, and was an advocate for other home schoolers in the district. She really made a difference for everyone in the community who had kids in the schools or who supported the district with their taxes. And, though her efforts seldom had to do with overtly “Christian” issues, they were nonetheless guided by Christian principles of integrity and fiscal responsibility. Her bringing order into that situation was political love being exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.

  • allen

    What S Bauer said, about the arguments we should put forward.

    If we can’t explain things in a way that seems good to a fair-minded Atheist, we’re not trying hard enough. All truth is God’s truth. I read somewhere that we Lutherans are supposed to be good at discerning unintended consequences unforeseen by others. I don’t know if that’s really true. I hope so.

  • allen

    What S Bauer said, about the arguments we should put forward.

    If we can’t explain things in a way that seems good to a fair-minded Atheist, we’re not trying hard enough. All truth is God’s truth. I read somewhere that we Lutherans are supposed to be good at discerning unintended consequences unforeseen by others. I don’t know if that’s really true. I hope so.

  • Don S

    This is an article where you need to “consider the source”. David Kuo is a liberal evangelical Christian, with a decided agenda. The pastors he cites, Rick Warren, Greg Boyd, and the new pastor at New Life Church, are all affiliated with NAE (National Association of Evangelicals), which is a relatively liberal evangelical Christian group. Greg Boyd is, I believe, affiliated with the emergent church movement. So Kuo is engaged in picking and choosing sources that will support his viewpoint that things in the evangelical community are moving his way.

    I liked what Manxman said above — we can’t simply cede the political world to Satan. We live in this world, and God has given us a great gift in placing us in a great country affording individuals such a unique and wonderful gift of freedom of religion. We have an obligation to protect that gift for future generations, which requires us to be engaged.

    My own experience, growing up as an evangelical Christian attending an evangelical Christian college in the late 1970′s, tells me that it is nothing new for young evangelical Christians to hold some liberal political views, due to inexperience and idealism. I remember being enamored with Ron Sider and his book “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger”, as he was touring campuses at that time. He was an ardent advocate for social justice, and I was on board with that. The soaring rhetoric of a Barack Obama and his stated concern for the poor and oppressed should appeal to any Christian, particularly the young. We go through a learning process as we gain experience in the world, and most of us quickly realize that the government solutions which are promoted by people like Barack Obama (and, to a lesser extend, Ron Sider, whom I still deeply respect) are never going to address the issues that Jesus truly cared about.

    These things are cyclical and there is a lot of “Bush fatigue” right now. I have faith in our Christian young people, and particularly in the rising generation of homeschoolers, whom I am certain will take their place as conservative Christian leaders in our great land.

  • Don S

    This is an article where you need to “consider the source”. David Kuo is a liberal evangelical Christian, with a decided agenda. The pastors he cites, Rick Warren, Greg Boyd, and the new pastor at New Life Church, are all affiliated with NAE (National Association of Evangelicals), which is a relatively liberal evangelical Christian group. Greg Boyd is, I believe, affiliated with the emergent church movement. So Kuo is engaged in picking and choosing sources that will support his viewpoint that things in the evangelical community are moving his way.

    I liked what Manxman said above — we can’t simply cede the political world to Satan. We live in this world, and God has given us a great gift in placing us in a great country affording individuals such a unique and wonderful gift of freedom of religion. We have an obligation to protect that gift for future generations, which requires us to be engaged.

    My own experience, growing up as an evangelical Christian attending an evangelical Christian college in the late 1970′s, tells me that it is nothing new for young evangelical Christians to hold some liberal political views, due to inexperience and idealism. I remember being enamored with Ron Sider and his book “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger”, as he was touring campuses at that time. He was an ardent advocate for social justice, and I was on board with that. The soaring rhetoric of a Barack Obama and his stated concern for the poor and oppressed should appeal to any Christian, particularly the young. We go through a learning process as we gain experience in the world, and most of us quickly realize that the government solutions which are promoted by people like Barack Obama (and, to a lesser extend, Ron Sider, whom I still deeply respect) are never going to address the issues that Jesus truly cared about.

    These things are cyclical and there is a lot of “Bush fatigue” right now. I have faith in our Christian young people, and particularly in the rising generation of homeschoolers, whom I am certain will take their place as conservative Christian leaders in our great land.

  • kerner

    Wow!

    Mrs. Manxman sounds like a very good example for Christians who are interested in public service. Please tell her “Attagirl” from me. I hope more Christians get involved in similar ways.

  • kerner

    Wow!

    Mrs. Manxman sounds like a very good example for Christians who are interested in public service. Please tell her “Attagirl” from me. I hope more Christians get involved in similar ways.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    We ought to be careful about taking our lead from polls–shouldn’t Clinton 1 have cured us of that? Personally, I know for a fact that the prophets weren’t terribly popular among kings, tax collectors, rapacious soldiers, and such. I seem to remember the stories of Isaiah’s vivisection and John’s murder.

    I think that where these stats are coming from has little to do with David Kuo’s bias. Rather, I think it’s simply youth, combined with churches that fail to remind congregants that when we present the law to convict people of sin, we’re not going to be popular with those so confronted.

    Now if we have clear evidence of neglecting the rest of the Gospel, let’s have it, but such a survey is fundamentally naive, I think.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    We ought to be careful about taking our lead from polls–shouldn’t Clinton 1 have cured us of that? Personally, I know for a fact that the prophets weren’t terribly popular among kings, tax collectors, rapacious soldiers, and such. I seem to remember the stories of Isaiah’s vivisection and John’s murder.

    I think that where these stats are coming from has little to do with David Kuo’s bias. Rather, I think it’s simply youth, combined with churches that fail to remind congregants that when we present the law to convict people of sin, we’re not going to be popular with those so confronted.

    Now if we have clear evidence of neglecting the rest of the Gospel, let’s have it, but such a survey is fundamentally naive, I think.

  • Norman Teigen

    This exchange of opinion is proof enough that you have one of the best blogs around.

    As a conservative Lutheran Christian I can state that our American system is based on man-made law and not God-made law. For proof that this system is best, look at history. Look at the history of European countries who had all kinds of religious tests in place and the suffering that those systems had for individual consciences

    What a mess of things those places made of individual beliefs and it is no wonder that the Enlightenment political theorists were able to sweep away all of that foolishness.

    An enthusiast wants a Christian to take his faith into the society and re-make it according to God’s way of order. The problem is that we live in the here-and-now and cannot adequately cross examine those enthusiasts who want to make the society over into that image.

    The Lutheran Confessions are very clear on this issue, I think. There are two kingdoms. Article XXVIII of the Augsburg Confession is still relevant.

    Norman Teigen
    ELS layman

  • Norman Teigen

    This exchange of opinion is proof enough that you have one of the best blogs around.

    As a conservative Lutheran Christian I can state that our American system is based on man-made law and not God-made law. For proof that this system is best, look at history. Look at the history of European countries who had all kinds of religious tests in place and the suffering that those systems had for individual consciences

    What a mess of things those places made of individual beliefs and it is no wonder that the Enlightenment political theorists were able to sweep away all of that foolishness.

    An enthusiast wants a Christian to take his faith into the society and re-make it according to God’s way of order. The problem is that we live in the here-and-now and cannot adequately cross examine those enthusiasts who want to make the society over into that image.

    The Lutheran Confessions are very clear on this issue, I think. There are two kingdoms. Article XXVIII of the Augsburg Confession is still relevant.

    Norman Teigen
    ELS layman


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