Churches and Politics (by PW)

Michelle.jpgI’ve seen a phenomenon in the church. I think it happens often enough to just about anyone in the church, not just pastor’s spouses.

What happens to our unity in Christ when politics are inserted into the relationship?

Scenario 1: Two people who know each other in church are quite good friends in their “church relationship.” At some point, they get to know each other well enough to find out that they do not agree on a political issue within their denomination. Since they got along so well, they just assumed that there were no glaring differences in how they viewed that topic (I’ll try to keep denominational affiliations out of it), so they are shocked at the fact that they disagreed so strongly when this denominational issue arose.

Scenario 2: I know of some black women pastor’s wives in the USA who are finding it extremely heartening to have the ideal of Michelle Obama as a role model for women in the church. I totally see how motivating this could be. There have been a number of “First Lady” role models during my years as a PW. They have changed in style over the years.

However, some PWs today, in sharing this enthusiasm with others, find that their emails mentioning this specific first lady as a role model to other pastor’s wives has offended some who do not have those political affinities at all.

In both scenarios, genuine Christians are enthusiastic and hopeful
about fellowship and change. However, once the political issue comes
into play, good friends find themselves in disagreement. And it
surprises them.

 Kind of sad, but very common. This little predicament is often why someone leaves a church or leaves fellowship with others. It is not often resolved well.

Would this be how it plays out in South Africa or Australia? Europe? Is there a better way to approach these things?


 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • NancyS

    I find it sad that people who would think themselves friends would allow political disagreements to hinder that friendship. I have friends in the church from both ends of the political spectrum. Maybe we can disagree on issues and maintain our friendships because we don’t believe that we have the responsibility convert one another… whatever the issue. We often talk about issues and often agree to disagree and to continue loving each others as brothers and sisters in Christ. I very much appreciate this because having conversations only with those who agree with me seems a bit boring and a hinder to learning.

  • Joe White

    Perhaps these reluctant ladies would have been more willing to see Michelle as a role model for women in the church if she had not taken her children to hear Jeremiah Wright preach each week.
    Maybe that’s not their idea of a role model.
    Why would you assume that all ladies or all blacks would think the same on a given issue?
    Certainly we wouldn’t expect all men or all whites to think the same, would we?

  • Dan Kyles

    I’m often surprised at the raw emotions that come with politics in the US. I remember being remarkably disturbed when I first saw the frenzy of a USA party rally. I cannot imagine being in a state of such passion or devotion to a merely political group.
    In New Zealand we are much more relaxed about it, unfortunately it is almost to the extent of apathy. It has been very educational to observe the interplay of american church and american politics!

  • CJW

    @3 Dan Kyles – hi across the ditch! As an Aussie, I, too am somewhat befuddled by American politics. Like much American religion, it seems to be both more private and more public than what I am used to here. I would offer two observations that may go part way in explaining the phenomenon and its contradictory character:
    1. American culture generally and politics specifically is far more conservative. The ‘center’ in the US is much to the right of the ‘centre’ in Oz & NZ (Hence my bemusement when our conservatives align with US conservatives; their actual policies are much closer to those of US moderates/progressives, but their posturing and political strategy is what they have in common.) Perhaps this
    2. American culture generally and politics specifically is far more market-oriented. So while race and class remain issues (even to an extent not experienced here), these are overshadowed by the identity one has a consumer. Political parties, rather than being social institutions are primarily brand names, and the ‘brand’ one wears determines one’s identity.
    These both concern me, but especially the second. (Briefly, then, on the first: the core message of Christ’s death and resurrection, and the call to repentance is about change. I know the word has become sloganised, but it’s still accurate that Jesus did not come to conserve but to challenge the status quo.)
    On the second, even putting aside the notion that the public good can or should be evaluated by non-economic criteria, there remains the significant issue of identity. The constaint refrain of Paul and other NT authors, indeed the imagery associated with our very baptism/immerision is that of our (ie: collective) identity now being in Christ. For one to be identified with Christ, is to relinquish or at least make relative the other identifiers that separate us from our brothers and sisters in Christ.
    So, on a practical level: I have Christian friends more liberal and more conservative than me. It’s hard work, but I try to learn from them and ensure that my politics serves my discipleship, and not the other way around. I trust that they have the same aim, because they continue to value what we have in common in Christ over what we don’t in politics.
    (Apologies for the long comment on a relatively short post.)

  • http://communityofjesus.blogspot.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    I am thankful to be a part of a church where politics does not figure into our unity. We strongly disagree on it, but it is the Spirit of God, and the love of God in Jesus which binds us together, and if anything is stronger in the midst of any differences.
    That really is my experience at my church.
    One lady who was in my homegroup when I led one; we dearly love each other in Jesus (she is a loving person for everyone; nothing questionable going on-:), but we are sharply divided in our political beliefs and have expressed our convictions to each other without backing down at all. But the love and care for each other is unflagging and unwavering. What a blessing! And that’s really the atmosphere in our church.
    Because our unity is not at all in this world’s politics, but in God through Christ and by the Spirit.

  • Ted M. Gossard

    I should say, we MAY strongly disagree on it. To tell you the truth, though I catch wind enough during elections to know others might be a bit more conservative politically than I am, it really is not a topic discussed, and wisely so. Except among good friends, I’d imagine.

  • Dru

    Christianity is politics. Christians are a “polis”. The Gospel challenges all other versions of “the good life”. So part of our problem, I think, is that we see our faith as “religion”, and so think that we all have different “politics”. I don’t know, but I wonder if we could go deeper in understanding the politics of Jesus. And then find ourselves more unified in addressing the gospels of Democrats and Republicans here in the U.S.

  • Mark

    You can see the effects of allowing politics in church today.Churches are allowing outside influences to determine how they operate,what they teach and what they believe is acceptable.We now have millions of people that assume you can get to heaven simply by doing good deeds,ministers are sugar-coating the gospel so as not to “offend” anyone.This is a dangerous practice and a big reason why society is in a free for all.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    Sometimes I think the sport of Group-think is the number one hobby of us as evangelicals.
    I said something recently in a different thread on JesusCreed about the warfare mentality. There are many metaphors in the NT: bride, building, farmer, teacher, sons, brothers and sisters, body, walk, etc. But first and foremost, many people think through the metaphor of soldier. In a battle, I need to know who I can count on and who is going to shoot at me. If you are not with me, I cannot trust you; perhaps you are already a casualty of war.
    If we thought more about relationship and the fruit of the Spirit instead of primarily being soldiers, perhaps the focus could be more positive and the relationships more constructive.

  • Robyn

    What usually happens with me is that I am perfectly happy to agree to disagree, but the other party is so emotionally invested in their issue (abortion, gay marriage, whatever) that they simply cannot. If I try to have a reasoned discussion, it devolves to, “How can you call yourself a Christian?” even if I am simply presenting another viewpoint without subscribing to it.
    Why are these issues to fraught with emotion for some people? Why are they so threatened by a simple conversation that asks them to think about their stances? And why take it to the level of questioning someone’s salvation and/or committment to a relationship with God?

  • http://theoreflec.blogspot.com/ Pat

    As an African-American woman serving in a predominantly white, suburban, conservative congregation, I purposefully stay away from politics knowing that many would not share my support of the present administration. For me, it’s not only political, but cultural. It’s in times like these that I’m reminded how worlds apart I am from some in my church. There are those brave souls over the years though that have made their political affiliations known and have paid for it in terms of heated discussions. Shouldn’t the Church be a safe place to air our differences? Why can’t we seize upon differences as an opportunity for dialogue versus denigrating and demonizing one another. Believe it or not, it is possible to vote for either side and be a born-again Christian. Where I may find that hard to believe, I must ask God to broaden my understanding of others.

  • James

    I’m glad to that there are a couple of responses at least where people feel free to talk about politics without feeling the need to divide over it.
    As Christians, I think it is important that we continue to have frank and open dialogue about matters that the world wants to divide out and call “politics”. The truth is, each Christian should develop a robust Christian worldview, that informs every aspect of life.
    If you’re finding that you have problems relating with people of different political ideaology, then I would suggest that you make a point of asking more questions and making less statements. That follows my experience around these issues.

  • http://joiningtheconversation.blogspot.com robyn beckley vining

    It’s almost as if we’ve forgotten that we’re a diverse, thinking group, we humans.
    It’s almost as if we ignore the beauty of diversity and difference within humanity.
    And it’s almost as if we’ve forgotten that the church should be a place of prophetic behavior modeled to the world. Surely churches will never be perfect, but we certainly make repeated choices about how we are going to interact with one another and treat each other in our differences. If our churches aren’t politically diverse, we’re in trouble.
    Last thought: maybe if we didn’t judge each other as “good people” or “bad people” based on our politics, we wouldn’t feel so strange when we disagreed. Maybe if we were more careful how we talked about each other when the other is not around…

  • Andrew Paul

    In many ways I think the Church is missing the point when we divide and splinter over differing opinions by other brothers and sisters, or over politics.
    The focus that Christians need to have is the CHRISTian Worldview. Is there anyone of us who believe that a political party in any country value and pursue the things of Christ? I think not! Then why would we ever allow them and any of their philosophy to cause us to divide, resent, or reject each other?
    In the end folks, it’s all about Christ or nothing. If we’re not focused on why we’re called CHRISTIANS, then we’ve miss the most important component of why we’ve been called.


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