The need for a “purple” church: Why the Body of Christ isn’t democrat or republican

The need for a “purple” church: Why the Body of Christ isn’t democrat or republican September 7, 2018

Recently, Christianity Today published results of a LifeWay research poll stating that 57% of American protestants prefer to attend church with people who share their political beliefs. While this doesn’t mean denominations are going to be rushing out to set up politically segregated congregations anytime soon (well, not officially), it shines a light on our divided culture and, more importantly, on what we value in church.

I can understand why many Christians instinctively prefer to worship and serve alongside people who cast the same votes. We often surround ourselves with those who share our beliefs and interests; it’s why parents usually form friendships with other parents, and why single folk tend to form friendships with other non-marrieds. Politics speak so deeply to the most important aspects of our lives and our beliefs in how we should serve each other that we might even think it’s a given that Christians should be uniform in their politics  — and, of course, we’ll say it’s probably ours that they should flock toward (a majority of the poll’s respondents assumed that their fellow church members share their political beliefs).

But I think a desire for politics-based church and our inclination to surround ourselves with people who believe the same way we do about governance — or even, really any other non-salvific concern —  is unwise. In fact, I think Christians who make it a priority to worship alongside believers who share their political beliefs have a fundamental misunderstanding of the Church and why we gather to worship, learn and serve together.

Our identity is in Christ

I’ve never been fond of divided services. I understand that congregations are often grouped by ethnicity, cultural differences or simply to accommodate a large membership in a small building. But I believe that should be the exception, not the rule.

The New Testament emphasizes diversity in the body of Christ. One of the major shifts that happened with Christ’s death and resurrection was the opening up of God’s promises to Gentiles, not just the Jews. The throne of God is where people from all tribes and tongues gather to worship together. The church (and, of course, life in general) is where we practice for that day.

Like I said, there are times when division is necessary. An immigrant congregation composed of Japanese speakers might need its own service or church home so the Gospel can be preached without barriers to understanding. Churches in areas with heavy ethnic groupings might look fairly uniform because of the makeup of the community. And, of course, denominations exist so that we can worship together without spending all of our time arguing about theological minutiae.  But, again, these are our exceptions.

The reason why is because, when we gather together as the Body, we celebrate that our identity is rooted in Christ alone.

A common description of Christ has often been “God with skin on.” If you want to know what God is like, you look at Christ. You see his compassion, his kindness, his love and his power. When he ascended back to Heaven, the church was left to continue his work on Earth. And so, in a perfect world, if someone were to ask, “What is Christ like,” the answer would be “look at the church.”

Of course, that’s an imperfect description. We’re not in a perfect world, and members of the church often do not look much like Christ. But our aspiration should be the same: To model Christ to a watching world. One of the ways we do that is to model what binds us. It’s not politics, it’s not worship style, it’s not race. We are united in Christ. To split the church among political lines or to choose only to worship alongside those who share our ideology is to claim identification through something other than Christ. Instead, we put our man-made barriers down, embrace our differences and show the multifaceted beauty of Jesus when we congregate together.

We are too comfortable

Of course, I understand why people might be more inclined to share the pews with people who think and vote the same way. It’s why we choose churches based on worship and preaching styles, children’s programs, or amenities like coffee shops and bookstores. It’s because we’re consumers at heart, and we approach church with the same mindset with which we approach finding a new restaurant or pair of shoes.

We want a comfortable church that caters to our interests. We huff and puff about music styles, complain that the coffee is weak, or that there isn’t a good selection of toys in the nursery. And what could make us more uncomfortable than attending church with people who are outspoken about political beliefs that don’t jibe with our own?

Listen, I get it. There are political views that I vehemently disagree with, to the point where my reflex is to lose respect or feel my anger rising when I hear someone holds them. I’m not saying that’s a right response; the fault is my own pretension and pride, not the fact that they hold a particular view. And if I let this anger get to me, it can override everything else, hindering relationships that would otherwise flourish.

But comfort isn’t the measure by which we choose a church, nor should lack of it necessarily be a reason for leaving. There’s a sense in which church is not truly church unless you are sometimes uncomfortable, be it because of the conviction of the Holy Spirit, service and fellowship that pushes you outside of your comfort zone, or humbling yourself to worship alongside those who drive you nuts (there’s also a good chance you drive them nuts). I remember very few of the sermons that left me feeling elated; I remember the days I left church feeling beaten up. 

It’s because of what I mentioned before above. The church is created to model Christ, but we do it imperfectly. The way we change is through sanctifying relationships. And if we all looked the same and believed the same and blissfully existed without any thought of changing, nothing would happen. Instead, we are brought into conflict, we challenge each other, we push against each other. This is uncomfortable, both because we don’t like conflict and because we don’t like our sins to be made apparent, especially to us. But it’s deeply necessary.

The truth we hate to acknowledge is that Church proves that not only do we need God, but we also need each other. If we are sinners whose moral compass is off track from birth, then one of the ways we begin to change is from learning from and living alongside other people.

Divided services don’t work because of this need we have. I had a pastor who used to say that we didn’t have a contemporary or traditional worship service because we needed both represented in the service. We needed to sing the the traditional hymns of the faith because those were our roots, and the young people needed to know those roots existed and had been there long before them. The younger members also needed to worship alongside those who had blazed a trail for them. But we need contemporary songs because that older generation needs to see that the message is still vital and being carried on; new things are being created through it, and it’s not simply gathering cobwebs or being treated with kid gloves.

We can’t separate on ethnic or class lines because of this same reason. Every culture showcases something unique and beautiful about the Gospel. Cultural traditions show us new ways people have been prompted to worship God, and remind us that our faith transcends class, racial and national lines. Church doesn’t look the same in American, Chinese or African cultures, and yet we are all members of the same body. And when we worship alongside brothers and sisters who are marginalized, mistreated and ignored, it can convict our oft-privileged hearts to move into action, defend their cause and make change.

And so, politically, we must have diversity in the church as well. The church is not red and it’s not blue; it’s purple. There’s biblical basis for supporting some conservative issues as well as liberal ones. The church needs the hawk and the peacemaker. It needs the environmentalist and the fiscal conservative, the defender of unborn life and those who love and serve the LGBTQ community. It needs those who want stronger gun control and those who want to protect traditional marriage. And if you’re squirming because of a group I listed: that’s the point.

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t sinful ways to be political or positions that are objectively antithetical to biblical teachings. There are times when we will be wrong and need to repent of our political positions and the way we idolize power, and there are times when we will need to stand firm in love and call our brothers and sisters to account. That does not negate my point; it reinforces the need for political diversity in the church.

The Gospel informs but ultimately transcends our politics. If we are following Christ, there will be times when the Bible supports our chosen party and times when it is opposed to its policies. If we are identified not as Republicans, Democrats or even Americans, but as followers of Christ, we need to loosen our grip on our political stances and be willing to accept that sometimes the Bible will oppose them. And that’s when we need those who hold different views to come alongside us as we search for a solution.

It’s not that Christians shouldn’t be political. It’s that our political views must be subservient to the Kingdom. And the way we begin to take Kingdom values and put them to work in our world begins in our churches, where we live and work together, united not by politics but by the cross.

About Chris Williams
Chris Williams has been writing about faith, culture and film since 2005. His work has appeared in the Source and Grosse Pointe News newspapers, Local Celebs magazine, Patheos, and Christ and Pop Culture. He is the co-host of the podcasts “CROSS.CULTURE.CRITIC.” and “It’s My Favorite.” Chris lives in the Detroit area with his wife and two children. You can read more about the author here.
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  • swbarnes2

    Let’s just be straight about what you want when you say you want “political diversity”

    You want gay teens to be accept fellow worshipers who think they are vile child-molesting sinners. You want racial minorities to be okay with fellow worshipers who want them to leave the country. You want women to accept fellow worshipers who think they are sinful and wicked for having jobs, or for divorcing abusive husbands.

    Another patheos poster is writing about how evangelicals should have no fear. So, are you afraid to be explicit about what you are asking people who aren’t straight white males like yourself to do?

  • The destroyer

    The church pledges allegiance to God. Christians are not left or right.

  • AntithiChrist

    This is all a very nice, big pie in the sky idea. Purple congregations. Love it, maybe a little purpling around the edges of the pie crust due to an abundance of light, maybe. But the whole pie, nah, I’d recommend a completely different recipe.

    But bellyaching about lack of political diversity in church won’t fix the problem of pastors’ regressive influence over the people who voluntarily pay his salary.

    Yes it would be a great world if churches didn’t follow their centuries-old scripts of aligning themselves, in the main, with whatever strong local political force may increase the church’s influence.

    Unfortunately, turns out that when those political forces are unjust, the church leaders, and hence, most followers will ultimately find themselves falling in with a really, really, bad crowd, and turning their backs on some of the original ideas behind having a church in the first place: Strong moral compass, empathy towards those outside your own tribe, civil justice, etc.

    Everyone knows at least one Christian who shines in their Christ-like virtue. That one honest-to-god-no-kiddin’ Jesus-gene carrying, empathetic, happily-giving soul whom you know will die in poverty because they’d always surrendered every spare dime they could ever scrape together, to help someone else. The TrueChristain among TrueChirstains.

    It’s deeply disturbing and painful to watch that very same true believer go to churches that have sweet and mild-mannered Pastors, who, as it turns out, bring to the spiritual Sunday feast a right-wing political bent.

    Before you know it the entire congregation is yelling “Amen!” and feeling very comfy in all the platitudes and unspoken churchy attitudes that led 81% of white evangelicals to completely ignore jesus’ thoughts and examples on the subject, and go forth to overwhelmingly help to elect a human monster that Jesus himself would have personally handed a “Go Straight to Hell” card, had he ever actually existed, (but that’s a whole nuther topic.)

    So as some Catholics have occasionally been overheard saying on Fridays, don’t you gotta bigger fish to fry?

  • Widuran

    As a Christian I see myself as centre right.

    Christ is the same yesterday today and forever

  • Nimblewill

    What do any of the things you posted have to do with right or left politics? I go to church with gays, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Rednecks, Hippies, women who are divorced and have jobs……………IN RURAL GEORGIA!

  • Political belief and moral conviction are two different things.

    I think you can have a church where pro-life and pro-choice people agree to (sometimes vehemently) disagree. I think you can have a church where people disagree about the politics of same-sex marriage and how to allow people to immigrate to our nation and what (if any) restrictions) there might be.

    Looking at a gay person and not seeing a human being worthy of love and respect is not a political issue, it’s a moral one, and churches need to strongly condemn that. Anyone who denigrates a person because of the color of their skin or the language they speak is in sin. I think we need those people in church because the church needs to be willing to admonish and rebuke that sinful behavior.

    I would also argue that a Christian who has conservative ideological beliefs, even though they disagree with me politically, has the right to hold that belief and it can be part of the faith. I would say anyone who votes for or supports a candidate because they’re afraid or uninformed — especially when that candidate (or president) has proven themselves morally reprehensible and opposed to biblical teaching — is in sin and needs to be rebuked. That’s why I think Trumpism isn’t a matter of politics, but of morality.

  • Speaking from my experience, I attend a fairly conservative Baptist church, even though I tend to lean more left in my politics. My pastor, though he tends to vote conservative, has been outspoken in his rebukes of Trump and Christians who have sold out their faith for political power. I know many Bible-believing pastors who are opposed to what is happening in the country right now and they are outspoken about it.

    You’re right that there are pastors who blindly support a political party regardless of Biblical teachings and morality. That’s why congregations need to be diverse; we need Christian believers to have the means to push back when politics begins to take over spiritual beliefs, even when it’s the leadership of the church who is in the wrong.

  • swbarnes2

    I see the answer is no, you are not honest enough to be explicit about the kinds of horrific things you expect people of color and women and non-straight people to respect from conservatives.

    Trump wrote that white neo-Nazis carrying tiki torches around a church, screaming “Our blood, our soil” and “We will not be replaced” were “very fine people”. Trump is not some tiny fringe figure well out of the mainstream. He is the president supported by a vast majority of white evangelicals! When you say you want political diversity, it includes this. This is what you are saying you want more of. This is what you are saying black people in church need more of. It is not honest to say that this is not genuine conservative belief

    Anyone who denigrates a person because of the color of their skin or the language they speak is in sin.

    But denigrating their ‘culture’ is fine, right? Thousands of evangelical leaders signed on to that.

    Telling a person “I’m not going to listen to what you have to say, because I have a penis and you have a vagina” is a perfectly acceptable stance, right? You are proud to tell your daughter that it’s good for her to hear that opinion and good for her to respect it? Because that certainly is a time-tested, well worn conservative political opinion.

    That’s why I think Trumpism isn’t a matter of politics, but of morality.

    Conservatives should not think for one single second about what their embrace of Trump says about them and their beliefs, because Trump isn’t a conservative phenomenon, solely a moral one? Well, isn’t that convenient for conservatives.

  • rkt10

    I don’t think you can “purple-ize” Catholic doctrine. And switching from Latin to the vernacular doesn’t allow for a blending of philosophies either. (I might add that the use of Latin actually IS the purple language, in that all nations can follow the Mass in Latin and understand it. And a visitor to another nation will hear the same Mass.). I think we’ve been so accommodating of the purple, that what is called purple is actually the other color altogether.

  • I’m saying nothing of the kind (and if you’ve read anything I’ve written in the past, followed me on Facebook, etc., you would know this).

    What I am saying is that the church can’t divide on political lines. A conservative ideology and a liberal ideology are both submissive the Gospel, and if there are aspects of your politics that are antithetical to the Gospel, the purpose of gathering together is to cut them out. Being small-government/big-government is a political issue, not addressed in the Bible. Gun control is another thing that you can have an opinion on, but it’s not a salvific issue.

    To say that someone of another color is inferior, deserves less, should move out of the country…that’s contrary to the biblical concept of Imago Dei and needs to be called out as sin; you can be a conservative politically, but as a Christian that cannot be part of your political belief. To believe a woman simply has to listen to a man and be put in her place is contrary to biblical teachings on equality, even if some pastors have believed a warped portrayal of gender based on mis-interpreted passages of scripture. I’d urge someone attending one of those churches to leave.

    Conservatives should ABSOLUTELY question their embrace of Trump (and again, I have made no secret of my disdain for him). What I think they need to examine is the depths to which they’re willing to embrace party politics and power and ignore their Christian morality and teaching. It wasn’t that the Bible led to Trump. It’s that people were willing to use the Bible and faith as a prop in securing him power.

  • AntithiChrist

    That is very encouraging to hear. I’d love to be able to bank on exceptions to the rule. I also agree that any sort of human grouping is generally made “better” by many if not most yardsticks, by increasing its diversity in all kinds of different areas.

    Meanwhile, for anyone “shopping” for a church, if you’re the sort of person that feels the need to be affiliated with a church, I’d recommend you check out information that is accessible but not necessarily highlighted in the shiny brochure or on the website.

    Just pick a church or two from any phone book or a local internet search. Here’s a for example: Moderately sized suburban “mega” church, Trinity World Outreach Center, Lead Pastor Steve Turpin. The online sermon archives feature a friendly, upbeat, self-effacing, EveryDad sort of fellow, Pastor Steve, as he’s affectionately known. It’s a “charismatic” church, basically indistinguishable from baptist, a kind of a very watered down Pentecostal theology with strong prosperity gospel overtones baked in. “Pastor Steve” never references the daily presidential shit-show at the White House, nor points out the glaringly obvious teaching aid of a purported Christian president exemplifying daily something more akin to the Antichrist.

    The online “who we are” is standard baptist: inerrant gospel, one man-one woman, sanctity of fetus, final authority on biblical grey areas, etc. Their Facebook page features a section of videotaped testimonies with the theme “something good happened to me because I pass over 10% of my income to Pastor Steve.”

    If that’s not enough to have you going, “OK, next,” you’ll want to check out the lead pastor’s Twitter account. First, note the lack of Jesus references. Basically you see the sort of prosperity platitudes you can find on any motivational poster at the corporate water fountain.

    Now check the pastor’s “Following” list. The folks that your new potential pastor has informing his daily twitter buffet. Now we understand. Nearly every Uber-right wing Fox News suit is represented: Hannity, Dobbs, Ingraham, O’Reily. You’ll now find all the current Trump-Supporting Evangelical rock stars from Franklin Graham to to Tony Perkins, all the LGBTQ hate crowd, well represented. A gob of Prosperity Gospel rock stars. Pastor Steve never talks about any of this stuff directly. For the low information, uneducated Christians coming to Steve’s church, he’s just a nice, mild-mannered guy with a love of Jesus. But these good people are sufficiently influenced in their thinking by this faith community to not just come out against their own social interests, but to come out against minorities, foreigners, liberals, basically anyone who can be politically grouped in with the multiple Sunday sermon mentions of “the enemy,” that is, the forces of Satan.

    The danger exists and it is real. Churches typically align themselves with regressive political forces and vice versa for mutual market share.

    81%. Never forget that number. That’s the percentage of church folk who somehow were led to believe that “Jesus” preferred a lying, philandering, serial sexual assaulting, malevolent narcissist over a woman. Those people were influenced in their church communities by folks like mild-mannered Pastor Steve. He’s not the only guy doing this profitable schtick. I’d suggest he’s very much the Christian pastoral norm these days.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” – Susan B. Anthony this quote about sums it up for me.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    Lets be blunt here. No self respecting person would consider a belief that thinks they are made of dirt. I say this because I did the song and dance myself. Went to church, sinner’s prayer etc. im not saying Christians should leave, but they certainly should question their beliefs and see if it does more harm than good to other people

  • Anne Lamott once said “A good way to tell when you’ve made God in your own image is when he starts to hate all the same people as you.”

  • The Antagonizer Returns

    Diversity is a weakness.
    Only Whites are smart enough to pretend diversity is a strength to avoid being called a “racist.”
    Blacks put their race before country. All non-Whites do. Only Whites think country comes before race. Suicide.

  • The Antagonizer Returns

    So, you pray for peace, yet embrace diversity which will lead to increased ethnic tension and conflict. Well done.

  • Widuran

    interestng

  • Chorbais Dichault

    That’s a nice idea, but sooner or later comes the time when the road meets the rubber with real-life Decisions, Decisions… It’s then you realize you can’t help aligning with one of the sides.

    The only religious people (not just Christians) who aren’t politically aligned are those who retreat to a life of hermitage way out of civilization’s reach. “In but not of” is just an ideal; the reality is, if you’re in the world, you’ll be of the world in some way or another.

  • The destroyer

    Does not need to be left or right. I am moderate right in my leanings. Christian party!

  • fractal

    Fundys JUST CANNOT HANDLE a purple church.

  • fractal

    Subjective assessment.
    With my ilk, you would be considered a radical right wing zealot.

  • fractal

    I would be MORTIFIED if a person in my spiritual group tried to tell a gay person that their sexual expression was SINFUL.
    Please.
    The only way this would work for me, is if the Fundys keep their trap shut, and not spew the judgmental pronouncements they are so famous for on comment boards and at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Righty wingers would have to sit in the back and LISTEN for about 10 years…

  • fractal

    “…submissive to the Gospel”.
    BIG FAT DODGE.
    Come on,
    We all know that every biblical sentence is open to interpretation, and that many good Christians see the Bible as inspirational or metaphorical, rather than literal.

    First Problem, isn’t it!

  • I don’t disagree, but I don’t think division is the answer. I think we need to return to the days of sitting around and debating the Bible together in church community, not just accepting what comes from the pulpit. We can bring our different views, we can compare them to the Bible, we can discuss how to live them together and agree to disagree in love on other issues.

  • fractal

    Because that works so well at the dinner table…

    I remember the Sixties, and all the tension between the generations—so much, that many children were kicked out of their houses or became runaways because they were so unwelcome in their parents home.