Politics and the Church: Why John Piper Has It Wrong

Politics and the Church: Why John Piper Has It Wrong June 28, 2012

John Piper is a pastor I greatly respect, and I’ve taken a lot of wisdom from his teachings. But today I want to discuss an area in which he and a great many other Christians, even self-identified conservative Christians, are importantly wrong. More urgently, he is importantly wrong in a way that could provide aid and comfort to Christians farther to the left than he. However, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, so let’s take it from the top.
It began with this sermon on the upcoming Minnesota marriage amendment, which would affirm traditional marriage and prohibit the legal sanctioning of same-sex “marriages” in that state. When we evaluate the sermon by itself, in isolation from any later responses or comments, most of it holds up rather well. (Though since the amendment won’t be on the ballot until election season, June seems a bit early to be preaching on it. Hang onto that thought—as you’ll soon see, it’s an important element in this whole situation.) Piper spends the majority of his time clearly laying out the biblical model for marriage, explaining why same-sex “marriage” is literally a metaphysical impossibility, and explaining why it would be a disaster for society if it were to become the universal norm. So far, so solid.

Then in point seven, Piper lays out four considerations for his congregants to keep in mind while they weigh the importance of this issue as it relates to the legal sphere. There’s an important bit of setup for this point in the unabridged sermon video that didn’t make it to the condensed transcript but is worth transcribing and quoting here:

Here I feel like I’m pushing the upper limit of my pay-grade. My happy conviction is that pastors ought not to be experts in lots of things. And I’m certainly not an expert in civil law and how economics work and how politics work. I just don’t know much. I just read my Bible and try to understand what God says and then say just as much as I know, and I’m counting on a lot of lay people to do a lot of hard work for me. That’s the conception I have. If you think I’m the expert on everything, sorry, it’s kinda late in my ministry for you to be corrected on that. [laughter]

Hmmmm… that seems a bit odd. If Piper is making a big point of emphasizing his general ignorance on all things political, then how does he expect the average, out-of-the-loop, working-class Joe Bethlehem Baptist Church member to vote intelligently? Besides that, pastors are citizens too, so why are we to believe God would want them to be ignorant on matters concerning them as citizens? And what does economics have to do with a discussion of moral law?
But once again, if we were to take the sermon in isolation this wouldn’t seem like that great of a concern. And in fact, Piper fills out point seven with some good, sensible points that seem quite clearly to be implying (without coming right out and saying it) that voting for this amendment wouldn’t be a bad idea. Particularly amusing is his point that there was an amendment about hunting and fishing in Minnesota, so in evaluating where a marriage amendment would fall on the “importance scale,” we could start there. Wink, wink.
Then comes point eight, and this is where things start to get strange and confusing. After preaching 7/8 of a sermon that seems quite clearly designed to persuade his congregants to vote a certain way, Piper loudly and repeatedly affirms the importance of… not doing that. In fact, he makes it plain that he thinks the church and her leaders should stay out of politics altogether:

[Note: Portions of the second and third paragraphs were transcribed directly from the video.] Don’t press the organization of the church or her pastors into political activism. Pray that the church and her ministers would feed the flock of God with the word of God centered on the gospel of Christ crucified and risen. Expect from your shepherds not that they would rally you behind political candidates or legislative initiatives, but they would point you over and over again to God and to his word and to the cross.
Please try to understand this: When I warn against the politicizing of the church, I do so not to diminish her power but to increase it [original emphasis]. The impact of the church for the glory of Christ and the good of the world does not increase when she shifts her priorities from the worship of God and the winning of souls and the nurturing of faith and raising up of new generations of disciples. It doesn’t. It feels in the moment like it does. “Ha, look how many people showed up for the rally!” Or “Look how many signatures in that church they got!” Or “Look how that committee is functioning.” Or…  It feels powerful. Give it a generation. And little by little, that vaunted power bleeds away the very nature of the church… and its power.
If the whole counsel of God is preached with power, week in and out, Christians who are citizens of heaven and citizens of the democratic order will be energized as they ought, to speak and act for the common good. It’s your job, not mine. Don’t look to me to wave the flag for your vote, or wave the flag for your candidate. I may not like him, or it, because of what God says.

This is problematic for many reasons. First, Piper makes no distinction between endorsing a specific piece of legislation on the one hand and endorsing a candidate on the other. These are two different animals. When you’re talking about a piece of legislation, you’re talking about a clear, written statement that is focused on a single issue. When you’re talking about a candidate, you’re talking about a person who may have a mixed bag of policies and whose future actions you can’t predict with total certainty. This is even true for candidates you may have some reason to like. Personally, I’m very choosy about whom I vote for. I might even sit out the 2012 election, even though I could say good things about Romney. My point is that a referendum is cut and dried, but a person is not. I can easily imagine cases where one would be morally obligated to vote for a particular amendment. I would almost never say one is morally obligated to vote for a specific candidate. Therefore, because these are two very different things, it’s illogical and unhelpful for Piper and his ilk to conflate them.

Secondly, this error could be more than just illogical and become downright damaging if Piper’s philosophy were to be applied in the way he is proposing. I could sympathize with a pastor who didn’t want to automatically endorse whoever the Republican candidate is out of blind party allegiance. But Piper is implying that he wouldn’t even allow his members to circulate a petition in his church, no matter how vile the moral evil they were opposing by gathering signatures. There is no biblical or theological warrant for that, and he is seriously confused if he believes he would be strengthening the church that way. If he truly wants Christians to be “energized as they ought, to speak and act for the common good,” he should recognize that activities like gathering signatures or holding rallies are a natural and important part of this process. And while it’s true that we shouldn’t be too quick to hang all our hopes on conservative politicians, once again, it’s irrelevant and water-muddying for Piper to bring this up in a discussion of a marriage amendment.
But there’s more. And it gets worse. A lot of you have probably read the Star Tribune’s coverage of this sermon, which made it look like Piper and other pastors were “opting out of the marriage fight” in Minnesota. Upon the release of Piper’s response, in which he said the piece was partly right and partly wrong, many evangelicals quickly  dismissed the article as a completely unreliable piece of leftist propaganda. “Oh, well that’s just a bunch of liberals twisting Piper’s words. Moving on…”
But the fact is that it wasn’t just propaganda. In fact, the most damning bits of the report came directly from John Piper’s own representative. Amazingly, most every conservative evangelical reaction I’ve seen has either ignored or completely missed this fact. Look at this:

“Basically our position is, we’re not taking one as a church,” Mathis said. “And by addressing this in June rather than October or early November, there’s no effort here for political expediency, trying to get certain votes out of people.”

Time out. What did he just say? He said Piper’s sermon was deliberately scheduled so as NOT to coincide with the election. In other words, he did not preach the message when it would be most relevant and most needed… on purpose. Mathis also took care to emphasize that Piper “did not hold back over concerns the church could lose its tax-exempt status,” so as not even to leave that hypothesis open for outside onlookers trying to reconcile Piper’s reluctance to support the amendment outright with his clarity in expressing where he stood on the moral issue. (Even so, that would have been a bit contemptible and wimpy, but more logical/understandable than turning the whole thing into a matter of principle.)
Mathis further stated that “He [Piper] wants to avoid the political realm as much as possible. The Christian Gospel is not left, it’s not right. It is what it is.” Here we go again with the pointless, cliched meme about the gospel not being left or right. Just what we need. (An added irony to this whole thing is that Leith Anderson, the other pastor who refused to take an official stance, offered as his reason that he was no longer an active pastor. So apparently you can’t be political if you are a pastor… but you can’t be political if you’re not a pastor either. I’ll let you mull that over.)

So in light of all this, Piper’s response doesn’t clarify anything. It just makes his position look still more incoherent. He insists the Star Tribune was wrong to say he “opted out,” when in fact he “opted in,” yet according to his own spokesman, “our position is we don’t have a position”! And of course, the obvious question is if Piper thought it important to spend so much time dropping broad hints that this amendment is a good thing, why would it have been such a radical, monumental step to simply conclude by saying, “I place my full support behind this amendment, and as a pastor I encourage all of you to take your part in the fight for marriage by casting your vote for it”? Where is the logic in drawing such a sharp line between the two? The answer is that it’s not logical. In fact, it is so internally contradictory it almost makes one suspect that there’s some church “politics” behind all this. Piper’s basic gut instincts are right and sensible… but perhaps there’s a group of influential people who are telling him to hold back. Perhaps it was someone else’s idea to preach in June instead of November. And perhaps Piper, not being the sort of man to pay lip service to a principle he doesn’t believe, has taken that perspective and done his darnedest to somehow reconcile it with his own better instincts, to convince himself that it all hangs together when it quite obviously doesn’t.
John Piper is a pastor, but he is also an ordinary person, an ordinary citizen like anyone else. Just because he stands in the pulpit while we sit in the pews does not render him duty-bound to muffle himself when it comes to combating the enemy in the political arena. If anything, he has a duty to the other pastors who did speak out plainly in affirmation of the amendment and were discouraged when he did not show his support for them. If anything, he has a duty to be a bold counter-balance to those who are using the exact same apolitical rhetoric as a thin veil for actively pulling the church to the political left. And now he has provided a highly influential source for these people to refer back to. “See, even John Piper says the church needs to stay out of politics.” If he wishes to strengthen the church, he needs to recognize that this is no time for being coy or pulling punches. Right here, right now, “being political” is really just another phrase for fighting the good fight, and it’s imperative that leaders like Piper wake up to this fact and conquer their knee-jerk negative reaction to the word “political.” Regardless of how good their intentions are, they will do more harm than good as long as they refuse to embrace it.
To help illustrate my point, let me close with some sharp but truthful words from a pastor who is of the same mind as I am on this issue. His name is Brad Brandon, and if you go to this link, you can hear his full comments. They take up about a five minute segment from minute two to minute seven.

I gotta tell ya, to say that leading a church or a pastor, or pressing him or the church into political activism, in the context of talking about gay marriage, or same-sex marriage, or defending traditional marriage here in the state of Minnesota, is essentially to say that marriage is a political issue. So again we go back to the argument… all we have to do then is label something a political issue, and all of a sudden pastors and churches shouldn’t get involved. I wholeheartedly disagree. I could not disagree more with him on this particular issue.
I’m not attacking him personally, but I am attacking this point, I am attacking this philosophy, this ideology that says, “Well, we shouldn’t be pushed into political issues.” We can as churches and pastors get involved with political issues. Let me tell you something, the Bible says that the church is the ground and the pillar of the truth, and if somebody wants to drag the truth into politics, then by golly guess what, we as Christians and the church and the pastors ought to go there.

I say Amen to that.

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  • And as the pastor himself argued, homosexuality is bound to have disastrous consequences for society in general. But civil society is by definition the realm of politics. The purpose of the State is the well-being of all its members, the common good of society. So it’s just as much a matter for politics as it is for the Church, and vice versa. So yes, the good pastor contradicts himself.

  • Precisely, and one of the points Pastor Brandon made in his response (which I didn’t transcribe but you can hear on the broadcast), is that if the church is not willing to be an active leader of the people in this fight, then who exactly is going to lead them? Moreover, as Brandon also pointed out, it’s pretty condescending of Piper to make a blanket statement that ALL pastors and churches “should” abide by his philosophy, when pastors like Brandon feel strongly called by God not to abide by it.

  • tusk molarr

    The Bible has a lot to say about what churches should and shouldn’t do (as well as what pastors and other leaders should and shouldn’t teach).
    You will find that there are precious few instructions (I wanted to say “no instructions” but I admit I haven’t checked them all) to vote “Christian-ly” on government referendums or even on how to influence the government (other than to pray for its leaders).
    That’s all Piper is trying to say.
    So, when those first Christians were outraged at their society’s callous treatment of unwanted babies (newborns were cast out in such numbers that they sometimes clogged the sewers), they didn’t work with their government to outlaw infanticide—they walked the streets and braved the sewers to rescue babies before they died from exposure and took them into their own homes (and that’s how they changed their society).
    Ah, you say, but they didn’t have a democratic government, they had a despotic one. Still, the Bible says what it says, right?
    And the argument that “times have changed so we need to do things differently regardless of what scripture says” is the very strategy that same sex marriage supporters are using to try to change our laws. If it’s not a valid argument for them, how can it be for their opponents?
    Piper is trying to tell the church to do what the Bible tells it to do. He’s trying to tell Christians to do what they are called to do as well.
    If God is calling you personally to be Wilberforce on this issue, go to it–and rally as many like-minded believers to your cause as possible.
    Just let the church be the church.

  • Lydia

    “Ah, you say, but they didn’t have a democratic government, they had a despotic one. Still, the Bible says what it says, right?”
    Um, the Bible doesn’t say not to engage in political action. This is an argument from silence. You might as well say that we shouldn’t use computers because the Bible “has precious little to say” about them. *Of course* the Bible doesn’t address “working to outlaw infanticide,” because there was no such work to be done in that kind of governmental situation. What would you be looking for? A passage in the Book of Revelation laying out the future of representative democracy and telling people what to do when it comes? In that case you might as well demand that the Bible prophesy every aspect of modern life so we know we’re allowed to participate in it–cars, book printing, telephones, etc.

  • “Ah, you say, but they didn’t have a democratic government, they had a despotic one. Still, the Bible says what it says, right?”
    Yeah, I would say that. You’re being completely anachronistic by drawing some sort of modern moral from the actions of the apostles when their historical and political context in no way resembles ours. We have a different set of concerns and a different set of powers. Therefore, it behoves us not to go searching for a political parallel which we won’t find, but rather to go back to what the Bible has to say about being salt and light to the world and what moral standards we should strive to uphold.
    Piper is not telling the church to do what the Bible tells it to do. This is not a biblical principle. It was made up out of somebody’s head, exactly when I can’t say for sure, but it’s been imbibed by an awful lot of people and imposed on the church as though it were gospel truth. This is not a good thing. At all.

  • Mark

    If every, (claiming to be), christian would do what the Bible tells them then we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. It amazes me how some people want to jump all over someone else concerning their view on a certain particular hot-button subject. Maybe if we spent as much time really being the salt and light as we do on downing each other, then maybe, just maybe we could influence the culture like the Bible tell us to do.

  • The Bible tells us that the wounds of a friend are faithful. We are called to reprove each other as iron sharpens iron. Piper’s actions should rightly inspire concern in his fellow Christians, and we are not responding out of an empty desire to “one-up” him or be mean-spirited. We are responding to what we see as a failure on his part to fulfill his true spiritual calling and the negative consequences his choice could have on the church as a whole.

  • Mark

    Thank you for making my point…LOL

  • Sorry. My bad for taking your comment seriously and trying to give it a thoughtful answer.

  • tusk molarr

    Lydia says: “Um, the Bible doesn’t say not to engage in political action.”
    Yes, it does. Politics is about power. Following Jesus is about servanthood.
    Mark 10: 42-45– …You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be a servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
    Yankeegospelgirl says: “You’re being completely anachronistic by drawing some sort of modern moral from the actions of the apostles when their historical and political context in no way resembles ours. We have a different set of concerns and a different set of powers. Therefore, it behoves (sic) us not to go searching for a political parallel which we won’t find, but rather to go back to what the Bible has to say about being salt and light to the world and what moral standards we should strive to uphold.”
    “Going back to what the Bible has to say about being salt and light to the world” is about making people thirsty for Jesus and about shining the light of Jesus so they can come to know Him.
    Getting them to vote our way–even if we’re right–will not make them thirsty for Jesus (especially since the vast majority of “them” understand our way to be a “political” position anyway).
    The church should concern itself with doing the former. That’s what Piper is trying to say. He’s also saying that individuals (as God leads) can also concern themselves with the latter.

  • I feel I should respond to this even though it’s probably a hopeless cause… but I’m just too tired to muster the energy for it right now. I’ll check back in the morning and see if someone else has taken care of it for me.

  • I will just ask this: Have you been following the news lately? Do you realize that the American republic essentially came to an end today? Do you have any inkling what we have been up against as a church and a nation as we watch our freedoms be taken away one by one? And yet you seem to think this is all about a “power grab” for us. A power grab, for US. Think about the irony of that.

  • Mark

    Oh how satan loves to distract us from our real purpose. We go around arguing about this kind of bullcrap while the lost just sit back and laugh. May God have mercy on us!

  • Lydia

    Anybody who can get out of Jesus’ words about being servants to one anther among the disciples a mandate not to engage the culture and support a state amendment stopping homosexual pseudo-marriage is simply misusing Scripture. It’s amazing how people _do_ misuse Scripture. But when people are determined to do so, there’s not much one can do to convince them otherwise.

  • The death of the American republic is bullcrap?
    I don’t even need to respond to that. It speaks for itself.

  • I don’t even know who pastors are supposed to be “serving” by NOT doing so, but I might have a guess whose purposes would ultimately be best served, and it’s not God’s, whatever they say to the contrary.

  • JJ

    I liked your distinction between Christians 1) making a statement for or against a specific amendment on the ballot, and 2) making an endorsement of a fallible human being (a candidate who may or may not live up to what they promise to be and to do). Why is it difficult for Piper and his spokesperson to understand the difference? The “Church” has always been involved in speaking for absolute truth when the opposite erodes humanity — inside or outside the walls of the church. A pastor should be the first to recognize a slippery slope of compromise and want to stop the slide before momentum makes it impossible.
    Unfortunately, Piper is reminding me a bit of CJ John Roberts right about now. Both Piper and Roberts bring new meaning to the phrase “tortured logic.” When they try to be all things to all people, none are served — and confusion and chaos naturally follow.

  • Thank you for commenting. I agree that my words do seem unintentionally prophetic seeing as how we’ve just been let down by Roberts, an ostensibly “conservative” Supreme Court justice. However, I will say that what Roberts did is a lot worse than anything Piper’s doing here. Roberts ran roughshod over the constitution, re-wrote a law to mean something it didn’t, and then pretended the whole thing was legitimate. Piper hasn’t done anything that blatantly twisted and deceptive.

  • AmyH

    OK, let me start by saying I know we’re going to disagree to some extent. 🙂 All the same, maybe I can explain my perspective somewhat. It’s not going to be perfectly organized because my brain just isn’t up to it right now.
    I think I want to start by saying, it should not even be necessary to tell Christians what to vote on this. It should completely be a given. That’s not to say that the church doesn’t need to preach Christian morality. But if we’re preaching that same sex “marriage” is wrong, anyone but a dunce can figure out that it would be a good idea to vote against it, seems to me.
    The problem is, mainstream churches today are exactly where Paul said they would be: having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. So they go through the motions of being a church, but many professors don’t have it in their hearts. The tree is bad, and the fruit is rotten.
    That’s the church. The other problem is the nation (the world outside the church). We are fooling ourselves if we think a stream can flow higher than its source. We are never going to legislate morality back into the country. The voting constituency is not moral. As a nation, we’re getting what we deserve. I know some might disagree with me, but just go out… Last night I was in a parenting forum looking at surveys about whether two gay parents should be allowed to raise and adopt children. And I’ll stick by what I said; we can not hope for enough Christian votes to keep Christianity in the government when we don’t have a God-fearing population.
    So I agree with Piper. If the church is successful at saving souls, it’s not going to need political drives. If it chooses to focus on the political drives, it’s going to be a distraction from the business of salvation. I know you might not think it’s an either/or proposition, but I still insist, if the church were holding its ground as it should, it wouldn’t need to venture into the other territory.
    I’ve been feeling for a long time that we were sold a lie when we bought into the Moral Majority. Here’s what I’m trying to say: This stuff is just symptoms of the real problem. And we’re not going to get anywhere by treating the symptoms.

  • Scripture approves of politics and political authority. Romans 13, Mark 12, (especially the former) to name a few examples. Now these verses probably don’t deal with the specific problems we’re talking about here; but I think it suffices to show that politics in general is not a bad thing – indeed, it is in principle quite a good thing.
    Perhaps the question here is how the Bible would treat of our proper response to the ABUSE of governmental authority. St. Paul, in Romans 13, very obviously approves of government authority in principle, and our obedience and subjection to it. But he also assumes that the government is working for the good and against evil. Hence I think it would be logical to conclude that he would not approve of our obedience and subjection an ABUSIVE government which is working for what is evil, and against what is good. But would he condone a mere passivity in regards to the politics? Or rather, an active political response and retaliation against a bad government? I would have to answer the former. Granted, our prime interest, as Christians, is in the spiritual welfare of people – this purpose is undoubtedly superior to politics. But can it not be said that one may address the politics FOR THE SAKE OF the spiritual welfare of the people? Pastor Piper and others seem to be so insistent upon paying respect only to the spiritual welfare of man, ignoring the temporal and political sphere. But can’t the temporal and political order be made subservient to the spiritual? Can’t we do good in the political sphere in order to further man’s progress spiritually?
    So again, our prime interest, as Christians, is the spiritual welfare of people; it’s about making them “thirsty” for Jesus, as you say. But I say that it is for this very reason that we should pay attention to politics. Politics, because it is such a huge influence on culture and society, can help us see more clearly what is right and wrong, true and false, as long as it is on the right side. And when that is made clear, it will then be easier to make people “thirsty” for truth and goodness, and ultimately for Christ. You have to see what your supposed to aim towards before you actually start aiming towards it.
    My take on the matter.

  • Lydia

    ” If the church is successful at saving souls, it’s not going to need political drives.” Here’s why I disagree with that statement: Google “Biola Queer Underground.” This is an example of a very real possibility–so real that it is happening–that shows it to be false that if we just preach the gospel we won’t need political drives. The group in question is a group of allegedly _saved_ students at a conservative evangelical college who support homosexual “marriage.” So they think it’s possible to be good Christians and support that! Of course they are wrong, but you see where I’m going with this: If we just preach the basic gospel and people accept Jesus, they can still be so messed up by the culture at large that they succumb to crazy misinterpretations, twistings, of Scripture that justify homosexuality. The bad culture has come _into_ the church, probably through the media and the public schools that influence our young people, and also through false teachers they read on-line and elsewhere who twist the Scriptures. So we can no longer assume that if we “save souls” we won’t need to “get political.” Now, you can say, probably rightly, that people like the students in this group aren’t really saved. That may be true, but _they_ think they are. _They_ think they’ve responded to the gospel and are living out the gospel in the world.
    Another point: There are people out there who are just not going to respond to the gospel, but we can at least attempt to keep them from forcing us to go along with their agenda. It’s necessary to “get political” just to defend the church and Christians themselves. They aren’t just going to leave us alone to do our “Christian thing.” As with this Christian photographer in New Mexico who has been fined for refusing to make celebratory photos of a lesbian “union ceremony” (and New Mexico doesn’t even have civil unions or homosexual “marriage”), they’re going to come to our businesses and to our children and to us as individuals and ultimately to our churches and demand approval. Just trying to “save the soul” of those who are on that warpath against us shouldn’t, and needn’t, be our _only_ response.

  • AmyH

    Again, I know we’re probably not going to be in agreement. But I don’t believe that is the role of the organized church. The people in the church? Yes. Could a pastor be active in such an organization? Absolutely, if it’s carried out strictly in a Christian spirit, and separately from the church, and his authority within the organization is derived from his leadership and other abilities, rather than his authority as a minister of the gospel. But vote drives are secular, not spiritual.
    The misguided students you mention – get them really saved and straighten them out on the moral issues, and they’re not going to be a problem any more. If homosexuality is wrong, then promoting or supporting it is wrong. That should be basic.
    I do extend this principle across the board, if you’re wondering. People may socialize after church services, for example, but the role of the church is not to facilitate socialization. It’s just a natural consequence of brotherly love. Our church is careful not to sponsor church suppers or hot dog roasts or what-have-you, even though we have a meal at midday in an all-day service. We don’t sponsor entertainment. I know that’s not the way things are done today, but we are also seeing the church sapped of her spiritual strength.

  • Lydia

    Apparently Pastor Piper believes that, because he is a pastor and because he is well-known, he _should not_ endorse this amendment even speaking as an individual citizen. What do you think about that principle? I have seen plenty of lists of endorsements of things that list “The Rev. So-and-So” and that then contain a note “This does not represent an official position of the Rev. So-and-So’s church.” Now one point here among many is that the Rev. So-and-So shouldn’t become _less_ of a citizen because he is a pastor. But that is apparently the position being taken here: Namely, that it is _so important_ that no one think that the “church is being political,” that if you are in fact the pastor of a church you cannot say to the media, “Yes, I endorse this amendment.” Yet any rank and file member of your congregation, if interviewed by the media, can do so. Isn’t there a problem with that?
    Moreover, Piper in his sermon seems to imply that he *doesn’t know much* about this matter because he’s “just a pastor” and he’s “almost above his pay grade,” whereas in fact (as you point out, Amy) biblical principles are so clear on this that it should go without saying what way Christians should vote. Don’t you think that Piper’s talking that way tends to undermine the clarity of people’s thinking on the voting issue and could lead them to think that there is a genuine question as to whether they should support this? But again, I think his deprecation of himself here arises from an exaggerated idea of being apolitical.

  • But I think Lydia’s point was that it’s not always going to work to “just get them straightened out.” It’s not as simple as that. If someone is dead convinced he’s not sick, he won’t accept your offer of medicine and care.
    At that point, as Lydia was saying, we have to treat these people as enemies, and we need to work to prevent them from corrupting other people. And that may well involve “getting political.” If there’s an evil ordinance that’s in danger of getting passed, perhaps even on this very issue, I don’t see why it’s “secular” rather than “spiritual” to rally Christians against it, and I don’t see why it’s “not the church’s job” to assist in that cause by (for example) allowing members to circulate petitions.

  • AmyH

    Ok. Yes, the comment mentioned by Lydia and quoted in the original post is… I don’t understand what he means to do there. I don’t feel like watching the whole video to get the context, but it does imply that he’s avoiding the issue there.
    And there’s no reason for him not to take a position as a private citizen. But I feel he did take a position pretty clearly in the message. I would have a hard time voting for same sex marriage after reading it. I just think that the comments about the church’s role were indeed appropriate.
    YGG, I didn’t get that out of Lydia’s comment. And even if they are enemies – and they probably are not going to be convinced, I readily admit – I think my comments still apply. We can fight the symptoms of the near-complete corruption of our country all we want. But unless we can address the corruption itself, we’re still losing the battle. I believe the church must remain keenly focused on combating the corruption. Outlawing same sex marriage is going to combat homosexuality about as effectively as the Civil Rights Act combatted racism. I’m going to vote with the moral right whenever I can, but I’m very pessimistic about its having any effect.
    Yet I don’t see who is advocating not allowing church members to circulate a petition or such. That’s my point; the church members can do it, and at church if they want, but I don’t want the pastor standing up in the pulpit and inculcating it along with repentance. And I think that if he even needs to, that indicates a serious problem with the church in the first place.
    Sorry for being somewhat disjointed; I feel like I’m not debating with as much clarity as I would like. If it’s any excuse, I’m in the very endgame of waiting on labor to start (anywhere from days to weeks), and my mind is not as disciplined as it used to be. 😆 hopefully y’all can read between the lines somewhat.

  • Actually, there are many concretely good consequences of outlawing same-sex marriage. Here’s one that you should be able to relate to: If homosexual couples are recognized as having the same rights as any other married couple, this allows them to legally adopt and raise children. (And it’s important to note this would also apply to civil unions.) Now I think you would agree that this is a very serious, urgent thing we should work hard to prevent.

  • Also, I gave one major example but there are plenty more ways in which the more “rights” homosexuals accumulate in society as a whole, the more innocent people will be hurt. I’m talking about good people losing their jobs for “hate speech,” or losing their business for refusing to hire homosexuals. It’s not like the homosexuals are just going to keep quietly doing their homosexual thing—they’re actively trying to bully people, and ruin them if they won’t cooperate. Yes, of course, we should preach the gospel and hope at least some people will be converted, but until then we can’t brush voting and campaigning aside as “just treating the symptom,” as though it’s not accomplishing anything that needs to be accomplished. There are real victories and real defeats in the political realm.

  • AmyH

    Man, just typed out a long comment and was nearing the end when my browser crashed. :tears despair and rending of garments: Let’s see if I can try it again.
    Years ago I was still trying to master growing African violets. I had an attractive one with pretty leaves on it, but I was bothered by some grungy rot by its base (overwatering, but I didn’t figure that out for quite a while). I did what seemed logical – I took something metal and began to scrape away the black gunk, when something turned my stomach. A little white worm poked his head out, waved, and went back in again. The plant died soon after (duh).
    Well, since then, that has been my image of the corruption in our country. Everything secular or political we can do is just scraping at the rot. But unless we can do away with the worm inside, we’re lost. The gospel is the only power that has a remote chance of doing this. (Honestly, I believe prophecy indicates that things are headed downhill, but we must continue to fulfill our responsibilities.) I believe that this gospel is the specific and complete province of the church. Not the members of the church, but the church itself. When it begins to try to gain small black gunk victories by working over the top of members with so little heart religion that they could consider a vote effectively in favor of same sex unions or abortion, it’s already lost the battle. Over the last few decades, the church has rallied politically with ever-more-desperate energy, but society has just slipped down the tubes with ever-increasing speed. And we’re only losing ground politically as well.

  • AmyH

    To answer your cross posts, I certainly agree with fighting immorality politically in the political realm. I just believe that the church is to fight it spiritually.
    I’ll scrape at black gunk all day long if it’s the only thing I can do. But the church has to do more, or it has already failed.

  • And to that I say that the only causes worth fighting for are usually lost ones. Didn’t you ever watch _Mr. Smith Goes to Washington_? 🙂
    I don’t think the members of Bethlehem Baptist would literally be considering a vote for same-sex unions. I was more criticizing Piper for the message he was sending to the rest of the world, and to his fellow pastors.

  • Well, obviously there are churches that have “failed” by providing aid and comfort to the worm, and I think they should bear a lot of the blame. But churches that are faithfully preaching the gospel shouldn’t be accused of “failure” if evil still prospers despite their best efforts. They did everything that was in their power to do.
    So I think once we accept that some worms just don’t die, then my feeling is that ANYTHING that pastors or Christians do, in the spiritual OR the political realm, is going to be a matter of hoping for the best without a clear end in sight, occasionally winning some victories while recognizing that the cause is probably lost. Therefore, I don’t see that the line between the two is so clear.

  • AmyH

    Well, as I said when I started, I didn’t expect us to agree. 🙂 But thanks for letting me while away a few hours of waiting. BTW, I virtually never debate stuff like this online, but I know you enjoy a healthy debate, and we’re actually listening to what the other one is saying. So it’s not such a waste of breath here. 😀

  • AmyH

    I think maybe some of my posts are showing up out of order. Maybe that’s due to a difference in mobile and desktop versions; I’m scrolling up to the last Reply button I find.

  • No problem. I do value your readership and appreciate your thoughtfulness in commenting. Good luck with the new baby! 🙂

  • Lydia

    Concerning the Biola Queer Underground group, the type of people who think they’ve “figured out” how they can be “Christian and gay” at the same time are some of the very hardest to straighten out. Maybe they can be straightened out, and maybe they can’t. I’m inclined myself to doubt it, and in any event their souls have definitely been put into a perilous position by the rot of the culture. I think this shows that we as Christians have a real stake in cultural rot, and make no mistake: It can always get worse. Homosexual “marriage” will increase the speed and force of the degradation. (In Massachusetts they read a story called “Prince and Prince” to little kids in preschool, and when parents challenged it they said they had to promote this because homosexual “marriage” exists in Massachusetts. That’s just one example.) That cultural rot will influence our kids, and we should therefore push back against it. We shouldn’t assume that it’s just going to be what it’s going to be and that there’s nothing we can do. We the people can slow the pace of the downward spiral, and we should try to do that.
    It’s not enough just to try to rescue them after they are thoroughly confused, and the more that people talk like a man and a woman can be “married,” the more likely they are to get confused. So this is definitely something we should fight, and we should fight it *for the sake of people’s souls*. Quite frankly, I haven’t seen an argument I consider convincing for the church’s having no role in that fight.

  • Cory D. Jones

    Just found this… I guess I’m confused about what your argument is… Is it the fact that Piper didn’t take a firm stand?

  • It’s the fact that even though he seemed in principle to be on the right side, he contradicted himself by hammering home the importance of not endorsing specific political “stuff” (where he also made the grave error of conflating candidates and legislation). He carried this strange philosophy to such an extent that he sent his representative to a newspaper to say that the church did not have an official position on the amendment. For some reason, he seems to think that “normal” Christians are free to behave like any other citizen of this country, but “the church” as an entity represented by him as a pastor has its hands tied. I whole-heartedly disagree with this philosophy.

  • Cory D. Jones

    I see your point, but I disagree. I agree with Piper that the church shouldn’t advocate a single political view, regardless of what it is. Now, to clarify up front, I also believe there is a difference between advocating a specific position and sharing what the Bible has to say about a subject. There is also a difference between staying out of the political realm and stifling the entire process. Let me try to explain.
    Piper’s statement, “Don’t press the organization of the church or her pastors into political activism. Pray that the church and her ministers would feed the flock of God with the word of God centered on the gospel of Christ crucified and risen. Expect from your shepherds not that they would rally you behind political candidates or legislative initiatives, but they would point you over and over again to God and to his word and to the cross.”
    So, the question remains: should the church endorse political candidates or initiatives?
    I would say no.
    Now, some could take Piper’s statement to mean that pastors shouldn’t preach on anything remotely visible on the political spectrum. If this was the Piper’s intent, he probably wouldn’t have preached his entire seven-point sermon on the matter prior to making that statment. This is enough evidence for me to believe he meant something different. So, I think we we can agree that Piper believes it isn’t bad to preach on political issues. The question becomes: how much involvement should the church have?
    Here’s what I think Piper meant: a pastor’s role isn’t to tell his congregants how to think, feel, or vote. He has the calling to guide his flock in spiritual matters, not in political matters. As we said, this doesn’t mean a pastor has to avoid all subjects that touch on the political spectrum (as that is fairly impossible in today’s day and age). However, I believe his duty as a pastor is to equip his congregation with the tools needed to make an informed decision.
    Here’s the basic outline of the sermon, “Here’s the situation we’re faced with. Here’s what the Bible says on this matter. Now you, as informed citizens, go vote for what you think is right.”
    Now, from what you said in your article, he did a fairly good job of this. He laid out a Biblically-sound platform on the subject, but avoided specifically saying, “You should vote for/against this amendment.”
    Does this mean the pastor can’t have an opinion on a political matter? No. In light of the previous point, I think the pastor should have an opinion. (If you are informing others on the what the Bible says, you yourself should be informed.) However, I’m a firm believer that personal opinions (in most cases) shouldn’t be delivered fromt he pulpit. Now, bring on the experiences and testimonies; but when pastors start sharing opinions and personal thoughts is when churches get dangerously close to that slippery slope. We start believing we can know the mind of God and interpret the world, and if we just did more of X, we could get Y. We start being very Pharisaical… “Follow this law; do this tradition; give your money here; Oh, you’re not giving enough…” As I said in the first point, stick to what the Bible says. Inform people, and let them make the decision.
    Just a thought: perhaps this part of the message was meant for other pastors? Kind of a “don’t get too involved or you’ll risk turning into Pharisees” kind of thing. ??? Maybe.
    Sidenote: On a purely selfish level, just as I dislike actors using the Grammy stage to promote their political agenda, I don’t think the pulpit should be that platform either.
    Now, a bit of a semantics argument, but hear me out. (I normally hate this argument, as it can go SO many different way, but here goes.) I think we can agree that there are two definitions of the “church”: one, the building we meet in, and two, the people. Now, the building is just that, a building. It has no political party, affiliation, sway, and more important, no vote. The people, on the other hand, have many different political parties, affiliations, beliefs, etc.
    In worldly vocabulary, these definitions have morphed into a single definition. The belief is that the pastor is the head of the church and therefore speaks for all his people. Thus the reason political endorsements are so big. “Oh, I got Pastor Snuffy to endorse me and his congregation is HUGE, so they all like me, too!” Fact is, on a political level, this is not true. On a political level, “pastor” is just a profession, like accountant or teacher or mechanic. In the political realm, we are all but citizens, with one vote. Unfortunately, the “church” (building) has no role as a citizen.
    Long story short, if a pastor wants to endorse and advocate a candidate or initiative, that’s fine, but I don’t think the “church” label needs to be attached. One can rally and campaign as much as one wants as a citizen, but that’s as one citizen speaking to another. In chruch, the pastor should be speaking as a shepherd leading his flock. However, not for personal gain, rather, for God’s gain. “Here’s what God says; now, you make the call.”
    Bottom line: I respect Piper for keeping “the church” out of the political realm. I think he did a good job of presenting the Biblical view, then cutting it off and letting the people decide. People are free to “behave like any other citizen,” however after listening to the sermon, hopefully they are informed on the Biblical views on the subject.
    Could he have said it better and it been handled better, probably. A simple, “The church is a building and has no political position. The church is made up of its members and each of them are free to vote as they please. It’s my job to present to them what the Bible says about an issue. In this instance, the Bible says this… My personal opinion as a citizen is this…”
    Looking forward to your response.

  • Lydia

    But you disagree with Piper since (if I understand you correctly) you think he should have been able to endorse the amendment outside the pulpit and that, as a citizen, he should have been in favor of it, and he obviously doesn’t think he’s allowed to endorse it publicly at all. He and his representative were explicit about that.
    I also don’t agree that the line between “this is what the Bible says” and “my opinion about how this applies” is as bright as you seem to be indicating, nor that it’s at all practical or desirable for a pastor never to give “opinions.” Suppose that a pastor is giving a teaching series on Bible translations (just for example) on Sunday nights. Let’s say, for example, that some people in his congregation are concerned about it. So he lays out various things about what makes a Bible translation good or bad, and of course (this is one of the whole points of the series) he evaluates various translations in light of the criteria he’s laid out. He’s trying to guide his congregation to make good choices. Now, obviously, that’s trying to apply good principles to a practical matter that affects their lives and their study of the Word, and sure, it is going to include his opinions. But there’s no way to get around that. I don’t think people would say that a pastor has no business ever having such a teaching series. One could give zillions of such examples. Even if a passage in the Bible could have more than one interpretation, of course the pastor is going to be allowed to say, and should say, “Now, among these possible interpretations, my own opinion after careful consideration is that such-and-such is the correct interpretation of the Bible passage.” Or even on the dating of the books of the Bible on which some scholars disagree or anything. It’s just not possible nor desirable for a pastor never to give anything that anyone would call “his opinion” from the pulpit. He wouldn’t be able to teach his people very well at all if he restricted himself like that.

  • Cory D. Jones

    For me, it comes down to what one’s words can be taken as. Yes, I think Piper should be able to say, “As a citizen, this is what I feel is right. I am voting this way, and here’s why.” However, he doesn’t, and here’s why (my opinion).
    First of all, he wants to avoid this from the puplit. Like Jesus, he wants to give people the information required for making a decision, but let them make up their own minds. he doesn’t want people voting a certain way because that’s the way he’s voting. Second, and more to the point mentioned, proponents of this bill can very easily take the “I’m voting this way,” statement, run with it, and say that is an endorsement from the church, when in all reality, it’s far from that. That’s Citizen X saying he’s going to vote this way on the amendment. It’s just that Citizen X happens to be John Piper. So, to avoid that, he says nothing. What he does is teach his congregation on the subject so that people know what the Bible says. Any idiot can figure out his position, but he wants to avoid (at all cost) the “the church endorses this amendment, John Piper says so,” label.
    I see a different issue here. It’s somewhat sad, but a certain number of pastors have become synonomous with “church”. Well, Pastor Snuffy has 25,000 in his congregation, so he mush speak for the “church” in America. Unfortuantely, many of the people (I’ll avoid calling them pastors) with this label today are so far into the socio-political sphere and speaking far from what the Bible guides us towards, it’s scary. Perhaps that’s why I respect Piper from just staying out of it. As I said, it’s clear where he stands, he just doesn’t want his name floated out there as speaking “for the church.”
    That leads us to your second point.
    I understand interpretations and opinions on translations and meanings (and many other things) are in church. At the same time, unless BOLDLY caveated in the sermon, I still maintain that these should remain out of the pulpit.
    Opinions in the pulpit have led us to this “pray-a-pryaer-and-do-what-makes-you-feel-good”, psuedo-salvation that many people are walking around with today. “God doesn’t want us to be convicted of sin, he just wants us to be happy in our sin.” Granted, this isn’t an actual quote, but that’s the basic meaning of some (many) sermons these days. The reason? Because that’s how said person “interprets” the Bible.
    My answer. Let Scripture interpret Scripture, and for all else, pray. Again, I take it back to Jesus. He told people what the Scriptures said, and let them make their decisions. Granted, Scripture doesn’t answer all our questions today, but we should be looking to God for direction at that point, not a pastor.
    This is where Piper is trying to direct people. “If you didn’t find the answer in my sermon about what the Bible says, take it to the cross, not the pulput.”
    Hopefully that makes sense. And I hope you have a wonderful day!

  • Frankly, I think your logic is kind of all over the place, and I don’t see how your concerns about pseudo-salvation (which may be appropriate in their proper context) have much bearing on the specific situation at hand. Sure, there are heretics in the pulpit whose “opinions” are heretical and unbiblical. What does this have to do with solid, biblical pastors? So they both have “opinions…” there the resemblance ends. One group is wrong and the other group is right. I don’t see the issue here.
    As for your guess that Piper is concerned his people not just vote a certain way because he said so, I think we underestimate the intelligence and good sense of the folks in Piper’s congregation by arguing that they would simply be voting robotically were he to be more clear in saying exactly how he planned to vote. Besides, if there are people in the congregation who seriously would feel UNCOMFORTABLE about voting the right way on this issue, that shows there’s something wrong with them.
    You seem determined to maintain the position that it would just be a Bad Thing for the church qua church to appear to be endorsing this legislation, because that’s just something the church should never do in principle. Your reasoning seems to be that because a few isolated churches have gained notoriety in the press for saying sensationally stupid things (e.g. Westboro Baptist), then ordinary churches should feel like their hands are tied when it comes to speaking out on moral issues for fear that they’ll be lumped together with “those churches.” I completely disagree with this. “Those churches” are gonna do what they’re gonna do, and the mainstream media is gonna think what they’re gonna think, but our job is never to be silent. War is on the church’s doorstep, and the time has come to fight, loudly and boldly and unashamedly. And yes, that extends to “churches” as well as individual citizens.
    As for general concerns about “getting too entangled in the socio-political sphere,” people like to pretend that the gospel is neither left nor right, but the truth is that the vast majority of the right’s faults lie in their tendency to cave to the left. As long as a church has its morals right and its head on straight, they’ll probably do a lot more good than harm.
    You have a nice day too!

  • Lydia

    “Any idiot can figure out his position, but he wants to avoid (at all cost) the “the church endorses this amendment, John Piper says so,” label.”
    It’s the “at all cost” part I have the biggest problem with here. If the “cost” in question is teaching that we have to stay hush-hush, then I think that’s too high of a cost. I’m sure you’re quite right that this was what was motivating Piper, but don’t you see a problem with that? It ends up meaning that if you are a pastor you practically have to give up your activities as a citizen and silence yourself lest, heaven forbid, someone think your church is endorsing something. That’s just not good. It means, among other things, that pastors can’t be good examples to their congregations in the area of citizenship. It’s a kind of political pacifism for pastors, which just isn’t consonant with a free society of which they are members. And I think, too, that it conveys this idea that there can be two sides to whether the amendment is a good thing or not, when biblically speaking there really aren’t two sides. This isn’t even a close call.
    It’s pretty important not to worry about what other people do. If other Christians are being nasty, that doesn’t mean we should silence ourselves to distance ourselves from them. In fact, it’s especially important right now that we not do so.

  • Cory D. Jones

    I disagree. I don’t think he ever stated or implied that “we” have to stay hush-hush. On the other hand, at the risk of his statements being misused, he chose not to directly state his position. He clearly HAS a position on the matter, which is being a good citizen in and of itself. He just chooses not to shout it from the mountain tops, which is his right, just as it is any other citizens.
    At the same time, I would think (hope) that the sermon called people to action, and gave them the knowledge to vote Biblically. So in reality, I believe he was leading his congregants to good citizenship. Good citizenship is being informed enough to know why you’re voting a certain way and then actually voting. But there are certain places that campaigning shouldn’t take place. I think the pulpit is one of those. Good citizenship isn’t telling people how to vote, it’s telling them TO vote.
    I mean, think about it. (And I don’t mean to get all deep and historical, but hear me out.) Think of Jesus. People were expecting a Jewish politcal hero to overthrow Roman rule. But Jesus basically stayed out of politics. However, at the same time, his statements were very political. He wasn’t ever coercive. He laid out what the scriptures said and then told people to make up their mind. I mean, look at his answer to his own disciples when they asked him who he was, “Who do you think I am?”
    To you and I, there is only one side (Biblically) to this question, but notice he didn’t say, “Well, here, here, here and here, it says I’m the Messiah, therefore, I’m the Messiah.” (Cory’s paraphrase) There are countless examples of, “Here’s the evidence, you go make your decision.” (again, Cory’s paraphrase)
    For me, Piper is trying to follow this example. Which fits with his statement that people shouldn’t look to their pastors for political guidance, but for spiritual guidance. For this to happen, the pulpit should remain separate from the political platform.

  • “And I don’t meant to get all deep and historical…”
    No worries. 😉
    You aren’t the first or only one to try to find Piper’s philosophy in a biblical parallel, but it’s just not that strong. The political landscape was wholly different, and Jesus’ mission was wholly different. To say “Jesus basically stayed out of politics” as if it has some bearing on what we face today is poor argumentation because it’s anachronistic. There’s already been some discussion of this earlier in the thread.

  • Cory D. Jones

    “The political landscape was wholly different, and Jesus’ mission was wholly different.”
    This is where we disagree. Well, we agree…we just see it differently. You are correct, the political landscape was completely different. Comparing the “political” system of a Roman-occupied Isreal and the republic we currently have is like comparing apples and elephants. We’ll get back to this.
    I can also see your point that Jesus’s mission was different, as his goal was to die to provide salvation. But at the same time, in a sense, it was the same. He continually pointed (via words and actions) to salvation through faithfulness to God.
    That being said, I believe that no matter what the political system, the goal of the “church” and the pastor of the church is to point people to the cross.

  • Lydia

    Cory, if Piper had preached most of that message (not quite all, but most), I would have taken the perspective that he’s making his meaning clear enough and is in fact leading people to biblically informed voting, and that’s good enough. I might surmise in that case that he was worried about being investigated by the IRS or something if he expressly said, “I think people should vote for this amendment,” but the hints are clear enough.
    But that sermon doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It’s surrounded by all these *other* statements to the effect that pastors _shouldn’t_ take public positions on “candidates or laws.” Now, the candidates or laws thing is just confusing, because it makes it sound like voting for this amendment is no more a clear-cut case than voting for a candidate, which is just incorrect. Moreover, all these other statements by Piper and his representative are implicitly a negative judgment on pastors who have taken a public stance endorsing this amendment. That’s really a problem. That’s preaching a whole set of positions about what other people should do which, by the way, are also not found in the Bible (for what that’s worth). If we’re going to get literal about the matter, nowhere does the Bible say, “No pastor should ever take a public position on a vote.” *Of course* it doesn’t say that, because it would be anachronistic to expect the Bible even to address such an issue. But since those coming from the other side are using the argument “The Bible doesn’t tell us to do this,” then what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The Bible also doesn’t tell pastors _not_ to do this!
    Taken by itself, Piper’s sermon has much that’s good in it. But it isn’t just taken by itself. And it’s his other comments that are troubling and that put the sermon in a context of political quietism and of criticizing Christian political activism.

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  • Friday Night Revival

    I’m thinking about writing a post to prove exactly how “far left” you and Lydia are in your political/evangelical thinking. That’s right…I said it. Far left. haha! (JK) Nevertheless, I’d consider it great wisdom for a Pastoral figure to register as an independent voter. I might have worded Piper’s “verbage” a bit differently, but his premise is dead on.

  • Hi Dustin. Good to see you and your slightly strange sense of humor popping up again around here. 🙂 Naturally I expected you to disagree. I’m only disappointed it took you this long to find the post!

  • Excellent post – thank you for speaking the truth on this subject! I get weary of pastors making politics sound unspiritual regardless of whether you’re standing for truth or not. http://Www.ReligionIsPolitical.com