Three Problems for Politicizing a Local Church

Three Problems for Politicizing a Local Church November 6, 2014

Let’s agree with a general observation: evangelicals churches tend toward Republican politics while the mainline churches tend toward Democrat politics. I see three problems with this widespread reality in the American church, and I’m sure you can add to this brief discussion of other problems:

What impacts of politicizing the church do you encounter?

First, by politicizing a local church that same local church dramatically decreases its chance of gospeling, teaching, and fellowshipping with those of the other political persuasion. It is a fact that Republicans can feel alienated or offended in a mainline church just as Democrats can feel alienated or offended in an evangelical church. Our churches tend to breathe a political persuasion. [I’m proud of our church, Church of the Redeemer (@CofRedeemer), on this score.]

That’s OK, you might say. On church growth principles a given political persuasion in a church increases the likelihood of building a larger church around that partisan orientation. Or, you might say, by separating we reach all even if it is not in one church fellowship. Thus, by splitting over politics we reach more. Which leads to the second problem:

Second, by politicizing into separate and separable local churches we impede unity in Christ and fellowship with one another, and the longer we impede unity and fellowship the more we built separate cultures that, over time, will be more difficult to find the unity we genuinely have in Christ. Jesus prayed that we might be one, and that’s not a Platonic, romantic, dreamy unity: unity means unity.

Pope Francis recently met with the Old Catholics and one of the realizations was that time apart has created substantially different cultures. The longer apart, the harder it is to find genuine unity.

Third, by politicizing a local church the gospel that transcends politics and nation and ethnicity becomes a reduced gospel that forms into a culture that blocks the fullness of the gospel itself. The gospel is flexible and expansive but it becomes inflexible and diminished when it becomes locked into a culture.

Over to you…

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  • FLR

    Good post.
    This is generally my problem with – for instance – the Baptists where in some cases a distortion of the “priesthood of believers” doctrine creates and promotes an air of individualism that too easily feeds into a hyper-political environment (usually very conservative). “My me mine” becomes the standard against which compromise or cross-political dialogue become impossible and fails.

  • David Saleeba

    The only “politicizing” I’ve done at my church is to encourage people to vote, but not to get too bent out of shape over politics. If that is the focus, we are way out of line.

  • Amen, right down the line. (Human) politics is an easy idol.

  • Gordie LaChance

    On #2, eventually we start to see those who disagree with us as our enemy. This is the problem with politics, too. Instead of seeing another human being, we reduce them down to a binary status, i.e. “enemy”. Instead of working together and having grace and perspective, we continue to make no progress and most likely wounding other people along the way while losing the trust and faith of those watching.

  • Susan

    In my experience here in the South, it also divides white evangelicals from black evangelicals, making interracial fellowship and dialogue more difficult.

  • Fourth, by politicizing a local church, it makes the church an ally of the world system of the present evil age instead of a prophetic witness to it.

  • RobS

    It’s probably a subset of #3 above, but when people start to put their hope in Joe Politician instead of Jesus, things go poorly.

    I had a great experience 20 years ago trying to bring a candidate for Governor to our college campus. One of the folks working with me in the same “political party” had a major rant about Christians. I didn’t despise her for it, but just realized that we didn’t really have all kinds of unity within the political party system.

    It was a wake-up call I needed…

  • If we buy into the thinking that embraces most of the Republican agenda
    or most of the Democratic agenda, it reveals that we really haven’t
    grasped God’s dream of the kingdom. Sure, both parties are right on
    some issues; both are wrong on some issues; but on many issues, the
    teaching of Jesus critiques the positions of both parties. Our
    allegiance is to be to the kingdom of God. Our views of politics (how
    society is to order itself) is to be shaped by the life and teaching of
    Jesus. And we are to evaluate the positions of both parties and
    everyone else through that lens. If we think that Jesus would probably
    be either a Democrat or a Republican, it only reveals how superficial
    our understanding of Jesus’ teaching is.

    The “political mission
    of the church,” and, yes, I believe the church has one, is not to seek
    social change primarily through partisan political action or the ballot
    box (though I think voting is a good idea), but to be a city on a hill, a
    radically counter- cultural community that embodies in our life
    together the life and teaching of Jesus. When the church does that
    (which seems to be rarely) others are drawn to us because of our love
    for one anther, or they are threatened because they rightly see the
    church’s witness as a challenge to their way of life. (This is what God
    Jesus killed.)

    I believe there is a place for prophetic
    witness, speaking truth to power, on some issues. Many of the pope’s
    statement on current issues are good examples of this. But unless they
    are backed up by the corporate witness of a city-on-a-hill church that
    embodies a radically different way of life than that dreamed of by any
    political party, our words will have little impact.

  • Agreed.

    The church should lobby the state on one issue only, our liberty of conscience and corresponding freedom of speech. If we lose on that issue, we are no worse off than most Christians in most of history, so we ought not see even that as a make or break issue for our faith.

    There may be issues on which we must express our consciences through creative, loving, nonviolent disobedience (at least as nonviolent as Jesus’ demonstration at the temple) as part of living our Christian values, but never as a strategy for winning political influence, which is indeed a spiritually poisonous idol that corrupts us through and through.

    We should never be seen as trying to impose our faith-based values on people who do not share our faith, people we should be trying to win by our living for the common good and by our living in the power and influence of the Holy Spirit (think: fruit of the Spirit, the very qualities that seem to disappear whenever we enter political combat).

  • I generally agree with this and many other posts below! We seem to be on a roll here!

  • GodsOwnDNA

    Great thought.

    As a person from a country where Christians are the minority and frankly where the church is not interested in forming a “christian political party”, I find it so interesting that churches are so politicized in the US, where christians are a pretty large demographic.

    A church that becomes too entwined with politics leads to the building of earthly kingdoms. The “here” of kingdom then greatly overshadows the “not yet”.

    This is dangerous for church health and eventually like a disease, spreads into doctrine.

    Not OK.

  • Jim Egbert

    I am a political conservative. I have good friends who are politically liberal or progressive. I enjoy hanging out with both Christians and non-Christians. As I recall, Jesus reached out to all. I expect that he will place a wide variety of people in my path.

  • Andrea

    Yes. I often wonder who did not hear the gospel bc they didn’t want to go to a church that supported a particular political agenda. Even if our cause is worthy like pro-life… in church our cause is always Christ first. He is more important than our politics.

  • Andrea

    I became very political bc we thought we could over turn the abortion laws and we may BUT it has served to divide us so much and the politicians now use the churches to get votes ??? It muddies the gospel message. If we lived in a country where Christianity was illegal we would focus more on Christ and that is what our focus should always be….
    I no longer agree with churches getting involved politically. I vote but I don’t want to hear it from the pulpit.

    God bless, andrea

  • RustbeltRick

    I attend an urban, mixed-race evangelical church, but most people still cling to old loyalties. I will notice Obama bumper stickers on the cars of black members, and the typical “I hate Obama” stickers on the cars of white members. So even within one congregation there are tensions, or at least, we are hearing very different messages from God depending on the color of our skin. It seems that we read the same Bibles but come to vastly different conclusions, and that’s somewhat tragic. Last week a white deacon in our church tried to get me in a conversation about a Fox News report on Obamacare; he must have assumed, since I was white, I was automatically Republican. But I’m not. And it was uncomfortable. This is a problem within churches.

  • Doug Johnson

    Shortly after leaving the Army, I went to visit my best Christian friend from the service. It was a very good time until I mentioned who I voted for. He was incredulous how I could do such a thing. Our relationship was never the same. I think back to that every time our pastor or church leader degrades a particular Party or politician. The politicians are happy to use our influence to engender votes but it feels like the sick relationship a pimp has with his “ho’s”.

  • Art Mealer

    If we can’t learn to deal together with opposing views, we’ll just keep creating new denominations after the next theological perspective. Same with any other issues. Monologues don’t work. Dialogue and discussion together do. Stop sermonizing every week and open up discussion.

  • Dianne P

    I feel blessed to currently belong to an Episcopal Church in very liberal D.C. where all are welcome. Truly. All. I recall our pastor saying that he cherishes the time that one of the people who used to be on Bush’s staff was giving communion to one of Obama’s staff. And that is typical of my church. Gracias a Dios.

  • Tom F.

    Summary: People now use the political lens to marginalize political opponents the same way they used to marginalize people of different races, religions, ect.

  • Mark K

    By choosing to characterize one side as ‘Democrat’ politics (instead of ‘Democratic’ politics) while using the more respectful name for the other, Republican politics, are you not in fact politicizing the very question you are posing?