Politics Part One: The churches Responsibility and Restrictions in Addressing Politics

There is perhaps no more controversial topics than religion and politics.  From my experience, most unreligious people tend to willingly engage in politics quite passionately, while avoiding religion.  On the other hand, churches obviously engage in religious conversation, but take two extremes when it comes to politics.  Some churches engage in political discussion regularly (especially during times of elections), while others simply avoid the topic altogether.  The latter seems to be a growing trend as politics become more polarizing in recent years, even within Christian circles. I certainly believe that pastors ought to be very careful when it comes to politics, but ultimately, they must address politics issues to some extent from the pulpit.

Perhaps I surprised some of you by saying a pastor must address politics from the pulpit as opposed to should or should consider addressing politics from the pulpit.  The greatest reason for this is the Bible is not silent when it comes to most of the issues that are prevalent in American politics today.  For example, the Bible supports a free market economy in principal, yet also advocates for a “safety net” for the poor.  People owned and worked their own land (I Ki. 21:1-3).  Those who were prosperous were rewarded for their hard word (Prov. 22:29).  Indeed, there are several examples of righteous people in the Old Testament who were quite wealthy: Abraham, Job, David and Solomon (Gen. 13:2; Job 1:3; 2 Chr. 1:12).  Never in the Bible is wealth in of itself called a sin, though it is a serious temptation (I Tim. 6:10).  Of course, there are also passages that make it clear there should be a way for the poor to meet their own basic needs and that the wealthy should be generous to the poor (Deut. 24:19-20; Duet. 15:7).  These verses apply, at least in principal, to many of our economic issues in politics and should guide us as we seek to support certain politicians and political positions.  The Bible also addresses issues (again, in principal) such as race relationships (I Sam. 16:7; Acts 17:26; Rev. 7:9), abortion (Ex. 20:7; Ex. 21:22-25; Psa. 139:13-16), judicial concerns (Ex. 23:3; Lev. 19:15), marriage (Gen. 2:24), care and use of natural resources (Gen. 1:28), homosexuality (Lev. 18:22; I Cor. 6:9-11a; John 3:16), and other key political issues. When the Bible speaks about any issue – including issues that are political – it is the responsibility of a pastor to address it (Acts 20:27).  Jesus didn’t avoid discussing a hot political topic when asked a challenging political question (Matt. 22:17, 21).  Neither should pastors avoid political issues altogether either.  Finally, the Bible clearly gives the ideal character of political leaders (Prov. 29:2).  Scanning the political landscape, I see very few people in politics who meet such qualifications – including both major party candidates for the 2020 election.  Nevertheless, we ought to seek to support the few who do fit these qualifications as best we can while realizing that, in reality, our choices at times may be limited to candidates who do not fit these qualifications.

At the same time, preaching on political issues from the pulpit should be fairly limited.  First, Christians have some liberty when it comes to voting.  Obviously, we should never vote for the worst possible candidates, that is, the candidates whose values and character least reflect scripture.  Nevertheless, that still leaves some possibilities.   Christians have liberty to vote for a candidate they don’t necessarily love (or even particularly like) as a vote against a worse candidate. They also have liberty to vote for who they see as the best candidate – the one with the best character and whose views best align with scripture.  In the United States, this is often a “third-party” candidate who has no chance of winning.  Regardless of my personal political viewpoint on the matter (which I will not share), either way would be an acceptable vote according to Biblical principles.  As a pastor, I’ve purposely chosen to avoid endorsing candidates or joining a political party even as I am committed to addressing current events like political issues because believers do have liberty to vote different ways.

Christians also have liberty when it comes to strategies of implementing Biblical principles into law and politics.  For example, all Christians should agree that government’s role is implementing justice (I Ki. 10:9; Pro. 29:4).  All Christians should agree that abortion is sin.  All Christians should agree that abortion is a particularly egregious sin.  All Christians should agree that we should vote for leaders who will implement justice by trying to eliminate abortion.  Churches should take a stand in this matter and preach against abortion.  Yet, where believers may disagree – where there is liberty – is the political strategy for opposing the injustice of abortion.  Some Christians are willing to support a candidate who only wants to eliminate abortions after a heartbeat is discovered.  They rightly emphasize that such a candidate is more likely to be elected than a politician who wants to eliminate all abortions and that a “heartbeat bill” would eliminate the overwhelming majority of abortions. Other Christians consider this a compromise and take an all-or-nothing approach, supporting only candidates who vow to fight against all abortions, period.  They rightly emphasize that all abortions – regardless of the child’s age – are murder and that we should fight for all the unborn.  Both sides would agree on everything except the political strategy for fighting the injustice of abortion.  Of course, most believers have a personal opinion on this matter, but there are no Biblical principles that would constrain all believers to vote one way or the other.  Here, we have liberty.   Here, we can disagree. Here, we must be gracious to other believers whom we disagree with.  Here, pastors must be cautious to not overtly endorse a particular political viewpoint even when they have a strong personal opinion.

Another way that politics should be limited from the pulpit is in their scope.   Jesus did address a hot political issue, but that was not the focus of His early ministry; He came “save and seek the Lost” (Luke 19:10). Sadly, many churches focus too much on politics and lose focus on their primary purpose.  The purpose of the church is to spread the gospel, not political theory or political support (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8; Matt. 6:33).  Churches that focus too much on politics fall into the trap of losing focus on the gospel, even if it’s unintentionally.  Guests that visit our church should come away with the impression that our church is gospel-focused, not politically focused.  Members should come away from church with the impression that the Bible is the pastor’s ultimate authority, not some political theory or the positions of a particular political party.  Our focus must be on, and remain on Christ, not Joe Biden, Donald Trump, or any other politician.

Politics should be addressed like any other issue from the pulpit, especially when it’s relevant, which, due to the upcoming election, it is more than ever.  Yet it is just as important that pastors do not present their own opinion from the pulpit.  There are many passages in scripture which address politics and political issues, but we need to be careful to let scripture speak for itself.  Christians are divided on many issues.  We need to make sure that we are not divided on the issue of politics as well.

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