What Place Do Politics Have In The Church?

I have a love/hate relationship with politics. Watching the news is depressing, and it’s designed to make you angry at how screwed up the world is. At the same time, I enjoy being informed and having my opinions challenged. It’s intellectually stimulating, but emotionally draining. It’s simultaneously a high and a low.

As someone who seeks to be a ministry leader at some point in my life, I often think about what role politics will play in whatever position God places me in. If I were to step into the role of pastor or minister, would it be appropriate for me to share certain political views from the platform? Would it be okay for me to publicly voice my support for a particular political candidate or a political party? Are there some issues that I should steer clear of if I step into a ministerial role?

This begs a question. What place, if any, do politics have in the church? Conversely, what role does the church have to play in the political sphere?

This goes beyond the idea of the separation of church and state, which is a topic too deep and controversial to get into here. The point I’m trying to make is different. How Scriptural is it for politics to be an element within the context of a sermon or public discussion between Christians?

Obviously, many moral issues have been politicized (i.e. abortion, gay marriage, sexism, racism, and euthanasia). Scripture is clear on these issues, and it would be wholly appropriate for a pastor to espouse the sanctity of life or the evils of racism from the pulpit. But what about issues not directly addressed in Scripture? Should a pastor preach about his views on topics like climate change or education policies or the President’s tweets?

Speaking of which, what about supporting a particular candidate or a particular party? Is that appropriate for a pastor, ministry leader, or Christian public figure to do so?

I’ve seen Christian leaders from various viewpoints and levels of influence endorse political candidates at one point or another. The president of my alma mater supported a right-wing candidate in a recent election, (I’ll let you guess which one) and the student body was…agitated. Many students agreed with the president in his support of this politician. Others were staunchly opposed to it due to the candidate’s inflammatory nature. Some went so far as to protest the decision, especially when the aforementioned candidate spoke on campus. Though statements were made to the contrary, the impression was that the president’s decision to endorse this specific politician included the entire university, its faculty, and its students.

On the other end of things, I’ve seen a pastor’s decision to endorse a political candidate be applauded by the congregation. (One wonders though, how many church members silently disagreed, feeling alienated from the rest of their church family?) Scripture says we are to respect and pray for our leaders (Romans 13:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-2), but since it was written in an age where elections weren’t the norm, the Bible lacks clear direction in pastoral endorsement of political candidates in a democratic republic.

There are instances where men and women espoused controversial political issues within the context of a church service, and it was the right thing to do. The abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage are two prime examples. These issues were incredibly controversial in their day, but Christians risked alienating their congregation (and a heck of a lot more) to espouse what was right and true.

One of the issues with politics today is that what is true is disagreed upon by so many. Racism and slavery were wrong. So was sexism. That was clearly laid out in Scripture. Other issues (climate change, for example) aren’t as clear cut.

If you were reading this to get an answer to the question posed in the title, I’m sorry to disappoint. I myself am still formulating my opinions and shaping my viewpoints about so many issues, including this one.

I guess it all comes down to personal conviction and a sensitivity towards other believers. There may be instances where voicing an unpopular political belief in the context of church is necessary. There may be other times where it is better to make it a personal matter and preserve unity in the body above all else. Having difficult, godly conversations about controversial issues within the love of Christ is very good. Having difficult conversations that devolve into vitriol and anger is not. We need to keep in mind that there are more important things than whatever political topic we’re discussing or personal opinion we’re expressing. (Romans 12:16-18; Ephesians 4:1-3)

Ultimately, we are not conservatives, liberals, centrists, or libertarians first. We’re not even Americans first. (Or Canadians, or Brits, or wherever your country of origin is.) Our first and foremost loyalty is to Christ, not a political ideology. Our ultimate citizenship is in heaven, not in whatever country we currently reside in. It’s important to keep this, and the love of Christ, always at the forefront of Christian discussion, no matter how political.

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