The Church at Election Time

As Christians, we should take seriously our responsibility to be salt and light in a world that is often rotten and dark.

I believe pastors must be careful how they lead their churches in our politically polarized culture. I know there are good brothers and sisters who may disagree with these principles and their practical implications. But at the very least, pastors must disciple their leaders and their congregations in thinking through these matters wisely and theologically.

 

I have always been interested in politics. I studied religion and political science in college. I continue to read consistently in economics, sociology, politics, and current events. As a pastor, I hope the members of my church are well-informed and engaged in the political process. As Christians, we should take seriously our responsibility to be salt and light in a world that is often rotten and dark.

And yet, I believe pastors must be careful how they lead their churches in our politically polarized culture. I know there are good brothers and sisters who may disagree with these principles and their practical implications. But at the very least, pastors must disciple their leaders and their congregations in thinking through these matters wisely and theologically.

Let me mention two things I do as a pastor and three things I do not do.

As a pastor, I pray publicly for leaders and for controversial issues. We are commanded to pray for the governing authorities, whether we agree with them, like them, or trust them (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Likewise, I think it’s appropriate to include some current events in the weekly pastoral prayer. Over the past few years, I’ve included items related to Ferguson, Charlottesville, the police shootings in Dallas, the presidential election, gay marriage, Roe v. Wade, the anniversary of MLK’s assassination, and dozens of events that could be construed as “political.” I trust, however, that the prayers were not political in the worst sense of that word. I take pains to be sure that everything I pray for has scriptural warrant. During an election season, pastors should pray that God would work through the political process to give us godly leaders who are marked by ability, prudence, honesty, courage, humility, and compassion.

As a pastor, I speak to controversial issues as they arise from the text of Scripture. In preaching on Exodus 21, I talked about the history of slavery and the evils of it in our country. Later in the chapter I talked about the evil of abortion. In chapter 22, I talked about the biblical definition of justice. I also talked about the biblical understanding of the sojourner and how Christians are to love the stranger and the alien (and how this does not automatically translate into a given immigration policy). All of these touched on political topics. I didn’t mention a candidate, a political party, or advocate for any specific policy or legislation. I simply spoke to issues that were manifestly in the text. We cannot teach the whole counsel of God without venturing once in a while into difficult territory that may be unpopular in our cultural context.

As a pastor, I do not provide voter guides for the congregation. I know there are other pastors who advocate the practice, but in my experience even non-partisan voter guides are never completely non-partisan. In 2016 I saw a non-partisan voter guide from the Family Research Council and another one from Sojourners. Both guides were designed to inform Christians about the important issues facing us in the election and how to think about those issues from a Christian perspective. Not surprisingly, the two guides talked about verydifferent issues and presented the Christian view in very different ways. Only a die-hard Republican could think the FRC guide was non-partisan. Only a die-hard Democrat could think the Sojourners guide was non-partisan.

Granted, other guides are less didactic and more informational. Many non-partisan guides ask the candidates a series of questions and then record where they stand on the key issues. But even here, the guides I’ve seen over the years all have a definite angle. If you have only 12 questions to ask the candidates, what you ask says a lot about what issues you think are important, and the wording of each question usually reflects certain priorities. In short, I don’t believe non-partisan voter guides are actually non-partisan.

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