I have enjoyed this political season, not the least reason for which is the lack of any intense political thrust coming from the church I currently attend. While the election may come up in a casual pulpit remark, the general thrust is that we do not “do politics” from the pulpit. I gather that this is pastor-driven but accepted and even welcomed by church leadership. Personally, I don’t think the pastor could add anything to what I already know about local or national politics. There is not any group or even individual that I know of who complains that the church is inadequately political engaged.
There is a marked contrast in this posture, apolitical, and that of other Southern Baptist churches in my area. When I retired and had a chance to visit a number of churches, I found that around certain national holidays and election days, the pastor’s hair was set on fire and he was likely to offer a vein-popping, apoplectic semi-biblical sermon on the latest national outrage and on the country being fast-tracked towards Gehenna. Such were a waste of a good Sunday mornings that might have been spent on the Gospel and the worship of our Great God and Savior.
I suppose this puts me at odds with my religo-political colleagues (sometimes better described as the politico-religious brethren) who think the church, your local church, is at the same time (a) the cause of America’s descent into moral miasma, and also (b) the key to America getting back on track. Hubris is not unknown among us brethren.
Here are a few observations about the church and politics.
- Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. That goes far beyond the outrage du jour and even some of the appalling moral issues of our day. It has been held out for about 40 years now that the key to America’s survival and prosperity is in electing the next Republican president and his Supreme Court appointments. We have elected Republican presidents about half the time, and the times we did not Southern Baptist presidents were elected (three times) and one who declared himself to be a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. A man from Mars might wonder exactly what these screaming SBC preachers are expecting to get out of the next election.
- We have often been embarrassed in our political thrusts. Here in Georgia, our lobbyist compared legislators that were on the “wrong” side of a certain issue to Nazis. Our state leader explained this away as just being a historical reference. It didn’t much matter to church folks who mostly didn’t pay attention anyway but it did matter to our relationship with state representatives. We’ve now been asked to come out in the hundreds and repair the damage.
- By taking the typical partisan, that would be Republican in this state, stance we quickly alienate non-whites that we are trying to reach. If an African-American Christian has an interest in an SBC church that does the usual voter guide, pulpit push for the GOP candidate, they will likely not be comfortable. Most African-American Christian voters favored Clinton, 88%. Two-thirds of Latino voters voted for Clinton. Public contempt for Clinton, including forays into misogyny, cheap-shot ridicule and disdain is often heard from the pulpit. One pastor, the next Donald Trump in his own mind, was big on Twitter with his latest political nuggets, not a few were highly offensive to Latinos and minorities (few in number) and women (many in number) in his church. It is better to be non-partisan in church services. Some issues are worthy of mention, as is the general Christian duty to participate. A considerable proportion of SBC church plants are non-Anglo. Chances are their congregants do not see political questions as do the aging and diminishing numbers of white SBC members.
- Haven’t we learned that there is not a clear “Christian” position on most political issues? Under this may be put: most foreign policy questions, healthcare matters, most economic questions, immigration. Christians and Christian churches are on both sides (or on many of the various facets) of these questions.
- It isn’t clear to many what we are aiming for. The church should be heard on the great moral issues of the day but in the context that we are a minority voice and that there is not a political solution to many of these. Abortion is legal. It will be legal in most states even if nine Scalias rose from the dead and were put on the bench and overturned Roe v. Wade. The state is perfectly free to call marriage anything they wish. No church or minister need agree nor need they participate in civil marriage ceremonies. None have ever been coerced into performing a marriage against their will.
- We’ve now essentially abandoned any character qualifications for the presidency, so what is it exactly that we are standing for? We have the perplexing history of opposing every Southern Baptist presidential candidate and supporting the non-Christian candidate who is running against the declared Christian who is running. In Trump’s case, I make no judgment about his spiritual condition. Our members may be a bit flummoxed about all this if they hear their hair-on-fire preacher make regular excursions into partisan politics.
But let’s agree: What a great country! We can have surprises without civil wars and institutional meltdowns. Maybe we should listen to some expats here who look at our Republicans and Democrats and say, “You guys are in an alternate universe here. Your two party system is not much more than Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Come over to the U.K. (or France, Italy, Germany) if you want to see real contrast in political parties.”
My churches generally went with the voter guides, those tendentious pro-Republican handouts that always popped up around election times. I’d pass of those in favor of prayer for the president and all elected officials along with a focus on changing hearts, then minds.
I could argue against myself on most of these six points and am curious about how my colleagues, particularly the younger ones, see the church and politics these days.