Saturday, October 4, 2008

Leave Politics out of Church

Some pastors recently broke the provision in the tax code that prohibits tax-exempt non-profit organizations from endorsing a political candidate: they endorsed a candidate from the pulpit.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently did a survey in which it found that:

"While a strong majority of Americans support religion's role in public life, a solid majority also expresses opposition to churches coming out in favor of particular political candidates. Indeed, an August 2008
survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows that two-thirds (66%) of the public opposes churches and other houses of worship speaking out in favor of one candidate over another."

The survey found this to be the case regardless of whether someone considered religion to be very important to them or not at all important, and regardless of denomination or church affiliation.

I would have to put myself in that same category. Does that mean Christians are not to be involved in the political process outside of church? No. I believe that volunteering to work in a political campaign, putting up a yard sign, running for office, or discussing politics over the dinner table with family and friends are all okay for Christians to do. In fact, we must be informed voters and we must always vote. I believe public service is a gift from God, as is the interest some have in following, writing about and teaching politics. Like anything, however, it must be kept in check so that our political passion doesn't overtake our relationship with Jesus Christ and the applying of God's Word to our lives.

And therein lies what I see as the biggest risk of politics in church: the nature of campaigns and partisanship are such that it is very difficult to be involved with them and not sin. As I watch the debates between presidents and vice presidents, all I can do is think about how each candidate will be held accountable before God for every word they utter, either in person or in advertisements. All of us will be held accountable to God for the words we say.

There isn't a lot of speaking the truth to begin with in campaigns, much less speaking it in love, as Ephesians 4:15 calls us to. And there is much bearing false witness against each other (Exodus 20:16). The morning after the debates, pundits expose how the candidates from both parties misstated facts, exaggerated, or got their opponent's record wrong.

The other temptation that lies in wait to trap us is that of mockery and pride. We mock the opposing candidate and haughtily point out their every fault. We think we are so much better than Joe or Jane Candidate on the opposing ticket and that I, Joe or Jane Citizen, have all the perfect answers! We believe our candidate thinks exactly like we do and will do everything we want or expect him or her to do. And while we're busy taking pride in ourselves and our candidate, Satan uses that pride to breed hate for the other candidate and all who support him or her.

I know this because I've been guilty of this very thing. Personal pride in our party or candidate breaks up families, friendships and, I believe, would break up congregations if politics were added to the pulpit. There are very few people in this world, I've found, who can have a calm, non-partisan discussion when it comes to politics.

And that is why I believe we should not let political campaigns and all the sin they tempt us with to enter into our sanctuaries. Better instead to do what the Bible calls for when it says "Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). We need to test our political candidates and their record against the Bible and the values and precepts it teaches, remembering that our candidates will not be in line with Scripture on every count. So we need to decide, some say, for the lesser of two evils. Or we decide, others say, for the candidate who most closely stands for Christian values. That is the responsibility of every Christian.

While we may want to privately seek the Godly council of Christian friends and leaders as to how we can be a Godly voter, none of us should be waiting for our pastors to tell us who to vote for. And all of us should be discussing who the next president will be with the person who counts most: God.

"When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity." Proverbs 11:2-3

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