Over the past few weeks I have been producing a series of brief videos about politics for my church. My goal has been to help Christians think about politics through the lens of Scripture and have better conversations with each other about political issues. Below I have included four videos with their corresponding manuscripts.
Before I was a pastor, I wanted to be a politician. As a teenager, I listened to a lot of talk radio, I participated in petition drives, and I applied for political internships. When I began community college, I had a lot of political discussions/arguments with my classmates. But about two years into my college experience, God got ahold of my heart in a new way.
I became convicted that I was much more willing to talk about politics than I was to talk about my faith in Jesus, and I became convinced that many of the social changes I was hoping to accomplish politically would only take place when people’s hearts were changed by an encounter with Jesus.
But when God called me to the ministry, he didn’t take away my interest in politics – he even allowed me to do ministry for four years in Washington DC. I am a pastor who cares about politics. You may have heard it said that in polite company we shouldn’t talk about religion or politics. I firmly disagree with that sentiment. In fact, I believe we need to talk more about politics in the church, and in this video I want to tell you why.
This fall at Community Fellowship, we are producing a series of brief videos about the church and politics. And today, I want to set up this series by addressing the fundamental question why should we talk about politics in the church?
A good way to determine what our idols are, is to ask the question, what things can’t we talk about? Because the things we can’t talk about have the most power over us. If we can’t talk about politics, there is a good chance it is an idol.
With all my heart, I believe that politics is a discipleship issue. As followers of Jesus, we must allow God’s truth to inform our perspectives and transform our hearts. Our Men’s Advance theme this past year was Every Square Inch, and the idea behind the theme was that Jesus Christ has authority in every part of our lives. If this is true, we need to recognize and submit to Jesus’s authority in the political realm. Jesus should be a part of every conversation we have, not just “spiritual” conversations.
There is no shortage of political messages today. We can’t avoid them even if we try. All of us are being formed politically by the media we consume. Our time on social media, reading articles, watching TV, and listening to talk radio shapes us. Many of us spend more time being discipled politically by these sources than we spend being discipled spiritually. And I am concerned that, when this is true, instead of our faith informing our political perspectives our political perspectives end up distorting our faith. All of us are being formed politically, but most of that political formation is happening outside the church, and that is a problem.
I hope you will stay tuned over the next several weeks for our Church and Politics series. This will not be a series where we tell you who to vote for. The focus will be on understanding our relationship with politics as Christians. We will talk about the place of truth in political discussions. We will talk about what our emotions tell us about our relationship with politics. And most of all, I want us to think together about how our relationship with Jesus should shape our political engagement.
What are some of your favorite stories? Which books and films speak to you most strongly? Perhaps you are a person who enjoys Pride and Prejudice, or the Lord of the Rings. Maybe you resonate more with the Lion King or you get excited about the Avengers movies. As people, we love stories and, in these stories, we find meaning.
In the Bible God has given us a story, a true story about how He created the world, how sin corrupted the world, and how Jesus came to rescue and redeem a sinful people. Those of us who follow Jesus find our ultimate meaning in this story of the Gospel. But we shouldn’t just believe this story and move on, it is our obligation to live out the implications of this story.
I believe that humans are fundamentally religious – even those who are secular. By this I mean that we all gravitate to stories to provide us meaning and purpose. I have friends who grew up in very conservative (and often unhealthy) religious families, and as adults they rebelled against that upbringing, and left the faith. But for many of them, their new political identity has replaced their religious identity. Progressive politics became their new fundamentalism. They became public apologists for their new ideology. They found a new story to believe in.
My heart breaks for my friends who have left the church. But I am equally concerned for those of us who remain in the church. I fear that sometimes our hearts have been captured by stories that are not God’s story. We encounter many of these stories in the political realm. In the first video, I made the point that it is possible for our political identities to distort our faith, and now I want to talk more about how this can happen.
In her book, The Liturgy of Politics, Kaitlyn Schiess, a THM student at Dallas Theological Seminary says this; “The line between our political beliefs, our moral beliefs, and our theological beliefs is blurry, if not entirely invented… none of our beliefs in these categories are ever content to stay in the boxes we have prescribed for them. They’ll wander, bleed over and most importantly, they will seek supremacy.” I believe Kaitlyn is right. Our political beliefs are not content to play second fiddle. As Rich Mullins puts it in his song; “The stuff of earth competes for the allegiance I owe only to the giver of all good things.”
We must guard ourselves against political beliefs (stories) that want to rule in our lives. These stories span the political spectrum. There is the story of liberation – that suggests life is essentially a battle between the oppressor and the oppressed. There is the story of humanism, which suggests that we can accomplish anything if we just come together. There is the story of the American Dream, which says that anyone can succeed if they only try hard enough. There is the story of Christian Nationalism, which says that God favors a particular country.
Each of these stories contain elements of truth, but they also contain beliefs that contradict the gospel story. These stories contain assumptions about human nature and our purpose that do not align with Scripture. And if we are not careful, these false ideas will make their way to our hearts.
A lot of times this happens so slowly we don’t even realize it. It happens when the Facebook algorithm keeps showing us the same type of stories because it knows what we like to read. It happens when we listen to the same radio show every day on our drive home from work. It happens when we choose the same type of entertainment week after week. Before we know it, a flawed story has captured our heart.
If this happens imperceptibly, how can we know when other stories have captured our hearts? One of the ways we can know is to be aware of our emotions, and we will explore that idea more in our next video. I look forward to seeing you then.
For many of us, political conversations provoke powerful emotions. These emotions are signposts that show us what is going on inside. They reveal what we care about most. They can also be powerful motivators for us to act in a certain way. If we want to know if our relationship with politics is healthy, one of the best ways to do that is to inspect our emotions. When we don’t identify and understand our emotions, they have the most power over us. Unacknowledged emotions can wreck our lives. When we are in a state of panic, we rarely make the best decisions.
Political campaigns know the power of emotion, and most political advertisements will try to move our emotions in some way. By far, the most common emotion that politicians try to leverage is fear. Halloween activities might be canceled this year because of the Corona virus, but this is October in an election year, and fear is still on the menu.
When you watch a political ad, a good question to ask is; “what emotion is this ad trying to promote in me?” Think about the advertisements you have seen so far this cycle. We have seen images of burning cities. We have heard warnings about senior’s health care being taken away. Politicians on both sides want us to believe that our very lives are in danger if the other side is elected. They don’t want us to carefully consider anything. They want us to be afraid and vote reactively.
As Christians, we often have fears of persecution and cultural marginalization. We worry that our nation is moving away from God, and we are afraid of how fast the culture is changing. And when we feel we are in danger we will often act in desperate ways. We might even align ourselves with politicians with poor character because we think they will protect us.
Our fears can often paralyze us and keep us from doing what God wants us to do. I grew up in a family where finances were tight, and subsequently, in my adult years, I have been afraid of financial vulnerability. This fear has sometimes made it hard for me to take career risks.
Now, negative emotions are not necessarily bad. We certainly shouldn’t ignore them. Anger and fear are appropriate responses to many events our world today – even in the political realm. But these emotions shouldn’t be the most powerful forces in our lives. Because our God has not given “us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Tim 1:7) Even if our lives are in danger, we can move forward with trust instead of fear because we know that our God will be faithful to us, even in times of suffering.
In Deuteronomy, just before his death, Moses challenged the people of Israel; “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deut 31:6) Brothers and sisters, we serve this same God. In unstable and dangerous times, he is our Savior – not some human politician. We don’t need to be slaves to fear.
So how can we avoid being overpowered by fear? First, we can avoid voices that try to stir up fear in us. We can turn down the fear mongers in our life. This might mean getting off social media completely for a time. Second, we can ask God to shift our motivations. We should seek to act out of love for our neighbors rather than out of fear or a desire for self-preservation. A different motivation might not always lead us to vote differently, but it will definitely help us be healthier spiritually.
Well, I hope this video has been thought-provoking for you, and I look forward to seeing you in our next video when we discuss the place of truth in political discussions. Have a great week.
Welcome to the fourth video in our series about politics and the church. In this series we are seeking to do two things; first we are trying to look at our political engagement through the lens of God’s Word. And second, we are hoping to spark better conversations between Christians about political issues. In this episode we are focusing on truth and party loyalty.
There is a pattern that often occurs in political discussions. It begins when someone points out hypocrisy in one political party. Then, without admitting any wrongdoing, someone else immediately points out hypocrisy in the other political party. Accusations of lying are a regular part of our political discourse. This is sad, but perhaps sadder is the fact that these accusations rarely change our perspectives because we expect dishonesty and hypocrisy from our politicians.
Far too often, in our nation, political loyalty motivates us more than the truth. For Christians this is a deep concern. We can’t effectively declare God’s truth if we are worshiping at the altar of politics like everyone else is. We won’t stand out if we are playing the same political games everyone else is playing. Indifference to the truth is incompatible with the character of Christ.
Politics can blind us to the truth like few other things can, but Jesus wants to remove the political scales from our eyes. The Apostle Paul writes this in Romans 12:2; “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (ESV) God renews our mind with his truth. People who follow the way, the TRUTH, and the life must value truth above party loyalty.
What does it look like to value truth in our political lives? First it means that we must be honest about the flaws in our favored politicians. We can’t make excuses when our favored politician says or does something wrong. If we are committed to the Truth, we will condemn sin wherever it exists. If we are loyal to Jesus, we won’t engage in tit for tat hypocrisy arguments to defend our flawed human rulers. We will readily admit the flaws of those in our political camp.
Christians must be able to affirm good and condemn evil wherever it exists. Someone who thinks about politics as a Christian will critique their political brothers and affirm their political others. When we dislike a politician, it is difficult to offer them praise for doing something right, but Christians must be able to do this.
If we value truth, we will use caution and verify when we encounter political news reports. We tend to believe things that confirm our prior perspectives and reject things that don’t. If the villain of a news story is our villain, we are likely to believe the story. But for Christians, this isn’t acceptable. We shouldn’t share stories that we don’t know are true. It can be difficult to know what to believe these days. Sometimes it takes a lot of work to determine what is true. But if we want to speak out, we must be willing to verify. Our commitment to Jesus demands it.
Brothers and sisters, we must resist the blindness of party loyalty, and we shouldn’t overlook sin in our political camp. When we excuse evil, we do damage to our souls. And when Christians do this, they disparage the church in the eyes of the world. We must be led by our Christian convictions, not by the ever-shifting signals sent by our political tribe. We must let our faith be the anchor that grounds us, otherwise we will get swept up in political movements that dishonor God. No party, and only one Person, is worthy of our complete loyalty. And he is TRUTH.