Navigating politics in our pews

I want to say that election season looms — but really, election season is off and running.

Debates – on stages and around dinner tables – gain intensity by the moment. Each headline ratchets up the stress of encountering that church member or co-worker or relative. Many of us plan ahead, strategizing what we will say (or not say), whether or not we will attempt to engage meaningful, but potentially divisive issues, or deciding simply to talk about the weather. When the cultural climate is one of deep schism and inflammatory rhetoric, what should people of faith do? Surely, we cannot pretend that the political realm is off limits to our discipleship. Jesus is, after all, Lord of all. Jesus, we ought to remember, threatened not only people-possessing demons, but earthly powers, so much so that those people with earthly power executed him.

Of all of our options in this election season, pretending God cares only about spiritual matters is not one we can defend biblically. We pray weekly to let God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Public policy, government, principalities and palaces are all included in God’s purview and therefore part of ours, too. A strong separation of church and state is critical to the health and integrity of both entities, but individual Christians are called to be deeply engaged in both for the sake of the world God so loves. We cannot and should not check our political beliefs at the door of the sanctuary. However, we must also be utterly clear that wherever we are, inside or outside the church walls, our political identity is not our ultimate one. We are first and foremost children of God and disciples of Jesus Christ. We are called to view every issue, person and practice through the waters of our baptism, allowing that perspective to shape all others.

We know, however, that even when we attempt to see ourselves and others first through biblical and theological lenses, we will not always agree or come to the same conclusions about matters that we hold dear. Committed people of faith come to vastly different conclusions. While we are united in Christ, we are greatly diverse in opinion. It could be that such varied perspectives strengthen the body and are needed; we are one body with many parts, each important and critical to the function of the whole. Or, it might be that we need one another to hold us all accountable, to discern the work of the Spirit and the will of God, to correct and instruct, chasten and encourage. It might be – consider this for a moment – that as righteous and correct as we feel, we could be wrong, or at least not have everything, 100% right. This last idea is a radical one in our ethos of all-or-nothing thinking.

As we get deeper into a time of national debate, politicking and campaigning, we Christians really do need to be prepared. We need to be involved, actively working for that which we believe reflects the character of Christ and the will of God. We also need to be ready to love those with whom we vehemently disagree, the ones who sit on the pew in front of us, the ones who come to our family holiday dinners, the ones who comment on our social media posts with annoying regularity. We should cultivate a robust spiritual practice of prayer in order to best live an earthly life committed to Jesus Christ and one another, those in our camp and those firmly in the opposite one. We might begin to think about what is at stake in these conversations and debates, what truly matters and what is only a distraction.

I intend to speak boldly and advocate relentlessly for those policies and practices I believe to be in line with the biblical record, with the person and work of Jesus, with the command to love God and neighbor. I hope you will do the same, even if we don’t agree all the time on what those policies and practices are. I am going to try, with the help of the Spirit, not to demonize those with whom I passionately disagree and I’ll need you to keep me accountable.

Grace and peace,