Preaching Politics

Rev. Gregory A. Boyd, an evangelical pastor of a church in Maplewood, Minnesota, preached a series of messages entitled “The Cross and the Sword” in which he stated that the church should stay out of politics.

According to the New York Times, the pastor is not a liberal; he opposes both abortion and gay marriage. His message, although presented for his conservative church, is intended for all politically-motivated churches, whether Republican or Democrat.

From the article, Boyd in his own words:

“America wasn’t founded as a theocracy,” he said. “America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state.

“I am sorry to tell you,” he continued, “that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.”

I have long maintained that separation of church and state is not the great evil that my Christian school teachers and pastors have made it out to be. In fact, separation of church and state is one of the things that makes this country great.

Think about it: Should you have to be a member of a certain church to vote? Should the government be collecting tithes in the same way they do the income tax? Should the government publish Bibles? What about Korans? Which church should the government promote?

Likewise, from the church’s side: Should your church promote the candidate that opposes abortion and gay marriage, or the one that supports feeding the poor and giving medicine to the sick?

Here is the primary reason that evangelical churches should not push politics from either side of the aisle: The goal of the church is to get as many people saved as possible and to get those people to follow Christ’s teachings to the best of their ability. But when the preacher starts, say, praising the war in Iraq, people who oppose the war are instantly turned off from the whole message. At best, it’s a distraction from the gospel. At worst, the people who oppose the war reject the gospel along with your politics. In other words, people are going to hell because you wouldn’t stop promoting your politics from the pulpit.

By all means, promote your politics with rallys, advertising, protests, and petitions. But for God’s sake–and I mean that literally–don’t try to affililate Christ with your political views. Stick to preaching about Christ and his teachings from the pulpits of your churches.

(Thanks to The Sycamore Tree for the link.)

10 thoughts on “Preaching Politics

  1. This is one of those issues where people often don’t use their word carefully enough.
    Do i support “separation of church & state” (i.e. that the state should not interfere in religious matters nor establish an official church)” Absolutely!
    Do i support “separation of church & state” (i.e. that no religious ideas should be allowed outside the church)? no.

    The important question IMHO is not “is what is being preached political”? but “is what is being preached directly from the Bible?” That homosexuality or abortion is wrong, is taught in the bible, and should therefore be preached. A particular legislative strategy for dealing with these things (for the new testament era) cannot be found in the Bible, and therefore should not be preached.

  2. What interests me is that no where in the epistles nor in early church history do you see the church recommending ways to change the Roman Empire to make it more amenable to Christianity. The early church had no interest in politcal reform, only in spreading the message of the Gospel.

    You don’t see Paul condemning the brutality of the Coliseum, nor are there any writings condemning Nero for his torture and murder of the early Christians.

    jwbjerk: It seems like you support sort of a lopsided separation of church and state. In other words, the state shouldn’t interfere with the church, but the church can do whatever it wants to with the state.

    I agree with your second point, that we should preach against issues that the Bible condemns, but what I’m talking about is the sort of activism that I see every four years or so (i.e. “candidate information” cards that are thinly veiled ways of telling people in the congregation who to vote for) as well as the blanket condemnation of “liberals” and “activist judges” that I hear on a regular basis.

    To me, such things dilute the messages that God actually wants distributed according to the Bible.

    Barbara H: While I am aware that the words “separation of church and state” do not appear in the Constitution, the principle is still there. The famous quote from Jefferson’s letter reads:

    Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.

    In other words, the principle is that the church and state are to be separate entities: The state can’t tell you what church to join, and the church can’t tell you which candidate to vote for.

  3. I think none of the governments in Bible days were democracies, so citizens did not have the opportunities for a voice in government as we have today. If we have it, I think it is perfectly fine to use it. Some would even say we have a responsibility to use it.

    I don’t see a pastor recommending a candidate or asking his congregation to write to their legislators, etc., as crossing any lines. “The Church” doesn’t have the authority as, say, the Roman Catholic church in the Middle Ages. People view what their pastor’s say there as recommendations, not commandments.

    I don’t think jwbjerk’s two statements were lopsided at all. The First Amendment simply says (about religion), “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That’s pretty plain and simple, and not at all as far-reaching as some people think. The State does, of course, have a right to make sure churches keep within the law when it comes to zoning, fire code regulations, etc., but not in things that pertain specifically to the exercise of religion.

    But the second statement, “Do i support “separation of church & state” (i.e. that no religious ideas should be allowed outside the church)? no.” doesn’t imply that “the church can do whatever it wants to with the state.” That is taking that statement way too far. Again, “The Church” doesn’t act as a unified governmental influence or authority — it is a group of individuals who have a right to do what they can to stand for righteousness. And there is nothing in any of the founding father’s writings that I have read that indicate all religious ideas should be contained within the church walls. Their writings, which are full of refernces to God, would argue against that.

    However, I do agree that Christian groups who advocate “taking back the culture” and such like are off track. We’re never called to do that in Scripture (besides, if we did what we ARE called to do in Scripture in the way of witnessing to people, that would influence the culture more than affecting legislation). But I think that is a different thing than using the voice we have in this type of government.

  4. I haven’t worked out exactly how far i believe the church should be involved with the state. The question is trickier now that we have a wider range of religions represented. I certainly don’t like it when christians buy into politics too much, where all sane judgement is abandoned and a canidate is presented as either perfectly good or utterly evil.

    It does seem that you’ve bought into a modern misconception about the first ammendemnt. The entire and only purpose of the Bill of Rights was to limit the power of government.
    From the Preamble to the Bill or Rights: “the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution… in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added…”
    From the first ammendment: “Freedom of speech, press, religion, peaceable assembly, and to petition the government.
    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”
    There is nothing in the text about a “limitation of Religion” It’s all about what Congress can’t do. You may believe that the church should be similarly limited, but that idea is not found in the Constitution.

    It’s true we don’t have many examples of political involvment in the NT, On the other hand, we don’t have any prohibitions against governmental involvement. The historical fact is, there were very few opportunites for political involvment at all through most of church history.

    You don’t find Paul specificly condemning the Coliseum, but then again you don’t find him addressing non-Christians. It’s clear from his epistles that most of what went on there was wrong (i.e. murder). I can’t imagine a Christian government official of the time with the power to do something about the Coliseums, doing nothing, because he was more concerned with spiritual things.

  5. jwbjerk took the words out of my mouth.

    NOTE: The phrase “Separation of church and state” is not found in ANY of the founding documents. The US constitution says what the US constitution means. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

  6. I see what you’re saying about the Constitution not restricting religion, which is a good point. I imagine there are restrictions in legislative/judicial law, but it’s certainly not in the Constitution.

    So, laying aside whether or not campaigning from the pulpit is legal or not, let me ask: is it ethical? Two issues immediately spring to mind. The first is the one I mentioned earlier: campaigning from the pulpit distracts and even detracts from the Gospel, with potentially eternal consequences.

    The second issue is whether or not anyone should be telling anyone else how to vote. If a pastor tells his flock “You should vote for ____,” there may well be people who want to vote for another candidate but then feel a religious obligation to do as their pastor says. The pastor speaks from a position of some power over his flock (although the amount of that power varies from church to church; at my church), and he needs to be careful with it.

    (Note that I’m not saying that opposition of a given issue on religious grounds is unethical. I’m against pushing a particular candidate, party, or political ideology from the pulpit, whether conservative or liberal.)

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  8. What an exibition of ignorance. You think you are so important. Do you think that what you do or don’t do determines anyone’s destiny with God? What hedonistic theology is that from? Your well meaning but sorely misplaced comments are surely a result of a lack of your knowledge of theology and church history (not your heart for the lost — keep on brother.) You may want to start with the short contempory history of the church in America circa 1880s where we can easily see the departure of foundational Christian beliefs in America. See “The War for Righteousness…” by Richard M. Gamble for a start. If you want to see the struggles of God’s remmnent take a look at the history of the Anabaptists of the 1400s as one example…or perhaps “The Pilgrim Church” by E.H. Broadbent…or “The Reformers and Their Stepchildren” by Leonard Verduin. Keep on keepingon brother.

  9. I think that people’s actions have consequences. By changing our actions, we change the consequences.

    The consequences of attacking an unsaved person’s politics under the guise of religion is that they will be less likely to convert your religion. Ergo, that person is more likely to go to hell (assuming your religion is correct).

    On the other hand, if you avoid politics in your sermons, you have a greater probability of that person converting because he is not distracted by earthly political matters.

    As regards your ad hominem attacks: We disagree on a theological matter, specifically the exact balance between the free will of man and the sovereignty of God. You seem to think that anyone who God wants to be saved will be saved regardless of any human action; I think that God respects each person’s desires and will not forcibly save him if the person rejects him.

    But the mere fact that we disagree on a theological point makes me neither ignorant nor arrogant nor hedonistic. It would help you to realize the difference between saying “I think you’re wrong” and “I think you’re stupid.”