Voting season is coming up (and has already arrived for those of us who make use of our state’s wonderful absentee system) and if your mailbox is anything like mine, it’s filled with all manner of political mail. This is to be expected, even if it will all end up in the recycling bin.
What isn’t to be expected is how much political mail comes to our church. Yes, contrary to popular belief, pastors are not barred from discussing politics in the pulpit. In fact, the only main thing the IRS regulates is whether a church can officially endorse a candidate; most everything else is fair game (and if the church wouldn’t mind giving up their non-profit status, then they would be free to endorse candidates as well). And that is a fact that a number of organizations have zeroed in upon in the quest for votes.
This week alone, two mailings caught my attention. One was a package filled with “voter guides” to be distributed to the congregation which spelled out, in no uncertain terms, who Christians should vote for. Let me be frank: my opinion is that voter guides are thinly veiled ways of getting around IRS non-profit regulations. All one has to do is simply glance at one of these “voter guides” to see who the publishing organization supports and who they are against.
The second mailing, however, was much more problematic: it was produced by an apparently wealthy individual who spoke of the potential for monetary donations to the church if I would only give out their own suggested voter guides (found on his organization’s website) or point others to materials which would be similar in content. I don’t know whether this would legally meet the definition, but it sure smacks of corruption and bribery to me. Of course, both of these mailings – like all the others – went straight in the recycle bin.
“Why?” That is a question that, no doubt, many organizations would ask me – perhaps even some reading this blog. The reason is simple: the church is not political. The bride of Jesus Christ is neither republican nor democrat, independent nor libertarian. In a society where everything from businesses to social service organizations is becoming ever more politicized, the church must stand apart and above the political fray.
Let’s be clear here: if you are a Christian, you have one King and His name is Jesus (Revelation 19:16). He is your Savior (Romans 10:13), not the government. Yes, we are to render unto Caesar, but only that which is Caesar’s (Mark 12:17). And let’s not forget, we are to render unto God that which belongs to God – which, according to Scripture, is everything (Genesis 1:1, 26; Psalm 50:10).
Let me also be clear: you as an individual do have both the responsibility and the privilege to get involved in the political process. Don’t just vote for who has the best TV ads or who belongs to whichever party, but inform yourself. Read/watch the debates, get on their websites. Know who you are voting for and why. Yes, that takes time, but it is also part and parcel of being a citizen. However, notice the difference here: individuals are political, but organizations – the church especially – are not.
A few statements to end on:
1) If you are a political organization – even a supposedly “Christian parachurch ministry”, you have no right to try and co-opt the church for your cause regardless of whether you are conservative / republican (normally the case here in the midwest or for Christian organizations) or liberal / democratic (more common for churches on the coasts or in mainline denominations). You are not entitled to the votes of the congregation one way or the other and the church should not expend the resources and good-will of Christ and His people to try and get those votes for you. Sadly, some churches choose to align with particular parties and organizations, but that must always be the exception and never the rule.
2) As well, if you are trying to garner votes – whether liberal, progressive, or conservative – do not stoop to questionable tactics to try and get a church or it’s pastor to endorse, whether explicitly or implicitly, your organization or candidates. This is certainly unethical and serves only to bring shame upon Christ as well as making evangelism – which depends to some extent on trusting the integrity of the church – more difficult.
3) We as Christians must recognize that no political party perfectly encapsulates the priorities of Christ. No matter how much they care for the poor (traditionally liberal) nor how much they support religious freedom (traditionally conservative). Each party – just like every individual – has some ideas that are good and true and some that aren’t. Therefore, the church should not – indeed, must not – align itself with any particular political movement.
The church must reflect all of the redeemed. I am proud to have members of my congregation of all political persuasions – conservative, liberal, independent, libertarian. We must never exclude those from fellowship who are genuine followers of Christ regardless of how they vote.
4) At the same time, when Scripture speaks in a way that contradicts what a movement, group, or government policy stands for, then the church should feel not only free but also compelled to speak on that issue from a Biblical basis. There is no reason why a church can’t criticize thinking on both sides of the aisle just as there is no reason why a church can’t applaud thinking which, even unintentionally, supports the aims of Christ. But the church must be ever-mindful that our criticisms are aimed at those things which oppose Scripture, not just at those things which oppose our personal political brand. Similarly, our commendations should not be offered on the basis of politics, but instead with the aim of promoting what Christ commands.
5) Finally, and for this I hope that we can all be very glad: there will be no political commercials in heaven! And no political parties either. Learn to love those whom you disagree with. Pray and worship alongside fellow believers of all stripes. So long as they are truly in Christ, then we worship most faithfully when we worship as one body.