Navigating the Narrow Path Between the Gospel and Politics

July 30, 2009

Golden Path

It is a constant tension for me.  How do I juggle my personal political views with my responsibility to remain faithful to the Gospel? How do I strive to keep the Gospel message pure and not pollute my teaching with  political biases interjected?

It is a difficult dilemma. Many political issues have moral roots, and can be informed by theological reflection.  At the same time God is not partisan. No party, nor candidate, can claim God’s endorsement.  All are flawed to some degree – some more obvious tha others. None sufficiently reflect the character and commands of God.

In fact, the Gospel itself creates somewhat of a tension. It simultaneously compels us to be both conservative and liberal.  It leads toward conservatism in the sense that it compels us to recognize that there is absolute truth, there is right and wrong, righteousness and evil.  God calls us to seek truth and to walk in the light of truth.  Yet the heart of the message of the Gospel has a very liberal emphasis: God gives graciously and lavishly to those who do not deserve what they receive.  We are to seek justice and to show mercy, two words often associated more with classical liberalism yet are reflections of the character of God.

Rejecting the notion that there can be a pure Church-State, a theocracy, in this era between ancient Israel and the future Kingdom, I am left with the realization that we are to discern wisdom in order to govern effectively, and to address contemporary problems.  Wisdom is discerned from God’s Word. But specific application of wisdom to lifes various issues is not always spelled out by God’s Word.  That leaves room for good people to disagree about solutions, and sometimes even about the nature of the problems.

I cringe whenever I hear Christians indiscriminately integrate a party platform with the true Faith, as if it is an undeniable marriage, making it impossible to distinguish or separate one from the other; or that to choose an opposing party is akin to spiritual adultery.  In my circles, which tends to lean right, even far right,  I hear stupid things said – including from some pulpits – such as: “I don’t see how anyone can be a Democrat and a Christian”.  I try to stay as far away from such inane rhetoric as I can. But I suspect sometimes I try too hard, and therefore stand too far away.

I want to be clear: Such sentiments are not only wrong, they are EVIL.  To attach partisan politics to the Gospel is a distortion of the Gospel. It keeps people from understanding, and sometimes embracing, the only hope we have, which is God’s grace received through faith in Christ.  It prevents some from thinking outside the box of strict conservatism, and therefore may rob our society of possible solutions for very real problems, that just may be both Biblical AND “liberal”.  All of these are, in my estimation, evil consequences, no matter how well intentioned the rationale behind it.

But lacking wisdom about how to navigate the narrow path beween politics and the Gospel, my tactic has been to forgo engaging in political discussion at all, except in close circles where I am sure not to offend.  I am becomming convinced that this is not really wisdom, it is wimpy-ness on my part.

I have very definite political views. I have strong opinions about many of the issues that are plaguing our society and world; and which divide people.  If I refrain from partaking in the conversation I offer nothing toward the solutions. I want to re-enter the discussion.

Here are a few things I will need to do to keep my balance on this narrow path:

1. I will continue to refrain from bringing my partisan views into the pulpit.  This includes not only avoiding stupid comments like the one I previously mentioned, but personal or partisan allusions that could reasonably alienate or offend people of either political leanings. The pulpit is for the proclamation of the Gospel. If the Gospel is not proclaimed from the pulpit, not only is it an abuse of the purpose of the pulpit, but it is to deny the people the Gospel. If the Gospel is not proclaimed in the pulpit, it will not be proclaimed anywhere else.

2. I need to grow in my ability to clearly communicate the  various aspects of the Gospel, and affirming the tension it creates for those who follow Jesus.  The Gospel is an offense. It is like a stone that makes man stumble, a rock that causes them to trip and fall.  If I am faithful and articulate I should become an equal-opportunity offender, causing discomfort to people on both the Left and the Right.

3. I will commit to pray for the good of those who are in positions of authority, especially the President, whether I agree with them or not; whether I even like them or not.  God has commanded that we do this. My personal preferences cannot mitigate God’s clear command. (See Presidential Prayer Team

4. I will be diligent to dilineate political views in such a way that I give no occasion for anyone to infer that I am making them a basis of  Christian fellowship.  Somehow I must learn how to enter the discussion without attaching Gospel authority to my political perspective.  In other words, I want to learn how to dialogue yet affirm that those who differ may well still be more godly than I am – whether they are wrong and I right or I am wrong and they are right.  Fellowship is rooted in what Christ has done, PERIOD.

None of this is profound, I know.  But I just need to wrestle through it to guide me if and when I address any political issues.  If anyone has other suggestions, I’m all ears.

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