Church / State Separation and Politics in the Pulpit
As the Nazis manoeuvred into power in the lead up to WW2, many otherwise respected and influential Lutheran pastors were silenced with threats and an abusively misapplied use of Romans 13. Millions paid for these pastors’ silence! Across the channel, years before most were willing to recognise it, Churchill was raising the Nazi alarm and seeking sanctions and interventions. His words were ignored. Millions paid for their political apathy!
You may think this parallel excessive, or perhaps you recognise it as appropriate. Either way, church leaders (and Christians in general) are now told to “Shut up!”. Anti-Christian sentiment is palpable and believer confusion, especially amongst the Biblically illiterate, continues to increase.
Our culture is crumbling and the silencing of the gospel is being aided and abetted by the church. The belief that political issues have no place in church is a lie from the pit!
Let’s evaluate this gag-order in case you have doubts. The issues are real, but they’re also manipulative and kind of lame.
Theology, Mystery and Apathy
There are theological issues to process. Sadly, when conservative people hit interpretive or application problems in Scripture, they often freeze like a deer caught in a car’s headlights. Caution is good – but not when inaction is the result. Interestingly, liberal theologians don’t seem to have this response. They act and speak very freely.
Let’s consider some theology issues that influence political thought and pulpit truth.
- Does God sovereignly control everything that happens, or does He restrain his control as a sovereign expression of authority and power?
- God can control elections, but does He? If he does, is this sometimes or always? Will our next government be God’s will, ours or both?
- Does God establish authority in a macro sense or is it more individual? Is every individual with authority God ordained (including Hitler)?
- God can turn a king’s heart, but does he do this always? For every king, or just some?
- What role does prayer have?
Theological giants have wrestled these topics for millennia; yet uncertainty remains. What should we to do? We need to act.
We should work within the mystery and do what Scripture is clear about. If we don’t, we risk being like the disobedient servant who hid his coin.
Jesus leaves no middle ground; we are for Him or against Him (Matt 12:30). It’s time to ‘get our brave on’!
If Not You, Then Who?!
Please invest a moment and ask yourself:
- Is there a solid Biblical argument for the church to be a ‘politics-free zone’?
- Do mainstream media, social media, arts, entertainment and the political parties give respect to Biblical Christian teaching?
- Where can Christians access teaching, perspectives and resources on moral and political issues?
The answers, I propose, are as follows:
- There is no Biblically valid gag-order.
- Our culture does not respect Christian perspectives (they can’t, 1 Cor 2:14) and is increasingly and aggressively anti-Christian.
- Christian perspectives on current issues are accessed largely by social media feeds (publicly exposed as interfered with) and websites (if people know they exist).
If these responses are fair, then please accept this reasonable plea: Can we Christians toughen up a bit and ‘get our brave on’!
Yes, it’ll be a bit awkward, due to the culture we’ve passively allowed to grow around us, but the need is obvious.
When we allow shaming, coercion or fear to silence us, there is no one else. When that happens, our silence is taken as assent and the darkness we are commanded to push back does not get pushed.
When we lose our saltiness, when we hide the light of truth, everybody loses!
Annoying the Flock
Ministers face challenges from circumstances, people and the spirit realm. They cop criticism that is just and unjust and from people who are reasonable and unreasonable. They are vulnerable to people who lack manners, boundaries and reason. It’s a tough gig!
Sometimes we’ll just have to say, “I’ve thought this through and I understand it’s complex. I’m open to you showing me, in Scripture, where I’m wrong. But until then, I’m obligated to make truth plain, as best I can.”
Remember also that if a politician or party looks bad when tested against Scripture, it is THEY who are in the wrong! Not God. Not you.
In a culture that says, “Shut your mouth” to God and the Godly, these are the Christians we need.
The Separation of Church and State
Separation of Church and State (SOCS) was a principle penned by Thomas Jefferson to PROTECT religious freedom. Specifically, he affirmed the US government would NOT declare a state religion. Ironically, it is now used to drive Christian principles, practice and people from bureaucracy, government and significant professions.
When someone says they support SOCS, say, “You’re right! Government shouldn’t infringe on religious freedom.”
Both Pulpit and Gospel Are Unavoidably Political
We’re being political whenever we put our bowl over the light of God’s truth. We’re also being political when we let it shine. Why? Any decision designed to manage, improve, maintain or protect status or power is political. Consider this.
Whether it’s a Minister speaking from a pulpit or an individual in conversation with friends, when we let Christs light out, we’re shifting status and power for the better – sometimes one person at a time.
Getting ‘Your Brave’ On
Our world hates Jesus. Please be salt and light:
- Make resources available.
- Speak and teach. Share Scripture, recognise tensions and state conclusions as your own. If you’re fair-handed, most will respect that.
- Encourage research and point people in useful and faithful directions.
Yes, it is complex. Yes, there is a price. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrestled the mystery and then acted. Disagree with his actions if you like, but no-one can accuse him of burying his talent, shirking responsibility or being a coward.
The gag-order is unbiblical, invalid and immoral. Silence is not the loving response. This election, let’s get back our saltiness!