13 July, 2024

What’s the Problem with Politics in the Church?

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by | 1 September, 2022 | 21 comments

By Ben Cachiaras 

Over the last two years I have listened to pastors and witnessed churches across the country share sad stories. They tell of congregations splitting, longtime members leaving, and pastors getting fired. I’ve seen tight-knit small groups blow apart, families feud, and longtime friendships abruptly end.  

Has this happened primarily because of major scandal in the church or moral failure? Or was it false doctrine—a refusal to recognize the divinity of Christ? Or perhaps a mishandling of Scripture?  

No. It was politics.  

We can barely even discuss politics anymore. We polarize over every issue, demonize those with differing viewpoints, and categorize everyone with unkind labels we learn from our favorite news channel. Everyone seems politicked off. And no one is ever wrong; it’s always the other guy—the enemy who is ruining our country, an idiotic fool who must not be tolerated. The only reason some of you are reading this is to see if you agree with me.  

We’ve long known that those rejecting Christianity—and the trend becomes more acute with each generation—cite our overinvolvement in politics as one of the biggest turnoffs. The perception that we care more about our partisan ideology than biblical theology and have fashioned a Jesus in our own likeness is hard to shake. The world we’re sent to reach with the good news is often seen running the other way, not because they can’t accept the claims of Jesus, but because they can’t swallow the politics of those who claim to follow him. 

But these days, politics isn’t just driving away the lost, it’s driving wedges among the saved. Perhaps now is a good time to find our balance between spiritual devotion and political fervor. How do we navigate the stormy waters churning around us?  

Some Christians are so annoyed and apprehensive they have distanced themselves completely from anything remotely resembling a social issue, convinced it’s better to “plead the Fifth.” I understand this impulse. Who wants to nervously broach thorny subjects only to be misunderstood, misquoted, and mistreated? I don’t want to preach wearing a bulletproof vest.  

But those who avoid all political discussions and engagement essentially are casting a vote for the status quo. Some churches in the 19th century didn’t speak out against slavery for the same reason. But they actually were supporting slavery, because sometimes “not talking about politics” is very political. Joseph and Daniel held important posts in pagan governments, and we too can work for better treatment of the poor, ending racial inequity, or providing better schools.  

Seeking to avoid getting dirty in the messiness of the real world does not reflect how Jesus lived and served. When huge issues dominate every news report and conversation, a church that never speaks to those issues or helps its people frame a biblical worldview—whether concerning the election, racial tensions, abortion, immigration, or what have you—is a church teaching a faith that doesn’t apply to our lives. It misunderstands the way Jesus subverted the powers. Avoidance is irrelevance.  

But there is a monumental difference between Christians being involved in political issues and Christians being identified by their political position. Our larger problem today isn’t that too many Christians are unconcerned with political matters; it’s that too many of us are consumed by them.  

So, what’s the problem with too much politics in our churches, pulpits, and classrooms?  

IT DISTORTS OUR IDENTITY  

Paul said, “for to me, to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21). He identified himself as a servant of Christ. His identity was found completely in the Lord Jesus, and he said it’s the same for us.  

We may be persuaded by a political viewpoint. But when it becomes our worldview and shapes our reading of Scripture and view of reality, we can forget we are children of God, set apart, to be holy as God is holy. Are we more confident in our political positions than our identity in Christ? Are you primarily a Republican or Democrat who happens to be a Christian? Or are you primarily a Christian who happens to be a Republican or Democrat? If you believe God has all the same opinions as your political party, you probably are not worshipping God. And your identity has been stolen.  

My eye doctor told me I had cataracts, but she could put in new lenses to permanently affect how I see everything. Now, when I look at your face, I see you through those lenses. When I look out the windshield, in the mirror, at the TV news channel—everything I see, I see through those lenses.  

Followers of Jesus have surrendered their eyeballs to the Lord Jesus. We acknowledge sin has clouded our vision and we welcome the new worldview lenses he provides. The mind of Christ dwells in us, and we now are new creatures. The old has gone and the new has come, so “from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view” (2 Corinthians 5:16). Our identity in Christ changes how we see everything and everyone.  

Unless, that is, we are so caught up in a political ideology that it becomes our primary identity, and we ask the Scriptures and God to bend into its mold.  

During high school, when I was leaving the house for an evening with friends, my mother would sometimes say, “Remember who you are!” Remember your family name. Remember your identity in Christ. It’s time for us to remember who we are, because Jesus hopes when people look at us, they will see him.  

IT DIVIDES OUR BODY

In John 17, Jesus prayed that we would be one. So, anything that divides us is working against God’s will. The current climate that tells us to make enemies of those who disagree with us drives us apart. And the COVID-19 pandemic only seemed to make matters worse.  

Paul spoke to wildly divergent groups of Jews and Gentiles; he celebrated that, by means of the cross, Christ “has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). Sadly, we have erected new divisive walls of hostility. When we glom together in sociological groups that mirror the political gatherings the world offers, we lose the beautiful diversity that Christ intends for the church and which we will enjoy in heaven. We also lose a tremendous ability to convince anyone that Jesus has power to bring real change to the real world. If the gospel is not powerful enough to break down the dividing walls of hostility between Republican Christians and Democratic Christians, what good is it? 

If I hang out only with people who agree with me on everything, it seriously impedes my ability to know, love, and value people who are different from me. If my version of the gospel does not include loving my enemies, it’s not Jesus’ gospel. 

We tribalize and cannibalize the body of Christ when we cling demandingly to our politics. It’s time to remember we are one.  

IT DESTROYS OUR WITNESS

The rise of the “nones” (those who say they have no religious affiliation—the fastest-growing religious group in America) and the “dones” (those who have exited the church, often disillusioned) has ties to this politicizing habit of some Christians. Like it or not, we are viewed by many as being pawns in the hip pocket of the party. The result is a generation with many who want nothing to do with Christianity. The problem isn’t Jesus or Christ’s church. It’s just that people often don’t get exposed to either one because of the political roadblocks unwittingly strewn behind.  

Jason Price wrote in Christianity Today, “The Christ-centered trait that evangelicals most need in the political arena (and on social media) is . . . meekness.” But showing humility on social media in a time of extreme political divisiveness will require us to subordinate our own political passions and rights in order to preserve our witness for Jesus Christ to our unbelieving friends.  

If, by engaging in (often needless) political debates on social media or in person, your neighbors and friends primarily identify you by your politics, you may have unintentionally lost or severely diminished your Christian witness.  

The current social climate tends to bring out aggressiveness in people. It is evident among Christians on social media who insist they are right before first weighing whether it is wise or helpful to say it. Can we choose to subordinate our political opinions so we can prioritize our witness?  

J.D. Greear said, “I might be wrong in my opinion on universal healthcare, or I might be wrong in my opinions on global warming, but I’m not wrong about the gospel, and I don’t want to let my opinions on the former ever keep people from hearing me on the latter. And it means that I show a restraint about talking about certain things that I think I’m right about.”  

It’s time to remember who is watching and strengthen our witness.  

IT DISTRACTS FROM OUR MISSION

In City Slickers, the character played by Jack Palance held up a single finger and talked about the one thing that’s important in life. Jesus has given us the one thing that towers above all other priorities: Seek first the kingdom of God. Make disciples of all nations. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. When we get caught up in making everything political, we forget we have much larger priorities.  

When we dabble in the political realm to a distracting degree, it pulls focus and energy off mission. When I see pastors repeatedly post political pronouncements, I wonder if they realize their political views likely are what they are known for. You can have only one main thing. 

Why should church leaders refrain from taking a public stance for a candidate or aligning with a party or political position? Because we are weak and timid, afraid of standing up for truth? No. Because we don’t believe Christians should have a political opinion? No. Because we don’t want to lose our tax-exempt status? Again, no! Because we hate conflict or can’t stomach debate? No. Because there are no issues of justice important enough to weigh in on? No!  

The reason churches should not align with a candidate or partisan perspective is because we have been given a much higher calling. And we must not do anything that prevents us from executing our God-given mission. I’m a Christian and a pastor. If I make it clear I’m a “Trump guy” or a “Biden guy,” I have immediately forfeited my ability to represent Christ to anyone who disagrees with me politically. That puts Jesus in the background, and everyone who disagrees with me on the opposing side. I become merely one more droning voice among many, blending in with the news cycle rather than standing out as a proclaimer of God’s good news.  

Christians aren’t called to have their primary focus on gun rights, border issues, abortion legislation, or even religious freedom. Some will contend, “But those things are important!” Yes, they are. I’m not saying they are unimportant, I’m asking, What is your main thing? If some Christians were as excited about the mission of Christ as they are about their politics, we would have a revival. 

Paul said, “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed” (1 Corinthians 4:1). We are stewards of the mystery. We don’t own it—we just share it. And nothing is to get in the way of this. Only one thing can truly change the world, and that’s Jesus. God has placed the gospel in our hands. We are not free to empty our hands of it to take up another tool.  

Like it or not, a watching world is largely disgusted with what they believe to be our politics. We must not compromise on the all-important mission Jesus gave us by aligning with the left or right, liberals or conservatives, in a way that sends people on an off-ramp instead of on the road to Jesus. When someone comes through the doors of your church, they do not need to know where you stand on various issues; they need to know where they stand with Christ. They need Jesus. He is the only source of healing and hope for the people of this country. It’s time to remember the main thing and stay focused on our mission.  

Ben Cachiaras serves as lead pastor at Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, Maryland. 

Ben Cachiaras

Ben Cachiaras serves as lead pastor at Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, Maryland.

21 Comments

  1. Heath Jarrett

    Thank you for your gospel focus and generous tone in this article! I echo your concerns and your corrective: to subordinate all other missions to the gospel of Christ. My only qualm is that your voice, like mine, seems to be a distinct minority in the pulpits of our land. Endeavor to preach nothing but Christ crucified, brother. – Pastor Heath

  2. Wanda Reynolds

    Amen, I hate politics in church, and it does not belong there.

  3. Sam Raia

    Ben, you are drinking the woke kool-Aide. As Christians, if we do not take a stand then we are part of the problem not the solution. God calls us to be a light in this fallen world. What better way to be a light than to have church be involved in Politics.

    Churches have to stop being cowards and stand up and take back this country.

  4. JoyStinson

    What it’s “woke” but Jesus’ teachings of empathy for others. Directed to person above. Such divisive language is not WWJD.

  5. JoyStinson

    Also Jesus did not come to “take back Israel from Roman occupation but to save all who believe in him. “ Your nationalist language isn’t in line with Jesus’ teachings or message.

  6. Bill N Boswell

    Are Scriptural teachings on issues like abortion, biblical sexual purity, and the non-Christian horrors of our public education system not to be addressed from the pulpit for fear of offending seekers of the faith? Politics? I think not.

  7. Rhonda Loncto

    One’s idea of politics in the church is another person’s sharing of scripture about what the Bible says is ungodly (i.e. abortion, homosexuality). Should we attend church with duct tape over our mouths for fear of offending a brother or sister? Satan is enjoying seeing God’s children quarrel. After all, his plan is to divide and conquer the church.

  8. Steve Chapman

    Ben, it seems your well-spoken moderation of “don’t say anything” and “overwhelming partisan political activism” in the guise of Christianity has been misunderstood by most commenters. I agree that we ought to teach what Scripture says about issues of righteousness and justice without throwing our support unashamedly to one party or candidate. Our witness is subverted when our Christianity is confused for our politics.

  9. Joe Grana

    Excellent. Thank you!!

  10. Mark Weber

    Thank you, Ben. I agree and what might help is realizing how many conservative Christians (which I lean toward) don’t mention poverty and justice. (which the Bible addresses a lot!). Both sides of the political divide make good points and both have glaring weaknesses.

  11. Harold Murray

    I have seen reports of people attending campaign rallies carrying signs quoting scripture passages.

    Observing how they treat people who are not part of their camp I would like to be there with my sign quoting Matthew 7:21-23.

  12. Harold Murray

    A comment from a response posted earlier on this article said, “God calls us to be a light in this fallen world. What better way to be a light than to have church be involved in Politics.”

    Just make sure whose light you are reflecting . . . Jesus or a political position.

  13. Al Edmonds

    “social justice” Whose justice?

  14. Brandon

    It is time for the church to wake up and join the effort to save our country. Hiding behind political correctness and tax advantages is part of the problem. I agree with this comment. “Ben, you are drinking the woke kool-Aide. As Christians, if we do not take a stand then we are part of the problem not the solution. God calls us to be a light in this fallen world. What better way to be a light than to have church be involved in Politics. Churches have to stop being cowards and stand up and take back this country.”

    I just read the Christian book The Heart of a Warrior, it lacks a warrior that will help save this country.

  15. Jim Young, Civicc Minded Christian

    It seems to me the word discerment should take a more prominent place in this discussion. First let me say that I agree that political wrangling and posturing had no place in the pulpit. On the other hand, as followers of Christ if we fail to speak up on the obvious sin-nature of much in our culture today, we become enabelers through failing to confront and exhort the wrong-headed moral and societal depravity all around us. As the chief proponents of “salt and light” are we not failing in our commitment to our walk of faith?

    Look… if we have the understanding to make a decision to give our spiritual lives to understanding the greatest mystery of all time, surely we can commit a few brain cells to trying to understand others and the depravity of our society in general, including those who fill our churches on Sunday. Can we not see that the deeply flawed, and sin-driven nature of people is the problem … not politics?

    Jesus made it clear that we are to be a separate people. Separated from a sin-filled life and dedicated to seeking to become more like Jesus in our daily walk. So that others will be drawn to us.

    I think it is possible for anyone to be a Spirit-filled Christian, and a civic-minded person at the same time. To me it is not a matter of knowledge or intellect, but a desire to do what Jesus told us to do … love one another and let others see Him in us. The word meekness comes to mind here, which is not timidity, but “controlled boldness” and a servant’s heart. To my way of thinking, this is the very soul of discernment, striving to understand others and having the boldness to discuss difficult issues that we may personally disagree with, just as Jesus did. As God, He had a distinct advantage over you and I, but he calls us … no he commands us … to renew our minds and grow both Spiritually, and as manking.

  16. Earl Morley

    Jesus came to divide. The gospel causes division. Morals are part of the gospel. We must get involved in politics because politics have gotten involved in morals! Pastors are some of the biggest cowards for Christ in America!

  17. Jacqueline Tessler

    In light of this writing, I want to cite a few experiences that I have experienced between 2005 and 2024, in Baptist churches.

    1. In 2005, the Independent Baptist church my husband and I were attending, split. We ventured to become members of their “sister” church… they don’t really have sister churches; it was a church that they were close to, relationally & geographically. After two weeks we expressed our desire to become members. The conversation took place in the pastor’s office; we were excited and eager to get plugged in. After he asked us if we have any questions, to which we said ,”no,” he then said, “You guys might want to know that many of our visiting pastors still believe in segregation.” My husband (white), me (black) began to cry. He told us he would not allow his daughters to marry into another race. We walked out of his office, hand in hand, with tear-stained cheeks as he reclined in his leather chair.

    We tried attending another church. We met the pastor at the door (where he would have heard my accent). In his sermon he said, “Any immigrant who wants to be a United States citizen should first join the army.”

    “Tatoos are wrong and their roots are in the jungles of Africa” another church.

    2023: There was a financial peace teaching at our church. At the end was a Q&A. A young woman raised her hand and said, “Pastor Blank, in light of the now high gas prices and high food prices, how do I adjust my budget?” Response from lead Pastor who holds a doctorate degree: “Oh well that just speaks to Joe Biden’s failed financial plan, oops *put hand over mouth*

    2020: *pastor walks to pulpit* “friends I need to begin by getting you up to speed on what CRT is. CRT is a theory that states that the oppressor should give of his wealth to the oppressed group”

    This is just a portion of my experiences.

    The intersection of race, politics and religion is a bad idea. If I didn’t love God more than I love the church, I’d never step foot back in one, ever again. A Christian has a role to play in all these polarised issues and it’s to build a bridge to the unsaved and maintain unity within the body. CRT is divisive, likewise issues of immigration from the pulpit.

    As a born again Christian, I sadly see the (denominational) church as a place that makes great attempt to maintain the status quo and to brainwash its members from within.

    Finally, I hardly doubt the writing is suggesting we should have no lot nor part with politics; he’s more likely talking about the endorsement of particular presidents and policies from the pulpit.

  18. You Suck

    Uh, the problem is that a loving god would not promise eternal life and love, yet threaten you with eternal damnation. What is wrong with you people? Oh wait – you just want money. Ok, makes sense now. I hope there is a hell for you. You love cheat and steal from people who cannot afford it, and you don’t care. YOU are the evil.

  19. God is dead

    To Jacqueline – my thoughts are with you, because that is not right. We are people, and we should love who we love and be accepted regardless. If someone is judging you, for WHATEVER reason, then they are not following the “biblical law.” Do not accept them, they are not in your best interest. I’m fact, your worst. Be well.

  20. Michael Paull

    Let me be one of the few here to extend my hand of warm appreciation for this fine article you wrote! Not surprisingly, you’re receiving a lot of heat for it. Many here choose to gaslight and straw-man the position of your arguments, and to infer-in so many words-that you’re telling us-as Christians-that we should simply sit out our country’s democratic processes altogether; possibly-in the minds of some-not even bother to vote or support a campaign. Or stuff along those lines…

    The premise of many of these contentious arguments seems to be that it would be somehow impossible for us collectively to keep all partisan politics out of the church, and yet still, individually, be functioning members of the body electorate. That you must not entertain any personal preferences in candidates running for office, much less show up to cast your vote, or even try running for office oneself. This seems to be the “directive” you’re accused of making here. And they’re darn sure of it!

    However, if you allow the possibility that both of these scenarios CAN exist side-by-side in this world (politically-functioning individual citizen/non-political functioning church)-and, really, there is absolutely NO reasonable argument that can by made otherwise…

    Then their whole narrative, based on the twisting of your words-completely falls apart.

    Because right now, there are churches throughout this country that actually avoid any and all political agenda. They may be overshadowed, at this moment in time, by some of the high-profile ones that embrace it, but still, they DO exist. And yet out of all of THEM, only ONE major sect actually tells their congregation not to go and participate in the democratic process-at ALL: the Jehova’s Witnesses.

    So if “you” happen to not like the direction our society is heading in, then you should go out and vote, run for office, join an organization, do whatever… And then leave all that stuff outside when you come to church-out of respect for your fellow congregationers, and the institution in general. Let said church be the sanctuary for those who want to ditch all earthly affairs for an hour or two on Sunday morning, and connect with the kingdom beyond. Otherwise, as your intolerance grows, your numbers will continue to dwindle, as you alienate and disenfranchise all those who came believing in God and Jesus’ impartial love. I mean, isn’t it for God to decide who is, and isn’t worthy, and not us?

    https://www.businessinsider.com/church-official-warns-christianity-in-crisis-jesus-liberal-talking-points-2023-8

  21. Billy chris Buttry

    So? Are you saying that God’s love for us and walking in relationship with him and allowing that love to operate through us and to be long suffering with others who may not understand the awesomeness and greatness of his Love that is above anything else, and the price of that love was paid in blood and above politics? Thank you Lord! Pour it on me and lead me through your Grace. May I give to Caesar what is his but more importantly, may I truly give and serve and Love like you Love! How good you are!

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