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Do churches have role in politics?

Bonnie Willis's picture

As a Christian and someone who considers it a privilege to live in this country, I find myself being drawn into questions of politics and asking myself this very question: does faith, in general, and Christianity in particular, have any place in politics?

Honestly, I don’t have a concrete answer. I am at the point where I am trying to understand what appears to me to be a deliberate abstinence of many Christians and churches from politics all together.

But in a political culture, which is plagued, for example, by moral failings and divisive, even hateful, rhetoric, should there be a more deliberate role for the church relative to political matters?

To be clear, I am not saying that the church is to be a political entity. Rather, I am simply asking if the church has any place in politics, and if so, what?

Personally, I rarely engage in political conversations at church, and I believe it is because there is an unspoken understanding that politics is too divisive and often gets ugly, so we won’t go there.

However, in individual conversations, I do occasionally communicate how my faith in Christ does align with my conservative beliefs, but even then I try not to speak in partisan terms.

However, when I look at many of our churches, they seem to shy away from political issues altogether.

This may be out of fear of causing divisions within the church, losing their tax-exempt status, a misunderstanding of separation of church and state, or something else.

Although I can understand the reason for such concerns, it has been my understanding that while churches ought not advocate political parties and candidates, they need not avoid expressing how their faith speaks to today’s issues.

Furthermore, it is ironic to me that a nation that was founded, in part, on religious freedom and whose churches were highly involved in past socio-political movements like the abolitionist and civil rights movements, now seems strangely silent when it comes to key political issues of our time.

Indeed, I wonder if part of the reason we are seeing the caustic nature of our political discourse is due to the lack of engagement of our religious communities. Without such voices, we are often left with partisans and pundits who are in positions that seem less to help our society and more to advance their political self-interests.

In contrast, our society is narrowly defining the significance of one’s faith to being only what one does inside of a church building, rather than identifying faith as a part of who one is and how they engage public life.

The popular culture and, unfortunately, many people within our churches appear to be content with allowing churches to exist as simply a separate subculture that remains silent when it comes to the social and political issues of the day.

At the heart of this silence is a pervading sense of fear, which I do not believe is consistent with Christian faith.

I predict that if this trend continues, our churches will continue to struggle with remaining relevant in politics and our culture, particularly with younger generations.

With so few churches simply speaking out to the issues of the day, is there any wonder why we are experiencing the heightened, political antagonisms that we are experiencing today?

[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]


Thank you for sharing your concern about the religious communities involvement in the ‘political’ issues of the day. I have found in my ten years here, that the Democrat ‘label’ does not invite much political discussion – and I am a Democrat. However, my church members are followers of The Christ – and certainly found the demonstration of the humanity of Jesus a good guide for living with ones neighbors in harmony.
I have not found an ‘abstinence’ of politics from the religious community in our country. Today, the Pope has spoken out regarding the gap in economics found in our capitalist society. Many religious leaders have taken a strong stand regarding civil unions, same sex marriage, etc. – which has become a political football. The death penalty, which has political overtones, is addressed by the religious community.
[quote]To be clear, I am not saying that the church is to be a political entity. Rather, I am simply asking if the church has any place in politics, and if so, what[/quote]
In my opinion, the church has an important role in the lives of believers. The church should always be concerned about the issues that affect the lives of their members. An important role of any religious entity is to assist their members in living in harmony with their neighbor. In the Old Testament, there were many rules, creeds, doctrines shared to assist mankind. Jesus was pretty clear in his instructions. In Matthew, in answering a lawyer’s question, Jesus gave two commandments he considered the greatest:
Thou shalt love the Lord the God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (and the second) Thou shalt love thy neighbor as they self.
Moses shared the Ten Commandments with mankind – upon which western law is built. The politics involved in implementing these commandments are not the concern of the church – the church's concern is the implementation, in my opinion.

secret squirrel's picture

Absolutely church has a place in politics. The wonderful success of theocracies like Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, Nigeria and even the Vatican makes the question obvious. Religion and government are just what people need to ensure freedom for all (except those who don't believe, believe something else, want a secular vote, and alter boys). After all, god is American and can kick the butt of all those other gods.

It's always amazing to me how everyone else's religion is a detriment to practical governance except "my" religion. Thomas Jefferson's wall of separation should be a mile high.

citizenal's picture

There you go again spouting that false quote of Jefferson's. Read it some time for yourself. He was assuring a Christian group that a "wall" would protect them from government interference. Not visa versa. If you read all his writings this is very consistent. The current trend to make this a two way wall is simply an error that is another chip away of our freedoms.

PTC Observer's picture

You are correct on this, here's what he demanded be written on his tombstone and not one word more.

Here was buried
Thomas Jefferson
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom
Father of the University of Virginia

Here is a link to the text of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom.

These words are very clear, they protect us from the power of government to dictate which religion we must follow. Mr. Jefferson, never intended to have God banished from the halls of government. This is why we have prayer to begin each session of Congress, why we have a Congressional Chaplin, why the Great Seal is designed the way it's designed, why Washington chose to tack on "So help me God" to the oath of office.

Anyone suggesting that God should be driven from our political venues, is putting the state above the authority of God. God has given us Rights and if God is driven out of our government, government will become His substitute. Read socialist history, it's always the Leader, Motherland, Fatherland or Homeland that takes precedent over God. God is used merely to pledge unflagging devotion, loyalty and allegiance to the Leader or State.

Just like the Govt should not attempt to support one particular religion over another, I do not believe it is proper for a Church leader (or any member) to use the Pulpit to attempt to further the views of any political party.

PTC Observer's picture

worry the IRS has you covered, any church that does this loses their tax exempt status.

However, consider this. It was churches throughout the colonies that acted as a platform for revolutionary change in the colonies. The state has effectively cut off this channel of communication and dialog. I understand why you might support this notion, but you should consider the fact that if you don't agree with the sermon, you leave the church for another. It's a free country, at least it is unless your talking to your parishioners from the pulpit. If you express your opinion in this case, then free speech comes with an IRS price tag attached.

Pretty clever don't you think?

Yes, understand the IRS threat but I'm of the opinion that there have been numerous occasions (during election cycles) where "Voter Information" and "Get Out The Vote" were cleverly disguised to be non=partisan, thereby escaping the wrath of the IRS.

PTC Observer's picture

that it depends on what the church "message" is, if it is in support of state power, naturally the IRS won't have a problem with this. They will turn a blind eye to it. If however it has the notion of liberty, freedom or patriotism attached, well that's a different story.

The IRS is a politicized dysfunctional arm of government and is a tool of the state to suppress freedom of speech.

G35 Dude's picture

It's great to see that some understand that separation of church and state was intended to protect the church from the state, not the other way around. Still, while I believe that the church should teach values and the people of that church should vote according to those values the church should not endorse a particular candidate. If there are 2 or more candidates that follow the values that you agree with then you should pick for yourself. The only reason for a church to endorse a candidate over another that follows your beliefs is to gain clout with that candidate. That is not, in my opinion, the mission of the church.

Having said that, based on my beliefs, I do agree that God belongs in our Government. This country was founded on christian principles with an addendum that others will also be allowed to practice their beliefs free from persecution. The problem is that now a few of those religions want to limit our right to practice our beliefs in favor of theirs. And in this era of political correctness we allow it. That I do not favor!!!

Reading Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists (where the "wall of separation" phrase is introduced), it is apparent that he was strongly supporting a partition between their freedom to practice a minority religion and the government’s sponsorship of the majority Congregationalists. We need a strong wall of separation between church and state to deter majority religious groups (Christians in the U.S.A.) from imposing their dogma on the rest of us.

No one is persecuted in America for worshiping any myth they choose. If a religious principle makes logical sense (e.g., “Thou shall not murder.”), it is embraced by a rational society – not because it is proscribed by a deity, but rather, because it is supported as a reasonable way to live in society. When a religious principle is merely a preference of faith or dogma (e.g., “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.”), passing laws to deter commerce on Sunday is illogical and is a government imposition of religion on the populace.

Practice your religion all you desire, just don’t ask me to join you in your rituals. When the wall of separation is very high, it forces both the religious and others to justify any imposition of government with rational arguments instead of dogma.

PTC Observer's picture

You're absolutely correct and you introduce some very fine ideas about the tyranny of the majority. We agree on this entirely. So, I am sure you also believe that private property is an extension of our Rights given by God, and the precept that "Thou shall not steal." also has social value beyond mere religion? That no man has a right to steal, and therefore by extension no group of men have this right.

However, we live in a democracy. The concept of the majority rule process, somehow seems to negate the proposition of this Commandment. Just as you disagree with the idea of a religious majority enforcing its will on us, you must also agree that theft by majority rule is equally bad.

Maybe you don't, if not it would be interesting to hear your rationale given your objection to forced religious majority rule.

PTCO - Your question evokes interest since it strikes at the heart of the question of how a democracy (or republic) operates. The Bible’s prohibition against stealing is rational and consistent with democratic principles. Therefore, it is not a question of divine fiat to honor this principle in a democracy like ours.

A secular democracy or republic (like the U.S.A.) is governed by the Constitution which gives Congress and other governing bodies the ability to tax. I assume that the crux of your question is when do government’s policies on taxation (taking property from taxpayers) move from reasonable to thievery. Few would argue that the government has the responsibility to raise money for services that serve all and could not be reasonably provided otherwise (e.g., roads, courts, defense, etc.). Many other government functions are more controversial. Representatives who vote for these taxes are subject to electoral consequences. This is much different than blind adherence to a creed that must be followed without question because a deity demands it. The former is malleable while the latter is immutable. We can change majorities, but we can’t tell a god to “shut up.”

PTC Observer's picture

Then you do agree that the Constitution was constructed to provide certain services but not others?

Exactly how do we change majorities? What is the social contract we have with our government? Is it re-distributive in nature? What Rights do the minority have under this interpretation? Must they give up their Property by force of law? Law that is passed by the majority in its self interest? Do you actually believe that the government was formed as a democracy and that majority must rule?

What makes the majority moral and right in its decision making? Is a majority morally superior to the individual?

Just trying to understand your reasoning.

Destutt de Tracy's Treatise on Political Economy:

"To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, —the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, & the fruits acquired by it." - As translated by Thomas Jefferson.

Note: "the first principle of association" Now do you really think our Constitution would have captured the notion that a majority have the right and obligation to steal by vote what an individual cannot take by force on his own? It's absurd to believe it.

I’ve been out of pocket this week, but just noticed your questions posed to my post last week. Obviously, a thorough answer to myriad thought-provoking Constitutional queries demands more space than a short blog allows. However, in a debate, I would enjoy taking either side on the redistribution of wealth question. The argument embraced by most on this forum would chide any majority from voting a redistribution from the wealthy to the lower and middle classes. The counterargument would criticize redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy in the years since Ronald Reagan’s presidency. This debate could be quite spirited!

The short answer to your questions is that I believe that Madisonian republicanism is a reasonable form of democracy that offers some protections to the tyranny of straight majority rule. It is not perfect, but is superior to communism, oligarchy, land barons, dictatorships.

I appreciate your thoughtful observations and inquiries.

PTC Observer's picture

I hope you've been out there working hard for the "have nots".

I would suggest that if we have a debate, that you take the position that is most comfortable for you to defend. Based on your response, it appears that you accept the notion of redistribution, no matter what direction the government chooses to take it. The fundamental question is not that wealth ebbs and flows to different people at different times in a free market, but whether the government should have any say in it, thus countering the argument of free markets. Now if you want to debate that, that could be quite spirited......and it relates to your second point.

Madison republicanism.....If you believe that this theory of government is superior to other forms of governance, then you must believe in its fundamental precept of Natural Law? That our freedom and rights are granted by God and not man?

I could not have said it better.

citizenal's picture

I think you frame the question incorrectly. The question is should citizens be involved in politics? The answer is obvious - YES! And a Christian citizen has an even greater obligation as salt and light. The Creator has given his people the word, a book of wisdom and a man who lived it, to show us why and for what we were created. We need to live and speak this truth in private and in public to be obedient and to care for our fellow man.

Good point!

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