3 Dangers of Valuing Politics More Than People
By Scott McConnell
During the coronavirus pandemic, pastors have had to navigate increased tension and conflict in their churches, often motivated by different political beliefs. These political beliefs manifest themselves in different views on what to emphasize during the pandemic. Opinions about safety, religious liberty, loving your neighbor, personal freedom, vaccination, social distance, and masks all were stirred by the political and social commentators being followed by churchgoers.
However, differing views on politics and social issues were causing problems before COVID-19. Two-thirds of young adults drop out of church after high school. Lifeway Research’s work among them reveals that some of the most common reasons they give for stepping away from church relate to what the congregation values.
Two noticeable reasons stand out among the reasons young adults stop attending church for at least a year between ages 18-22:
- 32% dropped out because church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical
- 25% dropped out because they disagreed with the church’s stance on political/social issues
It’s not that churches should refrain from taking stances on what is right and wrong to avoid offending someone. It’s not even that Christians and churches should avoid politics. It’s imperative that churches teach the truth and apply it to every area of life including the social issues and political issues of our day.
Yes, it is possible some of the young people before COVID-19 and churchgoers during the pandemic were rejecting truth. But more often than not, these responses likely reflect problems with how their church navigated these issues. This is why your church needs to be very intentional with the tone it uses to interact with people today.Christians often compete to be the most right and that impacts how we treat others individually and socially. — @smcconn Click To Tweet
The American culture highly values being “right.” The paradox is that Americans have a myriad of definitions of what is right. And Christians often compete to be the most right and that impacts how we treat others individually and socially.
As much as we may think our beliefs are private, by their very nature, our political and social beliefs impact how we interact in society. As a church we need to warn our congregation that each of these dangers can lead us into unwise or sinful responses, including these three.
We can be tempted to isolate ourselves with only those who share our opinions. Each tribe gravitates to media and social media sources that share our opinion of what is right.
Among those with evangelical beliefs, Lifeway Research found 48% agree they prefer to follow or befriend people on social media who have similar thoughts on social and political issues. Fifty-three percent trust news more if it is delivered by people who have similar thoughts on social and political issues as they do.If we will only surround ourselves with those who think like us, we can unintentionally communicate to those who think differently that they are not welcome in our church. Click To Tweet
This is dangerous to our witness and fellowship with others. If others see this pattern in us, what does this say to them if they have different political beliefs? It communicates that they will not be welcome around you.
Falling into this danger zone is also unwise. Putting ourselves into an echo chamber on an issue means we never hear the other side that may possess something we need to know. Proverbs 18:17 says “The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.” We become so convinced we are right we foolishly skip the natural cross-examination of debate.
The second danger is that we not only stop listening to the other side, but we no longer treat them with respect. The next generation is always expertly equipped to notice when their elders slip from disagreeing to disrespecting someone.The next generation is always expertly equipped to notice when their elders slip from disagreeing to disrespecting someone. — @smcconn Click To Tweet
While fewer people fall into this trap in obvious ways, it is not uncommon. Among those with evangelical beliefs, 18% agree that when they disagree with someone about politics, “I respond more harshly with someone I don’t know than with a friend.” Only 42% of evangelicals strongly disagree with this statement.
The most profound political danger for a Christian is that we confuse any man-made solution to society’s problems with God’s solution for mankind’s greatest need. Followers of Jesus Christ can disagree on man-made approaches and still agree that Jesus is the only way to have a relationship with God.
Too often we try to apply the same exclusivity that Christ deserves to our favorite political party or social solution. That posture demeans the name of Jesus Christ and elevates our politics to an idolatrous level. Our priority should always be sharing the love of Jesus Christ far above any other man-made solutions we find.Too often we try to apply the same exclusivity that Christ deserves to our political party or social solution. That posture demeans the name of Jesus and elevates our politics to an idolatrous level. — @smcconn Click To Tweet
As a follower of Christ, I should vet each of my political and social choices using biblical principles. But, because the Bible is not a political handbook, a believer across the political aisle could do the same thing and reach different conclusions on some issues. Both of us will make our tribe better by thinking biblically, but as a result we also won’t quite fit the mold of others in our political party.
As followers of Christ, we are instructed to live like we are not of this world (John 17:14). But when Jesus prayed this, He was not commending us for being so right that we live in an ivory tower. Instead, He prays that His different people would be sent into the world (John 17:18). We are not called to live smugly. We are called to humbly go and love people who have different views than we have.
Becoming right with God
As Christians, we believe we have found what is right and true in Jesus Christ. However, one of the best ways to share what we have found is with a tone that emphasizes the beauty of God’s grace for those we share this message with.
Jesus told a parable about a Pharisee in Luke 18:11 who prayed about himself “God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”
Our prayers may not mirror the self-righteous Pharisee, but often our conversations with others at church do. And it is likely these conversations shape what young people think about church. We are so convinced we are right about everything, that we say so to our friends. We share how right we are and how we cannot believe how anyone could do such evil things or vote for such evil political candidates.Our prayers may not mirror the self-righteous Pharisee, but often our conversations with others at church do. — @smcconn Click To Tweet
When He told this parable, Jesus was talking to people who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else.” Think about your political beliefs. Consider what you believe is best for our society. Reflect on your views on morality. It is so easy for us to focus on our righteous views like the Pharisee. After all, he listed things that Scripture says are wrong (greed, unrighteousness, adultery, etc.). And he was right.
But Jesus’ point was that being right is not the goal. The Pharisee did not go home that day justified. He was too busy exalting himself. When we shift the priority off of us being right and instead focus on God’s mercy for the most unlikely person (which includes us!), then we can actually be right with God and will have a tone that values others regardless of their behavior or their politics.
Scott is the executive director of Lifeway Research.