Dividing the church over politics


In the last 2 weeks I’ve heard several stories of individuals getting into heated discussions with other christian friends about whether to vote for Obama or McCain. Each of these stories are told by someone considering Obama as their vote. Each one describes their friend as nearly or actually questioning their sanity or faith if they would vote for Obama. I have yet to hear someone saying that a vote for McCain has cost them a relationship in their church.

Seems to me there are a couple of key reasons some Christians get up in arms over Obama.

1. He is clearly pro-abortion rights. He has as much as said he will have a litmus test for Supreme Court Justice nominees. Thus, a vote for Obama is a vote for the continuation of abortion and probably a roll-back on restrictions that have been one in the last decade.

This argument has merit and I can see Christians having strong opinions and questions about the conscience of other Christians who are planning to vote for him. On the other hand, justice issues take many sizes and shapes. While you may disagree with the democratic plan for dealing with the poor, they are the ones more likely to talk about care. Justice and care for the widow and orphan (the poor) is considered to be one of the key facets of the Christian faith (Matt. 23:23). Should abortion trump all other justice issues. Do those who vote for McCain squirm over capitalistic idolatry and the false assumption that individuals will do enough to care for the poor? Do Republicans walk the walk about voluntary sacrifice (and so actually really give sacrificially to the poor) when they accuse Democrats of trying to force it via taxation?

2. Obama is a socialist and is for big government control and mandate into all aspects of life. Our faith rights will be restricted under his power.

Again, it is an interesting debate about the role of government. I think we should be discussing the size and influence of government. Do all Americans have a right to health-care?  Should the government pick up the tab? Why? These are good questions. But, should a debate here lead to the questioning of one person’s faith? I don’t see that. Scripture doesn’t support a capitalistic or socialistic government, a small government or large one. We are commanded to submit to our leaders. We are commanded to care for the poor.

Let’s not divide the church and question each other’s faith when we have political differences. The issues are important and there will be real consequences when either candidate gets elected. Let’s debate those and not the faith commitments of our brothers and sisters.

12 Comments

Filed under Christianity, church and culture, conflicts, Doctrine/Theology, Gospel, News and politics, Relationships

12 responses to “Dividing the church over politics

  1. One of the things I’ve noticed in political conversations with other christians is a tendency to paint a very black and white landscape: “I could NEVER vote for…” and “I fear for our country if…”

    And if I can be so bold as to be honest on your site, the whole abortion thing drives me nuts. I have friends who base their entire vote on this one issue. And, personally, I don’t think the problem of abortion will ever be solved at a political level…it’s an intensely personal issue, and the remedy to it is not political. (Just my opinion. And I speak as a birthmother who has been there. Literally.)

  2. Carmella

    Thank you for posting this.

    I have been trying to decide between issues (having minored in politics in college, I care a lot about making a wise decision here). I have been torn apart by people who are adamently against Obama for even considering him- being told I am not a real Christian, don’t honor God, etc.

    I have a difficult time because I think anyone can feign morality and not live consistently with it. Anyone can weigh out war, abortion, education, intervention, the impact of poverty on the family- all of these issues, to me, are intertwined. I think deciding which ways we think the problem can be better solved (Do we teach our kids to respect themselves and value their self-worth to decrease teen pregnancy rates, or do we focus on stopping them at the clinic?)… I see these as differences of opinion, not differences of faith and personal morality.

    Sure, I am a conservative Democrat- pro-life and for keeping marriage defined traditionally, but can I vote based on a more realistic understanding of the system (Justices don’t get into power easily, our state senators have power there)!! I am just sick of people telling me that I must not love Jesus. I am sad that we allow this to divide us.

  3. Lightbearer

    I’ve noticed a lot of Christian talk radio urging listeners to vote on the election based solely/primarily on the abortion issue. What I don’t like about their approach is the dishonest tactic of linking Pro-Choice with loving abortion, hating babies, and hating God. It’s about as honest as linking Pro-Life with loving poverty, hating mothers, and blindly following God.

    I don’t see it as a sanctity of life issue, since even a casual reading of the Bible shows that, from God’s point of view, human beings are disposable. I see it as an authority/control issue: do human beings have the same right to dispose of other human beings as God does? Scripture seems to support a Yes, but only with God’s permission/blessing. The trick, of course, is to figure out when it’s God’s will, and when it’s just your own will.

    As far as the kind of government goes, I have friends who are socialists (from Canada), who have some interesting views on the whole democracy/socialism/communism spectrum. What I find interesting is that most Americans don’t know the difference between the three. Democracy works, with limitations. Socialism works, with limitations. Communism doesn’t work nearly as well, and has severe limitations. But I can’t take seriously people who love democracy and hate socialism and communism, but don’t know the first things about any of them.

  4. Amy

    For me it’s gone the other way–a couple of people have ended our associations because I’m working with the McCain-Palin campaign. Fortunately, they weren’t good friends or anything, but still…ridiculous.

    One of my friends boldly proclaimed his support for Obama, and he got the same reaction you described here. I thought, “Wow, way to show the merits of your candidate.”

    But the thing is–isn’t this just how the Church acts sometimes? You do something different or have a struggle with one of the really bad sins and you are demonized. So, then, how can it not extend to politics if this is how we are with our brothers and sisters in so many other ways?

    (I think I’m gonna go blog about this!)

  5. Jess

    I was wondering if and when you were going to broach some touchy political issues, and I’m really glad that you did. It can be dicey, but it’s important. I’m going to try to tread very carefully here myself.

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. There was a time when I was a single-issue voter and that issue was abortion. It was simply very dear to my heart. I was also younger and hadn’t bothered, I’m sorry to say, to educate myself about some of the other issues that one really ought to consider when casting a vote for President. I’m more educated now and also, I think, have seen the grave importance of other issues. War, national security, and foreign relations, for example, are life-and-death issues every bit as much as abortion is. I really liked your question, “Should abortion trump all other justice issues?”

    2. I don’t think the two-party system serves us well. Plus, party affiliation is no longer an indicator of a candidate’s stance on any given issue, including abortion. Better to consider the person on his or her own merits, in my view, and not focus on a party label.

    3. This is an unusual election. Many people feel passionate about their position and few feel indifferent. I think most people will feel some disappointment and possibly even fear if their preferred outcome doesn’t come to fruition. The level of fear is noteworthy, in my mind.

    4. As believers, respect is a must even though agreement isn’t. Fellow Christians have expressed surprise at my choice for President (I have a bumper sticker and the whole bit, so there’s no real secret to it), but I can’t say that I’ve ever felt disrespected. I certainly think that the same is true in reverse. I hope so.

    5. I read your other post about your kids. Your 8-year-old had it right… “Why do they have to be so mean to each other?” Let’s just do all we can to ensure that he’s not asking that same question about members of his church community as the election draws closer. Thanks for this dialogue… I think it’s crucial.

    (Okay, hopefully I managed not to do too much damage in that post!)

  6. Hi Phil:

    I wish the only concerns regarding Obama were his views on abortion and his preference for bigger, more socialistic-type government, but I think the issues may be much broader and deeper.

    Shouldn’t we also look at the candidate’s respective views on issues such as homosexuality, illegal immigration, the national language, judicial activism, public education, stem cell research, euthanasia, economics, and national security, because Obama’s apparent secular postmodernistic values will lead him and a liberal-controlled Democratic congress in very different directions than a McCain White House and a conservative Republican congress.

    As much as we need more heart and integrity in the Republican party, giving absolute control to the most liberal members of the government for four years may be a road it is difficult or impossible to get off in the future. When do we pass the point of no return in our society? When will those who do not share the values, vision, and wisdom of our founding Fathers finally be in sufficient control to permanently change our social spirit? Can we say it won’t happen? Has it not happened elsewhere and at other times in history?

    Look at the various (often extreme) individuals and groups who (generally speaking) vehemently support Obama (Hollywood, the sex industry, religious liberals, radical postmodern pluralists like Ayers, homosexuals, abortionists, illegal immigrants, Muslims in other countries, those committed to postmodernizing education, anti-Christians, and so on). Look at how many are voting for him simply because of his race and welfare sympathies. Do these people not expect to advance and perhaps secure their agendas?

    While I don’t want to suggest that McCain is the “better” Christian–or that such considerations are even necessary to a healthy election–it seems that discerning Christians should care about which candidates most closely share their worldview and will best promote biblical views of justice and morality (because these are essential to long-term social integrity, which is already suffering severely).

    I would think that caution is especially needed not to divorce biblical morality from views of justice. Liberal Democrats may (sometimes) demonstrate more sensitivity to issues of compassion and justice (though this is hardly the case with the unborn, and begs the question of views of government in such matters–conservatives prefer that charity be expressed at a more local and individual level, so their immense positive influence is often unnoticed) than conservative Republicans, but WHY they do so may not be for the same reasons that Christians should (for the glory of God and the good of people).

    While we may be able to trust the government to more moderate Democrats, the Democratic party seems, in fact, to be dominated by liberals who do not share the Christian worldview and often oppose it. Isn’t Obama riding their wave? If so, it may be naive to think Obama will suddenly become a centrist or not place our nation at great social, economic, and military risk.

    I hope I am wrong and that either candidate will prove to be a positive influence on our country. But, for the first time in 50 years, I do have disturbing, serious concerns.

    Rick

  7. It is easy to be generous with other people’s money. The statistics I’ve seen is that conservatives give more to charity, percentage-wise, than progressives.
    I think we can question why someone will cast their vote a certain way- but to make it into an question of whether or not someone is a Christian is way too far.
    The wife lurks on some boards about the election. She’s continually amazed at what she finds, on a number of levels.
    I long to see Jesus establish true righteousness. “Further up and further in!”

  8. Amy

    I told my mom that I was thinking of joining the League of Women Voters and she told me that they might be too liberal for me. I said, “You do know I’m a registered Independent?”

    She replies, “Oh, I thought that was just a phase.”

    Too liberal for the Dems; too conservative for the GOP.

    I’m a girl without a party. Good thing I’ll be in Disney World on Election Day.

    And, Phil, you rock! I didn’t want you to forget that in case people post mean-ish comments.

  9. Ron

    Amy: I still remember early in my friendship with the fellow who became our Best Man, how he told us he was a registered Prohibitionist. He went on to explain–glass of 192-proof rum in hand–that it gave him the freedom of an Independent without the stigma.

  10. Lightbearer

    @ Rick,

    I agree that we should look at all of the issues, and not just one or two, when deciding who to vote for; my beef is that many Americans spend more time memorizing and quoting talking points than actually studying the issues in depth (see my previous post).

    You imply that the “values, vision, and wisdom” of Christianity and our Founding Fathers are in accord. This is interesting, considering that the Founding Fathers did not agree with you. Here’s a quick link: ( http://www.sullivan-county.com/nf0/dispatch/fathers_quote2.htm ), but even a casual Google search will turn up a ton of information about Separation of Church and State, Deism vs. Theism, misinformation from radical Christian groups claiming that we are a Christian nation, etc.

    Another point to remember is that both McCain and Obama are Christians. This means that both men have access to the power and wisdom of God. My point: if you believe in the power of intercessory prayer, then God will make sure that the right man gets elected.

    I understand you have concerns about an Obama/Democrat/Liberal presidency. But as a Christian, it might help to remember that if Obama wins next Tuesday, then it is obviously God’s will that he lead the country.

    Or are you suggesting that a mere 100 million or so voters have the collective power to thwart The Almighty?

  11. Hi Lightbearer:

    I was in a store recently and asked two young people why they were voting for Obama. One said, “Because my mother said we should vote for the party we belong to.” The other said, “Because we need change.” The latter couldn’t elaborate on why, or whether all change is good change. I got the distinct impression from his mannerisms that he may have been representing the homosexual community. My point is that I agree with you: many Americans do not sufficiently study the issues. Even worse, their worldview is often not grounded in a spiritually mature faith, knowledge of Scripture, and psychological/social health. Therefore, when they look at the issues, they are less likely to detect the mind and ideal will of God since, according to 1 Cor. 2: 14-15, spiritual matters require spiritual discernment. Unfortunately, our present society, even though it purports to be largely Christian), is steeped in ethical materialism, secular humanism, and radical postmodernism–even in the “Church.” I have seen more than one poll which indicates that “Christians” today are nearly indistinguishable from the secular population around them (except in their beliefs). In terms of lifestyle and moral decisions, as a group we are one with the larger secular society (hardly what Jesus had in mind). Therefore, it doesn’t surprise me that “Christians” would be impressed by the “Christian” WORDS and carefully orchestrated public actions of politicians whose voting records and associations compromise, if not betray, their purported Christian faith. Did anyone in the evangelical Christian community know Obama was one of us even 3 years ago? It interests me how “evangelical” he has become since running for office. By contrast, despite the criticisms of Sarah Palin, one thing that cannot be said about her is that she is inconsistent (or emergent) about her Christian faith in light of the elections.

    Your link was not persuasive. A string of quotations by the same small handful of known atheists and deists does not deny the overwhelming Christian worldview and values that informed the majority of the Founding Fathers in their deliberations. What it does demonstrate is the early religious pluralism that drove the Founding Fathers to protect religion by telling big government to keep it’s hands off (see Stephen Waldman, Founding Faith, p. 134). This desire to minimize the power of the federal government in order to protect religion (and other civil rights) resulted in the Bill of Rights, especially the first amendment (Waldman, p 135), the point being to keep government out of religion, NOT religion out of government. A Christian theistic or deistic worldview was very much a part of the fabric of our Founding Fathers and no doubt functioned presuppositionally for them. However, even though those who claim that our country began as a “Christian” nation (which I do not believe and did not say) are mistaken, they are not wrong to claim that our country was founded largely within the context of a Protestant Christian worldview. (Could the same have happened if the Founding Fathers were Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists?).

    Therefore, as our nation drifts from and rejects those Christian presuppositions that generally guided the Founding Fathers, we also become increasingly darkened in our understanding (forgive me Frank Schaeffer, I rarely use the word– even though it is biblical) and morally undiscerning. [Am I the only one who has to struggle hard even to hope to be holy in our culture?]

    So, the First Amendment is intended to protect religion from government interference, not to keep religion out of the public domain. Wouldn’t it be fair to say that many–if not most–people in our country, especially liberals, misunderstand the intentions of First Amendment, using its words to promote their own secularistic agendas? Wouldn’t it also be fair to say that some judicially activist liberals may deliberately ignore the intentions of the First Amendment and purposefully seek to reinterpret the Constitution to suit their moral and political bias? [Don’t we see the same thing being done with the Bible by theological liberals?]

    Whether both Obama and McCain are Christians only God knows. Both claim to be. The Bible tells us to look at a person’s fruit. Let’s open our eyes and start with their voting records, patterns of association, history of spirituality, and types of supporters.

    Your comments and question about God’s role in the election seems inconsistent to me: on the one hand you talk about the power of intecessory prayer (as if God’s decretive will is bound by or influenced by the actions of people in prayer); on the other hand you suggest that millions of voters cannot thwart God’s will (even if they vote against His will). I prefer to think that God has an ideal will that people can (and do indeed) thwart by ignorance, immaturity, infirmity, and iniquity. If God determines for something to happen, it will. But (and this is an important “but”) that doesn’t mean that everything that happens is God’s will. God’s gift of free will to people suggests God’s willingness to share some measure of power and control with people–even though people misuse that freedom to sin.

    Yes, in my view millions of people can elect a president (contrary to God’s ideal will) who will not personally live and govern with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. How easily we forget the Scriptural teaching that God listens to the prayer of the righteous, not to the pretentious (James 5:16; 1 Pe. 3:12)

    Lightbearer, I could be wrong about all or most of what I have said. I can only call it as I see it.

    Your brother in Christ–

    Rick Sholette

  12. Lightbearer

    @Rick,

    Thank you for answering my post. A few thoughts:

    You argue that the majority of Americans not only don’t understand the issues (with which I agree), but that they are so “as a group [at] one with the larger secular society” that they are “Christians” in name only. This is a theme that I’ve heard in sermons my entire life: “You have fallen away from the path of righteousness.” I always thought it was the wrong theme. Being a Christian is ridiculously easy: Commit to God, Learn the ways of God and man to the best of your ability, Love and Forgive others and yourself to the best of your ability, Live in a State of Faith and Grace to the best of your ability = Eternal Life with God. From the most conservative evangelical to the most liberal moderate, I don’t know of a single Christian that doesn’t do this. Yet most Christians tend to fall prey to the No True Scotsman Fallacy when a fellow Christian sees an issue from a different point of view, no matter how much faith, scriptural knowledge, or psychological health they possess.

    Your dismissal of Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Washington, Paine, etc. as “the same small handful of known atheists and deists” seems disingenuous, considering a. they were all specifically against the Christian worldview as it was known in Scripture and history at that time, as Adams put it: “an engine of grief;” b. their writings were demonstrably instrumental in the founding of our government.

    Would the same outcome had happened if it took place in a Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist background vs. a Protestant/Post-Renaissance background? Probably not in the form it took (I will have to go ponder that one 🙂 ).

    Your claim that the 1st Amendment protects religion from government, but not government from religion, is plainly false. The wall of separation is just that: a wall, not a one-way door that any religion can use whenever it feels like. It is demonstrably a wall in the fact that the religious right keeps trying to do an end run around it (Edwards vs. Aquilard, Kitzmiller vs. Dover, Lawrence vs. Texas, CA’s Proposition 8, etc.).

    My views are not inconsistent with the observation that God answers some prayers and not others, but either outcome is, by definition, God’s will. In fact, I agree with all of your views regarding God’s will, man’s free will, etc. My point is that, if two Christians are both praying for opposite events, God can answer one or the other, but not both. Technically, God could ignore both and simply let the outcome fall as it will, but I don’t know of a single Christian who prays for X, actually gets X, and then says, “God didn’t answer my prayer, but I got it anyway.”

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our chat, and look forward to many more. Have a good weekend!

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