How do you pastor a church where people hold very intense and diverse political convictions?
I am a registered Republican.
I worked on two presidential campaigns (Bush '92 and Dole '96).
I have voted for a Republican in every presidential election...until 2016.
The 2016 election caused me to re-think the role of the Church as it relates to politics.
I don't know about your church, but my church is filled with people who had very strong opinions about this last election.
We had men and women who were #NeverTrump.
We had men and women who were #NeverHillary.
We had men and women who planned to vote Libertarian, some because they believed in libertarianism and others as a protest against the major party candidates.
I have been pastor of Christ Community during four elections ('04, '08, '12, '16) and I have never told people who to vote for or who not to vote for.
Quite honestly, I saw it as a non-issue. Pretty much everyone in our church voted Republican. Why spend much time talking about issues when we (almost) all agreed with each other.
But in 2016, I took the unprecedented step of declaring publicly and often that I would not be voting for Donald Trump (By the way, I did not vote for Sec. Clinton, either).
Character and conversations.
I also spent the last eight years quietly having conversations with friends who saw the world through a different political lens. Many of these men and women are also followers of Jesus whose convictions lead them to a different conclusion than I have held for the past 25 years.
And while I could not in good conscience come to some of their conclusions (Remember, I did not vote for Sec. Clinton, either), I did walk away with the conviction that the Church must reclaim politics as part of our mandate to make disciples.
When The Church Quits Running Away From Politics
What does that mean?
First, it means that we must not allow voices outside of the Church to be the primary means of political formation in our church.
Second, it means that neither major political party in the United States fully represents the interests of Christ.
The Bible should be our north star when it comes to political belief and practice. And if that is true, then Christians will adopt a political philosophy that is sometimes more conservative than conservatives and at other times is more liberal than liberals.
Rather than calling for the development of a 'truly Christian' political party, let's embrace this reality: Christians are political exiles. And in a world where God calls us to press in rather than stand off to the side, this leads me to the following conclusions.
As pastors, we should expect our churches to be politically diverse. There are faithful and thoughtful Christians in every mainstream political party.
As pastors, we must help our people never believe that their party of choice is God's part of choice. No single political platform fully embraces the policies of the kingdom of God.
How You Can Lead A Politically Diverse Church
How can you lead a church filled with people who are politically active, while at the same time, refusing to be politically divisive?
Three basic ideas come to mind:
First, clearly and powerfully insist that love is the hallmark of our politics as Christians. The way forward is the recovery of 'love your neighbor,' insisting that the Scriptures must guide us when it comes to the nature of love and the determination of our neighbor.
Second, help your people practically love others inside the church whose politics differ from our own convictions. We have adopted the acronym BLESS to help us love each other well:
B - Begin With Prayer: Ask God to create genuine affection for each other; pray for any needs you know they have; don't turn this into prayer asking God to help them see the error of their ways and come over to your side of the political aisle :-)
L - Listen: Be intentional and spend time learning from people who have different convictions. Assume they want to love well and ask questions that help you understand what they believe and why they believe it.
E - Eat: Have these conversations over a meal, coffee, a pint, etc. Invite them into your home. Serve them well. Make this a conversation between family members where your relationship is not on the line.
S - Serve: Look for ways to love people you don't always agree with politically. What needs do they have that you can meet? What do enjoy doing that could be helpful to them?
S - Share: Share the good news of the gospel with each other. Worship together. Talk about Jesus with each other. Don't withhold your presence or affection from those you disagree with politically.
Third, devote time this year to understanding what the Bible does (and does not) teach about politics. The Bible is not a textbook on politics. The Bible, quite honestly, does not say much related to politics. Does that mean that the Christian faith is indifferent to politics? No. The Bible does tell us about the establishment of government, the role of government and the nature of the Christian's obligation to government. Yet we must tread lightly in a world where many have taken the Scriptures and shaped them to fit their left-leaning or right-leaning agendas.