As a lover of Clint Eastwood westerns, it’s no wonder that a particular scene from one of my favorites, "Pale Rider," came to mind recently.
In the film, a group of miners is under threat from a gang of intimidating men who are determined to drive the miners off the land. They almost succeed until Clint Eastwood’s character, “Preacher,” arrives to help them.
The leader of the gang arranges to meet Preacher and he attempts to bribe him. He offers to build him a beautiful church, give him lots of money, new clothes, and even give him opportunities to preach in the town square. All he would have to do is give up caring about what happens to the miners. Preacher responds to this generous attempt to lure him with a smile, and he says to the gang leader, “You can’t serve God and mammon both.”
The church and specifically Evangelical Christianity are facing a similar moment of temptation and the allure that I believe is being used is the altar of partisan politics.
The Great Commission that Jesus gave His church is not to save America, but rather to save souls. Our mission is not first and foremost, to win elections or to gain political power for favorable laws on issues we feel passionate about. It’s not even to win culture wars or to advance a political and ideological movement, even if some aspects of it align with our beliefs and worldview. Our mission is not to berate and hate on those we disagree with, but rather as “Christ’s love compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14), our mission is to share and show Jesus Christ to our neighbors, and that is hard to do if you view your neighbor as the enemy.
To be clear, as an evangelical Christian, I believe in speaking up about issues where our faith and culture collide and I also believe it’s important for Christians to be politically involved. We must participate in our democracy and prayerfully vote for candidates for office that would best represent Christian values. But where we can get into trouble is when we attempt to marry the Gospel with politics or political ideology. We get into trouble when our identity as Christians becomes secondary to our political identity, and when we become obsessed with winning a political struggle to the point we neglect to do our part to win the spiritual one that is taking place every day for the hearts and minds of those around us.
Over the years, I’ve written about various threats to evangelical Christianity in our society and culture. There are many challenges facing the church today from increasing hostility toward Judeo-Christian values and the aftermath of COVID, to the latest statistics showing a concerning trend with shrinking Christian influence over the up-and-coming generations.
Personally and pastorally, I believe increasing efforts to marry Christianity with partisan politics is the greatest danger and threat to the Gospel and the church in our society. It strikes at the very core of what it means to be an evangelical Christian. Are evangelicals known today in America for who they believe in and what they believe or for what politics they tend to support? Are we as passionate in talking about Jesus as we seem to be in talking about politics?
Voting a certain way or adhering to a left-leaning or right-leaning political philosophy is not the litmus test that the Bible gives for what it means to be a Christian. And yet these things are tempting the church in America to be focused more on the temporal, and less on the eternal. The biblical truth is that evangelical Christians should not be regarded as just another special interest group that can be bought but rather, we should be known as the salt of the earth and light of the world (Matthew 5:13,16). Christianity is not right-wing or left-wing. It goes beyond the political and ideological tribes which demand that we adhere and pledge unquestioned loyalty. Aspects of God’s word will step on the toes of liberals and aspects of God’s word will step on the toes of conservatives. The left-wing attempts to conform Jesus to its image, and the right-wing attempts to conform Jesus to its image, but if we truly follow Him, He will be conforming us to His image.
Any marriage between the cause of Christ and political power throughout church history has always led to corruption and compromise. The stakes are too high to forget who our real enemy is. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12). The opportunity to stick out and speak up for Jesus is too great to pass up. God is not looking for us to be partisans but rather prophets in the times in which we live, to speak biblical truth in love. To remember that our identity is ultimately not in who we vote for, or what political party affiliation we have but rather that we are, "Ambassadors for Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:20). And we are commissioned to make that appeal to liberals and conservatives, Democrats, and Republicans.
As the highly contentious midterm election cycle approaches, we are blessed to have the opportunity and responsibility to vote. As evangelical Christians, we should prayerfully vote in accordance with our conscience and with who we believe would best serve the interests we hold dear in our faith and convictions. We should absolutely be involved in the political process we are blessed to have in this great country in which we live. And we should be absolutely prepared for whoever is elected to let us down because they will. After it's all said and done, we will be reminded yet again, that our only true hope is Jesus.