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The great divide: Why are some pastors political and others are not?

The great divide: Why are some pastors political and others are not?

(Photo: Shane Idleman)

In Andy Stanley’s recent sermon on politics, one statement really stood out. He said, “I have found it very difficult to stay away from the topic of religion in church, but I have found it very easy to stay away from the topic of politics in church.” 

How can pastor Stanley find it “easy to stay away from the topic of politics in church,” but I find it extremely difficult? In my opinion, failure to recognize diverse gifts may explain why many people are divided on the issue of religion and politics. For instance, Jack Graham, John MacArthur, James Dobson, James Robison, Franklin Graham, Jack Hibbs, etc. have different ministries, but all fall under the umbrella of Christian service. God creates, within each of us, varying desires, talents, and levels of interests. If God has called a man to preach and teach His Word, that will be his passion. If God has called a Christian to pursue politics, that will be his or her passion, and so on.

Problems arise when we become judgmental and fail to respect our differences. Activists should not expect everyone to share their passion for politics, and those who believe Christians should stay out of politics must understand that God clearly calls some Christians to the political arena. God established the concept of government, why would He not desire godly leadership? Granted, there will always be a moral divide in America, but this should not deter us from making a difference. It took years for America to reach this state of moral decay; it may take years to recover. But on the flip-side, I have noticed that many mega-church pastors seem to be more concerned about not upsetting the status quo. The question all pastors need to ask is, “Are we pleasing God or men . . . are we watchmen or cowards? As we prepare sermons, are we tip-toeing around difficult topics or hitting them head on?” Our job is to love as well as convict. I believe that America is in the state we are in today because of the silent pulpit. Gone are the days when Alex de Tocqueville visited America and saw “pulpits aflame with righteousness.” Here is a sermon clip that Fox News picked up about this very thing. 

As I often say: There is a very troubling trend in the evangelical church as a whole. Today, the truth is often neglected, watered-down, or avoided altogether in the hope of not offending members and building a large audience. Judgment is never mentioned; repentance is never sought; and sin is often excused. We want to build a church rather than break a heart; be politically correct rather than biblically correct; coddle and comfort rather than stir and convict. When we fail to proclaim God’s Word faithfully, we run the risk of “encouraging sin” and “perverting the words of the living God” (cf. Jeremiah 23). Students of Scripture understand that God uses governmental leaders to accomplish His purposes and plans. We cannot remain silent. The silent pulpit is not God’s pulpit. Here is a recent message I gave on abortion, When the Weak are Destroyed by the Powerful. 

We are not voting for parties or people but for principles. What direction will those running for office take us? is the question we all should be asking. Our leader is to protect, administer justice, defend the nation, and allow religious freedom. The church is to care for the people, guard the Word of God, and serve as the conscience of the nation. You may want to commit this paragraph to memory before 2020.

Granted, activists should not expect everyone to share their passion for politics, and those who believe Christians should stay out of politics must understand that God clearly calls some Christians to make a difference in Washington. God established the concept of government, why would He not desire godly leadership? 

Although my primary calling is preaching, I thank God for Christians who are involved and who influence America’s political climate. I wish that there were more. As the moral and cultural war rages between our shores, the need to be awakened from our spiritual slumber has never been greater. “Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is tested” (attributed to Martin Luther). This battle is for the very soul of our nation. It’s our choice — stand or fall.

I’ve mentioned these points before, but we need to revisit them often:

1. The Moral Majority (1980s) forever linked the church to the Republican Party. We vote for principles, not a particular party. We need to be principle driven rather than party driven. “He who rules over men must be just” (2 Samuel 23:3). We need more humble, God-fearing leaders. Humility does not mean that leaders become passive pawns, but that they live in total surrender to God; they’re more concerned with God’s opinion than opinion polls.

2. Christians are “always against something.” Christians are not magnifying certain issues at the expense of others; we are underscoring the enormous importance of them. All issues cannot be equal. If everything is a priority then nothing is. Those who are bold and strongly contend for biblical truths are often seen as “always against something.” But if we’re for marriage between a man and a woman, then we must be against gay-marriage. If we’re for the sanctity of life, then we must be against abortion. If we’re for equality, then we must be against the slave/sex trade, and so on. Speaking the truth in love often results in being “against” some controversial things. This can’t be prevented, nor should it be. We are called to make the truth popular but to make it clear. 

3. Politics is bad, offensive, and divisive. We don’t have to abandon our ethics or compromise our principles to be involved in politics — what good is salt left in the shaker, or a light that is hidden? “Politics” is not a bad word. In simple terms, politics refers to governing or leading a group of people. Politics won’t save America, but in order to implement change, honor God, and help others, we must take action; hence the political process.

4. The church and the state are to be separate. The Courts have used the infamous “separation” phrase to ban religious activities, primarily those promoting Christian principles. Sadly, many believe that “separation of church and state” appears in the Constitution, when, in reality, the phrase does not appear anywhere in the Constitution. Be very clear on this point, especially if you are a student in a public school or university, or even a “Christian” university.

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, used the phrase in 1802 in a private letter written to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut. The Baptists feared that the government might someday try to regulate religious expression. Ironically, we are seeing this today. His statement was intended to protect religious expression by building a wall of separation between the church and the state; solidifying the fact that the federal government could not strike down religious freedoms. The government cannot establish a national religion, but it can openly and unapologetically acknowledge the sovereign hand of God. Acknowledgment is not establishment.

5. The Gospel doesn’t allow for politics; it’s not our mission. This is really just an excuse against action. Granted, the No. 1 problem in America is not a political problem, but rather a spiritual problem called sin. The primary goal of the church is not to become a political movement, but a spiritual influence. Politics won’t save America anymore than a dumbbell will save someone drowning. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore our God-given civic responsibility and the enormous impact that politics has on our society. Tell the millions of babies who have been slaughter that the gospel prevents you from being involved.

God’s Word says to confront, confess, and turn from sin — political hot buttons cannot be avoided. Many argue, “We shouldn’t say or do anything political. All we need to do is preach the gospel.” Be careful here, although the gospel is our primary focus, this shouldn’t be an excuse against action. God has blessed and sustained America because of our spiritual foundation. Should we now neglect it? 

Whereas pastor Stanley has found it very easy to stay away from the topic of politics, I have found it to be very difficult. Watch Fox News clips below:

Are we a Christian Nation: https://video.foxnews.com/v/6022617741001/

Can you be good enough?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYd23sR_ENo&t=6s

Facts about gay-marriage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIsoavE_Dt0&t=1s

Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California, just North of Los Angeles. Shane's sermons, articles, books, and radio program can all be found at shaneidleman.com or wcfav.org. Follow him on Facebook at: facebook.com/confusedchurch.

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