When political activists take over your church
Have you ever noticed how ministries can become politicized over time? It's a real concern in our day and age, where political ideology has the country polarized, that same political activism can push its way into the church.
I've noticed this particularly in inner-city churches, where political ideology begins to take over as the driving force behind the church, and the Christian faith begins to take a back seat to the latest political cause or social theory that is going around.
It's ironic that churches in the heart of major cities, where hundreds of thousands of people don't know Jesus lose their way in this manner. It's a sad irony that churches positioned so perfectly for ministry to so many lost souls would instead focus their attention on identity politics, dividing people up by skin color, presidential politics, perceived wealth inequality, war of the sexes, racism, sexism, and all the various isms of secular-progressive political discourse. With so many millions without the light of Christ, shouldn't evangelism, discipleship, and worship be front and center for these inner city churches?
Unfortunately, it seems that political activists often work their way into churches, organizations, and institutions. Indeed, in the area of social work, many social justice and socio-political activists get involved to distribute social services, and advocate for victim groups and so on.
Oddly enough, over time we find that many people in key leadership positions will use those positions to advocate not for the proclamation of the gospel, but for the proclamation of their political beliefs.
With evangelical Christians there is always the danger of moving too far conservative on the political wheel. So it becomes more about patriotism, presidential elections, campaigning for candidates, or worse: The gospel can be drowned out over time.
With mainline Protestants, it's moving in the other direction, toward secular progressive ideology. Soon ministry becomes more about political ideology. Instead of the gospel it becomes social justice, racial identity politics, liberal feminism, wealth redistribution, attacking traditional culture, gay pride, and fighting perceived power structures. The gospel gets drowned out, it's a secondary concern to the political ideology.
I just want to raise a warning flag for people out there who may have noticed this activism begin to take place in their church, or in their church headquarters. I want to indicate some warning flags to watch for, and I want to indicate some ways to push back against it.
Let's look at three warning flags:
1. Buzz words like "intersectionality, multiculturalism, micro aggressions and trigger warnings."
These sort of social theory buzz phrases are appearing more and more in church movements. These ideas are a mixed bag, there are some good points to them certainly, but also some negatives.
Overall diversity is a good thing. But enforced diversity is something different all together. When quotas are being instituted, and when the language becomes more and more about politics, power structures, and “white privilege” then it’s fair to recognize that secular social theory/ideology has begun to infiltrate the church.
In the Bible, in the New Testament, do we ever see God dividing people up in this way? No. God's body is a unity in diversity of different peoples and nations all coming together to form one unique body, the body of Christ. One of the strengths of the body of Christ is diversity.
Multiculturalism, once again, not an inherently negative concept, churches are very often self-segregated, and multiculturalism is the idea of bringing various cultures together, and different ethnicities together in a single church, to worship together. That's biblical! It's definitely a good thing. But once again, there are excesses to multiculturalism, like the idea of rejecting any assimilation to American culture, or the idea of blending disparate cultures together on a political level through mass immigration, has been in some cases disastrous for different parts of the world.
2. Dividing people up into groups - When people are divided up into groups, and then pitted against each other, you are beginning to see something called "identity politics" at play.
This is an ideology where white people are pitted against black people. Women are pitted against men. Black people are told they are victimized by white people. White people are told they're racist and privileged. Hispanics are told Americans hate them, young people are told old people are the problem, the economically impoverished are told that rich people are the reason they are poor. It's all about dividing people up, and pitting them against each other. And it leads to division, anger, and even violence. But it's part of something called "community organizing." Community organizing is something done in inner cities by some organizations. The goal in community organizing is to gather people together in outrage against perceived injustices. They look to the concept of "self-interest" that these groups have interests that are common, and they need to be organized to fight against systemic oppression.
Now the scriptures do talk about advocating for the poor and the powerless, but I don't think God had in mind dividing people up into victim groups and turning the oppressed into the oppressors. God's purpose in society is that we would do justice, and show no favoritism for or against any people. (Deuteronomy 16:19).
“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” – Leviticus 19:15, NIV
3. Theology and doctrine begin to be changed - This is really more than a warning sign, it's a sign that the end is near. Your movement or denomination is now openly changing their viewpoints on key concerns, and even core doctrines of the church are suddenly thrown into question by these political / social justice activists. Their concern for the Bible and theology is secondary to their political ideology, that is the main issue. They don't care about historic doctrinal views or even about what the Bible says, what they care about is their social ideology and their political positions. If the Bible conflicts with their ideology, it has to be changed.
Those are three common warning signs, but there are many others. Watch the publications of your movement or denomination. Watch their magazines and online articles. Stay up to date with the leaders of your movement and what they share on their social media accounts. And keep an eye on what is being taught at your denominational conferences. Often times political activists who are at work in your organization are strategic climbers, they know how to get into positions of authority, and use those positions to bring in more like-minded individuals to push their agenda. Often times these sort of mass-changes in church movements will manifest from the top, and be forced downward from there.
Now let's look at three things you can do to make a difference.
1. Write a letter or email to your leadership - Write out a well thought out letter, and make sure you use clear evidence when you are detailing what you've noticed. Maybe you've noticed something at a conference, or something at your local church, or something on social media, and you're concerned. Document your evidence, write out a letter, and send it to your leadership, either at your local church, or to your headquarters.
Believe me, there are a lot of good people out there in high up positions who just don't know what they don't know. They haven't noticed the activism. They don't deal directly with that person or ministry. Let them know! If you’re afraid to go down on record, send it anonymously, but I think it's wiser to go down on record and show them you're a caring member of a body of believers. Just remember to be kind, encouraging, and detailed in your communication.
2. Organize with like-minded individuals - It's important to organize in your own denomination when you find yourself threatened by political activists. Gather together in your community or if necessary on a Facebook group. Discuss what is happening, share information, get organized, and begin to speak up for biblical truth. 3. Become a Leader Yourself - You can make a difference as a leader. Of course this is a calling, it shouldn't be done for any other reason, but as a calling to ministry. But perhaps you are called for just such a time as this. We need godly Christian leaders who love the word of God, and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But even if you aren't a leader, you can still speak up. If something bothered you at the conference, or event, let leadership know. If something seemed wrong, or unbiblical, communicate with your pastor or leader, and ask them to pass your concerns on to their leaders. If you’re in a break out session or group and something non-biblical is being pushed, don't be afraid to raise your hand and ask a question, or if necessary, simply walk out.
In conclusion, we have to be very cautious in our current age of moral relativism, post-modernism, and political polarization that the ideologies of the surrounding culture don't take over and subvert our churches. Our mission is too critical. The world needs Jesus, all peoples, of all cultures, and all nations. We can and should engage in biblical justice in society. But that should always be secondary to the gospel. Don't ever let politics, ideology, or social theories separate you from the holy love of Jesus Christ.