2016 is shaping up to be an interesting year for sure. It’s a presidential election year, and the primary races in both major parties have been filled with surprises already. As a pastor, I am already getting hit with “Pastor, can a Christian vote for….” followed by the name of a particular candidate. Now that social media is such a pervasive part of our culture, the political fight never ends with Facebook comments and “Twitter wars” flying all hours of the day and night.
Today my mind went back to a young adult who dropped into the Wednesday night service of a church I was serving several years ago. When I approached that young college student after the service I asked if someone had invited them. The reply is still etched in my mind: “No, I don’t know anyone here. I want to know God, and this is the closest church to my house.” Although I briefly shared the gospel and how they could know God through personal faith in Jesus Christ, it was apparent this young adult was a spiritual “blank slate” who was hearing all of this for the first time. To make a long story short, I told them to keep attending our church, listen to what we had to say, and I believed with all my heart they would come to know God.
That young adult came back for the next several Sundays before surprising me once again. After a service, they asked to speak with me. In my mind, I was thinking, “This is it! They are going to get saved right now!” Instead, this seeking young adult opened up to me about a struggle they were having…”You and everyone here has been so nice to me. But after being around here for a few weeks, it looks like you and your church don’t believe anything that I believe.” Stunned, I asked them to help me understand. They replied that they were very “liberal”, always voted Democrat, and then proceeded to list a host of issues that they were in favor of…abortion, gay rights, etc. In short, they saw politics as a barrier between them and faith in Christ.
How did I respond? I explained to them clearly that our church did certainly have some very specific and clear convictions about many issues, but they were not Democratic or Republican issues – they were Biblical issues. Our convictions come from the Bible, the Word of God, therefore they do not change with the party in power or the opinion polls. I explained to them that our Christian beliefs and convictions have been offensive to some people throughout the history of the church. I explained that there was another “side” to these issues they had likely never heard because they had only been exposed to teachers who held a liberal/secular worldview. I urged them not to believe much of what they had been told about Christians and the Bible – take a fresh look for yourself and form your own opinions. Then I made sure to explain that our having Biblical convictions meant that we loved people – even people like them who disagreed with us about everything! Finally, I urged them to look to Jesus and pointed them to a key verse….
“Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6, HCSB)
I urged them to consider Jesus and to keep examining Jesus and reading the Bible because the Bible brings people to faith in Jesus. I explained that once they truly came to faith in Christ, then they could sort out many of these political “issues” in light of their faith in Him. I explained to them that faith was not a Democratic or Republican issue, but rather a Jesus issue. It was an issue that impacted eternity.
Today Twitter and the internet are ablaze about Trump’s appearance Liberty University and Bernie Sanders coming to our own city last night. I couldn’t help going back to that conversation I had years ago. Please allow me to share some of my personal guiding principles regarding how I deal with politics as a Christian and a pastor of local church.
1. We must never compromise our steadfast, Biblical convictions even if it means we are marginalized or even persecuted for having them. Let me be very clear right here: I am a deeply conservative, Bible believing Southern Baptist pastor. My beliefs are not for sale. They have remained the same through both Republican and Democratic administrations.
2. Scripture is clear that Christians are to be good citizens, so we should vote and bring our Biblical convictions with us to the ballot box. I am in favor of Christians being involved in the political process on every level. Rest assured, those who hold very different convictions certainly will be. Every Christian should get out and vote in this election. Personally, I am very politically conservative. There are some candidates running that I feel I can vote for in good conscience, while there are others that I will not vote for under any circumstances. You don’t need me to tell you who to vote for. Let the Bible and the Holy Spirit do that. Then go vote.
3. We must take great care never to equate the Christian faith with any political party. Political parties exist to win elections and gain political power. Their objectives are vastly different from that of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t ever forget that. The minute a political party believes it can get more votes to be for everything we are against, Christians will be cast aside in the blink of an eye. Once Christians become only identified as a constituency of a particular party, we begin to lose our prophetic voice to speak to the culture. This is why many Millennials now simply view us a Republican constituency group.
4. If we faithfully preach the Bible, pastors will speak to many of the moral issues of our day and s0me will accuse us of being “political” when we do. When that happens, preach on! The truth has always been hated. Don’t look for that to change even if an election goes your way.
5. We must recognize that there is not an explicitly “Christian” position on every single political issue and leave room for respectful disagreement on non-essential issues. Let me give some examples of what I mean. Scripture is absolutely clear regarding the sanctity of human life. Scripture is absolutely clear about marriage being the union of one man and one woman for life. Scripture is absolutely clear that all religions are not equally true and that personal faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. However, I do not believe there is the same scriptural clarity regarding the immigration issue or health care. Those are complex issues with strong arguments to be made from different points of view.
6. In the age of social media, we must be mindful that everything we post will be seen by unbelievers. More than once in the last few weeks, I have gotten “fired up” and typed up a “tweet” or Facebook post in response to some political news only to delete it. Why? Because every Sunday there are people who do not know Christ who walk through the doors of the church I pastor, and I don’t want to let my hot headed social media posts create a barrier. If the gospel or Biblical convictions are a barrier, then so be it. However, the fact that I do not support the current administration should not be. We must remember that unbelievers are not “the enemy” but rather they are the mission field.
7. The message, mission, and activities of the church should be the same regardless of the political climate. Sometimes we forget that the gospel and the church are built for all cultures and all political climates. The gospel and the church of the Lord Jesus are not American institutions – therefore they do not depend on any American institutions. The gospel, the Word of God, and the Great Commission are the same in Sudan, Thailand, London, and Birmingham, Alabama. Our Christian brothers and sisters in North Korea or Iraq are not debating who won the last debate.
8. We should be more passionate about sharing the gospel than we are about sharing our politics. Let’s say I convince all of my friends to vote my way in this election, but I do not win one soul to Christ. Have I been a faithful Christian? I don’t think so.
If you have read this far, perhaps you are wondering, “What happened to that young adult who came to your church?” After a period of several months, they came to faith in Christ and I had the privilege of baptizing them. The power of the gospel and the Holy Spirit overcame all of the barriers. I did not baptize that young adult as a Republican. I baptized them as a fellow believer – in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Yes, I will closely keep up with the 2016 elections, and I am praying for God to move in the hearts of people to turn our country in a better direction. However, I am also praying that I will talk to more people about Jesus this year than about the elections. I am praying that I will see another young liberal is who for everything that I am against come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I am also praying I will be more excited about that occasion than the outcome of any election.