On Mixing Faith and Politics

Cal Jernigan – Senior Pastor

Sometimes a little more just has to be said.

This is a follow-up to my last post in which I wrote about Prop 205, the initiative in Arizona to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. In that post, I stated that I was opposed to the proposition, gave my reasons why, and asked people who read my blog to join me in voting against it. As would be expected, some people agreed with me and others disagreed with me. None of this was surprising. We live in a free country where ideas are put before us and we interact with them, then vote however we think best. This is part of what makes this country great. What surprised me, however, were two things: 1) the vitriolic way in which some people chose to express their disagreement with me (a subject for another time), and 2) the number of people who suggested I did not have a right to speak out at all, in any manner, regarding it. They clearly called it a “foul” that a pastor would speak into the subject of politics. I was told more than once that faith and politics don’t mix. Some people apparently feel the laws regarding recreational marijuana use are none of the church’s business.

This is the subject I now want to address.

“Faith and politics don’t mix!”

How many times have you heard this said? How many times have you thought it? How many times have you said it yourself?

Have you ever stopped to question this? Is this a true statement?

Are the world of the church and the world of politics two totally separate worlds orbiting in two totally different universes, or do they somehow share the same space? Are ideas separated into two categories? Are people? If a person who is a Christ follower has a conviction regarding something deemed political or thoughts regarding a particular politician, is it inappropriate for him or her to give voice to their convictions? Is it a violation for a pastor to do so if he or she possesses the same kind of conviction? Is this somehow an infraction on the principle of separation of church and state? What exactly did Jefferson mean when he said the government should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”? Who is included in this “free exercise thereof”? Who is not? Do all citizens have a right to free speech except Christian citizens? All citizens but those who are also pastors?

These are incredibly relevant questions to wrestle with in these politically tense times. Should the world of faith and the world of politics be kept apart? Can they be? If even possible, is it Biblical to do so? Since the world of politics is an extremely contentious one, the thought of keeping that contention out of the church is extremely appealing to me. But I say that as a pastor. Let the politicians and their pundits do their thing and we’ll do ours. Sounds good. But is it really that simple?

Let’s start by reaching an understanding of what “politics” actually is. What is the actual meaning of the word “politics” anyway? What is its etymology? Simply put, the English word “politics” is derived from the Greek word “polis.” “Polis” is where we get the English word “city” (think metropolis). A closely related word is “citizen,” which originally meant “one who dwells in a city.” Politics, then, has to do with governing “the affairs of the city.” It is about the lives of “citizens.” Incidentally, the “police” are those who watch over the citizens of a city (all of these words come to us through blending of French, Latin, Greek, and English roots and derivatives). Obviously these words have broadened in their meanings over time.

So who then does politics affect? Only those who are citizens of the community governed by those politics. Anyone you know?

Now I must confess to you that I have no love for politics as it’s come to be. I share the same sense of disdain many others feel. I watch the world of politics with a great deal of skepticism and have zero love for “election seasons.” I also must confess that I would LOVE to have a “get out of jail free” card when it comes to weighing in as a pastor on controversial subjects or making difficult choices involving the political arena.

But I can’t. I simply can’t.

I am a citizen of the community. The “affairs of the city” affect my life, my family’s lives, my friends’ lives, and the life of the church.

But far more importantly, I am a believer in God. And frankly, I think God has quite a bit to say about “the affairs of the city.”

Those who suggest faith and politics don’t mix are promoting an agenda of isolation and compartmentalization. In other words, “faith is fine as long as it is kept private.” Keep it in the church. As long as it’s kept away from popular and public discourse, you are free to it. I can clearly understand why the secular world wants this, but why do Christians allow their voices to be silenced by this logic?

Should our faith be kept to ourselves? Should it be kept hidden away during the week and brought out for only an hour or so on the weekend, all done in private? Does our faith really mean so little to us?

If you would suggest that faith and politics don’t mix, what would you say to the prophet Jeremiah? Or Daniel? Or Isaiah? Or any number of other prophets who spoke clearly to people about the reality of what was happening in their political worlds. Men like Elijah and Elisha? Men who did not just speak out regarding politics on a local level, but also regarding international affairs. They were NOT silent. They boldly confronted kings and rulers alike. But, make no mistake about this, many religious people who were politically minded sought to silence them. The same exact thing is seen when Peter and John are facing the Sanhedrin (the high court of Israel) in Acts 4. And never forget, it was the power and politics of Rome that orchestrated the actual crucifixion of Jesus (and yes, it was politically motivated).

Now let me make this even a little dicier. Listen to this:

“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” James 3:1

Teachers will be judged more strictly by whom? By God! Those who are teachers of the Bible will be held accountable for what they say, and what they don’t say, by God himself. So you want to know why high profile Bible teachers like Beth Moore, Max Lucado, Christine Caine, Russell Moore, Wayne Grudem, and many others are willing to risk hurting their popularity by speaking out on political issues? Think James 3:1. Shepherds are called to shepherd…often by putting themselves in harm’s way.

Let me go on record here. If we are Christ followers, our faith should be far more important to us than any political issue we will ever discuss, debate, or decide. Ditto on any politician. If something has to give, it should not be our faith. If we ever have to choose between pleasing men or pleasing God, God should always be our priority.

If it is inappropriate for me to speak out regarding the legalization of marijuana, what other subjects am I, as a pastor, not supposed to mention or speak into? What else is off limits? Drunkenness? Divorce? Gambling? Abortion? Greed? Adultery? Fornication? Homosexuality? Pornography? Cohabitation? Polygamy? Euthanasia? Incest? Bestiality? Infanticide? Poverty? Corruption? Sex Trafficking? Foster Care? Other Drug Use?

Do we really think neither God nor the Bible have anything to say about these issues? Are they not “affairs of the city?” Should the church be treated like a child– “seen but not heard?” Should a pastor? Obviously, I think not.

If you are a Christ follower or a pastor and your faith isn’t informing your politics, what in the world is?

“But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” Jeremiah 20:9

I know these are tough times with emotions running deep and wide. Sometimes we must take a step away, clear our thoughts, and seek the wisdom and face of God. Seeking first the Kingdom of God is not just a verse in the Bible, it is a lifestyle that affects every decision. We don’t, we can’t, take that lightly.

On Mixing Faith and Politics

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