Friday, October 29, 2010

Why I Don't Tell People How to Vote As a Pastor

Why I Don’t Tell People How to Vote

Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." (Matt 22:21)

Different groups of Christians have different histories, many of them beautiful. Most scholars believe that Baptists began as part of the English Separatist movement. In reaction to the state churches of Europe, Baptists began from earliest times as a countercultural movement. One of the uniqueness of Baptists at that time was that they believed in the importance of having a personal relationship with Christ, and of faith being a personal choice. Many churches in Europe had their churches under control of their government. When Baptists started congregations that were not sanctioned by the governments, they experienced persecution from government powers. During this time the Baptist minister John Bunyan was thrown in prison, and wrote “Pilgrims Progress” from his jail cell.

When the opportunity came to come to the new world, Baptists came as well. Many colonies also started their own state churches, and persecuted Baptists for their unique beliefs as well. One of the people persecuted was Roger Williams. Williams, in response to this persecution, started the Rhode Island colony. The Rhode Island colony established a colony with a policy that would later be labeled “the separation of church and state”. This policy, first manifest in a government in Rhode Island, was central to Baptist belief from their inception.

One of the reasons it is wise to have a separation of church and state is so that the government will not interfere in the life of the church. We should all have the freedom to worship the way we want, and join the churches we want.

The other reason the separation of church and state is wise is that it helps churches be focused on the things that they should be focused on. Churches work best when we focus on proclaiming the good news of Christ, training disciples to love and serve Christ in their everyday lives, and serving their communities and world in the name of Jesus. They tend to become compromised when they focus on being politically powerful instead of spiritually influential. When we get our loyalties to political power and political policies enmeshed with our Christian faith, it becomes easy to mistake our loyalties to a political philosophy for fidelity to our faith.

Jesus knew this when people tried to trap him with a political question. They tried to set a trap by asking him if he would pay taxes to the Roman government, or be loyal to the political opposition to Roman rule and not pay taxes. He opted out of their false dichotomy by saying “give to Caesar what is Caesars, and to God’s what is God’s.” Jesus was not going to make himself a slave to any political party or group.

I think we should vote. I know that some of my most strongly held beliefs have political implications, and I will not surrender those beliefs just because they have political implications. Just because I believe in a keeping politics out of church does not mean that things that I teach and preach will not have political implications.

At the same time, as I watch the political process in our country, and different processes around the world, I see that worldly power is often gained by manipulating religious sentiment. Both Republicans and Democrats try to convince us that God is on their side. Both Democrats and Republicans then go on to have ungodly policies based on their covetousness for more money, power, and fame. Around the world, terrorists throw themselves into the World Trade Center for religious reasons, Rwandan tribal groups have killed each other believe they believed God was on their side, and Serbs and Croats set up extermination camps claiming to do God’s will.

I think whenever we mash together political activism and Christian discipleship we always have find problems will follow. And, it always true faith that ends up the loser when it is compromised with anything, especially political partisanship and political action. It is for that reason in our church we do not tell people what political party to vote for, or what candidates we endorse. Instead, we will attempt to faithfully proclaim the word of God, trusting it to enlighten our path.


lailani said...

Thumbs Up!

SWG said...

It also helps us to be able to tell the government when it is wrong if we are not part of the government.

Jason Bowker said...

Great thoughts Clint. Love it. Mind if I use this on Wednesday? I am teaching on Church vs. State at my church.