Should Christians discuss politics in church?

Cafe Food FightAs I write this, believers in the US are preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday. Because this often means spending time with family members we only see once or twice a year, and because our nation is horribly divided right now, many of us are also resolving to avoid the whole subject of politics. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, after all, and it’s probably wise to be cautious about introducing topics that could violently explode an otherwise pleasant family visit. So we’re dusting off the old etiquette about never talking about politics or religion (at least the politics part). Fair enough.

But what about in our local churches? If your church is anything like ours, you live out your church life with people who have very differing political convictions. And because of the frequent intensity of these convictions lately—and the ensuing political discussions—many have essentially adopted a “holiday” approach when spending time with church family, and avoid any mention of political issues. This is undoubtedly better than open hostilities! But is it really the best way for us to handle our current politico-cultural mess? When followers of Christ gather should we just “not go there”?

Now let me quickly clarify there are some kinds of political talk I think should be eliminated in the church—permanently:

It’s not the place of pastors or leaders to tell the people in the church a specific candidate they should vote for or which propositions they should support. The church shouldn’t be handing out voters’ guides, or inviting representatives from only one party to address the congregation.

I’m also not suggesting we turn the application of any (sometimes every) Scripture text into a political rant.  If a passage we’re studying clearly addresses something that touches on politics, then we should have the courage to address what Scripture does. We don’t want to be guilty of skipping biblical principles in order to not offend political sensibilities. But we shouldn’t be looking for opportunities to interject our own political viewpoints.

We need to put an end to snide comments about the other side (whatever that is). We shouldn’t be tossing out partisan comments in a way that assumes everyone here shares the same views (which is rarely the case), especially when we’re mocking the intelligence, patriotism or even faith of those who disagree. We should always assume someone from “the other side” is present—because they usually are.

Some time ago, as our team was getting everything ready for our church service, two of our team-members were out front talking loudly about a recent controversy that was all over the news. Not only was their conversation strongly partisan, they were discussing an issue that directly involved race. I don’t believe either person is at all racist, but their vehement rejection of opposing views could easily have been misinterpreted. At the time this happened, people could approach our church’s front door from different directions and remain unseen until they were right around the corner. In other words, visitors could have heard our people talking long before our people would have seen them. Thankfully, I overheard what was going on from inside, rushed out and put a stop to the conversation. As I explained to them, if I was coming to visit the church and was one of these people they were talking about, I would have felt very unwelcome. I would have turned around, left, and would never have come back. Our guys were appropriately chagrined and agreed never to do this again.

So is the answer to just not talk about politics with our church families? Is that the best we can do? Let me ask the question another way: Are we no more capable of discussing volatile political issues than anyone else in our nation? Where can we have a healthy discussion about controversial subjects? If there’s anyone who could have a thoughtful, fair-minded, mutually respectful, loving but substantive, even pointed discussion about controversial political issues—without simply parroting partisan talking points—shouldn’t it be the church? Shouldn’t we be the ones modeling another way? When we spend time together as brothers and sisters we’re supposed to be helping each other grow and mature spiritually, encouraging one another to more faithfully live out our lives in a Christlike way. Are we supposed to do this in every area of our lives except for how we engage politically with society? Does this make any sense? It’s definitely easier, and avoids unpleasant tension. But are we to avoid quarreling by just not talking about difficult issues?

Close-up of a therapist gesticulating while talking to a group of listing teenagers during an educational self-acceptance and motivation meeting.It’s easy for me to fall into groupthink when the only political interaction I have is with my echo chamber (and there are echo chambers on both the left and the right). If I’m beginning to advocate political views that are incompatible with kingdom principles, I need brothers and sisters to hold me accountable and tell me, “Curt, I don’t think that way of thinking fits with the character of Jesus.” We need iron to sharpen iron, especially where the outside culture is most divided. These are the issues we most need to discuss with fellow Christians. Not that we’ll always come to perfect agreement. But at the end of a frank discussion of our differing political views, we should still be able to embrace each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. And we need to realize that we should be more in harmony with our fellow believers on core values and principles (even if we disagree on methods and strategies) than we are with either/any of society’s political parties.

We need to be showing the world around us the love Christ has given us for each other, and we especially need to be modeling this love where we have the strongest disagreements. We need to show them that Christians don’t have to avoid any subject (which is often the best the world can do) because the Spirit has equipped and empowered us to be able to discuss anything and do it lovingly, respectfully and peacefully. And we should show them that through this kind of thoughtful interaction—where we’re seeking the truth, not trying to win arguments—we grow in our understanding of issues and help each other reach truly biblically-informed, spiritually faithful viewpoints that are in harmony with the kingdom principles of our King.

So . . . how well are we living out the fruit of the Spirit in our political engagement?

Are we behaving like everyone else, or are we showing them another way?

Prayer: Learning from the pros

There’s a proverb that tells us, “Walk with the wise and become wise” (Proverbs 13:20). That makes sense. If we want to learn how to bat better, we’re not going to seek help from someone who doesn’t know anything about baseball, are we? If I want to improve my Spanish, I’m going to get assistance from someone who’s fluent in Spanish. And if I want to grow in my ability to pray, I need to find experienced pray-ers who can teach me and help me sharpen my skills.

One of the ways we learn from those who are more experienced is simply by observing them. Teachers can learn a lot just by carefully listening to good teachers. Writers can sharpen their writing skills by reading the works of notable authors. Scrutinizing performances by the greats can not only be educational for musicians, but it can inspire them to reach for greater musical challenges. Actually, much of what we learn to do, we learn by observing others, and this is true of prayer as well.

Thankfully, we have a real advantage when learning to pray. Not only are there mature believers around us who we can learn from, but we have prayers recorded in the Bible from the great leaders of the past. Who better to teach us about prayer than people like David, Daniel and even Jesus himself?

A-C-T-S
One of the most helpful tools I’ve found for praying is the acronym ACTS. I’m sure some of you are already familiar with this prayer aid. It’s especially useful—and even comforting—for people who aren’t quite sure how to begin praying and who could use some direction. What’s more, it’s biblical. So, let me introduce you to (or remind you of) this handy little tool and, at the same time, show you some of the wonderful examples of prayer that we have in Scripture.

ACTS gives us helpful memory pegs, sort of an ingredient list for healthy prayer. Here are the elements we should include in our prayers: A – adoration, C – confession, T – thanksgiving, and S – supplication (an old-fashioned word for making requests). We don’t have to pray these “ingredients” in order, but these are all essential components of prayer. Here are some biblical examples of ACTS in action:

Adoration

My heart is confident in you, O God;
no wonder I can sing your praises with all my heart!
Wake up, lyre and harp!
I will wake the dawn with my song.
I will thank you, LORD, among all the people.
I will sing your praises among the nations.
For your unfailing love is higher than the heavens.
Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens.
May your glory shine over all the earth.
Psalm 108:1-5

You are worthy, O Lord our God,
to receive glory and honor and power.
For you created all things,
and they exist because you created what you pleased.
Revelation 4:11

Confession

Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from guilt.
Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.
Psalm 51:1-4

But we have sinned and done wrong.
We have rebelled against you
and scorned your commands and regulations.
We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets,
who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors
and to all the people of the land.
Lord, you are in the right;
but, as you see, our faces are covered with shame.
Daniel 9:5-7

Thanksgiving

I come to your altar, O LORD,
singing a song of thanksgiving
and telling of all your wonders.
Psalm 26:6-7

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever!
Psalm 30:11-12

O Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
thank you for hiding these things
from those who think themselves wise and clever,
and for revealing them to the childlike.
Luke 10:21

Supplication

There are two kinds of requests we make in prayer. We make requests for ourselves:

Save me, O God,
for the floodwaters are up to my neck.
Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire;
I can’t find a foothold. . . .
Answer my prayers, O LORD,
for your unfailing love is wonderful.
Take care of me,
for your mercy is so plentiful.
Psalm 69:1-2, 16

Give us today the food we need . . .
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.
Matthew 6:11-13

And we also make requests on behalf of others. This is what is known as intercessory prayer:

I am praying not only for these disciples
but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.
I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one
—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you.
And may they be in us
so that the world will believe that you sent me.
John 17:20-21

Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!
Acts 7:60

I pray that God, the source of hope,
will fill you completely with joy and peace
because you trust in him.
Then you will overflow with confident hope
through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

I pray that your love will overflow more and more,
and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.
Philippians 1:9

A few brief tips
Please don’t feel as if your prayers have to sound elegant, or that you have to use all the right catchphrases. I find that the most effective, meaningful prayers are usually the most simple. When we’re trying to use all the super-spiritual expressions, we’re often more focused on being impressive than simply communicating. Remember, Jesus warned against praying like the hypocrites who want to get all the attention (Matthew 6:5). God just wants to hear our heart. What means more to you from that special someone: a canned, recited sentiment they may not even completely understand; or simple words that reveal the true feelings in their heart?

And don’t feel as if you have to pray super long prayers, either. Jesus said, “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again” (Matthew 6:7).

We have incredible examples of prayer in Scripture—which is wonderful—but we also have mature, experienced believers right in our midst. If you want to become skillful in your prayers, then spend time praying with people who know what they’re doing. Those of us in the Rincón area have a perfect opportunity in the new Knowing God through Prayer meeting, Tuesday mornings at 10:00. Praying alongside mature Christians such as Nick, Diane and Charlie is sure to help you grow in your prayer life! And, if you don’t already receive it, I would encourage you to sign up for Nick’s weekly Prayer Corner. Every week, he sends out reflections and insights that will strengthen you in your devotional life. Of course, as I mentioned last week, there’s no one more qualified to help us with our prayer life than God himself. We can always ask him to help us!

And here’s one last tip for the week. Years ago, someone suggested this to me and it has added greater depth to my prayer life. Do you ever sing to God in your personal prayer time? We sing to God in worship with the rest of the church. Why not in our own personal devotions? You may protest that you don’t have a good singing voice—but God gave you the voice you have, and it blesses him when we give everything back to him in praise and worship. And, besides, the Holy Spirit is the one who inspired that line about “making a joyful noise!” Look up all the places in Scripture where we’re instructed and encouraged to sing to God. Surely this can’t be just in the church gathering. If you haven’t done this before, it can feel awkward at first. But, if you give it a chance, it will add a new dimension of intimacy to your time with God. I encourage you to try it!

Why not spend some time now with God in Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication?

Next week, we’ll explore what it means to “pray without ceasing.”

Prayer series:

“Why is prayer sometimes so . . . strange?”

Prayer: Learning from the pros [see above]

Pray without ceasing?

Prayer: Expecting an answer

Persevering prayer: Always pray and never give up