7 Reasons the Church Should Change Its Political Tune

Getting past left and right.

Aristotle is credited with saying, “Change in all things is sweet.” And perhaps no change of late is as sweet as that among young Christians in the public square. While the last several decades of Christian engagement have often been marked by partisan tactics and a polemical tone, a new generation is changing its political tune. Its individuals aren't leaving the public square altogether—but they are looking for less divisive and less partisan ways to engage. They want to follow Jesus without fighting the culture wars.

Here are seven reasons why this new political approach is a good thing.

1. Nobody likes a whiner.

Two-thirds of Americans believe we have a major problem with civility. And yet during the past several decades, many non-believing Americans' only glimpse of Christians has been picketing masses, condemnatory street preachers and shouting pastors on cable news shows. While many Christians believed their participation in the culture wars was important, crucial even, some failed to realize its tragic side effects. As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has pointed out, culture-warring Christians express themselves “almost exclusively in the language of loss, disappointment, anger, antipathy, resentment, and desire for conquest.”

2. The "culture wars" divide unnecessarily.

The culture wars, like all wars, seek to divide. They pronounce our differences rather than celebrate them. They highlight disagreement instead of common ground. As we rush angrily into the public square to fight off our perceived enemies, we’re increasingly fragmenting not just society but the Christian Church itself. The culture wars force us to see brothers and sisters as enemies rather than friends with whom we may disagree. Jesus prayed in the Gospel of John, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name, the name You gave Me, so that they may be one as we are one.” Wherever Christians fight the culture wars, unity is almost always absent and Jesus’ prayer is ignored.

3. It’s killing us.

The exodus of young people from the Church has been widely reported, but their stories leave us with the lingering question: “Why are they leaving?” According to sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell in their recent article in Foreign Affairs, our overt political partisanship is partly to blame. Looking over the data, they conclude, “In effect, Americans (especially young Americans) who might otherwise attend religious services are saying, 'Well, if religion is just about conservative politics, then I’m outta here.'”

4. The Church is cheapened.

When the Church becomes involved in partisan politics, it allows the community of believers to be reduced to a voting bloc. We’re like a teacher’s union or senior citizens—a constituency that must be pandered to and pleased during campaign speeches so it’ll cast its votes for a particular party. Can you hear the refrain? "Politicians and inside-the-beltway hucksters, come one, come all. The Christians are yours to be had."

5. We’re getting used.

American Christians are a cheap date. We allow politicians to court us with a few empty promises only to spend their time in office apologizing for not keeping any of them. When speculating on the question in electoral politics of “who is using whom,” James Davison Hunter writes, “The obvious answer is to say that it is the candidates who cynically use the symbols of the culture war and thus one constituency or the other in the service of their own political ambitions.”

6. Our approach isn’t working anyway.

The strategy of the Religious Right has been largely a failure. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent, and countless man hours have been invested—yet there has been little to no progress on most culture war issues. Abortion is still legal, gay marriage is still being debated, and the size of government continues to grow. But switching teams and joining the Religious Left isn’t the answer, either. They employ the same partisan approach as the Right, except on opposing sides of the issues. As one philosopher has observed, “the emerging Religious Left is just a funhouse mirror of the Religious Right.”

7. The Gospel suffers.

While preachers are qualified to speak on morality, they don’t have the expertise to speak as authorities on the particulars of complex public policy. Often, however, religious leaders push well outside of their core competencies on everything from economic and tax issues to foreign policy. When people hear Christians speaking foolishly about political realities, should we not expect them to tune us out when we speak about the Gospel? If they see the irrationality of Christian partisanship, how can they expect anyone to believe other incredible claims about God and Jesus?

For the reasons listed here and more, the Christian Church should—and is beginning to—change its political tune. For the sake of our faith and the sake of the Gospel, the Church needs such a shift—and we need it now.
 
Jonathan Merritt is author of A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars. He has published more than 300 articles in outlets such as USA Today, The Washington Post and RELEVANT. Follow him on Twitter @jonathanmerritt.

Top Comments

85,536

Jmed1957 commented…

So, Jonathan, what would you suggest the church shift TO when it comes to moral issues in the public square? What should be our response in light of a continues move against moral truths?

110 Comments

85,536

Cephasjames commented…

I agree. But Politics is not Truth. God's Word is Truth and if politics becomes attached to God and his word then the shades of politics weakens the Truth.

Let the Truth be our guide in all aspects of life, politics included, but let the Truth only be attached to God and God alone.

85,536

Cephasjames commented…

Deuteronomy is chuck full of 'take care of the fatherless, the widow, the alien and the poor.' How is this done? Through legislation. God established legislation that effectively called for redistribution of wealth (through tithes and gleaning laws and sabbath rest on the land). Does this mean legislation created by the US government that essentially calls for the same thing is good? Or is it bad because its merely a human thing? This is what I wrestle with.

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waxsublime commented…

Fantastic article. Reminds me of this word from Greg Boyd:

"Even more fundamentally, because this myth links the kingdom of God with certain political stances within American politics, it has greatly compromised the holy beauty of the kingdom of God to non-Christians. This myth harms the churchs primary mission. For many in America and around the world, the American flag has smothered the glory of the cross, and the ugliness of our American version of Caesar has squelched the radiant love of Christ. Because the myth that America is a Christian nation has led many to associate America with Christ, many now hear the good news of Jesus only as American news, capitalistic news, imperialistic news, exploitive news, antigay news, or Republican news. And whether justified or not, many people want nothing to do with any of it."

Boyd, Gregory A. (2009-05-11). The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church (Kindle Locations 131-136). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. p13

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Guest123 commented…

Government should not legislate morality. The religious right's mission is to get government to make laws according to their religion. There is no difference in what fundamentalist Iran does and what the religious right wants to do, to govern according to religion.
It is immoral and it was the very reason why there is separation of church and state.
And then christans wonder why all the hostility towards them...

Oh and I dont see any of this "new" approach btw, the religious right just has lost influence...

85,536

Jmed1957 commented…

So, Jonathan, what would you suggest the church shift TO when it comes to moral issues in the public square? What should be our response in light of a continues move against moral truths?

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