The Danger of Partisan Christianity

Why every issue doesn't fit a 'liberal' or 'conservative' label.

Refugees. Gun violence. Planned Parenthood. Tensions in Israel. Climate change. The Black Lives Matter movement.

Each of those issues—as well as countless others—all share two things in common: 1) They should each be important to the Church; and 2) Depending on what you think about them, you may either be labeled a “conservative” or a “liberal.”

And, to some Christians, either one of those labels may run counter to what they think a “Christian” should believe.

This is the big problem of partisan Christianity.

Two Worlds at War

Democracy—specifically a representative democratic republic like the United States—offers a lot of advantages when it comes to governance. It allows individuals to vote on officials, giving citizens a voice. But, it also empowers those elected leaders to make legislative decisions.

But no system is perfect. In the (primarily) two-party system that has evolved in the United States, polarization has become encouraged. The two main political parties—Republican and Democrat—are constantly in competition for power and votes. It’s in both parties’ favor to seek to differentiate itself from the other, instead of seeking common ground.

The more they can demonize the other side, the more voters they can potentially bring into their party.

Too often, broad labels discourage thoughtful dialogue in favor of political groupthink.

Accordingly, Republican and Democrat leaders rarely agree on political issues. And often, once one party attaches itself to a certain position, the other takes the opposite side.

Of course, there are overarching values and ideologies that inform the policies of both parties. But trying to attach complex, nuanced, social and economic issues to broad ideological labels is problematic. Many issues don't fit neatly into pre-fit, idealogical boxes. Too often, broad labels discourage thoughtful dialogue in favor of political groupthink.

And for Christians, the stakes are especially high. When a political affiliation becomes conflated with a faith position, the message of the Gospel can become mixed with the message of political party.

Nuanced Opinions

Toss out a Facebook comment on any of today's hot-button issues, and there’s a decent chance you will either be labeled a liberal or conservative in the ensuing comment discussion.

But why should that be the case? Why should a single opinion on a single issue make someone think you agree with every other issue associated with that political party?

When did it become unacceptable to think for yourself and form your own opinions instead of just toeing the line of a certain political party?

Thanks to the hyper-polarizing, super-competitive onslaught of political messages, most Americans have been brainwashed to view every issue through two lenses: liberal or conservative.

This is what the parties want. Our system encourages clear idealogical battle lines. After all, at the ballot box, we (for the most part and especially at the federal level) aren’t voting on individual issues; we’re voting on candidates who represent a party.

Followers of Christ shouldn’t view issues through the lens of liberal or conservative. We should only see them through the lens of the Gospel.

But this tactic can trick us into believing that everything we read, watch or hear about a social issue is part of a hidden political agenda, attempting to sway our entire ideology.

The Church, however, should approach things differently: Followers of Christ shouldn’t view issues through the lens of liberal or conservative. We should only see them through the lens of the Gospel.

The Church is the Body of Christ and is called to do the work of God on earth—not of a political party. That means we need to look at each individual issue with biblical discernment, no matter what the political implications are.

Trapping Jesus

The conflation of political affiliation and religious devotion isn’t new. In fact, it was one of the earliest traps the enemies of Christ tried to ensnare Him with.

Part of the reason Jesus infuriated people in power was because He refused to do their bidding. He served a higher calling than any man’s or institution's.

The Pharisees famously tried to, in the words of Matthew, “trap Him in His words.” They asked Jesus, “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

It was a question they hoped would trick Jesus into taking a volatile political position: If He answered "no," He’d be running afoul of the rule of the Roman empire; If He said "yes," then He could be seen as essentially agreeing to help fund the oppression being inflicted on His own people.

But Jesus knew better than to take a political position in this case. He knew He wasn’t actually being asked about a single issue. He was being asked to take a side. Jesus was wise enough not to take the bait.

Matthew writes,

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? … Show me the coin used for paying the tax. Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then He said to them, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left Him and went away.

At a trial before His crucifixion, Jesus was brought before Pilate. During His questioning, Pilate seemed baffled that Jesus wouldn’t clearly state what His political agenda actually was. It was hard for the Roman ruler to grasp that politics had nothing to do with the real agenda of Christ. Here’s the exchange:

Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

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Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my Kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Even back then, the idea of serving an agenda bigger than a political one seemed foreign. But Jesus was making one thing clear: His Kingdom was not of this world. His message did not fit neatly into a political ideology—but it didn’t need to.

His Good News did not serve to promote politicians or powerful people. It served to promote the idea that God’s love extended to everyone, especially the “least of these” that have no power.

Serving the Kingdom

We shouldn’t be afraid to get involved in politics or discussions about political issues. But, while forming our judgements and opinions, we can’t be such a slave to a label that we lose sight of something Jesus wanted His Church not to forget: Yes, we are called to build a Kingdom, but this Kingdom is from another place.

This Kingdom is not of this world.

Top Comments

Jackson Dame


Jackson Dame commented…

I agree with the underlying thesis, but I think the more important issue is actually applying this to Evangelical culture. We can say that we should vote according to "The Gospel" until the cows come home, but that means nothing when "The Gospel" is always equated with one side. We'll never break free of Partisan Christianity until we stop equating a certain political party to our faith. There's something wrong with how Christians do politics when voting a certain way automatically calls a person's faith into question. "How could you possibly vote for so-and-so and still be a Christian?" As long as that trend continues, people will continue to be alienated unnecessarily. And that's clearly anti-Gospel.

Stefan Stackhouse


Stefan Stackhouse commented…

One of the reasons I am a registered Independent is precisely so that I can think and speak freely and critically about these public policy issues without having to worry about whether or not I am conforming with a party platform or passing anyone's litmus test. There are some issues where BOTH parties are in the wrong, and I want to be in a position where I can say so.


Shae Murphy


Shae Murphy commented…

I don't know a single major issue on which the Democratic party is closer to having a Biblical position than the Republican party. In every case the Republican party is more Biblically aligned than the Democratic party.

If the murder of 56 million innocent children through abortion does not disqualify the Democratic party from the Christian's support, nothing will. What abortion has done to children is nearly 10x worse than Hitler did to the Jews, yet some Christians still support them.

It would be great if the Democratic party was not so adamantly anti-Christian, so a Christian could consider voting for either party.

Kevin Vincent


Kevin Vincent replied to Shae Murphy's comment

Care for the elderly, sick, homeless, orphans, etc.
Use of wealth
There's three off the top of my head, and I'm not even a Democrat. Remove the blinders.

Gayle Marshall


Gayle Marshall replied to Kevin Vincent's comment

Does the gospel call on believers to care for the poor, widows, and sick? or does the gospel call on the government to care for the poor, widows, and the sick? The problem with giving the responsibility for the care of poor, widows and sick to government takes away the human experience of loving people one on one. It absolves the responsibility of the church to be revelant when we go to the ballot box and vote for programs paid for others to be administered thru the government. In order for the government to give something for free they first have to take it from someone else. When we help the poor thru our local charities, our help is more targeted to lifting people up, not keeping them comfortable in their circumstances. A great example is the Joseph Project promoted by Senator Ron Johnson. Helping prepare men for jobs and giving transportation so they can get to them.

Greg Schick


Greg Schick commented…

Friends, the best POSSIBLE thing Christians of EVERY walk can do is read "Hijacked: Responding to the Church Divide" by Mike Slaughter and Charles Gutenson. This is NOT an attempt to get either side to join the other side. It is simply a way for ALL Christians (and Americans) to understand each other. It makes the case in much more detail to complement Relevants article! It's perfect for a book reading club or small group - ESPECIALLY before November. Please America...THIS IS REQUIRED READING!

William Anderson


William Anderson commented…

I am a Christian & conservative. I see nothing contrary to the gospel in that because I believe the gospel & conservative political thought are compatible. Where the writer of this article is correct is when one claims being a Christian means being a member of a political party. Conservatism supports my right to practice my faith publicly without restrictions by legislators, police or judges as long as I don't violate natural law in doing so. Conservative thought allows me to be an independent but ideological thinker as long as ideology is compatible with the gospel. It also allows me to demand that political parties & their representatives support policy that is compatible with my gospel oriented beliefs to receive my support. When one major political party boos God at their convention, year after year expresses support for abortion, same sex marriage and seeks the restrict the right of people who disagree with them to practice their faith in public & in privately owned businesses that party will never receive my support. That is not partisanship. It is conservative support for the religious freedom to live & proclaim the gospel. For the sake of clarity the error is when fidelity to the gospel is equated to membership in a political party.

Kevin Vincent


Kevin Vincent replied to William Anderson's comment

The issue is see with what you're saying is that the "conservative agenda" often seeks to limit the rights of those who don't agree under the guise of preserving freedom. When you say you want the right to practice your beliefs, but in the same breath speak against gay marriage, or someone else's religious beliefs, you're seeking to put your own freedoms above those of others, and that's not biblical. We'll never sway unbelievers through politics and if you support politicians who limit freedoms of anyone your voice to reach them with Christ's message will always be undermined by your desire to reach them with a political one.

Stephen Matlock


Stephen Matlock commented…

There are some good words and comments here. I appreciate hearing them.

I've become more centered, I hope, in the gospel and less centered in partisanship, I hope. I find it interesting that being less partisan is itself seen as partisan. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

With that said, some observations:
1. The gospel is eternal, nations and political parties are not.
2. Nowhere in the scriptures is America mentioned or praised, and nowhere in scripture are Christians told to proclaim the government of men as the Kingdom of God.
3. There are more than a billion Christians in the world. Most are not American and most are not white, so we cannot pretend that a partisan approach that simply mirrors white American Christians is of itself something worth emulating on its own.

My faith should inform my choices, but my faith also must NOT be used to control the choices of others. I am puzzled at times by Christians who attempt to make a political party the party of God, but I will still fellowship with them even as I utterly oppose their mixing of wool and linen, to use the Old Testament imagery.

I appreciate people who want to live godly lives and who want to support candidates who they think will advance their values, but we know that no one is unstained by sin and no one can be held to a promise because everyone can unbind themselves from their promises. So I will vote and participate in politics as best I can, attempting to know as best I can what I myself believe and value, to know as best I can the beliefs and values of my candidates, and to not put my trust in a party or in any man. Or woman.

History teaches us that when Christians attempt to usurp the government by making it "Christian" we have always, *always* erred. We should have some humility before we declare that any candidate or any party is the "Christian" party. Our track record shows we have been 100% wrong, every time.

Brendt Wayne Waters


Brendt Wayne Waters commented…

Any chance we could get more ironic in this comment thread, and double-down even more on which "side" is right?

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