To think biblically about politics in the Church
from David Closson, Contributor votes | Thursday, October 28, 2021U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a meeting with members of the Texas State Democratic Senate and the Texas House of Representatives in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Jan. | MANDEL NGAN / AFP via Getty Images
In the run-up to next month’s gubernatorial election in Virginia, more than 300 churches plan to show a pre-recorded campaign video with Vice President Kamala Harris at her morning service. In the video, shown in mostly African American churches, Harris encourages parishioners to vote for Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, former Virginia governor, who is in a close and closely watched race with Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin.
In the video, Harris says, “In 2020 more Virginians voted than ever before. And because you did, you helped send President Joe Biden and me to the White House. I know you’ll be sending Terry McAuliffe back to Richmond this year. ”The vice president concludes her message by outlining why she thinks ward members should vote for McAuliffe and asking to vote after church.
Although CNN covered the campaign last weekend, coverage of the churches’ plans to show the video was relatively sparse. But aside from some social media discussions that challenged the appropriateness of playing campaign videos during a church service, the story seems to have disappeared from the news. However, the incident raises some important questions about churches and campaigning that Christians, and pastors in particular, should be aware of.
First, Harris’s campaign video is likely to violate Johnson’s change to the IRS code. Under IRS regulations, churches are not allowed to participate in direct political campaigns. Under the “Charities, Churches and Politics” section on their website, the IRS states:
“Currently, the law prohibits political campaigning activities by charities and churches by defining a 501 (c) (3) organization as one that” does not participate in political campaigning on behalf of (or against) a candidate for public office. ‘”
To be clear, FRC is on record against the Johnson Amendment’s motion for a pastor’s sermons as no government agency has the right to censor speech, whether in the pulpit or outside. This is almost certainly a violation of the First Amendment, but the IRS has not filed an enforcement action against a church sufficient to have a successful constitutional challenge in court.
It is ironic, however, that after months of warning about “Christian nationalism” and the dangers of the conflation of religion and politics, the left is now actively engaging in the very campaign tactics that it denounces when practiced by the right . Indeed, it is the height of hypocrisy to make a fuss about the “separation of church and state” and say conservative pastors should not get involved in the political process in promoting a campaign-style video showing support for Democrat Terry McAuliffe should be advertised in the churches.
But the controversy surrounding the Harris video raises important questions: To what extent and in what ways is it appropriate for churches to become politically active? How should pastors lead their churches through elections? Before answering these questions, it is helpful to remember some truths about the Church.
Theologian Gregg Allison defines the Church as “the people of God saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and received into their bodies through baptism with the Holy Spirit”. While the universal church has consisted of every Christian since Pentecost, “local churches, headed by elders and deacons, possess and seek purity and unity, exercise disciples, develop strong connections with other churches, and celebrate the ordinances of baptism and sacrament. “In other words, a local church is an assembly of believers who are covenant with one another and are committed to the regular means of grace, including regular preaching and teaching of scriptures, observance of ordinances, and fellowship.
In terms of purpose, the church exists to serve several important spiritual purposes. The theologian Wayne Grudem divides these purposes into service to God, service to believers, and service to the world. First, when it comes to God, the purpose of the church is to worship him. Second, the church has a duty to cultivate the faith of its members and to build them up into maturity (Col 1:28). This is done primarily through regular preaching and teaching of the Bible. Third, churches are called to evangelize the lost and to be involved in the service of mercy (such as helping the poor and needy).
Although most people (including many Christians) are not used to thinking deeply about the Church, it is vital for Christians to think about the Church biblically. To this end, Scripture uses several helpful metaphors and images to describe the community. The church is a “family” (1. Tim. 5: 1-2, Eph. 3:14), branches on a vine (John 15: 5), an olive tree (Rom. 11: 17-24) and a Buildings (1 Cor. 3,9). Paul calls the church the “bride of Christ” (Eph. 5:32, 2 Cor. 11: 2).
The “body of Christ” is another well-known metaphor that Paul uses to express the close relationship between the believers in the church and their relationship with Christ (Eph 1: 22-23, Col 2:19). When addressing the Ephesian elders, Paul warned: “Take care of yourselves and of all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers to care for the Church of God, which he has with his own blood won ”(Acts 20:28). For Paul the church is the most important reality on earth because Jesus bought it with his own blood. Accordingly, the people entrusted with its management must acknowledge the weighty responsibility entrusted to them.
In short, because the church is the blood-bought bride of God charged with the responsibility of bearing witness to the saving message of the gospel, I believe churches should carefully consider the amount of time devoted to matters outside of the worship of God and equipment of the saints by the word of God. Of course, this does not mean that churches or church leaders should withdraw from politics. Far from it. While “politics” carries a specific image, the word, properly understood, actually refers to how groups of people organize their affairs. In this sense, politics is closely related to community – how we treat other people – and is inextricably linked to the concept of charity to which Christians are called. Politics also implies questions of moral concern to all Christians.
As I explained in “Biblical Principles for Political Engagement,” voting is a matter of administration, and Christians should seek to choose that honors God and promotes the well-being of their neighbor. There is an additional responsibility for pastors. I believe churches should actively ensure that their members are educated about the issues. Pastors should preach interpretatively through biblical books and make sure they are preaching all the counsel of God’s Word. Preaching through the Bible will inform the conscience of congregations and help church members faithfully reflect on a variety of public policy issues. In addition, I think it appropriate that churches promote good electoral accountability by running voter registrations and distributing voter guides to their members.
Of course, wisdom and judgment are needed when it comes to how pastors feel about politics and disciples their people. Conservative pastors should be aware of the potential for hypocrisy when liberals criticize them for engaging in politics while playing campaign-style videos in their own church. But regardless of their individual judgment, pastors should be able to speak freely. The First Amendment protects speech, and the Johnson Amendment and IRS guidelines have had a chilling and stifling effect on pastor speech in the past.
Even if churches should have greater constitutional freedom and flexibility, at the end of the day they should carefully and prayerfully consider how they can best administer their freedom. Christians should get involved politically, but that commitment has to be biblical, which is why churches (and pastors in particular) need to be wise and critical, especially during election season.
Originally published by the Family Research Council.
David Closson is the Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview for the Family Research Council.