Are Christians “Too Political”?

religion_politics_articleI’m almost finished with the book Unchristian (some of you will be glad), but I wanted to share a quote from the chapter called “Too Political.”  According to co-authors David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons 75% of young adults outside the faith think that Christians are “overly motivated by a political agenda, that we pomote and represent politically conservative interests and issues, [and that] Conservative Christians are often thought of as right-wingers” (p. 30).  Again, this may not be true of you or your church, but it’s the way 75% of young adults outside the faith perceive us. 

Do perceptions matter?  You bet they do.  And so, at the close of each chapter in the book, Kinnaman and Lyons have asked some well-known Christians to offer suggestions for how we might change the perceptions of young adults.  I was shocked by what Jim Wallis had to say:

Christians should be involved in politics.  The question isn’t “should we engage?” but “how?”  The conservative religious movement in America today has been corrupted.  Evangelicalism has been hijacked and usurped by partisan political forces.  Conservative religion is now being driven and dictated by secular, right-wing political forces.  So basically the conservative religious movement—or at least parts of it, the politicized part of it—has sold its soul to partisan politics (p. 179).

These are strong words, something Wallis (founder and executive director of Sojourners/Call to Renewal) has never shied away from.  But I have found myself thinking about them over the last 24 hours and wondering if he is right.  Did some political strategist do the math and realize that if he could get all the Christians in America to vote for his candidate he would win?  And then did he sit around wondering which issue would have the most potential for bringing Christians over to his side?  And then did he start telling us that his candidate was against abortion, which made us sympathetic (because, really, what Christian is going to be for abortion?).  And have politicians been using Christians to win elections ever since, by finding out what we are for or against and convincing us that their candidates are for or against the same things?  Wallis goes on to say:

Many young evangelicals see that this is just Republican politics masquerading as conservative religion.  When they observe this, they don’t like it.  And they are concerned that it could happen on the Left too—exactly what happened on the Right—the politiczing and corrupting of religion for the sake of political power.  That’s not what they want.

The young people I meet don’t want to go Left or Right.  They reject these narrow political orthodoxies.  They’re not happy with Christianity being either a list of things you shouldn’t do, or just about being nice.  They want to go deeper.  Young evangelicals really want their faith and lives to count for something.  They want their faith to somehow connect with changing the world…

“They want to go deeper,” Wallis says, which is what I would want for them and what I think Jesus would want, too.  When he taught his disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come and God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven he invited his disciples to join him in changing the world from what it was to what God had always dreamed it could be.  He is still inviting his disciples to do that.  How tragic would it be to confuse that vision of heaven on earth with only what can be achieved through the political processes of a fallen society?

These young people may be on to something…

13 thoughts on “Are Christians “Too Political”?

  1. After reading the title of this post my immediate thought was, “Why presume Christians should be political?”

  2. We as Christains have a duty to stand up in the political arena and stand for what is right. Obviously people are not going to like this and will try to demonize us the same way they demonize oil companies, healthcare providers and large corporations.
    I haven’t read this book but it seems like this writer only points out a problem. Does he propose a solution to our “negative” image an Christains? Unless he has a better way to repair our image, I’m still going to do what Jesus whats. If that involves political action, so be it.

  3. “The young people I meet don’t want to go Left or Right.”

    AMEN!

    You might think it’s just some hippy sensation…but this 20 something prefers to be a citizen of the world. No political labels necessary. Labels are for jars, not people. As for my family, we try to live like Jesus would want us to….loving our neighbors as ourselves…even the ones we don’t like and the ones we don’t understand. Even the sick, the needy, the lonely, the mentally ill, the homosexual, the divorced, the alcoholic, the drug addicted, the Buddhist, the Mennonite, the atheist neighbor.

    Last year Justin and I prayed, eyes closed, knelt at the foot of a jade Buddha in Thailand in the center of a small village in a century year old temple. We were praying to Jesus. Nobody looked twice at us for being the only non-Thai person there. Nobody questioned our beliefs at the door, or asked to check our baptismal certificate. They simply asked us to remove our shoes… and we complied. Why can’t Christianity be more like that? Open arms, open doors, open mind, open hearts….no shoes required.

    Sometimes I look around at our rituals, formalities, rules and regulations and I think to myself…”My God, what have we done?” We’ve taken something so pure and simple and we’ve muddied it up and made it almost unrecognizable. Impossible to be a part of…. And then we wonder…why don’t people come to church anymore?

    Jesus isn’t hard to follow.

  4. I’ve been reading this series of posts, and thinking about the ideas presented; haven’t read the book mentioned. I guess I’m a little surprised to read that so many young people apparently think people of faith shouldn’t be politically-minded, shouldn’t work for things they think are important, or that the political arena is reserved for non-religious people. To my mind, we are all political beings, just as we are social beings, spiritual beings, scientific beings… People of faith have as much interest in political aspects of society as people outside the faith (or of different faith). It wouldn’t occur to me to assume that people outside the faith should not be spiritual beings as well as political beings…or that scientists must be only scientific beings instead of also spiritual beings. People of faith are the same; we are multi-layered and overlapping. In general, the political/religious interests I hear expressed or commented on in the media make me cringe. Much of what I hear in news coverage I wouldn’t want to be associated with either. But that is what we hear most about, rather than the quieter words and actions of so many who “serve each other with love.”

  5. Some of the other commenters seem to think Wallis is saying that Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics, but his first sentence quoted above is “Christians should be involved in politics.”

    As someone who didn’t grow up in the church, my perspective was based on what I saw of the big “TV preachers.” And for me, what I saw wasn’t so much faith setting priorities in politics, but politics setting priorities in faith. The focus seemed to be only on those parts of the gospel that agree with a certain political ideology. I think that’s a problem, no matter which ideology it is.

  6. There you go. Mike H has it. Is faith an ideology? Or is faith something else? How does one understand Christianity? If Christianity is a collection of theophilosophical concepts then it is easily manipulated into an ideology, something that politicians can warp or that can warp the ideologies of politicians. Polsters love a good ideology. If faith is about the encounter with a living God then we may have something else entirely.

    Young people, I believe (Gen X here), are seeking spiritual encounter. They want to meet God. They don’t want to be told what to think or believe first before they meet God. And, if we’re honest, I doubt anyone does.

  7. To clarify… I’m not saying we shouldn’t be political as Americans, we should. I’m saying it does not always honor God or help spread the Gospel when “Christian” is used by the Lobby or political groups. Additionally, I don’t need a “Christian” politico implying I am not Christian if I vote against them.

  8. I am thoroughly enjoying this blog discussion and I say, “Keep it going for awhile, Jim!” I picked up my copy of “UnChristian” and plan to start on it tonight.

  9. I think what frightens most young people and certainly this 53 year old, is not so much Christians standing up for what they believe but the vituperation that comes with that political involvement.

    Christ was politically involved, but he recognized a clear difference between his work and the work of Government.

    His “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s..” is not just about taxes. We all need to pay attention to Government. But we need to understand how to live as Christians, not how to make others live. The shining light of the Christian life is a more positive force than hatefully FORCING our belief on others.

    And that is what is wrong with Christians in Politics today…the commentary seems no different from what is expected of the meanest sinner! Just watching Cable News frightens me. Christians taking guns to town halls? Why? Christians talking of a “real America” which seems to be filled with hateful judgmental and frankly, violent people- instead of remembering that in CHRIST, there is no East nor West?

    Christian involvement in politics is so horrid that frankly, I have been questioning my place in the Church. I want to get out! No wonder the young don’t want to get IN!

  10. I think that it is imperative for Christians to engage in political activity. If we completely cede our governance to non-Christians, where will that lead us?

    We can only benefit if we have Christians, adhering to actual Christian principles, who serve with integrity, compassion and responsibility. May they impose Christ’s message only on themselves, but lead by example with a heart of a true “public servant”. May they not use Jesus as the blunt end of a political weapon, but as a guide for wise and just leadership.

    We deserve better than what we’re getting right now from both parties. It’s up to us to make sure that we get it.

  11. Wow Mike, bravo! I read this book and was thoroughly impressed with the integrity of the research and the thoughtful conclusions. I decided to do my own research this week by asking people at opportune moments (such as someone browsing in Barnes and Noble). I asked one gentlemen, who looked to be in his forties, after some general small talk what were the first three three things he thought of when he thought of “Christian.” He said without blinking an eye, and I am not making this up, “arrogant, self-righteous, and oblivious to people who are not part of their church.” A young lady overheard this and said, “when I thing of the word Christian, I think of my grandmother. She would give you her last dime and go borrow money if that was not enough. She hated TV preachers because all they ever did was talk about magic formulas and how to be as selfish as possible.”
    I said to the gentleman, “Man, it sounds like the Christians you are talking about should go see her grandmother.” He said, “I don’t think they are interested in anyone but themselves.”
    The Kingdom of God is like a grandmother…

  12. First, the only time Jesus ever engaged politically was to tell the leaders how ridiculous they were being! Also, the biggest problem Jesus battled against in His time on earth was religious people, in this case Pharisees, who were also deeply entrenched in the political realm. These were Jews who claimed full belief in the coming of Messiah, and yet they had become so “political” that they placed more focus on legislating the morality of people, and leveraging that to gain more influence and power. Because Jews got too involved in politics, they couldt recognize the Messiah when He was staring them in the face, and because of that, they killed Him.
    I think its imperative to look at the biblical narrative when trying to decipher direction on any issue, especially this one. The problem is not when Christians have a passionate problem with abortion, or homosexual marriage…every born again believer should have a problem with these things, because they are sin! The problem is when we take the control out of God’s hands by trying to legislate the worlds morality through our politics, instead of being the Church and reaching people the way Christ intended us to.

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