During election years, I am often asked to explain the complex relationship between the church and the political process in our representative democracy. The answer is actually several layers deep, with the deepest layer being that of Christian Solidarity and the shallowest layer being that of Legal Realities, with an intermediate layer of Moral Responsibility.
At the core of our public lives as Christians is our solidarity with other Christians: we are one in Christ. Although we could expect that all Christians share our political views, the truth is that what we share is our allegiance to Jesus Christ. We are all fellow citizens of His kingdom.
In our Free Methodist Church congregation, as in most healthy biblical communities, there are a plethora of political views. If a congregation requires a person to fit into the political labels of “conservative,” “liberal,” “green,” “independent,” or some other political description in order to belong formally or informally, then such a congregation has replaced Christian Solidarity with political uniformity. Similar to congregations that have only one race or one economic class or one age group, such congregations are unhealthy and do not represent the open arms of our Lord, who accepts all into His family who have accepted Jesus as their Savior and Lord. We therefore keep our worship and fellowship experiences free from partisan politics and expect that each person will respect the diversity present in the Body of Christ.
This commitment to not bring partisan politics into the congregation does not mean that we don’t speak up about moral issues. The church is the conscience of the state and reminds both voters and political leaders of our mutual responsibility to protect the poor and powerless, to promote peace and require justice, to be honest and moral as well as voice the many other Christian values as we tranlsate the biblical teachings into secular policies.
The political parties have tried to separate Christian values into two camps in which, for example, care for the unborn belongs to one political party and care for the poor belongs to the other. We should resist this manipulative ploy and redefine morality in public policy and political action in its holistic terms, not trading one moral value for another or playing the moral issues against each other.
Although some churches ignore the laws of the state and endorse candidates either directly or indirectly by allowing them to speak from their pulpits, the best way to uphold the legal standard is to discuss from the pulpit the merits and demerits of policies but not of politicians.
It is not the purpose of the church to choose who will lead the state. That is the responsibility of individual citizens as they bring their moral values into the political process. It is the purpose of the church to help human beings become mature in their moral values as well as in their spiritual lives. This maturity will undoubtedly have an impact on the way each person deals with others privately, publicly and politically.
The Rev. Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa