Maybe we’ve got the whole decline of church thing wrong. Maybe we’re missing some essential elements. Maybe some of the reason for decline in the organizational church in the US is something so much in front of our face and so ingrained in us that we don’t want to recognize it – it’s too painful and we know we would be guilty. Or maybe it’s so prevalent that we don’t even recognize it because too many of us think its normal.
I’m talking about partisan politics in the church. I don’t dare to propose that this is the end-all-be-all of why the church has a membership decline – far from it. I am saying that I think this is a part of the problem though – something we don’t even talk about, much like we don’t talk about the problem of porn addiction or family financial struggles in church. It’s so much easier to talk about hunger in Africa or a drug problem on the other side of the country because those things are happening “over there” to “those people.” This discussion requires us to look at ourselves in the mirror, which can be really scary and painful.
This isn’t just a conservative or liberal problem either – it’s both. And it raises some important questions about and for the church.
But first, let’s identify what I’m talking about. I’m talking about people who can’t sit with someone of a different party in church because of partisan politics. I’m talking about entire denominations that put all their political eggs in one political party’s basket as if that party held the keys to the kingdom. I’m talking about churches and denominations that are always supporting one political party’s candidates for office and overlooking the sins that these same parties and candidates commit. I’m talking about pastors who preach partisan political ideas and praise seriously flawed politicians from the pulpit and wrap the Gospel around their message to make the Gospel fit the ideology. I’m talking about Christians who place their hope in a political candidate in an almost Messiah-like fashion – someone who will save the nation.
These are some serious challenges for the church. It comes down to what the purpose of the church is really about.
What is the foundation of our faith? Is it politics, ideology, and nationalism or theology, faith and the Kingdom? Does your faith lead you to always align with one partisan political party? Really? Maybe you’re seeing what you want to see.
I wonder if we twist our faith to fit our ideology and politics, while we should be living out our faith individually and in community regardless of party alignment. Our hope and salvation doesn’t rest in an elected politician or even in our own nation. Who wins does not determine our salvation. Nations come and go, and so will ours in it’s given time. Future generations will judge this generation just as harsh as the current generation judges past generations. Monuments to military and political figures will only remain for a short while – eventually they crumble and the names are mostly forgotten to history. But it is God who remembers us, who holds us in God’s hand for eternity.
Our focus can be on building up a nation, making it strong and great, or living out our calling to be citizens of the Kingdom of God.
We put more energy, effort and zeal into building up a campaign and candidate and their gospel once every four years than we do in carrying out the Gospel that has been with us for 2000 years and a kingdom that is eternal. We seem to be more concerned with the adjective that goes before Christian than we are with being a Christian. We seem to give a pass to our preferred politicians when they make an error, yet have no trouble pointing out the speck in our opponents eyes for the smallest implied infraction.
Maybe these are some of the reasons people turn away from the church – because in some cases it’s becoming nothing more than an extension of our flawed political system based on earthly power and might, rather than the majesty and mystery of the kingdom of God.
If you want to change the nation, make it “great”, move it forward, implement a revolution, then start acting out our call as church. That doesn’t mean we separate from society and politics. It means that we engage fully, where the culture is. We live as an example. We pray believing that prayer changes lives and the world. We worship in order to be fed with the bread of life so we can go out to serve the world. We serve joyfully because we have been given so much. We care for those society has abandoned. We live our calling to teach and care and be stewards. We don’t wait for someone else to do it. We don’t wait for some elected official to rally us. We don’t wait for Washington to pass a law. We don’t wait for the Supreme Court to decide what’s right. We live our calling and we infect the world with love, grace and peace.
We spend a great deal of time waving signs, attending speeches and rallies enthusiastically for candidates who offer us their version of hope for the nation. We spend more time, energy, effort, money and resources to fulfill the vision of a person running for office than we even attempt to fulfill God’s vision for the world. Why is that? Is God’s vision not nearly as exciting? Is some politician’s vision that much better?
Or maybe we know something else deep down – That rallying to a politician is much easier. It requires very little on our part – the politician is supposed to do the hard work, we are just supposed to benefit from it. We get to claim the mantle of responsibility by voting and when the politician falls short, as they always do, then we can blame them for the failures of the country.
God’s vision is different. God doesn’t require our vote to carry out God’s vision. But God still equips us and gives us exactly what we need in order to respond and to be stewards of God’s vision. That means we are responsible – not in order to gain God’s favor, but because of what God has already given us.
Responsibility is not fun or easy. You can’t claim the mantle of victim when you are responsible. You have to take up your cross and get to work.
The ironic thing about this year is that given the state of politics we are currently in, I’m finding it much easier to place my hope in God, rather than any politician and certainly in any political party. I’m hearing Jesus’ Gospel message much clearer apart from the presidential candidates. This year we are again seeing what partisan politics is about – A gospel that proclaims fighting for power, dividing, conquering, and fear. All of the candidates proclaim this gospel ultimately because it’s a human gospel of power. It’s a message that every king, ruler, and politician have always proclaimed – this shouldn’t be surprising, in the realm of politics, these people are the priest who proclaim the message, and protect the sacred sacraments of politics – money, privilege, and law.
My hope is in God and God’s vision for creation. It is best stated in Revelation 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.