Pastor’s Column: Talking Politics vs. politics in Church
Uppercase Politics vs. lowercase politics
Our church is made up of a variety of people, but a good number are folks who grew up in conservative Christian homes where Republican politics and church went hand in hand. For the most part, they were quite turned off by that. One of the things these churchgoers have said they like about our church is that they find no partisan politics- direct or implied- in any public statements.
That doesn’t mean we don’t talk about politics. In our church we distinguish between “uppercase P” Politics and “lowercase p” politics. We don’t think the Bible has anything to say about American “uppercase P” Politics, by which we mean, the Bible doesn’t tell you which party to be, who to vote for, or what policy proposals to support.
What the Bible says about politics
We believe, however, that the Bible has a lot to say about “lowercase p” politics. By “lowercase p” politics we mean the values by which human beings come together and govern themselves- things like the value of every individual, confronting poverty and oppression, protecting the weak from the strong, and so on.
Our goal is to talk about “lowercase p” politics and let people figure out what that means for their “uppercase P” Politics. And to be clear, this isn’t a sneaky way of getting everyone to support the same party. We have leaders in our church of many different partisan persuasions. Sometimes I get pressure to be more partisan in a certain direction, but for the most part, people like this arrangement.
This isn’t to say I don’t have partisan political opinions- I do! And my family and closer friends know them. But I’ve often heard from church members that they have no idea what my opinions are, and that they find themselves trying to guess them. I take this as a compliment.
Appropriate Times to Become Partisan
It is hard to decide what to do with my opinions during an election year. I very rarely use the phrase “I’m not speaking in my capacity as a pastor, but as an individual.” I know that people will very rarely make the distinction- if I say something, it sounds like it’s an official church thing. This means now partisan politics on Facebook or Twitter, or in any church social setting, unless it’s with people I trust to keep it to themselves.
I don’t think this approach is always appropriate. There are times when it is appropriate to become partisan. I think of Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany, or Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. These examples challenge me to be willing to be criticized or unpopular for political reasons if public evil rises to an unacceptable level. How would I know when this was so? I don’t know for sure. It certainly ought to remain a question for prayer and consideration.
Practical Ways to See the Other Side
As far as the current election goes, I have developed a practice that has helped me gain empathy for those who disagree with me, and who see the world differently from me. Most days I read a news website of my partisan persuasion. Then I go read the headlines on a news website of the opposite partisan persuasion. While those articles often upset me, they also force me to try to see things from a different point of view. This helps keep me from being too self-righteous about my opinions, and probably helps me lead the church in a more balanced way.
Click the link to hear Pastor Jeff talk more about Politics & politics.
Pastor Jeff Heidkamp is co-lead pastor of Mercy Vineyard Church in Northeast Minneapolis along with his wife Le Que Heidkamp. He oversees preaching, vision, and works with leaders and staff. Jeff and Le Que were the founding pastors of Mercy in 2004.