Dancing with Caesar
In the current political climate, Amy Black is an anomaly: a reasonable voice calling for balance and civility. Black, a professor of political science at Wheaton College, recently wrote a book that was rejected by one publishing board for being "reasonable, even-handed, and therefore doomed to marketing failure." But Moody Publishers liked her approach. The result is the recent book, Honoring God in Red or Blue: Approaching Politics with Humility, Grace, and Reason. With election season upon us, we asked Black how Christian leaders can discuss politics in Christ-honoring ways.
Politics are so contentious, especially right now. Why even go there?
Political issues are so important we can't afford not to go there. Politics involve matters that affect the lives of so many in the United States and globally. So we need to have these conversations. It may be uncomfortable, but if we can't have these conversations with our Christian brothers and sisters with whom we share so much, I wonder if we'll able to have these conversations with anyone.
Is there a distinctly Christian approach to engaging political issues?
We should start by applying the Golden Rule. I don't think we do that enough in politics. That means we characterize other people's views in ways we would be comfortable having them describe our own. That means we respect someone else enough to listen to their views in the same way we want to be respected and want people to listen to us. It's not about being right every time, and it's not about winning the argument. It's about having a productive conversation. It's about learning where someone else is coming from and explaining where you're coming from.
Should pastors be public about their political views?
I think it's wise for pastors to remain above the partisan fray. Not only is it wise in general, it also makes good sense for churches that want to keep their nonprofit tax status. But that doesn't mean they should have nothing to say about the important issues of our day, and those issues relate to politics. I think the best thing they can do is model careful, reasoned discussion of important issues.
Pastors can also help people move past viewing politics from an individualistic standpoint. They can move people beyond asking, "What matters to me and the people closest to me?" to asking, "What does it mean to love our neighbors? How will this affect others in our state, in our nation, and around the world?" Pastors can encourage that broader perspective.
As for pastors publicly stating political opinions, I urge caution. However, if a pastor is sitting down for a meal with a family from his congregation, and someone asks, "So, how are you going to vote?" it would be perfectly appropriate for the pastor to say, "Well, I think I'm going to vote for this person and here's why."
What about teaching a Bible passage and providing a political application?
If someone takes a Bible passage and directs it to a specific public policy and says, "See, God says this is right, or God says this is wrong," I don't think that's a proper use of Holy Scripture. I think a proper use of the Bible is to ask, "What does this teach us about God? How does he act in the world? What matters to him?" In other words, the pastor should be equipping congregants to read the Bible and to understand the story God is telling.